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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

The Roses on the River event was originally slated to start on the west side of the river. For those unfamiliar with Portland, the Willamette River runs through town, separating the west side from the east side. (Not to be confused with the Columbia River, which runs east-west and separates the north-most part of Portland, Oregon form the south-most part of Vancouver, Washington.) Downtown Portland is immediately adjacent to the river, and there is a paved promenade/walkway next to the water in addition to Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Part of the draw of the Roses on the River run is that the race is sponsored in part by the Portland Thorns, our winning women’s soccer team (which played short several team members at the beginning of the season as they were busy kicking butt as part of the U.S.A. women’s national soccer team…you know, the national soccer team that actually wins World Cups). This is a BIG draw to the event; instead of yet another race shirt, participants receive Thorns scarves (that’s what soccer fans wear) and a ticket to the Thorns game.

RosesThis year, the racist groups Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer decided to come to Portland from out-of-state and hold a “rally” on the same day as Roses on the River, a decision they announced what seems like just a few days before the race. For those of you not playing along at home, Portland fancies itself to be a liberal and inclusive town. In a state with a significantly racist history, modern Portland is at least trying. This makes white supremacists angry enough to don matching polo shirts and/or riot gear, board rented school buses, and head to Portland to…find people to beat up? I’m not sure what they actually plan to do, because they just seem to end up brawling in front of local businesses and breaking windows downtown. Maybe they want their closeted-white-supremacist-brethren to “come out” as modern Klansmen? Maybe they just wanted to mess with Roses on the River? At any rate, they aren’t local, and they seem to show up to antagonize protesters who identify as anti-fascist (some of whom are also not-from-Portland violent thugs, so at least they have that in common).

Race organizers for Roses on the River reacted by moving the entire event out of downtown, and over to the east side of the river (which does not have a gigantic stretch of park like the west side, but which does have a paved multi-use trail for running, biking, etc.) to what is apparently called the “Eastbank Festival Plaza.” This was entirely sensible, leaving the Portland police less to worry about downtown and providing runners with a ton of free parking. It also put the starting line within walking distance from my apartment.

yellow rosesThe Thorns? They pulled their sponsorship of the race. That’s right, no Thorns at Roses on the River. While runners still got a ticket to the Thorns game, they did NOT get the limited-edition Thorns scarf—one of my big reasons for signing up for the race. The Thorns officially cited “liability,” which is a bogus excuse given that (1) all participants sign a liability waiver, and (2) the race moved across an entire river, away from the “rally” area, and police shut down the bridges. I suspect the REAL reason the Thorns pulled out is that they were afraid people would lose or abandon their scarves, which the white supremacists might grab on their way to the brawl, and therefore might end up in pictures of rioters and thus become “bad optics” for the Thorns. Nevermind that they could have avoided this by only handing scarves out at pre-event packet pickup (and changed the rules to DQ anyone wearing one), or mailed or otherwise made them available only a day or more after the event. Nope. They just pulled out. Race organizers didn’t even have time to change the website to show that runners wouldn’t get a Thorns scarf—I found out AT the race!! (I later found out the Thorns also forbid the race organizers from handing out any leftover scarves from 2018. Seriously.)

Due to the change in location and change in space, I suspect several companies that had planned to be at the start/finish area also pulled out of this year’s Roses on the River. Like I didn’t see Jersey Mike’s, which was supposed to give finishers a half sandwich (not that I cried over this too much, since races often don’t provide vegetarian sandwiches). It almost makes no sense, since there was MORE parking, and plenty of space under the bridge. I was very pleased to see my favorite race supporter, the Franz bakery grilled cheese truck! After the race I grabbed a grilled cheese bite and a loaf of delicious glutenous goodness to take home.

White rose with colorful roses in backI arrived about ten minutes before the starting time. (I want to say the race had self-sorting heats, with the walkers starting first, but I wouldn’t stake my life on that.) There was no line to pick up my bib and attached timing chip, and no worries about where to put my scarf because I didn’t get one.

The race was a 5k only this year (some past years did have a 10k option) starting from the Eastbank Festival Plaza, just north of the Hawthorne Bridge. The course was an out-and-back, south past OMSI, past the Ross Island Bridge, and a bit further south before the turnaround and return north to the start. The path was not closed to other uses, but the few other runners and cyclists out there were pretty reasonable.

In the spirit of “I am supposed to be training for the Chicago Marathon–and you should definitely donate to my fundraiser for Team Imerman Angels–I had intended to run/walk intervals. Unfortunately, I was still learning how to make the intervals on my watch work, and so the entire event was timed as a warm-up. Oops. After I realized my mistake I did some self-timed intervals. The plan was to run 3, walk 2, but my lungs were not game to play, so I did more run 2 or 1, walk 1 or 2. Near the end I got inspired to kick my own butt and turn on the speed, and ran right past some folks mustering for the riots under the Hawthorne Bridge before I crossed the finish line. (I later went back to look at them, and took a photo—super obviously, not even trying to hide it a little—to post to facebook so my friends would avoid the area. It was hard to tell who they were as a few had on MAGA hats, but there was also a riot medic—something I associate with the left—and some punch-out Donald Trump masks that were a very unflattering parody, along with lots of black commando-style gear and bandanas over faces and a big show of going to shake hands with the police officers babysitting them.)

wine glass with rosesI did appreciate that the walkers got to go in the first heat, and not just because I got to sleep in a little. Many had finished by the time I started, and the ones left on the course had spread out. There were also plenty of walkers, as Terrapin Events (the race company) is serious about making walkers welcome. While out on the run I saw plenty of families, and also parent-kid combos, and high school track runners.

