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Disclosure: I am a paying member of Caveday. The link in this post is an affiliate link; while using it does not cost you more, it may result in a reward for me.

I’m not sure about you, but I feel like the pandemic broke my focus. I’m not talking about productivity–the cult of peak productivity, much like the cults of inbox zero and work-life balance, promotes an unattainable ideal.

(c) Styled Stock Society

It’s not like there are more distractions (email and social media have always been there) but more that I’ve become more distract-able. Perhaps the lack of in-office interactions and sounds led my brain to be on higher alert for the in-home ones, or the initial days of the pandemic trained me to always be on the lookout for the next update regarding the virus or the vaccines. Maybe not seeing people in person made me crave more online interactions. Whatever the cause, the ability to sit and work on one project continuously sort of evaporated. How is it that I spent hours in the library reading hundreds of pages during law school, but suddenly I had the attention span of a gnat?

No attention span = not a good look for someone whose work requires focus and presence. After adding more quiet, device-free, screen-free time to my day, I started looking for tools to help my focus during the work day. There isn’t a quick fix, of course. In my experience, mental focus is like a muscle that needs a workout to build strength and endurance. I’ve found two tools that work like dumbbells.

What Is Caveday?

A recent New York Times article described Caveday as “paying strangers to watch you work.” (You can read that article HERE if you missed it.) This hasn’t been my experience at all. Sure, you’re joining a Zoom call and most members choose to keep their cameras on, but it’s not so much that anyone is watching you–I mean I’m sure as heck not watching anyone else–but that you’re all there working together. Think of it like a virtual office or a timed team exercise.

(c) Styled Stock Society

A “sprint” lasts one hour. You can sign up for one or more sprints, with the “three sprint cave” being a popular option. The entire schedule for the week (and a decent amount of schedule beyond the week) is on the booking section of the Caveday website. I typically sign up for two sprints back-to-back and then have a planned break (out of the cave), as I’ve found three caves back-to-back is pretty draining for me. Since I have calls and meetings, I plan my caves around those each day. If your schedule is more rigid, you might choose to sign up for the same schedule each week (you have the option to make a repeat booking of the same time and day).

You DO need your own Zoom account, tied to the email you used to register with Caveday, but it does not have to be a paid account. Sign into Zoom first, then click the link to join your sprint.

How it starts. When you arrive, the sprint’s guide will welcome you and offer tips to first-timers. Members typically change their screen name to “First Name | Location | Project Description.” Next, some sprints have a breakout room where you can check in with a few other participants; typically there is an ice-breaker question as well as the opportunity to share what you are working on. Breakout rooms are optional. If there isn’t a breakout room, or you decide not to participate, you’ll likely have the opportunity to check in via the chat function. The guide will count down to the beginning and will generally choose a gesture to begin the cave, such as a high-five to your camera or a clap. After that, you’re “in the cave.”

(c) Styled Stock Society

How it goes. While you are “in the cave,” you work on your one project. No one is watching or paying attention (though most of us stay on camera) but the designated guide is there if you have technical difficulties or other questions. Do your one thing.

How it ends. At the end of the designated sprint–usually 50ish minutes of work time–there’s a pleasant chime or musical sound, and the guide will encourage you to share your accomplishments in the chat box. The guide will typically also lead the group in a stretch or other movement. I think this is pretty brilliant, as I’ve found I need to get up and move (especially in the afternoons) to continue to turn out good work. There’s a short break (just enough time to hit the bathroom or refresh your drink) before the next sprint, so you do have some extra time to move around. Some people leave, some people arrive. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Principles of the Cave.

Eliminate distractions. The idea of the cave is to monotask. Put away your cell phone, turn off email notifications, close the extra tabs on the browser. Whatever distractions are available to you, handle them before the cave. Set up everything you need so you are ready to go.

Arrive on time. There’s something to be said for everyone starting together. It’s like you’re all on a team, just doing different aspects of the project. I feel oddly more committed to a cave when I’m there from the very beginning, from the check in. If you arrive late, the guide can choose not to admit you.

(c) Styled Stock Society

Do ONE thing. Well, one thing at a time. (I’ve often had two tasks to work on, each anticipated to last less than an hour, but I do them one at a time.) The idea is monotask. (After all that glorification of “multitasking,” it turns out multitasking is a myth.) People work on all sorts of things from discrete, defined, quantifiable tasks (“write x pages/words”), to a step of a bigger project (“outline argument for brief”), to an activity (“clean the upstairs bathroom”). Some people have a list of things that need to be done and they work through the list, one at a time. You can use the time to do pretty much anything.

Move when you break. We all know that sitting for hours on end is not in our best interest. I’m betting most people don’t act on that advice. (Same with the advice about taking time to look into the distance for 20 seconds after a long period of staring at a screen.)

Caveday: Why I Like It

It’s a game. For me, this makes working on something more like a game with rules: eliminate distractions, show up, commit to an hour, do one thing. I’m sure a lot of people are thinking, “um, can’t you just do this anyway?” Sure, theoretically. But there’s something about getting together with other people who are doing the same thing–one hour of focused work–that changes the game for me. It sounds dumb when I say it out loud. I don’t care. It works for me.

It’s like external self-discipline. Someone else is in charge of watching the clock and reminding me to stop and move. It’s not like anyone else is going to check up on what I got done though–but I do like to have a “win” to put in the chat box at the end of the sprint.

It’s flexible. I’ve been known to work non-traditional “office hours.” Caveday operates across time zones. This coming Thursday, for example, there are sprints scheduled from midnight-thirty to 6 p.m. (ending at 7 p.m.). It’s pretty easy for me to book two for the morning and two for the evening, guaranteeing four hours of focused work.

(c) Styled Stock Society

It’s something different. I like that it gives me the opportunity to interact with people who are working on something completely unrelated to what I’m doing. People make friends via Caveday and there is a robust community forum. One of the forum sections is “asks and offers” and people trade expertise and experience there. Maybe you need someone to test your app, for example. I’ve also learned some tricks and tips from other members. (It’s how I found brain.fm for example–separate post forthcoming.)

Bonuses. Caveday is also experimenting with “community caves” (that’s a scheduled small group cave without a guide) and “solo caves” (a sort of on-demand experience). There are even designated “procrastination” caves where members work on something they have been putting off or avoiding.

Special Offer: If you use this link here you can choose from one of three offers. (1) A free three-sprint cave. (2) $1 for one month of membership. (3) Three months for $40.

Disclosure: I bought these products with my own money, because I wanted to try them. I’m writing about them because I like them. Affiliate links are clearly identified. (If you use one, there’s no cost to you; I may receive a small compensation.) Also HEY! Look at me getting a “Plastic-Free July” post out during the month of July for the first time ever!

Replace Disposables with Reusables: The Zip-Top Bag

Stasher bags drying on a rack

Single use Ziploc-style bags may seem innocent, but they produce a TON of waste. One source does the math like this: “The average United States family uses 500 Ziploc bags each year. With 325,719,178 people living in the United States as of July 2017, and an average family size of 2.8 people, that means that the United States alone uses an average of 58,164,139 Ziploc bags per year.” (internal citations omitted) The number might be even higher; this blog cites the EPA for 100 billion such bags used per year. This isn’t to pick on Ziploc–a brand name owned by Dow Chemical–because Glad’s Flex n’ Seal, and Hefty’s Slider Freezer, and Target’s Up and Up, and every other brand of single-use zipper-top bag is just as bad for the environment. It’s not just their creation–plastic bags are made from crude oil, the manufacturing process can include trips through multiple countries, and their production and transportation create greenhouse gas emissions. While zipper bags are theoretically recyclable–the Ziploc bag website loves to tout how they can be recycled–you can’t just throw them into the recycling bin (if you even have recycling bins). The percentage of bags recycled is super tiny, maybe as low as 0.2% of bags used.

A stack of Stasher Bags

Stasher. Single-use plastic baggies–whether zipper type or not–are simply not your best choice in the vast majority of circumstances. (Nothing is an absolute in this world.) I’ve started to use Stasher bags instead. Stasher is made from food-grade platinum silicone, and made to meet the higher EU food package standards. In addition to food storage, you can use Stasher bags to cook (they are safe for the microwave, stovetop use like sous vide, and more). Stasher holds up to the freezer and the fridge. I prefer to wash mine by hand in hot, soapy water (I got a drying rack with the discount bundle I bought) but you can also put them in the dishwasher.

While some will argue silicone is plastic, it is made from silica (you know, like sand) and not from fossil fuel materials. Stasher bags are reusable and have sturdy seals (but don’t turn them inside out–it puts too much stress on the seal). Even if your puppy manages to get a hold on one and chew up the seal, you can still use the bag for storage (you just can’t seal it up). Once your bag is totally useless (maybe the pupper did more than chew up the seal?) you can even send it to Stasher for recycling through their partnership with Terracycle. No plastic baggie company does that.

A Stasher bag (rear) and a Stasher bowel (front)

Stasher comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some bags stand up, others do not; some Stasher bags are more like bowls. You can find them online, in stores like Target, and in some grocery stores. The only downside is that Stasher bags cost a lot more than plastic baggies (but they also last a lot longer too!). My first was a snack sized bag in blue, and I paid about $10. (That was five years ago; I still have it.) You can get a better deal by choosing a set, or subscribing to their email and stalking the sales. Stasher donates a part of each sale to non-profits like Surfrider, and the Emeryville-based employees pitch in to community service projects like the Save the Bay waterways cleanups.

Ready to try Stasher? Use my affiliate link HERE to get 20% off of your first order.

Beyond Stasher. There are multiple other brands of reusable bags you can try beyond Stasher. Not all are created equal–some are less sturdy construction, others cannot be recycled. Investigate before you buy.

Replace Disposables with Reusables: The Shopping Bag

One of my first Chico Bags, still kicking (carabiner still works)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that single-use plastic shopping bags are a major source of pollution. What you probably don’t know is that paper bags actually aren’t that much better. The BBC points out some fun facts in this article, including that it takes more energy to make a paper bag, the extra weight of paper bags uses more fossil fuel to move them around, and paper bags need to be reused four times to make them more environmentally friendly than a single-use plastic bag–and it might not be durable enough to last that long. The Flexible Packaging Association reached similar conclusions–which you might expect, since they make plastic bags. The Columbia Climate School also reached similar conclusions about paper versus plastic, and noted that cotton tote bags aren’t that much better. One thing everyone agrees on: reusing a bag of any kind is better than getting a new one.

The Ben & Jerry’s bag on the left is a bit larger than the original Chico bag, and made with recycled fabric

The key to choosing a shopping bag, then, is to pick one you will re-use. (That’s in addition to choosing one that will last a long time, and not end up in a landfill.) For most people convenience is a key factor–it’s one reason I try to keep a stack of reusable bags in the trunk of my car–so my advice is to pick bags you like and can put in a handy place. If you don’t drive to get groceries, putting the bags in your trunk won’t help.

Chico Bag. My favorite bags since the early 2000s have been Chico Bags. Initially I purchased a few of the originals, and later I received several co-branded bags as swag. It’s now 2022, and I still have the first bag I purchased. I like that I can throw them in the washing machine (but I won’t gross you out with any data on the germs and such living on your unwashed reusable bags). I’m also particularly fond of their built-in stuff-sacks (you don’t have to fold up the bag, you just stuff it into the pouch) and carabiner clips; I’ve stashed Chico Bags in my backpack and briefcase, and I’ve clipped them to my backpack, handbag, wristlet, and zipper pull.

Professor Nick Sterling inspects one of my original Chico Bags for damage

Original bags, like the kind I have, are made from a durable polyester in bright colors. I think I chose from 4 or 5 colors and paid $8ish for my bags; currently there are 10 colors and one bag $10 on the website. (Go in with some friends on the 25 pack for $200.) The reviews for the original bags have many from others who have had their bags for 10, 12, or 15 years or more–so you don’t have to take my word for it, or rely on Chico Bag’s estimate that one Chico Bag can replace 1,040 single-use bags. The fabric used to make rePETe Chico Bag products is made from recycled plastic bottles (the PET kind, get it?). Chico Bag has come a long way since I first bought their bags. They now make may products other than shopping bags: sling bags, shoulder bags, travel bags, backpacks, reusable snack and sandwich bags, and more.

One of my favorite things about Chico Bags is that they have committed to reducing post-consumer waste through the Zero Waste Pay It Forward program. When your bags are broken (or you’re bored of them) you can send them back to Chico Bags. If they can be reused, they will be given to someone who can use them; if they are truly dead, they will be repurposed or recycled.

Replace Disposables with Reusables: What’s Next?

There are still a few disposable things I’m not willing to swap for reusables. (Toilet paper is one, though I might change my mind.) Where possible, I’m trying to “vote with my dollars” by purchasing durable, reusable items that will last me a long time.

Do you have a favorite disposable/reusable swap? What should I try next?

Disclosure: I attended the free online Gluten Free Festival as a blogger; bloggers were given access to special sessions to chat with company founders as well as previews, press releases, and samples from some companies. Because the festival was online, I did not have the opportunity to taste or try products during the festival, but I have since been able to try a few (at my own expense).

Food festivals are really fun! This year I went to my first online food festival. It’s not nearly as fun as wandering down the expo hall trying yummy new things, but I’d definitely do it again.

A Few General Observations…

Online cooking demos were more interactive than live ones.

Cooking Demos Online Are Awesome! Ever feel like you can’t see what the cook is doing when you’re at a live demo? Not a problem with an online demo. Disappointed that you don’t get to see the final product at a live demo? Not a problem when it’s pre-recorded–you get to see the actual thing you just saw made, not one made yesterday for show. Extra fun, the person doing the cooking can use the online chat during the demo (it’s pre-recorded, so they can comment/answer questions in the moment). My favorite was gluten-free pizza with Jenny Ching from Laulima Kitchen (she teaches gluten-free cooking and has great resources). The expo is live, and I think you can re-watch the classes? Click here through December 3, 2021.

Non-GMO Obsession, WTH?? Companies continue to be obsessed with sporting the Non-GMO label, even if they make a product that does not contain one of the few crops that are available in the United States in a GMO format (sugar beet, potato, canola, corn, soybean, summer squash, cotton, papaya, apple, alfalfa). If you pick up a product that is NOT one of those items–an orange, asparagus, rice, flour, spices, salt, vitamins–it is already guaranteed to not have a GMO ingredient inside. When I wrote to one vendor expressing my disappointment in their use of the Non-GMO butterfly of deception label, specifically citing the widespread slavery involved in cultivating the biggest brands of cane sugar available in the U.S., that vendor wrote back that they use cane sugar because it is “less likely” to be GMO. This shows the total ignorance of this individual (there is no GMO sugar cane at all, anywhere–the only form of sugar that could maybe be GMO is sugar made from sugar beets), and she did not even bother to address the slavery issue. I’m not naming names, but I’m also not buying that company’s cookies. A full explanation of what’s wrong with the Non-GMO Project is too big for this blog, but suffice to say it’s disingenuous and scammy to sell your non-GMO “certification” for use on products like salt and water. I was very disappointed to see at least 19 companies making non-GMO statements–even a CBD company when HELLO there is NO GMO-format hemp!–and another six with the Non-GMO Project’s trademark, which many in the food communities refer to as “the butterfly of deception.”

Gluten-Free Products Aren’t Just For Celiac Disease. It hadn’t occurred to me, but certified gluten-free products are often attractive to people without a gluten allergy. Gluten-free baked goods (or baked good substitutes) are often suitable for people following a paleo or keto diet. Many products that are gluten-free are also free of the top allergens (soy, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat) and therefore friendly to people with other food allergies. I don’t have food allergies, but I was there to learn more about what products are available and what techniques and knowledge I need to host my friends with allergies and keep them safe.

Bain’s Best of Gluten-Free Festival Awards

Not that anyone asked, but here are my picks for best-of-the-fest. All would make great gifts, all would be appreciated by gluten-free guests, and all are safe for people with Celiac disease. Bonus: all of these are small companies you can feel good about supporting this year.

Travel can be challenging when you have a food allergy

Best Product for Allergy-Friendly Travel

Going to Germany but don’t speak German? Can’t find “I’m allergic to Shellfish” in your Berlitz book? Never fear! The Allergic Traveler has customizable wallet cards and luggage tags available in 20 languages, so you can easily communicate to your server, bar tender, or other restaurant personnel exactly what you need. They also contain a cross-contamination statement. $12.95 for a set of two. www.allergictraveler.net These would also make a great gift to help keep your friends and family safe.

Best Breakfast Bagel, er, Pagel

Pagels! Photo courtesy of The Pagel by Bedrock Bakers

Bedrock Bakers is a Certified Gluten-Free, Paleo, Vegan, Kosher baking company whose signature item is Pagels. I got to “meet” the founder during the festival, and he basically started experimenting with paleo baking and really wanted a bagel. He describes the pagel as “a clean, premium bread product.” A plain pagel contains cassava flour, almond flour, potato starch, organic tapioca syrup, yeast, and sea salt. They also come in “everything,” sesame, and cinnamon raisin. The products are shipped frozen and come with instructions (basically you can re-freeze or they last in the fridge for 5 days). Oh, and did I mention you can get a subscription?? And that English muffins just launched? And that there’s a recipe for French toast using the cinnamon pagel?

You bet I ordered some pagels to try out for myself (and maybe share with my friends who choose a low-carb lifestyle), though if you know me you also know I’m going to keep eating bagels. So far I’ve only tried the cinnamon pagels–tasty! A pagel is smaller and denser than a typical kettle-boiled bagel. It arrives by FedEx, semi-frozen, with instructions to slice and re-freeze promptly. My first pagel taught me that if, like me, you prefer your bagels basically blond with a tiny amount of toasting to make only the top layer crispy, that’s NOT how to cook a pagel–toast that baby much toastier. The second pagel was perfection (toasted all the way through), and I doused it in butter. I’m not sure if it is the resistant starch, but I felt full for a MUCH longer time than I do with a plain bagel.

Use code GOPAGEL 20 for 20% off through December 31, 2021. https://www.bedrockbakers.com/

Best Product To Spice Up Your Life

Two of the Camino Spice gift options

It honestly had not occurred to me that my friends with Celiac disease have to avoid gluten in places I don’t even think to look for gluten, including spices (which do not naturally contain gluten, but might be processed on “shared equipment,” meaning equipment that is also used for wheat products). (Did you know there is gluten in some cosmetics and lipsticks??) If you don’t know whether your favorite spices are gluten-free, contact the company and ask. Or try the spice blends from Camino Spice. Divine Inspired Spice contains cayenne, cinnamon, cumin, a curry blend, ginger, turmeric, clove, and nutmeg–sounds yummy, right? The Not So Spicy variation has no nightshades, which are harder to avoid than you’d think. Add a few ingredients to Not So Spicy–cardamom, black paper, cayenne, and nutmeg–and you get Epiphany Spice Blend. Camino Spice isn’t just a company for spice mixes, though the story about the original spice mix is a good one!

During the festival I ordered a gift pack with all three of the Camino Spice blends, but I haven’t been able to test them out yet. I like to open spice blends, give them a sniff, and then experiment with them. The website also has a few suggestions if you need a place to start.

In addition to their spice blends, also check out the Last Best Chocolate Bar, spiced pumpkin seeds, and Epiphany Mexican Hot Chocolate. There are a ton of great gift options, with several gift packs such as the Divine Trio of spice mixes, but I suspect any of these products would make a great gift. https://www.caminospice.com/ and if you happen to live in Montana, available at select stores.

Three of the offerings from Celestial Cocoa Company

Best Cozy Pandemic Calm-er

One of the very best things about winter is a good cup of hot cocoa, especially if you live in a place where it gets cold. You may also know I am a HUGE fan of putting good cocoa into my coffee. Celestial Cocoa is only sold online, which is why you haven’t heard of it yet (or at least I’m assuming you haven’t–I hadn’t!). Again, if you’re not required to live gluten-free to stay healthy, cocoa is a place you might not think to look for hidden gluten.

Celestial Cocoa’s 18 different cocoa mixes are made in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Options include Hot Cha Cha Chocolate (Powdered Milk, Non-Dairy Creamer, Sugar, Cocoa Powder, and Cayenne Pepper) and Peppermint Twist. I couldn’t wait to try, so I ordered these flavors. They have adorable 4-serving gift bags that would make great stocking stuffers, and 12-serving and 20-serving bags (for bigger stockings?). https://www.celestialcocoa.com/

Have You Attended A Gluten-Free Festival?

If you haven’t, keep an eye out for both future online (or hybrid-model) festivals and (hopefully) the eventual return to “in person” festivals celebrating allergy-friendly foods.

Regardless of whether you’ve been to a festival, what are your hot tips for gluten-free gifts this year? Got a lead on a cool small business that makes products safe for those with Celiac or other allergies? Share!

Disclosures: I paid full-fare for this race and all associated expenses. Yes, I went into this race under-trained which was 100% my own fault. I’m not upset that I took a DNF (despite the 3:14:11 that shows in the race results). I AM pretty salty about some of the apparent mismanagement of the event itself, as well as the blatant lie that was the “3.5 hour course limit.” The TL; DR here is that if you are a slower runner–someone who either plans to walk large segments, is at or near a 16-minute mile pace–and want to do the full distance I absolutely DO NOT recommend this race because your chances of getting to finish are zero.

The ongoing global pandemic rescheduled thousands of races, from local favorites to the iconic Boston Marathon. While this created conflicts for some, it created opportunities for others. When I learned in April that Napa to Sonoma–one of my favorite half marathons, one that in years past sold out promptly–was moved from summer to December, I asked a friend to join me on a December getaway. I last ran this race, then owned by Destination Races (more on that later) in July 2014 and sang its praises in my subsequent blog review. I just knew we’d have a blast based on my past experiences with Destination Races in the past in general, and Napa to Sonoma in particular–gorgeous course, generous 3.5 hour course limit… Yeah, hold that thought.

Napa to Sonoma is Spendy

Let me start by explaining that this is an EXPENSIVE race. My bib was $195. (Compare a pre-sale not-Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon at $65, or the local-to-me Appletree Half at $70-95 depending on when you register.) In order to avoid crowds at the Saturday packet pickup, I also opted to pay $25 to have my bib and shirt mailed to me. (Worthy.) I also paid $19.99 for a photo package from Finisher Pix. (In hindsight, a Bad Idea.) Add a donation to the American Cancer Society (the official charity partner) and a $20.47 Active processing fee (I’m an Active+ member, but they only gave a $10 discount) and I put down $270 before I even booked airfare, a rental car, and lodging.

To be fair, the $195 plus processing fees covers more than many half marathons. In addition to the usual shirt and medal, runners are shuttled to the starting line because this is a point-to-point course. After the race there is a wine tasting festival with live music, and each runner is given a wine glass. (Based on Instagram posts from prior years, it looks like they bought the glasses in bulk a few years ago; the glass we received this year looks just like the one from years past.) This year the fee also included use of a coaching app called Bird, free to all runners. (While I did not make full use of Bird, I imagine I would in the future–but that’s a post for another day.) That said, $195 plus fees is on par with what Disney charged for the 2021 fall half marathon–still very expensive.

What’s the Motiv?

No More Destination Races. Next, I should note that Destination Races (who I knew as the owner/operator of Napa to Sonoma and other runs in wine country) was acquired by Motiv Running. Or perhaps Motiv just bought their races, I don’t know exactly. What I do know is that Motiv Running, in turn, is owned by a big conglomerate named Black Shamrock Partners (formerly known as Consumer Concept Group). I was familiar with Motiv because they began to buy up a bunch of races that had been local to me before I moved from California to Oregon in 2017. All I really knew is that they were a big Denver-based conglomerate of some sort, and based on the rate they were buying up events in California I assumed they had some sort of venture capital or other outside funding. According to this 2018 press release, at that time they had already purchased a bunch of races the company referred to as “investments,” including “the Sydney Marathon, Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon, Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, The Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon, The Wildflower and Malibu Triathlons as well as the Denver Oktoberfest.” You can see a list of some of their current “investments” on the Motiv website linked above. (I’m sad to learn they now own Portland’s Shamrock Run.)

Yes, it’s a wine-themed race, but I discovered this delicious beverage as well.

In hindsight, I probably should have paid more attention to Motiv between its creation in 2015 and the buying spree they took up during the next two years. (If I had, I might have chosen a different race.) Instead of taking a hard look at the changes to the races, I was wowed by their roster of “content creators.” (The content creation seems to have fallen by the wayside, since there are no articles or commentary on the Motiv website right now.) Initially the company seemed to be all about preserving the “local race” experience–ironic, since it was in fact eating up actual local race companies–but the more recent press releases I found are all extremely corporate “identifying opportunities for growth” and not about presenting the best possible running experience. Priorities noted, Motiv.

Let’s Talk Pre-Race Weekend

Communication prior to the race seemed excellent. Emphasis on the “seemed” part. About ten days prior to the race I received an email with a very clear schedule of events, including information on the on-course amenities (water, nuun, Base gel) and a link to the detailed final participant information (where to park, etc.). The email also included links to pre-order race merchandise and wine developed for the race by Meadowcroft wines.

As I mentioned, I paid to have my packet shipped to me. Communication there was also excellent (I received tracking emails before the packet arrived), and everything arrived in November–plenty of time in advance of race day. Bonus: I got to run my race shirt through the wash.

Ominous Weather! As race day neared, I received multiple emails warning me that the weather forecast was for rain, and advising me to dress in layers, consider bringing a cover-up layer to shed after the start, and to pack dry clothing to change into after the race. At least one email also mentioned the cooler temperatures (race day high temp: approx. 47 degrees). I had planned ahead with layers for race day–long sleeved shirt, quarter-zip, jacket–and plenty of medical tape and Squirrel’s Nut Butter (to prevent blisters on my feet). I also packed a full set of dry clothes, including shoes and socks, for after the race.

Comedy Tonight! The first moment of “oh this is ridiculous” was the night before the race. I went to lay out my race kit and discovered that I had left my bib on my dining room table in Oregon. After putting it there so I could not possibly walk out of the house without seeing it. After planning for weeks to use it as a bookmark in the book I would take for the plane. D’oh! But hey, at that point it was way too late to do anything about it, and I just figured it would all work out.

Race Day: Let’s Start At The Very Beginning.

Parking and Shuttles. I personally thought communication about parking and shuttles was fairly clear, but others may disagree, and it doesn’t seem like Motiv followed through on their shuttle plans properly. In any case, this is a point-to-point course with runner drop-off but NO PARKING at the starting line. As I did in 2014, I chose to park near the finish line and take one of the shuttles to the start. There were three identified parking locations (not including plentiful on-street parking).

It was raining on race morning, as we got up in the dark and made our way from the Air BnB to Sonoma. Sunrise was supposed to be 7:17 a.m., and the last shuttle was supposed to leave at 6:20 a.m. in order to make the 7:00 a.m. start time, so we planned to arrive between 5:45 and 6:00 a.m., aka Ouch O’Clock. I had intended to park at the Sonoma State Historic Park, but the address provided (and which I pumped into Google Maps) did not lead to the parking lot, so I ended up on the street, which was fine. There were shuttles waiting right across the street from us, waiting to transport us to the starting line. Since masks were required on the shuttles–I’m fully vaccinated and have my booster, but I expect races to follow best practices vis a vis preventing COVID-19 transmission–we planned to use the shuttles.

The LOLs Continue! As I got my post-race gear bag out of the car and took out my rain poncho, I realized…it wasn’t a rain poncho at all. I’d somehow managed to pack one rain poncho (the kind you buy at Disney World when it rains on race weekend) and one…shower curtain liner. I still have no idea how a newish, clean shower curtain liner ended up in my closet packed with my rain ponchos, but I just laughed–after leaving my bib at home, I guess anything is possible!