Then I collected my cider—2 Towns Ciderhouse and Widmer Brothers Brewing provided post-race adult beverages—and my grilled cheese bite. There was music and some people were dancing as I picked up samples of vitamins disguised as a fun-sized candy bar, after which I sauntered down to a nearby restaurant to eat brunch with some of my peeps.

Would I run it again? Maybe, if (1) I’m actually going to get the Thorns scarf I was promised, and (2) there is no sissy-boy “I’m exerting my First Amendment rights” nonsense going on. (Yes, I’m still a bit sore that the Thorns didn’t make any effort to get the promised scarves to runners, especially since I bet they were ordered well-enough in advance that they exist somewhere.) It would also have to be on a weekend when there are no competing events, as I run up and down the sides of the river on a fairly regular basis. The race organizers and the runners and vendors were great, and created a festive atmosphere. If you are looking for a low-key 5k that is also timed, Roses on the River might be your Portland race.

Disclosure: I’m not an ambassador for the Run Revel series–but I sure would like to be! Revel definitely needs a Portland-based crew now that we have our own “hometown” Revel here, don’t you think? You know, someone to hang out at the annual Fleet Feet all-races expo, the weekend days of the local race expos, hand out flyers at the community events, make sure all the running stores have flyers…

2019: The Second Annual Revel Mt. Hood race! It’s not every race series that considers you a “legacy” runner at just your second year, but that’s definitely how Revel rolls. As I mentioned in my review of the Inaugural Revel Mt. Hood, I signed up for 2019 pretty much as soon as registration opened. (I had a great time, so why not?) This year my friend Tina flew in from Alaska for the weekend to join me, because the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics designated Revel Mt. Hood as a reunion race. More on that later. I was bummed to miss Revel Mt. Charleston this year (see my review here), so it’s great I now have a hometown Revel!

The ExpoThree runners posing with the REVEL sign

Expo At the Convention Center! While the Oregon Convention Center (actually the Portland convention center, but Portland likes to pretend it *is* Oregon) is perpetually under destruction–I’m not kidding, half the doors are boarded up, the statute dedicated to MLK is under a tarp, and there is landscaping going in officially in the name of beautification (but maybe in the actual name of preventing the homeless from sleeping there?)–it’s still a good spot to hold a race expo. It’s accessible by MAX, then a walk to the currently functional doors, and a quick run through an adult habitrail to get to the rooms used for race expos right now.

Small, but mighty… With a Saturday race, it’s a one-day expo. Tina went early to grab her packet, as well as a few for friends flying in late; I went after work. Neither of us experienced much of a line. This year I love the color of the women’s tank (you choose your shirt at registration: tank, short sleeve, long sleeve, or soft non-tech cotton), and this year’s swag was a pair of Revel-themed goodr! Everyone got to choose either a black or a light blue-green (which reminds me of the Sunbathing With Wizards goodr I completely banged up by losing the safety cloth…). Revel isn’t an inexpensive race–so register EARLY and get the best prices–but the swag is always quality. In past years, I’ve received socks, a beanie (the warm kind with a hole for your ponytail), and a Headsweats hat.

The swag bag included pre-race essentials, including a heat sheet and a pair of tosser gloves (though I’m cheap and re-use them for sweat during the race, and then wash them to use them again). There were also some very random samples (probiotics for runners, okay) and an event guide. This year the expo also had some fun new photo ops. Speaking of photos, ALL participants get FREE race photos!

Like last year, there was an app to enter to win a race. Each of the main race sponsors had a code to enter. Aside from the Revel series, the other sponsors included my favorite bluetooth headphones, Aftershokz (see my review), the Portland Marathon (now under management by Revel’s parent company), Honey Stinger, and, ugh, doTerra was back as a race sponsor. I still really hate that Revel has chosen to partner with a multi-level marketing (MLM) company of any brand. (MLMs prey on stay-at-home-moms and women in conservative religious communities. Most people lose money as MLM “independent sales representatives.”) The best thing I can say is that at least the “independent consultant” there wasn’t overly pushy. Once again, there is no mention anywhere on the website, at the expo, or any of the printed literature to warn runners that doTerra’s “blue” rub–available on the course–contains sweet almond oil. If you are allergic to nuts, THIS IS DANGEROUS!  Especially on a long course with infrequent medic stations. (No thanks, I’ll stick to BioFreeze when I need a muscle rub.)

A stack of goodrNew at the expo this year (or at least I don’t remember seeing them last year?): Eastwind Running & Endurance Club, which has a Wednesday night summer run series on Portland’s east side; a photo booth with props; and the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics booth, which had membership sign-ups, information about the clubs, and clearance merch (all of which was too small for me, at least in the styles I like). Since I didn’t leave work until 5, there was just enough time to chat our way through the expo, hang out with Gregg (the regional Half Fanatics/Marathon Maniacs ambassador, or at least one of them), take some photos, and race off to dinner–naturally I wrangled the group over to McMenamin’s Kennedy School, where I showed off a gem in Portland’s history.