Step Two: The Starting Line

First, The Good. The race begins at the Cuvaison Carneros Winery in Napa. I have mostly good points for the starting area. (1) The bag drop truck was easy to find–you had to walk past it to get to the waiting area–and there were plenty of clear plastic bags, bag tags, and markers available. The area to stuff and mark your bag had one of those square canopies over it so the supplies stayed dry. (2) There was another canopy nearby with coffee and enough cups for everyone. (3) I went to race day packet pickup and explained I’d made a mistake and left my bib at home, and they quickly assigned me a new one. (4) There were plenty of porta-potties.

Now, The Bad. (1) It wasn’t a great idea to leave the paved but lumpy path from the bus to the runner holding area at the winery, up a hill, completely in the dark (no lights at all and with sunrise more than a full hour after the first arrivals). I’m not sure who failed to think that through, but runners did stumble and fall. (2) Since the race organizers had repeatedly emailed the runners to warn us it was going to rain, I thoroughly expected that the race’s starting line would also be prepared for rain, with some dry pre-race accommodations–inside the winery, under some big rental tents, or otherwise a cover to keep runners dry. Nope. I get that you can’t control the weather, but after all of the extensive email advice about dealing with weather I expected the race would also make accommodations of some sort. (3) The speakers on the P.A. system were terrible. Even 10′ away they sounded like an adult character from “Peanuts” talking through a broken Fisher-Price toy. It was difficult to hear and understand the pre-race announcements, to the point where my friend with less race experience could not tell what was going on; I was barely able to piece it together based on the hundreds of races I’ve done. (4) There were a few of those outdoor gas-powered heater-trees (like you see at restaurants) but there were not nearly enough for all of the runners–by the time I arrived, there wasn’t space near enough to get warm. (This was fine by me–I brought plenty of clothing–but distressing to some of the runners who waited more than an hour for the race to start.)

Finally, The Ugly. The published starting time for this race was 7:00 a.m. I heard a garbled announcement that I interpreted as a 15-minute delay, and later heard “7:30 or 7:35” and–based in part on lack of movement back down the hill towards the starting line–assumed that was further delay. I’d left my Coros back in Oregon (charging in my office) so I don’t know what time we moved down towards the starting line but some people had been waiting long enough to need to pee again and with the porta-potties way back up the hill and no indication when the race might really start there was quite a bit of peeing in the vineyards of Cuvaison! As a slowpoke I was near the back, so couldn’t hear anything from the speakers at the starting line itself. Eventually, runners were released in groups–a smart move, to prevent bottlenecks and crowding–with a minute or so between groups. Group 6 (mine) crossed the starting line at 7:42 a.m. but I wasn’t worried since there was a published 3.5 hour time limit and there were PLENTY of people behind me–not to mention those still arriving at the bottom of the hill as shuttles continued to drop off runners after the start. (Listen, I don’t know what the problem was here, but this race has been going on for like 10+ years; to have the shuttles turn into such a cluster was pretty much inexcusable.)

Step Three: It Was A Dark And Cloudy Morning…

The Course is Beautiful. Even in the rain. Due to the point-to-point nature and limited road options there are a few features that most runners find somewhat unfortunate. For example, the course starts on a downhill leaving the winery, turns, and then immediately begins a hill climb. Another example is the transition from well-maintained, flat asphalt to a road made almost entirely of potholes; this transition happens exactly at the point you move from Napa County to Sonoma County (and you can tell because it is spray-painted on the road). Pretty minor annoyances though when you consider how gorgeous the wine country is! Even with grey skies, wrapped in a shower curtain, I loved being out on the course. How often do you get to run on a semi-closed course (the race had half of the road, vehicles had the other half) in such a beautiful place? Sure, I liked it better in the sun we had in July 2014 but I still loved the scenery.

Oh look! New goodr! Wine-colored glasses!

On Course Support Was Solid. The pre-race emails identified the aid stations by mile marker and on a map of the course. In addition, the emails spelled out which aid (water, hydration, gels, bars) would be available where, and the brands, so there was no excuse for arriving unprepared on race day. I knew my tummy liked nuun, but I also brought my Orange Mud pack and filled my bottle with Hydrant. I packed Honey Stinger chews, also friendly to my tummy, for fuel. At mile 8 there were gels, bars, hand warmers, rain ponchos, and other assorted supplies. The hand warmers and rain ponchos would have been a million times more useful at the starting line so I’m not sure what the race director was thinking.

About that 3.5 hour course time limit…it’s a lie. Or at least VERY misleading. The website with the race FAQ states: “The half marathon course limit is 3.5 hours.  You must maintain a pace of 16 minutes per mile to finish the race.” If you do the math, this is accurate. As far as my experience of 100+ half marathons has taught me, the course time limit is measured from the time the last runner crosses the starting line. If you’ve run a Run Disney event, you know those last runners as “the balloon ladies,” runners who carry balloons and keep a strict 16 minute pace. Other races use literal “balloon ladies” (the last runner carries balloons), though some just have a final pacer. That is NOT how this race works…

…which I learned when I was swept nearish to Mile 10, around 10:30 a.m. Instead, the 3.5 hours is measured from the published start time for the race–not even when the first runner starts! So the 3.5 hours began to run about 45 minutes before I did. The poor runners who got stuck in whatever problem the shuttles had? Some of them did not start until 8:00 a.m.!

Again, I knew I wasn’t properly trained for this race (all on me, 0% on Bird), and it was cold and wet. (A pre-race email advised, “Respect your limits. Cold temperatures restrict blood flow, which can cause muscles to contract and even cramp.”) According to the one timing mat (okay, bib scanner thingy) I was a 17:00/mile at the 10k mark–definitely behind pace, but only by 6 minutes at that point. I passed mile 8 and the aid station and was well into mile 9 when a truck pulled up and a race official told us that they “have to get the runners off the course by 10:30” and so the shuttle bus behind us was going to pick us up and “bump us forward.” Since I know how much work goes into planning a race and how stressful race day can be, I will not give a race official any smack talk on race day. So I got on the bus.

There were already a dozen runners on board. We picked up another dozen as we passed the markers for mile 10 and 11. Frankly, at that point I was disappointed–I paid $195 and had certainly not had 3.5 hours on the course–but the weather was crap and I was developing a weird, new blister in an inexplicably puzzling location on my right foot, plus again with the not giving smack to the race officials–but I determined that I’d have a good time anyway. I made new friends on the sag wagon and we all cheered each time a new person boarded.

Honestly I don’t know if they ever intended to “bump us forward” or if that was a lie too (given I boarded around 10:30, which appears to have been the actual course cut-off, 3.5 hours from the published start) but they took us all the way to the finish area. The bus dropped us off one block from the finish line (which we all then ran across and yes I accepted a medal, and no, I’m not adding this to my Half Fanatics record since I did not finish). My friend Melissa later told me that after she crossed the 12 mile marker she heard there was a head-on collision at the intersection just before that, which may explain why we were sent to the finish line. Or maybe not? The starting line was such a mess I’d believe almost anything.

Step Four: The Finish Line

Finish Line Food Was NomNom. I picked up a bottle of Oxigen water (the one time I drink bottled water because that’s all they had), a banana, Bob’s Red Mill peanut butter coconut bar, squeezable apple sauce pouch, and a bag of Sonoma Creamery cheese “crackers.” Despite the encouragement to “take as much as you want” I knew the people who were not scooped up by the sag wagon would also want snacks, so I limited my grab to one of each. I saw the nuun truck was nearby with four flavors on tap and made a note to head back. Then I went to find the gear check truck, which was all the way across the entire park–literally as far from the finish line and chute as possible.

Naively, I Expected A Changing Tent. In every race where I’ve been advised to pack dry post-race gear, there’s been a changing tent. Most races do not have such a thing, so why did I expect one here? Motiv told me to! For example, the December 7th email contained the following advice: “Check some warm gear. Be prepared for outdoor conditions at Cuvaison Winery before the race starts. Wear your warm clothes to the start and then check them at gear check, which closes at 6:45am. We’ll transport your gear check bag to the finish line so you can get out of wet clothes immediately after the race. It’s important to change the clothing closest to your body to stay warm and dry. Plus you’ll have a much better time at the post race wine festival.” Also this: “Make sure you change out of cold or wet clothes before attending the wine festival.” This seems to imply there will be a place to change clothes, no? Actually, NO. There was no place to change clothing. No tent, shelter, building, or other area to change clothes. I suppose I could have stood in the rain and changed outside in the park, but then I didn’t want to get arrested. So I enjoyed the post-race wine festival in my wet racing duds, shower curtain, and an added heat sheet.

The medal is sort of Christmas ornament themed; it’s got a ribbon to hang, and the middle bit is a spinner.

Wine Festival! In July 2014, the wineries were distributed towards the edges of the downtown Sonoma plaza/park. This ensured that the line for one winery didn’t impede traffic flow. This time, all of the wineries were crammed into the center of the plaza. Since it was still raining, and there were zero other covered places to stand, people tended to jam themselves under the little tents that had the wine. While there were some larger wineries, I was thrilled to see smaller winemakers present as well. I did go back to get some more nuun, and I also took the opportunity to try the other Sonoma Creamery cheese crisps. Michelob Ultra was in a beer tent and since I dislike beer I wasn’t going to go there until I saw that Michelob Ultra now makes hard seltzer. Surprise! It is actually delicious. I tried two flavors (because I’d also been sipping wine and I had a brief but winding drive back) and the spicy pineapple is my favorite. I’m looking forward to finding this locally.

The only completely covered place that wasn’t crowded to the gills was the merch tent. Pre-orders were ready and waiting for pickup. I scored some new goodr, which I clearly needed because I only have like 20 pair. It was still raining, I was still wet, and after grabbing a cup of coffee we headed to Sonoma’s Best for a grab-and-go breakfast (mocha and an egger) before heading home to showers, a nap, and the Air BnB’s hot tub!

What Others Said

The following are direct quotes from the race’s Facebook page, posted in response to a race-day announcement that the company knew about the delay. I have used the initials of the names as used on Facebook (which may or may not be a person’s legal name). So far, there are no response from the race.

  • “Really disappointed in this race. Reeked of greed with no regard for the safety and well-being of the runners. Between the poor transportation, late start leaving underdressed runners standing in the cold rain for an hour waiting to start, and having cars driving both ways on the course, you’re lucky someone didn’t get seriously hurt. And a $200 ticket price? No thanks. Never again and will never recommend to anyone.” B.J.
  • In response to B.J., above, J.G. wrote: “well said. A total slap in the face.”
  • “Last shuttle arrived at 8 am to start after waiting an hour in the rain. Just to be told “run that way” no warm up no excitement no start line experience.. Doomed to get picked up by a van to drive us to the finish because “despite the late start” they had to open the roads. I feel cheated out of what should have been a great experience.” J.P.
  • “Ran this one in 2017. Enjoyed my time there, but the race was not well-managed. Would not recommend.” A.T.B.
  • “This was such a disorganized mess of a race. No lighting on the walk to the top of the hill waiting area. Tripped on a wire the guy was installing at the starting line as I had to use phone flashlight to try and see. Delayed start waiting 30+ min in the cold after having warmed up AND my checked bag was lost. I love this race but this was just too much. Hoping my bag gets found!!!!” W.J.
  • “This is the worst company – all they really care about is signing you up for next year! They actually pretended there was NO wetgear concern at all[.]” J.D.
  • “Stood in the cold rain for 30 minutes trying to get a shuttle… now the shuttle driver is blasting the A/C… is this a joke? I’ve run many many races… so far this one is a double thumbs down[.]” J.G.

In Conclusion

  • Pre-race: Good communication, timely packet mailing. Misleading published start time and course limit. Misleading statements about changing clothes after the race.
  • Race Day, starting line: The shuttles were inexplicably a hot mess. Do not wait until the last shuttle, please. If you do, don’t demand a late start. It is obnoxious. If it rains, expect to get soaking wet at the start, and possibly stand around for an hour in the rain–plan ahead for this.
  • Race Day, post-start: Do not believe the published course limit. You absolutely do NOT have a full 3.5 hours unless the race starts on time AND you are the first across the starting line.
  • Course: Beautiful! Lovely! Amazing!
  • Post-Race Festival: Have fun!
  • I’m not sorry I went to this race, but this will be my last year running it. The experience doesn’t justify the cost for me (and I can run other races and enjoy wine country).

Did you run Napa to Sonoma 2021? What did you think?

Really, the book is about yoga for chronic illness and chronic pain.

If you live with chronic pain, you’ve probably had at least one well-meaning friend tell you, “oh, you definitely need to do yoga!” (Or so I am told by my friends who live with chronic illness.) I was surprised to see Cory Martin, a person who lives with chronic pain due to MS and lupus, not just make this suggestion, but also write an entire book about it. Now to be fair, Ms. Martin was doing yoga (and teaching yoga) before she received either diagnosis, so she may have been more receptive to the idea than most; more important, she has the lived experience to back the suggestion to do yoga AND the chops to suggest appropriate practices and how to work with your body.

(c) Styled Stock Society

Disclosure: I was lucky to get the opportunity to access an advance readers copy of Ms. Martin’s forthcoming book, The Yoga Prescription. This listed publication date for this book is January 11, 2022. Access to the ARC did not require me to do anything, though of course the publisher did ask for any private feedback I might want to share. I think this book has merit and may be actually helpful for people living with chronic pain, as it was written by an author who is walking in those shoes; this is a book most yoga teachers are 100% unqualified to write—I could try to write a book like this, but I would not be credible since I do not live with chronic pain. There is a lot of autobiography that I found educational or enlightening, but the target audience will likely recognize as similar to their own experiences. Because of this, I decided to write a review on my blog.

Prior to reading this book I was totally unfamiliar with Ms. Martin as an author (though I later realized I’ve seen/read some of her prior work, unaware it was hers). The introduction introduces you to Ms. Martin and the fact that she lives with multiple sclerosis and lupus. This is continued in chapter 1, “the diagnosis,” which is also largely autobiographical. Chapter 2, “understanding the treatment plan,” introduces basic concepts in yoga. The remainder of the chapters have a yoga-related or yoga-informed title that is also a mental attitude or practice and a physical practice associated with them (“be here now,” “just say no,” etc.) Each of these chapters also features one yoga pose or yoga-related practice suggestion.

The Yucky Parts.

On the theory that it’s best to end on a positive note, I’m going to start with what I disliked about The Yoga Prescription.

The title. This book is not a prescription; yoga is not medication. While some yoga may be “prescribed” by a qualified physical therapist, medical practitioner, or trained yoga therapist, this isn’t that kind of yoga. The book fails to “prescribe” anything  specific and in fact one of the main themes of the book is the exact opposite: yoga practice has to be personalized to your body on the specific day you are practicing.

The subtitle. “A Chronic Illness Survival Guide.” Only semi-accurate. Based on the title and subtitle, I expected to see more of a step-by-step process. Like “Chapter 1: How to yoga after your diagnosis” or something. Instead, the introduction and first chapter are autobiographical, as is about one-half to one third of each subsequent chapter. My read is that the chapters follow Ms. Martin’s experience somewhat chronologically, while the practice suggestions build on each other starting from chapter one. There’s not quite enough material to separate the biography from the yoga suggestions, and I do quite like the mix of experience plus practice suggestions. Yet I still find the subtitle as misleading as the title.

(c) Styled Stock Society

The cover. I really hope this cover changes before publication (and it might—the cover mock-up on the ARC is often not the final cover). Since the book has not been published yet I do not have a photo to show you. The cover is a blue background with a horizontal rectangular box that is yellow, with three pill capsule graphics underneath (the kind where there are two colors, one for each half of the capsule). The word “yoga” appears in the yellow box, and each of the three pills has part of the word “prescription” on it (pre-, scrip, -tion). Not only does this feel pretty stale to me—I’ve probably seen a dozen books with pills on the cover in the past—it’s an active turn-off. If I saw the cover at a bookstore, I’d pass right by without picking it up.

The explanations of Sanskrit terms. One of my pet peeves is the gross oversimplification of Sanskrit words in general (and yoga terms specifically) in the western presentation of yoga. This isn’t a pitfall unique to Ms. Martin—to be fair—but as she has more than 500 hours of yoga teacher training, it’s a bummer to see her continue the trend of dumbing-down yoga. For example, in Chapter two, the introduction to yoga, Ms. Martin writes: “Put simply, yoga means to yoke or bring together.” Except that’s not true.

The meaning of “yoga” is more complicated than saying the Spanish word “rojo” means “red” in English. Yes, the word “yoga” comes from the same root word that led to our English word “yoke,” but that’s not an accurate translation of the word yoga. As I learned from Anya Foxen (PhD) yoga is a super basic, super generic word. It means fixing a bow; employment, use, application; equipping or arraying an army; a remedy or cure; and a means, device, way, manner, or method…among many other meanings. The concept of yoga as meditation doesn’t show up until half-way through a rather lengthy list of definitions, though many American yoga teachers tell their students all yoga practice is driving toward meditation. As Ms. Foxen explained, yoking and chariots were the high-tech of the time, and the word yoga as yoking a chariot was the appropriate high-tech metaphor of the time—much like in the Renaissance we see finely-tuned clocks as the high-tech leading to the analogy “runs like clockwork,” or how us moderns talk about the brain as a computer. This concept of yoga as yoke is more like the word “rig” (another definition of yoga) as used in the nautical sense, and also in the sense of a trick, stratagem, or fraud (like rigging an election or rigging the game).

It would have been really interesting to see Ms. Martin tie the complicated multi-faceted word “yoga” to the equally complex challenges of living with a chronic illness that is not visible to others. (M.S. and lupus rarely have visible symptoms; you don’t “look disabled” or “look sick” to others.) I understand that Ms. Martin is aiming for a beginner audience, but this gives her the perfect opportunity to educate instead of to repeat the tired half-truths of yoga teachers past. Even if she did not want to include this much information in the introduction to yoga chapter, she could easily have thrown it into an appendix or other supplemental material at the end of the book. It’s a pretty short book, there was plenty of room left. (I’m not even going to start on the “translation” of “namaste,” but suffice to say it repeats an American invention and is not a translation.) This is just one example of the watering-down of the terms used to talk about yoga that Ms. Martin repeats.

The Yummy Parts.

(c) Styled Stock Society

Let’s talk about things I loved about the book.

This isn’t a book about “yoga poses.” (Yes, there are yoga poses included. But if you’re looking for a book about yoga poses, you might try Ms. Martin’s earlier book, Yoga for Beginners.) While the chapter introducing yoga does make it sound like Patanjali is the be-all end-all of what yoga is (he’s not, but most western yoga can be traced by to Krishnamacharya and/or western European esoteric practitioners, all of whom emphasized Patjanjali and more or less ignored other historic texts), it clearly sets out that there are eight parts of yoga. While I take issue with her Sanskrit “translations” throughout the book, I love the way she explains how each of the yamas and niyamas—these are the ethical precepts of yoga, sort of like the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots”—relates to her experience of living with a chronic illness. For example, “satya” is a principle about truthfulness and not fooling yourself or others. Ms. Martin’s explanation of satya includes very practical, accessible examples such as “If someone asks you how you’re doing, you don’t always have to say you’re fine. Be honest with yourself and those around you.” The term “brahmacharya” is usually used to describe sexual abstinence or celibacy, but that’s actually an oversimplification as bramacharya is a bigger concept about protecting your energy. Ms. Martin points out this can also mean “ridding your life of the things that drain you.” She goes on to give specific examples of ways she has abstained from work, people, and relationships that drain her. It’s rare to find a beginner yoga book that isn’t focused ONLY on yoga poses, so this is a huge plus in my mind. In fact I think it would have been cool to see a whole chapter focused on each yama and niyama and how it relates to living with a chronic illness—I bet many people could relate to at least some of the explanations, even without a chronic illness..

The practices are doled out in bite-sized pieces. Lots of books on yoga practice start out with “practice for 30 minutes” or “do this whole set of yoga poses.” This one is pretty refreshing in that the message is a consistent “do what you can, when you can—and that might be different today and tomorrow.” The first practice doesn’t even come in until Chapter 3, and that first practice is “savasana,” often referred to as “corpse pose” or out here in America as “final resting pose.” These small bites can be explored one at a time, and eventually you might choose to string them together into a practice. A visual guide at the end of the book helps with this.

(c) Styled Stock Society

The physical yoga poses are fairly simple: savasana, seated forward fold, sukhasana (seated cross-legged), cat/cow, balasana (child’s pose), adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog), side plank, tadasana (mountain pose), vrksasana (tree pose), utkatasana (chair or awkward pose), “be free” (chest opener/movement). Each pose is introduced with a relatively simple line drawing. Overall I like the line drawings, and find them more useful than the typical yoga stick-figures, but I dislike the one for vrksasana as it shows the heel of the raised foot pressed into the knee of the standing leg (a big yikes, especially if you have delicate joints). I’m also not a huge fan of the one for downward-facing dog, as it looks a lot like me in my early yoga practice—overly rounded lumbar curve/collapsed spine. Otherwise, I would have liked to see more of these line drawings, especially to illustrate the alternative suggestions for ways to adapt the pose to your body.

Every yoga pose has numerous alternatives. Early in the book, Ms. Martin advocates for using props (chapter 4, “prop yourself up”) to make the yoga pose suit your body, instead of trying to mash your body into the pose. This is advice all people practicing yoga should heed. (I’m reminded of a story where one of my yoga teachers was teaching a class and offered a block to a student in her Level 2 class. The student refused, saying: “But I’m a Level 2 student!” My teacher replied, “And this is a Level 2 block.”) Everyone’s anatomy is just slightly different, and your shorter torso many not allow you to do things my longer toros permits me to do; whether your hands touch the floor is a function of bone length, not just flexibility. Lest you think Ms. Martin is advising everyone buy a bunch of yoga props, she specifically suggests using many items most of us already have available to us, including a wall or sofa. Ample suggestions for modifications and substitutes makes the practice accessible to just about anyone.

The end of the book has resources that are useful to people who just want a refresher or reminder of what to do. The “Quick Guide: Daily Practice” lists five elements (Breathe, Move, Close Your Eyes, Meditate, Set an Intention) with a sentence or two regarding each. These five elements are things literally anyone can do, even if they do not have a lot of time, space, or energy to devote to a practice. The “Move” component doesn’t suggest you need a specific series of yoga poses, but rather says “Wiggle your toes, go for a walk, practice a few poses. Every day do what feels good for you.” This type of movement is accessible no matter what your body is doing or feeling. Next, there is a “Reference Library” which repeats the yoga poses discussed in each chapter and the philosophical point Ms. Martin associated with each, plus the line drawing that originally accompanied the pose in the text.

Conclusion: Give It A Read?

Overall, I think this is a worthy read for those who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, even if they have no interest in yoga poses—you can ignore that content and still get value from reading the book. I appreciate Ms. Martin’s personal insight. If you, or a loved one, live with a chronic illness—especially one that is “invisible” or one that includes living with chronic pain—I do recommend you check out The Yoga Prescription when it is released in January 2022.

The holidays are coming, in case your email inbox isn’t jammed full of pre-Black Friday offers or you otherwise somehow missed it. Wondering what to get the runners in your life to show them you care? Let’s start with essential safety gear. Bonus: all of these suggestions work for cyclists and others who might be outdoors at night. Many of these brands are offering the same or similar deals at your local running and cycling shops, so shop local if you can.

Be Safe, Be Seen

NoxGear Tracer 360 vest

NoxGear. My favorite way to be seen, hands down. Their best-known product is the Tracer360 vest, and personally I think everyone who runs at night should own one. Essentially it is a lightweight, minimal “vest” that you wear over your regular running clothes. (More of a belt that has loops that go over your shoulders–doesn’t add bulk.) The shoulder straps light up, and there are both solid color and flashing pattern options. When it’s dark outside, there’s no way you’ll be missed. Save 35% on all NoxGear with code BRIANARUNS (courtesy of @matmilesmedals). https://www.noxgear.com/tracer360

ProViz. A few years ago I won one of these jackets in an online contest, and I still cannot believe my luck. The fabric seems like a grey/silver until light shines on it and then BOOM! it lights up like someone plugged it into a socket. (sturdy and long-lasting too, so think of this as an investment in your night wardrobe forever.) No photo I take will do it justice, so I highly recommend you go look at their website. ProViz makes sport-specific safety clothing for runners and cyclists, and also has a line of general activewear including fleece lined visibility gear for less sweaty endeavours. The 2020 Black Friday deal is 20% off everything. https://www.provizsports.com/en-us/

Knuckle Lights. Useful for all situations where you might run in the dark, from casual night jogs to ultrarunning events. Knuckle lights strap to your hands, just like the name indicates, and increase your visibility in two ways: (1) your literal visibility to others (traffic, cyclists, other runners, etc.) and (2) your visibility in the sense that you can better see the path in front of you. There’s a money-back satisfaction guarantee, and a five-year warranty, so you’ve pretty much got nothing to lose. I’m proud to share the love, since Knuckle Lights is based in Oregon. https://knucklelights.com/

Brilliant Reflective by 3M. If the runner in your life is picky about gear, or likes maximum options, you can help them make the gear they already own and love reflective. Brilliant Reflective Strips come in both stick on (temporary, pull back off) and iron on (more of a permanent solution) options. This is one of the least expensive ways to up your visibility, and you can add it to your clothing, bike helmet, or even your bike! There are multiple varieties and colors too. https://brilliantreflective.com/

Safety Skin. We all know that one guy who runs in shorts and a tank top, year round, regardless of weather or temperature. If that’s you or the runner in your life, Safety Skin is for you. Safety Skin is basically a deodorant-like stick with a wax base that you put directly onto your skin. This makes it easy to put a reflective strip anywhere on your body, regardless of whether you’ve got clothing there. There’s a sunblock option too. https://www.safetyskinproducts.com/

Other Options. When looking at winter running or cycling gear, keep an eye out for gear with reflective properties. Most major brands have at least one line of tights, pants, shorts, etc. that has a reflective strip or pattern on it. Gear can also have reflective properties, for example on a SPI belt or an Amphipod hand-held bottle. Staying seen is one of the top ways to avoid getting hit!