Pre-Race

Get on the bus, Gus. As with last year, the Bain and Tina get ready to hit the bus to the race bus loading at the Lloyd Center hotel began at o’dark-thirty. With a first wave starting at 5:00 a.m. the marathoners got on board first. (I think they boarded at like 2:00!) Even though we swore we wanted to be in bed by 9:30, it was closer to 11:00 and the morning came way too early. Tina and I had prepped our gear the night before and walked over to the hotel in plenty of time. New this year: deluxe motor coaches for the drive to Mt. Hood!

Herd in the Corrals. The half marathon holding area was in the same place as last year. Basically, it’s perfect: not too far a walk from the start, plenty of room to hang out, loads of fresh porta-potties, water, and a DJ. What’s not to like? Like last year, I brought an extra heat sheet and made like a grounded baked potato pre-race. The busses arrived a bit later this year, so there was less slacker time before the race. In addition, this year the race was earlier in the year, so the sun came up earlier–rewarding runners with gorgeous views of the moon over Mt. Hood on the walk over to the start.

Run All The Miles (or 13.1 of them)!

The Course. As near as I could tell, the half marathon course was exactly the same as last year (which is fine by me–I knew exactly what to expect!). I remembered the mini-hill early in the course, and the uphill around mile 8 or so, and the uphill to mile 10, and the uphill at mile 12. Half marathoners enjoyed a great deal of lovely shade, green, and river views from mile 1 to mile 10, when the course joins the marathoners and Highway 26.

This year I felt like I totally smoked the first four miles. This is, of course, 100% subjective and bears no rational relationship to my actual speed. I started out trying to do the intervals assigned for my Chicago Marathon Training (I was supposed to run five miles with intervals of run 3, walk 2), but I messed up setting my watch and so had to time them manually. By mile 4 I was done with the intervals, and I ran random segments as it felt good. Still, without a solid training base? It was awesome! I felt fantastic. (In the pictures? Yeah…not so much. Still, I do love free race photos as a perk.)

The last three miles felt MUCH better than last year, but were not as amazing as the first few. One major change this year: the bus route changed. Last year, after turning onto the road that leads to the Rainbow Trout Farm (the finish line venue) at some point the running route aligned with the route the return buses took. This year, instead of bringing the buses out to the trout farm, Revel used golf carts to take runners out to the buses (waiting on a major surface road on the other side of the trout farm). It was delightful to run without bus fumes! Off-roading in the golf cart was a little bit like the adult version of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride;” I’m confident the driver was safe and did a great job (she’d been at it since 6 am!) but I was wearing running clothes, and the slick fabric of my knickers was not helping me stay seated in the rear-facing seat!

Eat All The Foods.

Finish Line ShenanigansFinish Line Perfection. Since I’m a slowpoke, I had the pleasure of being individually announced as I crossed the finish line. I grabbed a towel from a giant tub of ice water, as well as a bottle of chocolate milk and a bottle of water. After a quick stop at the (still very fresh!) finish line porta potties, I washed my hands (they had the water pump stations with soap and paper towels) and headed over to the Fanatics and Maniacs tent.

Each year the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, two related clubs for people who are crazy enough to run tons of race for fun, choose several races to be “reunion” races. This draws people out from all over the place, as these special races come with a club tent (with tables and chairs, if you want them), and–for those who sign up properly–bonus swag! This race included an extra towel, club event tee, and special bling! I love being a Double Agent (member of both Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics). I’ve met so many great people online and at races; it was especially fun to meet people literally on the run at events, as we recognized each other by our club singlets. The clubs also have a monthly newsletter, race discounts, and private Facebook groups.

Anyway, after I collected my checked bag (contents: Oofos, sunblock, face wipes, warm-up clothing) and dropped it on the shaded lawn under the club tents, I collected the snacks. First, a slice of cheese pizza from Papa John’s and an old-fashioned chocolate glazed donut. Next, an ice-cold Diet Coke. I spent the remainder of the morning hanging out with other club members under the tent, and occasionally taking pictures. Tina’s friend was sweeping the marathon so we waited until she finished to leave–putting us on the final bus back to Portland (alas, a regular school bus) after the wild golf cart ride from the finish area.

Overall? See you at Revel Mt. Hood next year! Psst! Register by midnight  July 19 and use code EARLY to save an extra $10! https://www.runrevel.com/rmh/register

 

 

Disclosure: I participated as a member of the “Insider Launch Team” to help promote the May 2019 release of The Latte Factor. As a participant, I received a complimentary review copy (advance reader’s edition paperback) of this book. The hardback book that is the giveaway prize? I purchased that at full release price. I was not asked to write a blog post. As always, all opinions below are my own.

As a runner who could easily spend all of my disposable income on travel to races, and a woman who statistically will live longer than any man I might marry, I know that managing my personal finances well is in my best interest. While I’m putting money in my 401(k), and saving to buy a house, and otherwise trying to be responsible, it never hurts to read another book.

The Latte Factor is the latest offering from David Bach (author of a dozen books on personal finance) and John David Mann (author of a dozen books on leadership and business). Initially, the book reads like a novel, with all the classic elements that you studied in English class: an interesting opener, characters you care about, starting en media res. Finance doesn’t enter the picture until page 10–and the book only has about 120 pages. If you have read any of Bach’s prior books (e.g. Smart Women Finish Rich), nothing in this book will be new to you; I suspect that you are not the target audience. If you prefer a novel to a non-fiction book, or are a Millenial who never learned how to balance a check book (or even write checks, actually), this is your book.