Be Safe, Carry ID

I’ve looked around, and there is really no substitute at all for a Road ID. It’s superior to carrying just your phone since most phones screen lock, and even better than a drivers license since the Road ID can get crucial medical or allergy information to responders that your state-issued ID cannot. I’m so in love with the Road ID that I personally own three or four (I have one that was specific to the original FitBit, obviously I’m not using that one anymore…). No one likes to think about it, but what happens if you are out on a run, by yourself, and something awful happens–you get hit by a car, you have a heart attack or a stroke? Road ID helps make sure first responders and emergency personnel can help you appropriately. I’m a wrist ID person, though I’ve used the velcro on the bands to connect my Road ID to my running vest. I bought one for my Dad, I bought one for the family dog. If your arm party is already strong, you can get a Road ID to attach to your running watch, your Apple watch, or your shoe. My favorite part of Road ID is the connectivity part: in the event I am unable to assist first responders, there is a code on the ID they can use to access my essential medical details (which I keep updated) and my emergency contact list. The cost for this is minimal, even for the low mileage I run each year. Peace of mind for all of my family, too. Did I mention the engraving is guaranteed for life? Road ID also has an app that allows people YOU select to follow you in real time, which is super useful if you have an accident and can’t tell your family which hospital you are headed to. Current sale is 20% off, and up to 80% off of the clearance items. https://www.roadid.com/

Be Safe, Stay Connected

Wearsafe Tag. If you find yourself in an unsafe situation or suddenly needing help, the Wearsafe Tag is your best friend. When you get the tag, you download an app and set up your contacts list. If you find yourself needing help, you just push the button on the tag. The app alerts your contacts that something is wrong and sends them a live audio feed. Your contacts can use the app’s group chat feature to coordinate a response–which might mean going to you directly, or might mean calling 911. The tag vibrates to let you know someone has seen your alert, and you can press the button again to let them know you’re okay–the app will turn blue to alert them you’re okay. It’s easy to strap or clip the tag to your running gear. If you have a friend who runs alone and you worry, this is the perfect gift. https://wearsafe.com/

Be Safe, Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Aftershokz. Regardless of whether you’re running at night or during the day, the number one thing you can do to promote your own safety is to stay aware of your surroundings. Unfortunately, many runners go out wearing noise-canceling headphones that impede their ability to hear what is going on around them, from other runners to approaching cyclists to cars. (Really, it just takes one bicycle-runner collision to really mess up your body.) I’ve been a huge fan of Aftershokz for a long time. Instead of buds that sit in your ears and block out other sound, Aftershokz sit outside of your ears and use bone-conduction technology. This means you can hear everything going on around you. Fun fact: there are also Aftershokz for swimmers! https://us.aftershokz.com/ BUT WAIT! If you want to save up to $35 off (discount depends on what you order) all bone conduction headphones, use this link from @MatMilesMedals: https://glnk.io/4w4/sharp  (On December 6, the link returns to a 15% discount)

Be Helpful: What’s Your Go-to Gift for Runner (and Athlete) Safety?

Drop me your favorites! What’s the best gadget, piece of clothing, or product that helps keep you safe while you’re out? What do you secretly hope to find under the tree, in your stocking, or waiting for you wherever your presents appear?

If you have spent any time with me, you know how much I love my coffee. Good coffee. Coffee that people describe using the floofy fancy terms other people use to talk about wine or single malt scotch. Coffee from a variety of small-batch roasters, neighborhood shops, and hobbyists. Coffee from Central America, Indonesia, and Africa. I’m the woman who sees a sign for a coffee roastery that offers tours and immediately suspends The Plan to go see. (True story, this is how I discovered Mariposa Coffee which literally had just a Facebook page that no one maintained at the time.)

When I read The Counter’s article, “What if the only coffee shops left after Covid-19 are Starbucks?” I was horrified. Not because I hate Starbucks (I don’t, I’ve had a gold card since back in the day when you paid $20 to get wifi access) but because my life is SO MUCH BETTER with small batch, quirky, independent roasters in it. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has wisely determined that coffee is part of the “critical infrastructure industry” that hasn’t stopped independent coffee shops from shuttering their doors or running with a bare-basics crew to try to stay alive. Big chains like Peet’s and Starbucks are likely to survive because they have other revenue, including national distribution and big grocery store sales, and have a billion locations and have apps to pre-order. The place down the street? Not so much.

So here’s my attempt to inspire you to buy your beans from a small business. I’ve tried most of the options listed below, and the other recommendations come from trusted friends. If I missed your favorite, drop a comment and share the love!

I don’t know about you, but coffee fuels my work and my world. I swear #ButFirstCoffee was created with me in mind.
Photo (c) Styled Stock Society

Arizona

Cartel Coffee Lab. I first heard of Cartel through a subscription coffee box. Now that they have a cafe inside the Phoenix airport, I may sometimes book my travel with a connection there just so I can pick up a few bags… https://www.cartelcoffeelab.com/

California

Bear Coast Coffee. My friend Kate Durham: “Bear Coast Coffee in Orange County, CA, is a wonderful coffeeshop with a fresh atmosphere, happy regulars, super chill baristas, and damn good coffee…I really hope they survive. They have the original shop in San Clemente.and a shop they opened last year in Dana Point. I believe they’re open for local pickup and delivery.” Check them out at https://bearcoastcoffee.com/

Bella Rosa Coffee. Kelly Benson says, “I buy their coffee any chance I can. I can taste the flavor behind their roasts and I find them to be so much more aromatic.” Family-owned, organic, low-acid coffees. This is definitely the kind of place I want to see survive and thrive. What’s not to love? https://www.bellarosacoffeecompany.com/

Mariposa Coffee Company. I literally found them by the side of the road in Mariposa, CA because there was a small sign. At that point in time they had zero internet presence, and not a lot of traffic, so I got a personal tasting and tour (and saw the frankenroaster!) OMG. So good that I not only bought several bags for myself, but I also bought some to send to my brother (his Christmas gift that year was “I’ll mail you coffee from interesting places I visit”). I even bought a t-shirt. That was a half-dozen or more years ago, and now they have a lovely website and you can use it to buy their coffee, which I highly recommend you do. https://www.mariposacoffeecompany.com/

Colorado

Ampersand Coffee. This Boulder-based coffee roaster comes highly recommended by Kia Ru, due to their “mission for female empowerment benefiting growers who are primarily female. They just started selling in Patagonia Provisions as this all started. My fave is a bean out of Chiapas, Mexico which steadily procuring seems like a chore but women are amazing.” By the way, the only roasters on this list are those I know personally, or that came recommended by friends. (Because friends don’t let friends drink crappy coffee.) https://www.ampersand-coffee.com/

Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters. This is another recommendation from Kia Ru. She describes it as “run by a two-time US Brewers Cup Champion with a ton of accolades out of Lakewood, CO . Great cup, they keep their menu simple, but have a kitchen lab where customers can get a spot to play with variables of time, weight, and method. Solid beans. My fave is what they recommend that day as they like to play with offerings.” Until you can visit their coffee lab, you can order online fro https://sweetbloomcoffee.com/

Idaho

Evans Brothers Coffee. My friend Hope Buchan recommends this coffee–she’s ordered it and never even been there! Me? Turns out I was there when work sent me to Sandpoint, Idaho. It was DELICIOUS and I recommend it as well. If you ever find yourself in Sandpoint–a seemingly odd location for a vacation destination, but so beautiful!–check out the Talus Rock Retreat. Less expensive than a hotel, and much more serene, warm, and friendly. In the meanwhile, order up some coffee: https://www.evansbrotherscoffee.com/

Massachusetts

Battle Grounds Coffee. My friend and amazing marathoner Kacey Hill recommends this veteran-owned business. Founder Salvatore is a former Navy S.E.A.L. and his wife and co-founder Dana comes from a military family. They offer a monthly subscription. One of the things I love is that Battle Grounds Coffee uses their website to promote other small businesses. I also love a roaster with a good sense of humor. They named their decaf blend “Treason.” https://battlecoffee.com/

Dean’s Beans. Nomnom amazing coffee. I appreciate their support for coffee farmers, and work to make their lives better, which has been the cornerstone of their business since Dean Cycon started the company in 1993. The company has long-term partnerships with the coffee growing co-ops and communities where they buy beans. You can read about the specific communities that grew your beans (and the projects that Dean’s Beans supports there) on the website, which also has a wealth of information about coffee. You can even buy green coffee beans, in case you feel inspired to roast your own. https://deansbeans.com/

Michigan

The Proving Grounds. Recommended by a friend who doesn’t really like coffee, but has friends who do. Proving Grounds serves coffee and ice cream, so if you’re one of those weirdos who thinks there is such a thing as “too hot to drink coffee” they have you covered. The physical locations are in Milford and Royal Oak, but they ship beans (and honey, and toffee, and doggie treats!) nationwide. https://www.provinggroundscoffee.com/

Check out Freedom Hill’s gorgeous new packaging! (Photo by Freedom Hill Coffee)

Freedom Hill Coffee. Imagine that you decided to start a coffee roasting business that supports veterans. Imagine your best friend and veteran killed himself, and that your business supports Mission 22–with a goal to bring veteran suicide to zero. Now imagine you started it in February this year. That’s Freedom Hill. I personally recommend the Breakfast Blend, which is darker than medium but not a dark roast. The dark roast is also lovely. The only real “problem” with Freedom Hill Coffee is that I liked it so much that the beans disappeared quickly! Be sure to check their single origin coffee (which one is on offer changes regularly). When I made my first order, they were hand-stamping coffee bags. Their spiffy new resealable bags just arrived. Check them out! https://freedomhillcoffee.com/

New Jersey

Rook Coffee. I’ve already sung the praises of Rook Coffee in a prior post. They support runners, so I’m in. (Also as you can read from that review, nice coffee!) https://rookcoffee.com/

New York

The Spot. I wrote about The Spot in my review of the Buffalo Marathon weekend; so nice, I went there like three times http://www.spotcoffee.com/

The Death Wish “broke not busted” charity tee–all proceeds go to support COVID-19 relief for the service industry. (Photo by Death Wish Coffee.)

Death Wish Coffee. “The World’s Strongest Coffee” since 2012, with a skull and crossbones and a bit of a punk rock attitude. Buy beans (OMG there is a five pound bag!!), instant coffee, cold brew, and merch on the website. Need a patch for your hoodie? Maybe a hockey jersey or a Krampus ugly sweater? A coffee-infused chocolate bar? They’ve got your back. You even have the option to have your Death Wish delivered every week. I have a few of the gorgeous mugs made by Deneen Pottery in my cabinet–some of them are sought-after collectors’ items. The coffee is delicious and as strong as promised–but if you find otherwise, they have a money-back guarantee. https://www.deathwishcoffee.com/

North Carolina

Bean Traders Coffee Roasters. Anna Louis Kallas recommends this roaster and cafe with multiple locations in and around Durham. They have a wide range of roasted beans from blends to single origins (Mexico, Guatemala, Tanzania, Burundi, and more) as well as flavored coffee beans. They have coffee subscriptions available too, your choice of 1 or 2 bags per month. https://beantraderscoffee.com/

Counter Culture. I was going to write an entry about my favorite Seattle coffee house, but they are no longer roasting their own–they serve Counter Culture. One of the fun things is that they sell coffee in various sizes–yup, you can get a five pound bag of some roasts. They also have a search function where you can see which coffee shops in your area are serving Counter Culture. Free shipping on individual orders. https://counterculturecoffee.com/

Oregon

Fillmore Coffee. est. 2015 Portland, Oregon. Fillmore is on NE 72nd and Glisan, and I had never heard of them until the coronavirus hit. Just before The Counter’s email hit my inbox, I saw a post by owner Tim Wilcox on Nextdoor. Turns out he lives in my neighborhood too. Fillmore’s pivot is to offer free Saturday delivery to Portland’s east side. They roast on Thursday and deliver on Saturday. Coffee is available in 12 oz ($14) or 2 pound ($28) bags. If you like good coffee, get the 2 pound bag–it’s like getting 8 oz of coffee free. Not a Portland resident? You can have it shipped, of course. Fillmore is one of the smaller roasters on my list, and it is Fillmore that prompted me to write this post. https://orderfillmorecoffee.com/

Happy Cup Coffee Company. I fell in love with the coffee before I read the story and I promise you will NOT be disappointed. Unlike most of the roasters on this list, Happy Cup has the benefit of being on grocery store shelves in Portland, such as Fred Meyer and New Seasons. Awesome, high-quality coffee is only one part of the Happy Cup mission: the other half is to provide employment, at a competitive wage, to adults with developmental disabilities. (In case you’re not aware, in most states a business can legally pay a person with a developmental disability lower than minimum wage based on a “time trial,” a high-pressure test that measures how “productive” an employee is compared to a non-disabled employee doing the same task.) In many companies, developmentally disabled individuals are only offered the menial labor jobs, but at Happy Cup they work in every part of the company’s operations. I recommend the Boom! Boom! Dark Roast, and The Buzz Medium Roast. Orders over $40 ship free in the continental U.S. https://www.happycup.com/

Rhode Island

Queen Bean Coffee Company/Mills Coffee Roasters. The Queen Bean is the online sales portal for Mills, a 5th generation, continuously family-owned and operated roaster. I first learned about Queen Bean through its support for the running community, specifically projects by Run Heifer Run and Ordinary Marathoner. I got the scoop from Nicole Mills: “My great great grandfather started the company in 1860 and we have many customers who have been with us for 50+ years. Our average employee tenure is 30+ years–it is really a family/community business. We all love coffee and love sharing our enthusiasm and dedication with our customers through our products.” I can personally vouch for the quality of the coffee (sold in FULL POUND bags!) which also comes attractively packaged. One of my packages included a hand-painted coffee-themed bookmark from Nicaragua; my latest order has a set of cards showing the coffee-growing regions of the world. I’ve tried both single varietals (nomnom) and blends (nomnom) and it would never hurt my feelings if you wanted to send me some https://www.thequeenbean.com/

Tennessee

Grounds & Hounds. “Every cup saves a pup.” Okay, who doesn’t love good coffee that supports saving dogs? This is coffee for a cause. 20% of all profits go to fund organizations that help Very Good Boys and Very Good Girls find their furever homes. The source their beans from Peru, Colombia, Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua so there is sure to be something that suits your palate. The blends have fun names like Alpha Blend (a dark roast, duh), Rescue Roast, Sit and Stay, and Belly Rub Blend. Order beans, subscriptions, and really cute merch. Coffee with warm fuzzies! https://groundsandhoundscoffee.com/

Texas

Check that out–FULL POUNDS of coffee!

Anderson’s Coffee Company. Austin, how I loved thee while I lived there. During “Stay At Home,” a friend recommended Anderson’s to me. I was shocked and refreshed to learn they sell ACTUAL POUNDS of coffee. Not 12 oz. bags. Naturally I bought three pounds, and I savored it! I personally chose the Guatemala Finca El Limonar, Guatemala Antigua, and Costa Rica (which was slightly darker than the two Guatemala varieties). It is really hard for me to choose a favorite–especially when there are so many more types of coffee that I haven’t tried yet. https://andersonscoffee.com/

What’s Brewing. Based in San Antonio, and recommended by a friend. Born in 1979, they’ve been roasting almost as long as I’ve been alive. Their roastery location features a collection of pinball machines! If you live in San Antonio, you can find them at the Pearl Farmer’s Market every weekend, serving up brewed coffee and selling beans. If you don’t live in San Antonio, they’ll ship your beans to your door. In addition to single origin beans and bean blends, What’s Brewing also sells coffee brewing equipment, flavored coffee, and teas. https://www.sacoffeeroasters.com/

Unknown Location

Sibino’s Coffee. This roaster reached out to me on Instagram and while I haven’t ordered yet (I had ordered five pounds of coffee the day before, so…) I’m intrigued. Each coffee on the site has a tasting profile, explaining the origin, roast, tasting profile, variety, region, grower, altitude, soil, and how the beans were processed. Basically more data on every coffee than you have on whatever you are drinking right now! Another business that started in 2020, Sibino’s seems to have developed a regular following. You can choose from single origin, blends, flavored coffee, and capsules. https://sibinoscoffee.com/

Who is your favorite coffee roaster? Do you know of an excellent coffee roaster that is small, locally-owned, family-owned, charitable, doing good works, or otherwise really worth knowing and saving?

Tell me all about them in the comments!

At the outset, if you know me, you know I love nuun. As I am typing this, there are a dozen tubes of nuun products in my cabinet, with as many promotional squeeze bottles sporting nuun art. I even like the “Immunity” products (which are basically a hydration product with vitamins and an unfortunate name selected for marketing purposes). For the purpose of this article, I probably could have picked any of the countless products that landed in my inbox to “boost” my immunity–this is just one example. I was slightly annoyed when I got a bunch of email ads for nuun’s “Immunity” products, wrapped in the guise of “how to stay healthy while flying.” That might have been fine, had it not been at the exact same time we started to get the earliest news about the novel coronavirus COVID-19. (I tweeted to nuun and told them it was in poor taste–my friends who are current and former nuun ambassadors agreed.)

As the virus itself began to spread in the United States, nuun joined the throng of companies regularly invading my inbox and my social media feeds to sell me something to “boost” my immunity, or worse as “protection” against the virus. (Word to the wise: there is currently NO product approved by the FDA, or any health or medical authority, to prevent COVID-19, as there is currently no evidence that any product can do so.) Aside from my general disgust with the entire lie that is “boosting” immunity, as if your immune system is an engine you can hit turbo-charge on without setting it on fire (a “boosted” immune system doesn’t just attack invaders, it attacks your own body, and we call that an auto-immune disease—it’s why those who have an auto-immune disease take medication to suppress the immune system, or “un-boost” it), I am specifically disgusted by every company trying to capitalize on the general population’s fears during a global pandemic.

(BTW if you don’t want to read the explanation about what’s inside? Feel free to skip to the summary and conclusion.)

Screen capture photo of an email add for nuun's "Immunity" product
More like “our profits come first.” Actual screen capture of the email from my inbox. Notice the emphasis on the “botanical blend”? More on that later…

Like most supplements, the website for nuun’s two flavors of “Immunity” doesn’t have any citations to peer-reviewed research, other published studies, or even clinical trials, of the products. (Since I wasn’t able to find any, I’m assuming the lack of links and citations on the website confirms their non-existence.) Absent those, we’ll just have to take a look at the product itself.

Let’s Look At The Main Ingredients

The “Ingredients” list on the nuun website is pretty innocuous: Dextrose, Citric Acid, Natural Flavors, Stevia Leaf Extract, Avocado Oil, Rice Concentrate. Translated, those are: sugar, a weak organic acid that occurs naturally in citrus fruits but is also manufactured industrially, “Natural Flavors,” a sweetener that is not sugar, avocado oil, and rice hulls.

Dextrose is a simple sugar made from corn. It is chemically the same as glucose, which is the form that sugar takes when it circulates in the blood. It may also be called “corn sugar” (NOT “corn syrup”) or “grape sugar.”

Citric Acid is what gives citrus fruits a tart taste. It is used in food products for flavor, and to acidify things, but also as a chemical agent that bonds things together (a chelating agent).

“Natural Flavors” is a term that is defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (a part of the Department of Health and Human Services) in the federal rules that regulate food labeling, specifically 21 CFR sec. 101.222

“The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

21 CFR sec. 101.222

If that seems really broad to you, it is. When you see “natural flavors” on a label is it made of wheat? Or shellfish? Or eggs, or milk, or tree nuts, peanuts, or soybeans? You can’t tell—and that’s why people with Celiac Disease, and people with food allergies, avoid packaged foods that use the term. The benefits to manufacturers is that if they have to change the exact formula–say, red grapefruit extract becomes unavailable, but they discover they can use a pomelo extract and get the same taste–they don’t have to change the product labels. (Changing a product label is a very expensive and time-consuming process.)

Stevia leaf extract. Stevia rebaudiana is a plant that is native to South America (specifically Brazil and Paraguay). I was quite interested to learn it has only been legal for use as a food additive in the US since 2017, and it was Monsanto that began to lobby the US for testing and approval of stevia in the 1980s. What makes stevia particularly useful as a sweetener is that the human body does not metabolize the glycosides in it—which is why it has no calories—AND it does not ferment stevia (so you don’t get the tummy trouble caused by some sugar alcohols). You can read more than you ever wanted to know about stevia leaf extract, including the FDA paperwork approved it for “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) status for use in food.

Side note: wait, if there’s sugar, why is there also stevia? Simple: stevia can have a bitter aftertaste (and some people taste it more strongly than others). A blend of stevia leaf extract and sugar allows a product to reduce the amount of sugar it contains, while still remaining palatably sweet.

Avocado oil is an edible oil pressed from avocado fruit. It is used as an ingredient in food products. Primal Kitchen, for example, makes a mayo using avocado oil, and sells it separately as a cooking oil. It has a really high smoke point (meaning you can turn the temperature way up before the oil in the pan will start to smoke). Since it doesn’t have a strong flavor, avocado oil can be used to help spread/carry other flavors. It is high in the “good fats” (monounsaturated fat) and Vitamin E, which is one of the reasons it is also a popular ingredient in skin care and cosmetic products.

Rice hulls are not what you’d think of as actual rice. Instead, this is the outer fiber and silica layers of rice; this is used as an anti-caking agent (keeps powdered ingredients from sticking together/clumping) in place of something like silicon dioxide.

But Wait! There’s More!!

But this isn’t actually a complete ingredients list. If you look at the “Nutrition Info” section, you can see the rest of them. Below is the “amount per serving” listed on the website as of today. (“DV” is similar to”RDA,” but it does not account for age, gender, or pregnancy.)

  • Sugars 2g (this is the dextrose)
  • Vitamin A (as beta carotene) 450 mcg (50% DV)
  • Vitamin C (as ascorbic acid) 200 mg (222% DV)
  • Vitamin D (as ergocalciferol) 10 mcg (50% DV)
  • Vitamin E (as d-alpha tocopherol) 3 mg (20% DV)
  • Calcium (as calcium carbonate) 15 mg (<2% DV)
  • Magnesium (as magnesium oxide) 15 mg (4% DV)
  • Zinc (as zinc sulfate) 5 mg (45% DV)
  • Selenium (as selenium rice chelate) 20 mcg (36% DV)
  • Chloride (as Himalayan sea salt) 40 mg (2% DV)
  • Sodium (as sodium bicarbonate, Himalayan sea salt) 100 mg (4% DV)
  • Potassium (as potassium bicarbonate) 150 mg (3% DV)
  • Proprietary Herbal Blend (125 mg): (1) Elderberry extract [Sambucus nigra L. (fruit)], (2) Organic Ginger Powder [Zingiber officinale L.(root)], (3) Organic Turmeric [Curcuma longa (root)], (4) Echinacea purpurea (aerial)

Since a serving size is one tablet, and that is 5.4g, one serving of nuun Immunity is 2g sugar (dextrose) and 3.4g other stuff. At 15 calories, sugar accounts for more than half of the calories.  1g of dextrose is 3.4 calories, so there are 7.8 calories attributable to dextrose. (If you’re running or otherwise exercising–and even if you’re not–the small amount of calories aren’t going to hurt you. To be clear: I’m not trying to imply there is anything wrong with dextrose or calories in your electrolyte beverages.)

What Is All That Stuff?

Vitamins. You probably recognize the vitamins. Selenium powers the internet, according to Google, and allows you to work in parallel across browsers with no coding skills. (Nerd joke! Really though.) Selenium is a basic chemical element (Se, atomic number 34). It is toxic in large doses—notice it is measured in micrograms—but necessary for the human body in small amounts. (The acceptable daily limit is around 400mcg, though one study found humans can ingest 800mcg before showing symptoms.) It serves as a catalyst in a variety of necessary chemical reactions in the body.

Electrolytes. Sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium are all electrolytes. Nuun contains all of these except for phosphate. Dissolved electrolytes create a positive or negative charge. This is really important in the human body, as electrolytes help to maintain the balance of fluid inside cells and in the space between cells. If your electrolyte balance is out of whack, you can drink tons of water but still be dehydrated! (This is because your body has to maintain the right amount of electrolytes in each location–inside and outside the cell–to protect you.) Both dehydration and overhydration can cause major problems with the heart and brain.

That leaves zinc and the “proprietary blend.”

Need Vitamin C? Get an entire day’s worth in single orange–plus fiber and more! (c) Styled Stock society

Zinc

Zinc is another element that human bodies need in trace doses; it is the second-most abundant trace mineral in the human body (iron is the most abundant). It plays an important role in a large number of biological reactions in the body. The human body stores about 2-4g of zinc in the brain,  muscle, bones, kidney, liver, prostate, and eye. Zinc supplementation may help with acne and depression (when taken with an antidepressant medication).

Zinc appears in nuun Immunity because people associate zinc and vitamin C with preventing the common cold. I turned to Examine for more information because Examine does not advertise supplements or accept ads, and bases their articles on peer-reviewed science.  I also really like that each article includes a chart showing the claims and the evidence to support it. HIGHLY recommend you bookmark it.

High dose zinc lozenges appear to reduce the duration of the common cold; it isn’t clear whether zinc provides protection against getting a cold in the first place. (In other words, there isn’t solid proof zinc will prevent you from getting a cold.) Examine notes that “Zinc lozenges, for the purpose of reducing the common cold, seem to be most effective when the total daily dose is over 75 mg and is divided into 6-8 doses, each separated by 2-3 hours when awake. It is likely dangerous to take zinc lozenges for extended periods of time.” (This is because taking zinc at high levels can prevent your body from absorbing copper properly—taking too much of any one thing into the human body tends to cause a deficiency of something else.) So the 5mg of zinc in nuun Immunity? It’s on the low end for a zinc supplement. To reach the most effective dose to shorten a cold—remember it does not prevent the cold—you’d need to take 15 tablets per day.

Now if you’re just trying to make sure you get your recommended daily dose of zinc sure, one tablet is almost half. But you can also find it in food—animal products have zinc (meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, dairy) and so do plant foods. Assuming there is adequate zinc in the soil, plants with the most zinc include wheat, seeds (sesame, poppy, alfalfa, celery, mustard, pumpkin, sunflower), beans, nuts, almonds, and blackcurrant.

So how about that “Proprietary Herbal Blend”?

First, let’s look at the label “proprietary herbal blend.” This is a term supplement manufacturers use to avoid stating how much of each individual ingredient is in a product. Some supplement companies, and seemingly every blogger indexed on google, will tell you that this is a sketchy way of avoiding quality control, or hiding what’s in the product. To be fair, there is a reasonable argument to be made that a company may use that term in order to prevent other companies from marketing a competing “knock off” product, essentially stealing their special formula for a dietary supplement. I don’t find it particularly convincing as an argument though, since it’s still possible to buy that product, test it to see what’s really in it, and then knock it off anyway. Further, people who are taking multiple supplements may need to keep track of how much of a given component (like caffeine) is in each product. Federal law only says that the label must identify each component of the “proprietary blend” and list the ingredients in order by weight. So if a “proprietary blend” lists ingredients A, B, and C, the blend contains more A than B, and more B than C. If you want to get nerdy on it, take a look at 21 CFR sec. 101.36(c).

Maybe this isn’t even a big deal for nuun’s “Immunity.” At 125 mg of a 5.4 g serving, the “proprietary herbal blend” isn’t very much of the product. Let’s just do the math: one serving is 5.4g  or 5,400mg.  So 125mg = 2.31% of the product.

Elderberry extract [Sambucus nigra L. (fruit)]. Elderberry syrup has been a folk remedy for colds for like unto forever. I personally have friends that swear by it. If any group was going to make a claim that elderberry is helpful, you’d think it would be the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. But at least as of September 2016, NCCIH states “although some preliminary research indicates that elderberry may relieve flu symptoms, the evidence is not strong enough to support its use for this purpose” and “there’s not enough information to show whether elder flower and elderberry are helpful for any other purposes.” These are descriptions of research with PURE elderberry—not a product with some fraction of a proprietary blend. To be fair, there is a study that shows elderberry was helpful to reduce cold duration and symptoms, but it was limited to intercontientnal air travelers. The study is called “Elderberry Supplementaton Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travlers: A Randomins, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” It was published in the journal Nutrients in March 2016. You can read the extract on PubMed. A subsequent meta-analysis—that’s not a study, but an analysis of all published studies—shows black elderberry can be effective in treating upper respiratory symptoms. “Black elderberry (Sambucusnigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials.” This was published in the journal Complimentary and Therapeutic Medicine in February 2019. The abstract is on PubMed. Again, these are studies of actual elderberry, not a fraction of a proprietary blend. Further, the studies that indicate it might be effective show it reduces the length and symptoms—there is no evidence it is preventive.