The main character, Zoey, starts out as a 27-year-old New Yorker, working at a magazine. Her spending habits are based on a client composite Bach has used in at least one prior book. (I can’t remember which one, though I clearly remember the pattern of her spending habits: pre-work Starbucks, mid-morning Jamba Juice break, lunch out every day, afternoon decaff.) The other central characters include a caring boss who befriended Zoey when she first started, a cafe worker, and one of Zoey’s friends who works freelance in app development (who is the mouth-piece for what I believe are supposed to be “skeptical things Millenials say about money”). Instead of following the more impersonal and direct finance lessons of his prior books, this book is a novelization where the lessons are communicated to Zoey by other characters. These lessons take place while Zoey is facing a major career decision, and the story includes Zoey’s internal thoughts and feelings. You might find yourself comparing Zoey’s life to yours–as I did (even though 27 was a long time ago!)

The core concept, and the book’s title, is “the latte factor.” It represents all of the small, unimportant things you spend money on that don’t contribute to living richly in the moment. The concept is not that lattes are bad, or that you should always make your own coffee; maybe that latte contributes immense happiness to your day. Instead, the concept is that spending $4-5 (or more) per day on things that don’t really add to the quality of your life isn’t your best bet; rather than spend $150 each month on coffee you don’t think about, you could use that money for purposes that would better enrich your life: paying off debt, funding your 401(k), or a savings account to pay for the things you really want to do with your life. Or, say, lots of race entries and some airplane tickets.

Got friends who could use a boost in their financial savvy? Sharing is caring!Click To Tweet

Like Bach’s other books, this one also touches on financial concepts like the magic of compound interest, paying yourself first, and using automation to make it easier to manage your money. If you are interested in learning more, you could buy your own copy (and claim bonuses from the authors); you might also check out The Latte Factor Podcast, available on Stitcher and iTunes.

Or you could win your copy here!

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Disclosure: As a member of the official Blue Ridge Marathon blogger-ambassador team, I received a free entry to the Slow K. As always, all opinions are my own.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t go straight from being very active, or running long miles, to couch-potato-worthy zero. Yet that’s what most of us do the day after a race. Worse, for destination marathons that fall on a Sunday, many runners hop an airplane back home the same day. Yikes!

Another problem avid runners face is the non-running-significant-other. It’s fun to have your spouse or boyfriend or whatever come along on race weekend, but I’m not sure how much fun it is for them when the entire weekend revolves around an event they aren’t participating in.

This year, the Blue Ridge Marathon races brilliantly solved both problems with The Slow K: an untimed 5k-ish event. It was brilliant.

The Slow K started across the street from our hotel, so we thought we’d walk over. Minor issue, part of the path was shut-off by a chain-link fence, so we had a little pre-5K parkour event. Upon our arrival, we found a super chill pre-brunch scene.

We felt all the love!

Upon checking in each not-runner received their number on a flower lei (not a bib), and a coffee mug. Pre-“race” there was plenty of coffee and hot cocoa, as well as some donuts to snack on. (Don’t judge. Most of us had just done a mountainous race!) The event was fairly small–this was the first year–and there was plenty of space to mill around, chat, and meet other runners.

It was fun to see runners just as stiff and sore as I was hobbling around and trying to get the juices flowing again, while non-runner husbands and girlfriends who were not walking like zombies filled coffee mugs. There were a few strollers and plenty of walking kiddos as well. That’s the great thing about a “Slow K,” it is literally for everyone. Exactly zero people were there to race, or even run!

You had me at “mimosa”

Off to one side was a mimosa bar where, for a small donation, you could DIY your own combo with sparkling wine, juice, and fresh fruit. I’m pretty sure the idea was to grab one after the Slow K, but the mimosa cups fit inside the coffee mugs so perfectly that some of us just couldn’t help ourselves!  They also had fancier coffee (in case the more pedestrian coffee that came with the donuts wasn’t up to your standards). Through the magic of square, I made my donation (I should have taken notes, I want to say this was for an arts or music program), selected some pineapple juice, made a little more room in the cup, and added fresh strawberries. Not a bad way to start a “run” (quotes intentional, as no one was running).

The added bonus of a slow event where you’re trying to get people to move but not run, and where you hand out coffee mugs instead of medals: it’s really, really hard to run with a coffee mug in your hand and not spill all over the place. At least as the event started, most of us still had full or semi-full mugs in our hands.

The weather was slightly soggy, but not really rainy–sort of a continuation of the weekend’s theme. The loop course wound along the river, through some park areas, and back to the start. There were a bunch of cute signs close to the start/finish to cheer on the “runners” too.

Slow K instructions

The Slow K was so much fun that I’m a bit confused as to how every race isn’t doing this. It’s a brilliant way to end a weekend and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments.

Disclosure: I returned to the Blue Ridge Marathon races in 2019 as one of the official race ambassador-bloggers. Race ambassadors receive free entry, swag, and the VIP experience in exchange for assistance in promoting this race. Speaking of the race, you can register for 2020 RIGHT HERE.  See you then?

Funny story, I distinctly remember getting to mile 19, but all of my notes from 2017 say I stopped at mile 17… If you missed Part 1, I recommend you start there.

Avenging a DNF Begins With…

Molly Bullington gives the 2017 course preview lecture

When registration opened for 2018, I signed up to run. In the interim I changed jobs and moved back to Oregon, so the 2018 race didn’t happen for me. In 2019, I signed up again. I also applied to join the ambassador team again, to help spread the word about how much I love this race. I also signed up for the training program again. I also did not finish the training program again….yeah, so life happens sometimes, and you have to put o your grownup-pants and decide what to do. Undertrained, a little fatter, but basically eager to return to Roanoke and give it another try anyway, I decided to go for it. Jackie also planned to return and run the double, but unfortunately she injured herself and had to drop out. I ended up rooming with Jessica, which was perfect (though I’m bummed Jessica and Jackie didn’t get to meet, as I’m sure they’d get along famously!). This year I flew into Raleigh, met friends for dinner, and spent the night before the drive up to Roanoke. The drive is pretty and green, and not very stressful even though it took me about three hours; Google maps sent me up largely on state highways that I would not have guessed were highways, and I saw lots of both North Carolina and Virginia. (At one point I pulled off the road to make sure I was still getting directions!)

Expo 2019 at the Patrick Henry

The Finish Line That Eluded Me in 2017!

In 2017 the Expo was in a different location, so it was a bit like going to a new race. On the way into the hotel, representatives from Foot Levelers greeted each runner with a cinch-backpack and stickers for the appropriate distance. Packet pickup was upstairs, and the traffic flow was pretty much perfect to get your packet, walk past some tables for local races, and then head back down the stairs. One thing I love about this expo is that the race-specific merchandise is all high-quality, with a smaller (but awesome!) selection. Since I have sweet ambassador swag to rock, this year I bought one of the Deneen pottery 10th anniversary ceramic mugs. There is always a tasting for the hydration on course (Skratch fluid, as well as the gummies) and the local Fleet Feet had a selection of race-day essentials on hand. I snagged a Squirrel Nut Butter (that stuff is the best!). This year, Get 2 Know Noke sponsored a happy hour lounge, with one free beer or flavored non-alcoholic seltzer for everyone who signed up for their mailing list. The Roanoke area is right next to the Blue Ridge Parkway (you know, the race goes there?) which is managed by the National Park Service, and the hiking, biking, and running are all high-quality. Jessica introduced me to some of the other BibRave Pros running the event, and we took a break before heading over to dinner.

They don’t build hotels like the Patrick Henry anymore.

Pasta Dinner & Galloway Running School

I love these chairs at the Roanoke Library–functional but also art

I knew from the 2017 event that I wanted a ticket for the pasta dinner. Not only was it the easiest pre-race dinner, it also meant seating for the Friday night concert, and shelter from the rain (it rained a little bit, but it wasn’t a big deal—no more than sprinkles). This year, Jeff Galloway came to run the Blue Ridge Marathon for the first time and as part of his appearances he was offering “Jeff Galloway’s Running School.” I signed up because I wasn’t sure when I’d have the opportunity to attend again, and as a certified run coach I figured it would be neat to hear from an Olympian.

 

 

 

 

When you run up the mountains, you ought to enjoy the views.

Running School was not what I expected. First, there were no handouts or outlines. I took plenty of notes though, so here are the highlights (at least as I saw them). Jeff is very big on some material I’m not familiar with yet, a book called Spark that is supposed to recap research showing running promotes brain health, and another book called The Story of the Human Body that emphasizes that running was a short distance activity for most of human history. That led to an explanation of how and why to use “walk breaks,” which are key to what has come to be called the Galloway method. He explained how he lays out his training plans, as well as his observations—most of which are based on his experience coaching, as opposed to data from weekend-warrior types runners—which include using a long run that is longer than the distance of the goal race. (On the theory that people tend to hit the wall within a mile of the long run they did in the three weeks prior to the race.) This is the opposite theory of the Hanson’s Method, which also seems to be producing fine runners.

Jeff Galloway is now in his 70s, and has run six days per week, every week, since he was 16 years old. This turned out to be both an advantage and a disadvantage, as some of his advice on injuries and performance nutrition haven’t kept pace with the most current research. For example, he doesn’t recommend ANY type of warm-up prior to running, and instead uses the first mile as his warm-up. This might be great for someone who has run six days a week for several decades, but it doesn’t seem like great advice for those of us who drive a desk five days a week and don’t run as often. (He’s right that pre-run static stretching is a terrible idea though—the research tends to show stretching before stressing the muscle decreases performance and increases the risk of injuries). He’s also still a fan of ice, which I agree has its place but shouldn’t be used on joints or after every run—inflammation is a result of the healing process, and is necessary for muscles to repair themselves. I disagree with some of his very broad-brushstroke nutrition advice, including what to eat the morning of the race (he says nothing, unless you need it for “gastric motility;” I’d pass out if I ran without eating some carbs and a wee bit of protein an hour or 90 minutes before the race) and salt (he says avoid salty food on the grounds that it takes plasma from the blood and makes it harder for the body to replace lost fluids; I notice that I need salty foods to replace the electrolytes I lose through sweat—I could be a DIY salt facial after a race). He’s down on cross-training (which makes sense if you’ve been running all your life) and only does weight training for postural muscles (useful trick, even if I disagree with his conclusion on the grounds that it doesn’t work on my body).