Organic Ginger Powder [Zingiber officinale L.(root)]. Ginger is well-known for use in settling upset tummies. According to Examine, doses of 1-3 grams can fight nausea. Examine also found studies tend to show ginger reduces inflammation. But remember, we don’t know how much ginger is in the “proprietary herbal blend” and it could be less than 1g. Even if there’s a ton of ginger powder in that 125g, reducing inflammation does not mean you are protected against viruses (including the common cold—caused by a type of coronavirus). It’s also notable that loads of supplement makers and processed food manufacturers are capitalizing on the current “anti-inflammatory” trend. But there isn’t any evidence that inflammation plays a role in catching a virus like COVID-19 (or even a cold, for that matter). Before you get too excited about the “inflammation is bad” theory, you should also consider that inflammation is a necessary component of the healing process for acute injuries, and is also the reason you get sore muscles after a workout.

Organic Turmeric [Curcuma longa (root)]. The health benefits of turmeric (largely as an anti-inflammatory) are intensely overhyped, as I wrote back in October 2018. The little research that has been done is on curcumin, and turmeric is only about 3% curcumin. The articles cited on Wikipedia conclude there is no high-quality evidence for using turmeric (or curcumin) to treat any disease. There’s nothing in PubMed that backs claims for turmeric either (and not much for the 3% curcumin it contains).

Echinacea purpurea (aerial). Echinacea is widely sold to prevent or treat the common cold, but the evidence that it does so is sketchy at best. Similarly, a meta-analysis I found on PubMed indicates echinacea might have a preventative effect on upper respiratory infections BUT “whether this effect is clinically meaningful is debatable” AND there was no evidence for an effect on the duration of upper respiratory tract infections. “Echinacea for the prevention and treatment of upper respiratory tract infections: a review and meta-analysis.” Published June 2019 in the journal Complementary Therapy and Medicine. Abstract on PubMed. While there is one study about echinacea being effective against the common cold, it wasn’t a study of echinacea in general, but a study of Echinaforce (a specific brand of extract—and not what’s in nuun “Immunity”). “Echinacea purpurea: A Proprietary Extract of Echinacea purpurea Is Shown to be Safe and Effective in the Prevention of the Common Cold.”  Abstract on PubMed.

In Summary: This Is Not Going To “Boost” Your Immunity

Also, that is A Good Thing. Your immune system is a complex system of structures and processes. It’s not something you can easily manipulate with a supplement, especially if your lifestyle involves insufficient sleep. Instead of looking for magic in a potion or a pill, why not adopt some permanent healthy habits and make some lifestyle changes? The New York Times has some suggestions. My favorite? “Eat a balanced diet, exercise, and skip unproven supplements.”

Citrus fruits contain carbohydrate, fibre, vitamin C, potassium, folate, calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and a variety of phytochemicals. (c) Style Stock Society

Disclosure: I was a member of the 2016, 2017, and 2018 Rock ‘n’ Blog teams. As a member of the team, I received complimentary entries to Rock ‘n’ Roll races, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle (and other perks). This post is not sponsored, edited, or written (in any way) by the Rock ‘n’ Roll series or Competitor Group (or its new owner, Ironman, or Ironman’s  former owner, Wanda Sports Company, or current owner Advance Publications, Inc.). All opinions are my own.

two runners running
I found Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame-rs and 100-time Rock ‘n’ Roll runners Ron and Kamika on course!

I started this post in 2018, long long long before COVID-19 decimated the 2020 racing season. No joke. I was unable to bring myself to finish it since I found the race pretty disappointing (based on what was promised v. what was delivered) and I felt guilty posting another not-so-glowing review of a series I was supposed to be representing. I tried to pick it up again after Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle 2019, but felt like a Negative Nellie. There’s nothing wrong with the race, it’s just…I’m feeling kinda meh about the whole thing. So I poked and prodded this review for quite some time, which is why you’re now reading a fall review of a spring race. Apologies in advance, but you know I’ve gotta keep it real.

Which Year Is It?

I’ve run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Half Marathon since 2015. (Check out my 2015 review!) That was the year I first met Mat Miles Medals (at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona) and I had only recently met (at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco) SmartWatermelon. I stayed at the nearby Hotel Pineapple, rented a car, and had dinner with the Seattle office of the firm I was working for at the time.

In 2016, after two nights of no sleep, I was wide awake and ready to take on Seattle! No, no, I was not. (I already reviewed that race!) Or was that 2017? 2018? This year? Every year. 2017 was the last year I flew from California to Washington for the race; it’s less expensive to take a Bolt Bus (2018) or drive (2019) from Portland (which makes it easier to pack every single thing you might want instead of obsessing about the weather). I was a little groggy and worried about whether I had packed the right clothes for the weather, which is a perpetual concern with spring races in the Pacific Northwest; I actually debated whether to try to use some of my post-race clothing as race clothing. After spending some time cursing races for starting so freakishly early on weekends, I pried myself out of bed and put on some clothes. (I saved the post-race clothes.) In 2018 I bought a last-minute stretchy zip-up hoodie at Ross, which I wore for the entire race and post-race.

Each of these years, per usual, I missed the pre-race groupie photos of various run clubs. Most of my running groups that want to snap pictures meet early, by which I mean EARLY, before the first corral starts, because there are actually fast runners who want to be in the pictures. That’s awesome, but at a race like Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle where there are a billion runners and I’m in corral 250, it’s already going to be an hour before I get to start. (I didn’t keep track this year, but my first year running Seattle I really did wait an entire hour before my corral started. I literally sat down in the parking lot and stretched and drank coffee. In 2018 I walked from my hotel to the start line, saw how long the line was to the start, and found a gas station where I could acquire coffee and a donut.) Maybe I will start a tradition of the “I slept in” photo…

runners at the expo
Take a look at those Pro Compression socks! (Yeah, expo groupies are the only ones I tend to make.)

A Most Mysterious Race

Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle is a bit of an enigma. I really want to like it, especially since it’s pretty clear Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t welcome in Portland. (RIP Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland. I will miss the airport carpeting finish line.) And actually maybe running downtown isn’t welcome in Portland, if we’re being honest. It’s a destination event for many runners (some of whom spend the day before the race doing the typical tourist things like the bubblegum wall, aquarium, and Pike Place Market), and just another run weekend for those trying to hit the 15-race-mark for Rock ‘n’ Roll’s “Hall of Fame.” (That has become more elusive as the number of races in the United States has dwindled. No idea what they will do about 2020.) The only thing that seems to stay the same each year is the location of the Expo–and even that has gotten disappointingly smaller.

About That 5k

I haven’t run the 5k for the Remix medal since Rock ‘n’ Roll discontinued the shuttle bus service. The 5k is staged at the Museum of Flight, which is right at the southern end of Seattle, out by the old Boeing Field. It’s waaaaay too far to walk from the central downtown area, which is why there was originally a shuttle bus. (The shuttle cost extra–it wasn’t included in the price of the race, even though entry was already at a premium and priced well above the locally produced 5k events, of which there are many.) While I haven’t personally looked into it, friends tell me that navigating the otherwise excellent Seattle bus system to get down to the Museum of Flight in time for the start is difficult. On the other hand, taking a cab, Uber, or Lyft is expensive. So unless you’re committed or have a car, it’s a little inaccessible. The 5k is a fun shake-out, basically an out-and-back loop around the area, which has some decent shade and some historic planes outside. The Museum was open pre-race, which meant access to snacks, decent coffee, and–perhaps most important–toilets that flush.

The Magical Shrinking Expo

Every year the race’s expo is at Centurylink Field, in the exhibitor area. This is convenient in that it’s easy to get there by transit and has plenty of parking. Each year, the expo appears to be shrinking. In 2015 the expo had a robust representation of local races, including the Blooms to Brews (which the city of Woodland, WA stupidly refused to grant a permit for 2020). There were also numerous smaller businesses exhibiting race-related or theoretically race-applicable items. (I distinctly remember a booth with costume jewelry and hair clips from 2015 or 2016.) In 2019, only a few of the largest Seattle races had a booth, and the expo was less than half the size it was in 2015. I arrived about two hours before the end of the expo on Saturday, and some of the booths were already closed. That’s fine for me, but I feel bad for those who are running their first Big Race since I see a vibrant expo as part of the experience. Registration was still open–the race did not sell out–though I’m not sure who would pay $189 for a marathon given local race prices. In 2019 the Rock ‘n’ Roll/Brooks shop’s credit card machines were down (they were very apologetic and said it was an internet problem with the building, which I thought was ironic in a place bearing the name Centurylink, but then I managed to buy from Pro Compression and Tailwind using a credit card without any problems, so…).

The Ever-Changing Course

Seattle must be a difficult place to stage a race. The past few years have seen massive construction, including replacement and (still only partial!) removal of the viaduct, which the past years’ courses ran atop. I know that Portland is impossibly stingy with what and where they will allow running events, so I can only assume Seattle is the same, and that this explains why Rock ‘n’ Roll has changed the course substantially every year I have run it. The race has started or ended at the University of Washington and beneath the Space Needle; as a point-to-point course it also ended at the Centurylink Field parking lot twice during the years I have participated. While I personally thought it was clever to stage multiple miles of the 2019 race on the HOV freeway lanes (closed during the early Sunday morning hours), other runners I talked to HATED it.

I don’t have many complaints, other than where the eff were all the port potties this year?!?  The lines at the first ones I passed had at least 40 people (yes, I counted), and the demand was so great that the individual port-potties set out for the bands to use also had a line of 30+. I get that it’s inconvenient to put porta-potties on the HOV lane of the freeway…but if they can do it for the bands–and set up stages besides–why not for the runners?? I waited until I could wait no longer, by which time I was off the freeway and into a neighborhood, and still ended up in a line of 20+ people and only 4-5 porta-potties. Even more annoying, there was NO SIGN or other indication that there were another 8-10 porta-potties just at the end of the block. Having stood still-ish for quite a long time (you know how sometimes nature calls and you can’t just send her to voice mail?) I was PISSED when I saw that line of porta-potties, with ZERO people waiting in line. I easily could have saved 10 minutes there. COME ON, for the love of all that is holy, surely an organization that puts on races knows better?!?

Flat Bain
Flat Bain (always take your Road ID!)

The 2019 course featured a gigantic climb up Queen Anne Hill towards the end. I did not appreciate this. (The climb was less challenging than the very steep uphill trudge of 2018, but still!) The views were lovely, but I’d much rather have had the super steep downhill at the very end as an uphill at the very beginning. One of the downsides of a constantly changing course is that the neighborhoods don’t develop any traditions. At the old Portland Marathon, for example, neighbors would picnic outside, with kids dressed up and banging drums or waving pompoms; at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego, several neighbors have “unofficial aid stations” with adult beverages and puppies. There were two girls with donuts along part of the course this year, but it’s not the same energy as I’ve experienced on courses that have been consistent for long enough for traditions to develop. While there were a few entertaining locals outside of the “Grey’s Anatomy” house, the race course will probably change again next year.

On-Course Amenities Delivered, Mostly

In 2018, Rock ‘n’ Roll promised music every mile, and more aid stations on the course. The “music every mile” never delivered, and even some of the mile-marker speakers (independently streaming music from I don’t know where) malfunctioned, alternating between music, static, and silence. Similarly, I could have used more music in 2019. At least the aid stations were well-stocked and had supplies when I passed them, but since I’ve determined that I prefer fuel other than the series’ sponsor’s gels and hydration (I was packing Tailwind) it didn’t affect my race. Since it IS an improvement over past years–especially for the “back of the packers” that Rock ‘n’ Roll claims to support, I’ll call it a win.

Let’s Talk VIP and Finish Line

The year Kamika made Seattle his 100th Rock ‘n’ Roll race, I had access to VIP. (If you saw a bunch of people with smiley-face pineapples pinned to them, that’s what that was about–Kamika is from Hawai’i.) That year, the course started at UW and ended at CenturyLink. Pre-race VIP was rather miserably cold, with a cold wind blowing off the field and through the entrance to the VIP brunch area (the concourse between the upper and lower decks, inside the stadium). While there were a dozen strategically placed gas tower heaters–the kind you see outdoors at restaurants and bars–NONE of them were in use. Instead, a few measly electric heaters were irregularly spaced around the area, heating only the ankles of those in the immediate (like 2 feet) area. Apparently the good folks at Ironman had not bothered to clear the gas powered heaters with the UW stadium management, who put the kibosh on their use in the stadium. (Perhaps Iroman shouldn’t have axed most of the Competitor Group’s VIP staff? Maybe it’s just me?) I was also very annoyed that the lines for the women’s bathroom at the VIP area pre-race were crazy long, while the men’s line only had 1-2 people in it at any time. At the beginning of the day, women were told they could ONLY use the ONE bathroom, but eventually we mutinied–there’s no logically reason why we were banned from the bathroom that was literally right across the hall, especially when the UW stadium was built in the era where bathrooms were built one-to-one. (In modern architecture for places of mass accommodation, there are more women’s bathrooms–or more stalls within them–than men’s rooms.) Both lines got bad enough that the women eventually took over the men’s room as well.

Bain drinks chocolate milk
Chocolate milk at the finish line!

Post-race, at the same race, VIP at the Centurylink field was just okay. It had a good view of the band, but was (again) cold. I, pale runner who avoids the sun, was jockeying space to get some sunlight. The year I did not have VIP access (and the race ended at Centurylink field) was also really cold, and I remember seeing an ice cream booth and thinking it would be lovely and I’d buy some on any other day. (Turns out they only accepted cash anyway. Seriously.) That year, sponsor Alaska Airlines had a tweet-for-a-treat machine that was really fun–I still have the model plane with my race medals, and one of my friends who really needed it won a free round-trip airfare.

That said, I’m glad the finish line moved back to the Space Needle and surrounding park areas in 2018 and 2019. Overall, it is a much better area for bands, and it’s got much more welcoming room for dogs and families. Also critical, access to indoor potties pre-race! I did take the VIP route my very first year at Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle–which had a start and end at the Space Needle area–and pre-race it was pretty great: a separate VIP gear truck, and a decent brunch spread in advance. (I have no idea what the post-race food looked like, as it was all gone when I finished that year.)