Pre-race kiss to #HeiferBelle for good luck

After running school, I met up with Jessica and we went back to the hotel. I had a glass of wine while we set up our flat runners. Neither of us slept much that night, because Jessica had to be at the starting line for the Double Marathon at some ungodly hour like 3 a.m., and because I always have a hard time sleeping the night before a race—this one more than any other, because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen the next day: Just like 2017, I arrived at the starting line in 2019 underprepared. I hadn’t stuck to the training plan (for all new reasons, sigh). I had gained some extra weight. In the interim I had learned I have exercise-induced asthma.

If Only The Days Started Later…

The alarm went off after what seemed like ten minutes of sleep, and I dragged myself out of bed to suit up and drive over to the start. There was plenty of nearby parking, so I arrived with plenty of time to head to the VIP breakfast in the library and on the patio. While there was a fantastic spread with plenty of coffee, I chose my snacks conservatively and packed a “to go” waffle (the Honey Stinger kind). One last use of the indoor plumbing, and it was down to the starting line.

The starting line area was well organized with highly visible information mavens!

As in 2017, the corrals were self-sorting. Friendly runners were mingling, taking selfies, and shaking out the pre-race jitters. I found Jessica, who looked fresh after having run the whole marathon, and was ready for her second loop. She was hanging out with the 6:30 pacer, and I decided to join them. It wasn’t long before we were off. Our pacers chose a “steady effort” method, which makes sense on a super hilly course. The idea is that instead of aiming for a specific time per mile, the time per mile would vary (uphill and very steep downhill are both difficult; flat and gentle downhill are easier) but the amount of effort would stay as even as possible.

I stuck with the pacers up to the first mile? Maybe second mile? I can’t remember. It was fun running with a group for a bit, but as we started to take a relatively easy jog up the first gentle climb, I couldn’t catch enough air to keep running and busted out the inhaler. I passed the turnaround for the half, and ran into the national forest section. I remembered the rolling hills, and then crossing the highway to the first serious climb, up Mt. Roanoke. In my head it was a hard climb in 2017, but this year it was even harder in my body. Abut 1/3 from the top of the climb, I had to start taking breaks to catch my breath that included stopping completely. Step, step, step, step, stop. Over and over. I felt very wimpy. I must have looked equally awful because at several points as I was climbing up, runners passing me on the way back down asked if I was okay instead of cheering for me.

Always follow the directional signs…

I have never had my lungs act up so obnoxiously as they did going up Roanoke Mountain. After my 2017 DNF I learned I have exercise-induced asthma. I had my inhaler with me. (I have never had any serious complications, and I had both my phone with extra battery and my RoadID with me. I promise that even if I am crazy, I take health and safety VERY seriously.) After that, I couldn’t run at all—my legs were willing, but my lungs not so much. But since I took a DNF the last time I tried this, I was determined to finish. Even if it didn’t happen until Monday.

At the very top I took just a moment to pause and admire the hard-earned view. Then it was time to head back down, down, down Mt. Roanoke. I tried to make some runs, as I’m usually pretty good at downhill, but my lungs couldn’t suck in enough air to make it happen. At that point I began to suspect there was no way I was going to make the race’s 7-hour cut-off. You know how runners talk about distance being a mental game? This was that, exactly. There were a few others in front of me, and I think one or two behind, so it was pretty quiet as I continued on my way back towards Roanoke and Mill Mountain.

Suddenly, It Was Just Me.

Amazing views reward those who keep climbing,

As I approached the aid station at the turn to Mill Mountain, all of the volunteers cheered and offered me water, Skratch, and snacks. The aid station is right at the split, after you descend Roanoke but before you go up Mill, a very nice race official/volunteer said, “You know you missed the cut-off, right?” Inside, I cried and thought, “damn, I hope that is not a problem…” Outside, I said, “Well, I do now…” Mr. Race Official asked if I needed anything, or if they could do anything for me. I should have said “please save me a medal, because I WILL finish.” Instead, I said, “no, thank you, I have plenty of fuel and fluid.” Mr. Race Official did not tell me that I had to stop. (I’m also not a jerk. If a race official tells me I must do something, 99 times out of 100 I will do it. I will always seriously evaluate a black flag on the course, an EMT or similar who is looking at me like I might die.) So I kept going, up to the top of Mill Mountain. Another race person stopped as they drove past and asked if I was okay, and when I explained that all I wanted to do was finish, I ugly cried a little bit but promised I’d be okay.

Photographic proof

Atop Mill Mountain I took the world’s lamest selfie with the Star. The aid station was all packed up neatly. For a minute I thought seriously about taking a bag of pretzels, but they were big bags and I wasn’t sure how I’d carry one once I opened it. Besides, I did have plenty of snacks. So it was down Mill Mountain, where I saw a really sweet looking dog who I assumed belonged to the moo-mosa house, but didn’t (I asked when I went by). The moo-mosas were gone by the time I got there, which I expected. It looked like a good time was had by all!

Every volunteer I saw asked if I needed anything (I had packed nutrition and hydration, but did take some water and chips). One woman, who appeared to be the head of a stop on the way up Peakwood, apologized that the aid station was closed! I assured here it was supposed to be closed, and she had nothing to apologize for, since I knew I was late and expected the aid stations to be closed. she still offered me one of everything in her car, and when I accidentally left my tube of Tailwind in her van, one of the younger kids (teenager) ran to catch me to deliver it!

Sure, I missed out on the moo-mosas (I had one in 2017, so that’s okay) and the champagne on Peakwood (I had some later, so that’s okay too). But I kept rolling. Every time a volunteer drove by, they waved and cheered. The guys taking down the course cones and signs all asked if I was sure I was okay. (Clearly I’m a head case, but yeah, I was fine.) When I hit the point where the cones had been picked up and traffic was back to normal, I side-walked myself. I wanted a DNS–Did Not Stop.

Nothing like a moo-mosa to speed that next mile along!

The app was great for the map, though I took a minor re-route on (Jefferson?) as there was a bridge/flyover with no apparent sidewalk. Unfortunately I got off course after the loop in south Roanoke and when I realized it, I was 2 miles away from the finish line (but my watch already said 25.xx). I ended up taking the shortest route back from wherever i was, which still had me over 26.2. I saw some yellow birds with a pretty song that I’ve never seen before. I saw a billion cardinals, and some dogs, and the easter bunny.

At several points I thought I might be going crazy, because only a crazy lady decides to finish a marathon on her own, right? But again, phone with extra battery (I was prepared to call a Lyft at the first sign of lightning) and plenty of fuel and fluid. Two different cars stopped on my way down Peakwood, asking if I needed a ride. (Roanoke-ians are so nice!) The one thought I was nuts to be walking in the rain, I’m sure. Then I passed a cooler that still had extra water pods and one bottle of cold beer inside. The crews dismantling the course’s directional signs, cones, and road barriers were all surprised I was still out there–asked if I needed anything (including a ride back to the start) and wished me good luck.

Here’s The Theme: Persevere

Obligatory watch shot here. Thrilled with the battery and performance of my Coros!

At almost 9 hours, and over 27 miles, I trudged into Elmwood Park. One of the guys dismantling the rest of the chute recognized me and said, “Hey! You finished!” Hell yes, I DID! But…not within the official posted time limits. When I crossed where the finish line used to be, I cried. (Wouldn’t you?) As I was climbing up Roanoke Mountain and my lungs were screaming, I thought, “I’m glad I’m here this year, I can’t do this again.” But…now I feel like I have to go and finish within the time limits.

I posted my story and asked the race officials if they would send me a medal. I know not everyone would agree with me receiving a medal–I finished, but not within the time–but I’m not posting it on social media or sharing photos. At least not until I make it a special little “Finisher & DNF” sash.

Seriously, if you’re looking for a challenge you should try one of the Blue Ridge Marathon Races. If you’re not up for a full marathon get a team together for the relay, or run the half or the 10k. For a fairly chill race-cation, volunteer at the race and join the runners for the Slow K on Sunday.

According to WordPress, I started this post in August 2017…four months after the race. Sometimes, you have to go back and finish what you started. Buckle up and grab a glass of wine, as this is going to be a looooong post. Actually, I think I’ll make it two posts. Let’s call this “Part I.”

My 2017 DNF Was Amazing!

Disclosure: after registering for the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, I was accepted to the Official Blogger contingent! Blog team members receive a free race entry as a thank you for helping to spread the word about the race. As I had already registered, the race team graciously allowed me to give my entry to another runner–the one who originally suggested I apply to the blog team. Per usual, all opinions in this post are mine (and you KNOW I have plenty of them to go around).

Part of the Heart of Roanoke

A few years ago when some friends of mine registered for Goofy’s Race-and-a-Half Challenge (the Disney World combo where you run a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday) I thought that was the dumbest idea ever. A year later, I registered to run The Dopey Challenge (the Disney World combo where you run a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon on consecutive days). That actually turned out to be fun–“fun,” says the woman who once said, “run? only if I’m being chased by something with big teeth.”

It was probably 2015 when I was poking around the Marathon Maniacs facebook group–as a newly-minted Double Agent who had just sworn “no more marathons, except maybe Disney”–that I first heard about the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon. This is a race that bills itself as “America’s toughest road race” due to the changes in elevation and has added MORE elevation to the original course! This did not sound like The Race for Bain.

Since I inevitably do everything I swear I won’t–be careful! this is what happens when you say, “I’ll NEVER run a marathon”–I signed up to run the marathon. (Actually, my friend Jackie saw that the race was looking for bloggers and encouraged me to apply. Which I did…and I’m honestly not sure if that was before or after I registered to run.) I’m going to blame the fact that I was at a race expo at the time, and not only was the price at a great discount but they also gave me last year’s race shirt and a pair of Farm to Feet socks. (Yes, it appears I will run for socks.)

A Warm Welcome from the Host Hotel

As a flat-lander living at something like 8′ above sea level, and as a runner whose lungs are still royally pissed that I decided to run the Sedona Marathon, naturally I was terrified! Fortunately there is a solid remote training program, complete with a flat-lander modification option. (There was also an in-person training program, but it was a little inconvenient to travel from Oakland to Roanoke several times a week.) The training plan included the big-picture overview (like a chart of every week’s workouts), weekly emails with each week’s training plus race news and helpful tips, and a private Facebook group. Between when I signed up to run and the actual race date, life took some complicated turns (that’s why I’ve been so prolific on the blog, right?) and I didn’t get it nearly the amount of training I had planned. I didn’t stick to the training plan.

I DID try to get in some hill training–but trust me, I wish I’d had more! In my dream-plan I would have driven to Tiburon to train on the hills. In my reality-calendar I conquered Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, took all of my “all out” treadmill intervals at OrangeTheory at a 15% incline, and worked with my sports medicine people to build my glutes, keep my IT band happy, and add strength to my hamstrings. If you’re considering this race, which I hope you are, the flat-lander training plan includes some faux-hill options such as using the treadmill and taking your downhill practices down the hills in parking garages (with obvious safety precautions!).

Aside from training, Blue Ridge takes a little more planning in the travel department than most races I have run. Generally, I hop on the Southwest website and my race travel is plug-and-play. Not for this race. For one, Southwest doesn’t fly to Roanoke (which they definitely should fix before the race next year). So I met up with my friend Jackie in the Phoenix airport, and we flew to DC together and then took a road trip through parts of Virginia. Jackie took care of the hotel arrangements, we signed up for the pre-race pasta party to make that easier, and an epic road adventure began!

When we arrived in Roanoke, the hotel had a cute little welcome sign for the runners as well as goody bags! Our hotel was within walking distance of the starting line, and also had a special early-hours breakfast available, all of which were bonuses.

Post-Packet-Pickup beverage (the flower is a pen!)

After checking into the hotel, the first order of business was packet pickup. Roanoke isn’t a gigantic town, so we were able to walk over (dodging a few raindrops here and there). It seemed like the locals took advantage of early pickup as there was quite literally no line when we arrived. (There was, however, a big rent-a-tent to provide shade from the sun/shelter from the raindrops.) After we collected our bibs we moved inside to pick up our shirts and check out the expo. Personally I LOVED all the colors for the shirts, and am also a fan of the soft technical fabric. (I’ve already worn mine several times since the race.)

2017 was the first year I went to Roanoke, Virginia for the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, I had high hopes. Sure, the race has 7,430 feet of elevation change and goes up and down three mountains, but I was in relatively good shape even though I hadn’t finished the training program. At that point I was running about a half marathon a week, and I’d tackled really hilly races like the Tiburon Half Marathon (which has one hill that literally made me stop and laugh before I went up).

2019, Looking Back at 2017

One of the funniest things–at least to other people–is that this was a total DNF, but I raved to everyone about how great the race was. Everything was pretty much perfect, I had zero complaints. The pasta dinner had both vegetarian and gluten-free options–the first time I’d been to a pre-race feed with a gluten-free choice–and was followed by a course overview by the race director and some long-time runners. The starting line had corrals markers, and runners properly self-sorted themselves without any inadvertent walker roadblocks. The volunteers on the course were THE BEST. Aid stations had tons of people, all cheering, offering genuine warmth and support. Unlike an ordinary race, aid stations were more like trail races or ultras, with a variety of snacks salty and sweet, plus water and electrolytes. There are also plenty of “unofficial aid stations” offering everything from “moo-mosas” to beer to bottled water pods and orange slices.

Do we have any idea what we’re about to do?!?

Looking back, I remember the first climb up Roanoke Mountain was tough, but I felt great as I turned to go up Mill Mountain; I had just barely made the cut-off. I adored the view from beneath the big star, and the “moo-mosa” on the way down the other side of Mill Mountain. By mile 17 or so I wasn’t feeling so great. It was warm and humid, the two things my body dislikes most, and I was having trouble breathing. (I later learned that I have exercise-induced asthma. Go figure.) By mile 18, I was “wogging” with my own personal bicycle escort under some seriously black clouds. About halfway to the mile 19 aid station, my escort got word that the course had been black-flagged (that means the course is closed/race is officially off) due to lightning in the area. While a race cannot actually force you to stop running, they do have to make sure every runner is safe. Since I didn’t know the course, and wasn’t carrying enough to get through the next 7 miles, I boarded the bus back to the start. After all, I’m sure there are better ways to die than being hit by lightning on the other side of the country. Along the way we passed Jackie, my race weekend roommate, who was much closer to the finish. I think she only had three miles to go, and she refused to get on the bus.

A DNF Still Means I Had The Sads

Back at the hotel, I was seriously sad I had not finished the course, and even sadder after Jackie came back with her medal (even though I was also very proud of her for finishing). I took a hot bath and a nap, and after the storm passed we went out to dinner.  I can’t remember where we went or what we ate, but it was delicious–as was breakfast the next morning before we left town.

Donuts and DNFs

Even though I hadn’t finished the course, I had one of THE BEST race experiences of my life. (The Blue Ridge Marathon isn’t just a race, it’s a weekend EVENT. More on that in another post.) The shirt was cute, the swag was great, the volunteers on the course were the best…the only thing “wrong” is that I hadn’t finished the race. So I signed up for the 2018 race. In between I changed jobs and moved to a different city, so I wasn’t able to make the race. It didn’t bother me though, as I know the money stays in the Roanoke area his event is owned and operated by the Roanoke Outside Foundation whose mission to make outdoor activity and environmental stewardship a core component of our community’s lifestyle by promoting a “conservation through recreation” philosophy. I’m good with that.

Funny story, I distinctly remember getting to mile 19, but all of my notes from 2017 say I stopped at mile 17…

Stay tuned for Part 2!