Sad Swag (whomp whomp)

Like other races in the series, race swag has declined. Last year, Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle had one of the almost-generic guitar-pick medals. This year the design showed the Seattle skyline and a plane, but it was so generic as to inspire a “isn’t this the same medal as last year?” from a friend of mine for whom Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle was her first (and now third) half marathon. Literally she’d only done three races, and thought the medal was a clone. Like Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, the shirts are made of a cheap fabric that isn’t breathable; the actual graphic is decent, but the placement on the women’s shirts is awkward, and the graphic large enough to make the shirt stiff. I’m a bit surprised that series sponsor Brooks–a company that makes very nice, breathable athletic wear with quality fabrics–is okay with having their logo on the shirt. Like I said, the design is nice and I might use it in a shirt quilt or something, but there’s a zero chance I will wear it.

The Verdict?

Overall, I’d say Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle is worth your while in a number of discrete circumstances:

  1. You are aiming for Hall of Fame and therefore need to hit every US race. (Buy the TourPass Unlimited.)
  2. You live nearby and won’t pay a ton of travel expenses, and have purchased the race during the pre-sale, the December sale, or the Running Day Sale.
  3. You know a bunch of your friends will be there, and you’re in for social events and shenanigans in addition to the race. (That’s why I run.)

If you’re going to run it don’t pay full price. (If you don’t have a TourPass, buy early, or at one of the sales. This is NOT a $189 race.) If you’re just looking for a race in Washington state, you’ve got plenty of other options–there’s a reason the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics were founded here. If you want a race in Seattle, the Mercer Island Half is nice, and I’ve heard good things about the Seattle Marathon and races in nearby Tacoma.

Since I live in Portland, have a close friend who did Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle as her first race (and remembers to make massage appointments at The Dream Clinic post-race), and have free crash space, I’ll likely be back in 2020. True confession: I was going to buy at the pre-sale in December…and then I was going to buy a three-pack…and then the virus started to shut down races…and so I still haven’t registered.

Have you ever run Rock ‘n ‘ Roll Seattle? What did you think?

Disclosure: I received the gently used Grid and new-in-package MobiPoint Massage Ball as conference swag, directly from TriggerPoint Therapy, one of the sponsors of Sweat Pink’s BlogFest at IDEA World 2019. (I’m only giving them away because I already had my own!) I wasn’t asked to write a blog post, host a giveaway, or anything else for that matter. All opinions and words are my own.

What Have You Heard about Foam Rolling?

Pictures of The Grid
The Grid (left), The Grid Vibe Plus (right), and the travel Grid

If you haven’t heard about “foam rolling,” you’ve probably been living under a rock. There’s WAY more to the world of self-myofacial release (SMFR or MFR) than the foamy logs you see at the Relax the Back store or in your yoga/pilates studio. Essentially, SMFR is a type of self-massage that often involves specialized tools, including various kinds of stick-rollers, log/tube-shaped rollers, balls, and other tools. SMFR techniques manipulate and massage the muscles and surrounding tissues, increasing blood flow and elasticity. In my experience, while there is sometimes a bit of “owww, that’s a tight spot,” the end result is a bit like the end result of a massage: everything feels better.

I first encountered the Grid at an SCW Mania event nearly ten years ago, back when TP Therapy was a small company based in Austin, TX. (It is now owned by Implus, the American parent company of SKLZ, Harbinger, Balega, RockTape, FuelBelt, Sofsole, Spenco, and more.) Their trainers–including Cassidy Phillips, the founder and CEO–taught several practical SMFR sessions. Cassidy taught us a little bit about fascia, the connective tissue that helps form the structure of the human body; it’s like a scaffolding around the bones that helps keep other body tissues and organs in their place. Think of it as a stretchy mesh: if you pull on one corner and wad it up, the rest of the mesh stretches out to accommodate. Fascia does something similar in the body (which is why when your left low back gets tight, you might find your right upper back, or some other seemingly unrelated body part, is also upset). Cassidy also explained that human muscle tissue is just like any other animal muscle tissue; when it is fully hydrated and moving well it is like a tender steak, but when it is partially dehydrated and has knots or spots of uneven tension it is more like beef jerky. (That image has stuck with me, and I’m a more hydrated-human because of it.)

Before I get into why I love The Grid, let’s take a step back. If you’ve tried SMFR you probably agree that it feels good (well, after it stops hurting like hell), and maybe you’ve read some other blogger yammer on about how fantastic it is. That’s all well and good, but fancy tea tastes good and no matter how many bloggers say so it isn’t going to “detox” you (at least not any more than your liver and kidneys already do). So…is foam rolling worthwhile, or is it some woo-woo goop-esque trend?

What Science Says

If you’re a science geek, you probably already know about PubMed. If you are an athlete interested in exercise science, or a person interested in the latest nutrition research, or a blogger who doles out advice on anything related to the human body (including products and ingredients) you really ought to bookmark it. PubMed is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which is part of the National Institute of Health. PubMed largely includes abstracts of peer-reviewed articles, though a few articles are available for free. The articles include clinical trials, epidemiology reviews, case studies, and more. You can choose to view the results by “best match” or “most recent”

Pro tip: if you don’t want to pay for access to an article, but you really want to read it, you have two free options. One, reach out to the authors of the paper. Many authors are happy that someone wants to read their research, and would be thrilled to send you a copy of the publication. Two, seek out access via a college or university library. If you attended a college or university, start there. Many allow their alumni to use the library resources for free or super cheap. If you didn’t, you can try a nearby college or university. Many have a non-student library card that you can obtain for a fee, and that may include access to electronic resources.

A PubMed search for “foam rolling” returned 83 results! (The more scientific “self myofascial release” returned 100. There is some overlap, of course.) Some of the articles are very general, while others are almost nauseatingly specific, such as Behara B, and Jacobson BH’s “Acute Effects of Deep Tissue Foam Rolling and Dynamic Stretching on Muscular Strength, Power, and Flexibility in Division I Linemen.” J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Apr;31(4):888-892. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001051. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26121431

A Little of the Bad News

There are several articles that cast doubt on what you’ve likely heard about foam rolling.

At least one review concludes that the term “self-myofascial release” is misleading, because there isn’t enough evidence to support the idea that foam rolling and similar practices actually release myofascial restrictions. Behm, DG and Wilke, J. Do Self-Myofascial Release Devices Release Myofascia? Rolling Mechanisms: A Narrative Review. Sports Med. 2019 Aug;49(8):1173-1181. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01149-y. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31256353  It strikes me that this is a fair conclusion, since the research on foam rolling and similar practices is still pretty young, and it’s entirely possible that any results achieved are from something other than myofascial release, maybe improved blood circulation, or something about how your breathing changes while you are doing it–we don’t know. (But we might, soon!)

Bundle of TP tools
TP Performance Collection (minus the Baller Block–trust me, you want that too) and MB5 Massage Ball

Another study concluded that adding SMFR to static stretching did not have an effect on hamstring stiffness, as a group that did only static stretching achieved the same results. Mortin, RW et al. Self-Myofascial Release: No Improvement of Functional Outcomes in ‘Tight’ Hamstrings. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2016 Jul;11(5):658-63. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2015-0399. Epub 2015 Nov 9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26562930

Remember that in order to make sense of any study’s result, you need to take a look at who the participants were (students, professionals, weekend warriors?), what the researchers looked at (how did they measure results? what did they consider or fail to consider?), and the testing protocol (what did the participants actually do? was there a control group?). The results of a small study of college tennis players, for example, may not apply to a Gen Xer who only does Crossfit.

A Little of the Good News

I love the way I feel in my body after a good session with The Grid, so I almost don’t care if there is any science to support it. Since I’m recommending it to you though, I think it would be irresponsible to talk about how great I think it is if in reality it’s a sham like detoxing foot pads or alkaline water. Here are a few studies that found foam rolling or SMFR beneficial–these are the ones I found interesting, but you can go find more on PubMed. The term “key finding” is mine (as some abstracts use “results,” others use “conclusions,” and I like a tidy organization to my references).

Several studies concluded that the protocol they studied led to an improved range of motion:

  • Su H, et al. Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. J Sport Rehabil. 2017 Nov;26(6):469-477. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2016-0102. Epub 2016 Oct 13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27736289 Key finding: flexibility test scores improved significantly more after foam rolling a compared with static and dynamic stretching.
  • Mohr AR, et al. Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. J Sport Rehabil. 2014 Nov;23(4):296-9. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2013-0025. Epub 2014 Jan 21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24458506 Key finding: Regardless of the treatment, all subjects had increased range of motion (regardless of treatment: static stretching, foam rolling and static stretching, or only foam rolling). Use of a foam roller followed by static-stretching increased range of motion more than static stretching alone.
  • Bushell JE, et al. Clinical Relevance of Foam Rolling on Hip Extension Angle in a Functional Lunge Position. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Sep;29(9):2397-403. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000888. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25734777
    Key finding: repeated foam rolling is beneficial, both objectively and subjectively, for increasing range of motion immediately preceding a dynamic activity.

Several studies concluded that the protocol they studied led to improvement in recovery, including delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS, or the soreness you get a day or two after your workout):

  • Pearcey GE, et al. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015 Jan;50(1):5-13. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01. Epub 2014 Nov 21.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25415413
    Key finding: Foam rolling effectively reduced DOMS and associated decrements in most dynamic performance measures.
  • Rey E, et al. Effects of Foam Rolling as a Recovery Tool in Professional Soccer Players. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Aug;33(8):2194-2201. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002277. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29016479 Key finding: soccer coaches and trainers working with high-level players should use a structured recovery session of 15-20 minutes using foam rolling at the end of a training session to enhance recovery.

Some studies looked at specific health conditions or effects, rather than muscular performance. A few of the ones I found nifty:

  • Improvement of Fibromyalgia. Ceca, D et al. Benefits of a self-myofascial release program on health-related quality of life in people with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017 Jul-Aug;57(7-8):993-1002. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07025-6. Epub 2017 Jan 31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28139112
    Key finding: regular, structured practice of SMFR can improve health-related quality of life for people with fibromyalgia.
  • Reduction of Arterial Stiffness. Okamoto T, et al. Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):69-73. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31829480f5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23575360 Key finding: SMFR with a foam roller reduces arterial stiffness and improves vascular endothelial function.

In short, while the jury is still out on some claims about foam rolling, there is also some evidence–at least regarding the population and specific protocols studied–that foam rolling provides a benefit. I mean beyond feeling good when you’re done.

Back To The Grid

Comparison of The Grid and The Grid Vibe
Above, my well-worn The Grid (yours will be nicer); The Grid Vibe Plus is a bit more slender

Unlike the long foam rollers I’d known before, the Grid has a hollow hard-plastic core. (While there is a smaller travel Grid available–think as if you took a slice of the roller–the original Grid is great for travel, as you can stuff a lot of clothing in there inside your suitcase.) On the outside, the Grid is textured in an un-even grid-like pattern: small squares are high and firm, like fingertips or a thumb tip; long and narrow rectangles are more like fingers; and larger rectangular flat areas are like palms. Positioning the Grid so that a particular surface hits the targeted area changes how it feels on your body. Rolling through all of the different zones feels delicious to me! In my first class, we learned techniques to roll out the peroneals, IT band, quads, anterior tibialis, and more.

Also unlike the long foam rollers I’d known before, the Grid is very sturdy. (I’ve had my personal Grid since that first SCW Mania, I’ve toted it around the country, and you’d be hard pressed to tell.) The fact that it is hollow means you can also incorporate it into exercises apart from SMFR. For example, you can hold the sides (palms on top, fingers tucked inside the hollow center) and plank. This adds an extra dose of instability to your plank, as any shift of your body weight forward or back will cause the Grid to roll. Another example exercise is the lunge. Standing with your front foot on the Grid and your back leg in an extended lunge, keep your torso upright and your front leg steady while you drop you back knee to a right angle. Another example is the plank-to-pike exercise: start in a plank with your toes on the Grid, transition to a pike with the soles of your feet on the Grid. Quite possibly my favorite is the wall squat using the Grid between your back and the wall.

Your Only Tool Is a Hammer…Is Everything a Nail?

One of the things that impressed me was that the staff at the TriggerPoint booth were more interested in showing you how to use their tools than selling you the tools. SMFR isn’t something you just do here and there to make a workout smoother, or to recover from a workout. In order to create and maintain results, any SMFR program requires repetition–just like exercise. The TriggerPoint website includes a library of videos on how to use their products (which back in the day we bought on DVD). After using it in a workshop targeted towards runners, I purchased a tools kit (similar to what is now called the TP Performance Collection) that came with a booklet outlining a total body program (including a dry-erase calendar to plan your program); I also bought The Ultimate 6 for Runners–a similar booklet that targets the soleus, qaudcriceps, psoas, piriformis, pectorales, and thoracic spine. I particularly like the booklets. They are spiral bound to lay flat, and have plenty of photographs in addition to the text description.

Today, the TP Therapy products in my SMFR tool kit also include the Grid Vibe (thinner than the Grid, but OMG the vibration is brilliant!), MB5 large foam massage ball, MobiPoint massage ball, and the Nano X foot roller (the extra-dense version of the Nano foot roller). Recently TP Therapy released a new tool, the MB Vibe, which is similar to the MB5 but also has vibration to it. (I cannot wait to get my hands on one!)

Win Your Own!

I have ONE prize pack to give away. It includes The Grid, the original TP Therapy product, in orange; and the MobiPoint Massage Ball (a sweet treat for runner feet!). Apologies to my friends elsewhere, but postage is spendy these days and so I have to limit this giveaway to U.S. residents only. Void where prohibited.

Start by leaving a comment and tell me about your experiencce: Have you tried foam rolling or another form of self myofacial release? Which tools do you use? What’s your favorite exercise? How often do you roll?

Then work your way through the steps in the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway