Disclosure: I am a proud Ambassador for the 2016 Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon (and Half Marathon, Relay, 5k, and Kids Fun Run). The race supplied the books I’m giving away in this post. All words and opinions are my own.
As I’m writing this, there are 20 days left until race day! (So, um, I guess I’d better buy some plane tickets and make a travel plan, eh?) If you’re not registered, it’s too late–but only for the international races. (Since the marathon, marathon relay, and international half marathon all cross the Ambassador Bridge into Canada, there’s that pesky business of giving the races’ registration lists to the U.S. Border Patrol and the Canada Border Services Agency to pre-clear everyone to enter. Can you imagine what your race times would look like if you had to wait in line at the border??) There IS still time to register for the U.S.-only half, the 5k, and the kids fun run. So hurry over to the race website and use code TRAINWITHBAIN to save 10% off of the current prices!
The 2012 Detroit International Half Marathon was the first race I did any serious training to run, and I still wasn’t fast. (It wasn’t even a PR.) I ran it for Mom, and for DetermiNation (which raises funds for the American Cancer Society). In the process, I also convinced my best friend, my Dad, and two cousins to run with us. In subsequent years I got one of my brothers to run (he likes to gloat about how much faster he is) and my best friend’s husband joined us too.
I remember how cold it was at the starting line and as I sit here sweating my buns off in California (hello, isn’t it supposed to be fall?) a crisp fall breeze blowing in my face as I run to Canada sounds delicious! It was chilly enough that while I slipped off the arms of the sweatshirt, I still wore my gloves for the entire race. At the same time, it was quite sunny and otherwise beautiful weather. Given how much I dislike the heat, I’ve found this race to have the perfect running weather.
2016 is the 39th running of the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon. The race has a colorful history filled with “firsts” and “onlys.” For example, this race was the very first event to ever close down the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, which runners have playfully nicknamed “the underwater mile.”
As a runner, I love this race. It shows off the best of Detroit, and while it doesn’t necessarily show off “the worst” it doesn’t hide that Detroit is a city undergoing big changes. Detroit has some magnificent architecture and a pretty great history; I like to try to imagine what it looked like when my great-grandmother went to Detroit to meet with the rum runners who supplied her bar during Prohibition. The crowd support is amazing, especially along the Windsor waterfront where the streets are lined with cheering Canadians, and there’s always a giant crowd right before you hit the runnel to run back to Michigan. Speaking of the tunnel, there is a great selfie opportunity at the U.S./Canada border. As Emma Tranter (the women’s winner of the 1978 marathon) said, “The people along the route were great to us and the course was great. There’s just not enough I can say about it. It was a really great event.” Thirty-nine years later, that’s still true. But don’t just take my word for it; check out my fellow ambassador Meghan Warzecha’s reasons she loves this race.
As one of the inaugural Ambassadors for this race, I only love it more! (I still can’t believe they picked me to be on the team.) The entire race team welcomed us aboard with a meeting in February, and it was scheduled during my visit to Michigan for Dad’s wedding so that I would be able to attend. New Balance Detroit provided us with some sweet Ambassador swag, including tech shirts and pullovers. Ambassadors have been invited to subsequent planning meetings (though I haven’t been able to attend). We have regularly been invited to give input, and our suggestions are taken seriously. This year we are even going to host a #WeRunSocial meetup at the expo!
By the way, if you aren’t prepared to run the race but are going to be in the area, you are still very welcome to join us at the meetup–#werunsocial is for all runners! If you can’t make the meet-up, come say hi at the
This week, three of the race staff took time out from their Sunday evening to join us on the Runner of a Certain Age podcast too. (Did you know there are 4,000 runners who will run Detroit for charity?) You can check out the episode and the show notes for The Gotta Lose Your Mind In Detroit edition. The podcast is filled with race details and excellent trivia.
I’m really just thrilled to be able to share one of the best races in the country with my friends! Before I forget, the medals for this race are also pretty sweet. The bling itself pays homage to Detroit’s heritage as The Motor City. Each year features a different car (see above and below). The ribbon weaves elements of the U.S. flag and Canadian flag together.
In combination with the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon weekend, I’m giving away three copies of The Long Run. This book is a history of the first 30 years of the race. It’s filled with facts, but also with pictures, and covers not just the runners but also the wheelchair division and the handcycle division. It’s interesting both as a history of this particular race and as a a chronicle of the development of a major marathon.
Details: this contest is not sponsored, endorsed, or otherwise related to anyone or any entity with two exceptions. One, Bain is an ambassador and this is her blog; she is 100% responsible for this contest. Two, the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon has generously provided copies of the book. Shipping will be slow! This contest closes on the first day of the race expo, and Bain and the race team are going to be super busy!!
Disclosure: I am a member of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Blog team. As a member of the team, I receive entry to Rock ‘n’ Roll races and other perks. This post is not sponsored, edited, or written (in any way) by the Rock ‘n’ Roll series or Competitor Group. All opinions are my own.
Most of the Rock ‘n’ Roll races are on Sundays. When there is a race on Saturday, ordinarily it is a 5k or 10k as part of a “Remix Challenge” weekend. Seattle is a different story: the main races are on Saturday. There is NO RACE ON SUNDAY. Since this is my third year running RnR Seattle, you might think I would have that figured out in advance. Or have, you know, looked at the date on the website or something. Big bowl of NOPE. (I even wrote it into my calendar as taking place on Sunday. #fail)
Most of the time when I travel for a Rock ‘n’ Roll race, I will stay all weekend, Friday to Sunday (or to Monday, as is my plan for Vancouver this year). Due to the amount of travel I’ve had lately both for work and for personal, the fact that my 19-year-old kittyboy now turns into Angry Kitty when I leave, and my general desire to have a day before the end of the month to do laundry and clean the house, this time I decided to just stay overnight, run, and go home. “When are you flying into Seattle?” Briana asked me. “Probably Saturday afternoon,” I wrote back, “I’m super busy and I think one night is better for me.” “Really?” Briana replied, “Um, you know you’ll miss the race if you do that, right?” DOH. Briana then reminded me that I made the same mistake last year (thinking the race was on Sunday). (She got it right, per usual. Check out her event review on Mat Miles Medals.)
This year I also made a brand-new mistake: I bought two sets of plane tickets for the same trip. After Briana reminded me I’d better make my trip Friday-Saturday (and not Saturday-Sunday) I hopped over to Southwest to make a reservation. It wasn’t until I went to the website to check in for my flight that I discovered I had apparently already purchased a Friday-Sunday ticket. Oops. Thankfully, Southwest has an awesome policy where they will hold funds for you from nonrefundable tickets, and I know I’ll be flying again, so no harm, no foul.
Thursday night I stayed up later than planned for a variety of reasons, but also managed to not pack for the adventure because I was pacifying Angry Kitty (who does not like it when I move things in and out of The Ominous Things On Wheels). Hey, he’s 19 years old and has put up with a lot throughout our 15 years together, so the least I can do is let him snuggle into my lap and snore, right?
Up at 4 a.m. to put things into the weekender. One of my top travel tricks is that I have a TSA-friendly ziploc bag filled with the overnight essentials (e.g. shampoo, toothpaste, lotion) that I never unpack. I also have a toothbrush in a travel case, a detangling comb, a pair of old prescription bottles (the orange-ish see-through kind) with the labels removed that are now filled with cotton swabs and cotton balls, and a travel-designated bath pouf that live inside the suitcase. When it’s time to pack, I just have to check that the essentials are all there (and not empty) instead of repacking. Eagle Creek was nice enough to give each of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team members a few bags that make my racing travel easier–a shoe locker for the shoes and small things, a gear locker for my clean clothes, and a fold-over for the dirty clothes–and I’ve got packing the things down to a science. (For the curious, this is the Pack-It Sport line.) Off to the 6: 30 a.m. flight at 5:30, and I was the last person to board the plane.
Two hours is barely enough time to catch a nap. I tried.
One thing I love about Seattle is there is pretty much no need to rent a car for the race. LINK light rail goes right to the airport, and downtown is criss-crossed by a variety of bus lines. I bought a reloadable Orca card (the better to not have to worry about keeping cash on hand for bus fares) and stuck $20 on it. It was a short LINK ride to Pioneer Square, which is exactly one block away from the Courtyard Marriott on Second Avenue (aka my Seattle home away from home). This is the second year I’ve stayed there, and I really love the x02 rooms (702, 802, etc.) because they are quiet and have a ton of space. Of course when you show up at 9:15 they don’t have your room ready, but they will store your luggage.
I hopped a north-going bus to meet up with Lillie Goker, a running buddy of mine who lives in Seattle. (We conquered Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco together in 2014.) She and I had brunch at this great breakfast place called Roxy’s Diner. I tried to find it on Google Maps, but it isn’t there. (Instead, look for Norm’s Eatery & Ale House, which is right next door.) After a night of really no sleep, it was great to relax over an eggy scramble with tater tots and a bottomless cup of coffee. We don’t get to hang out nearly enough, either.
Lillie lives nearby, and after a quick tour of her new digs, and a brief stop to hack some Ingress portals, she drove me over to the race expo. If you park in the parking structure, you end up entering the expo from the back, as opposed to entering where bib pickup is like you do in other cities. So we wandered through a little of the expo before we got to registration. The patterned totes from the Edmonton marathon were super cute, so I accepted one even though I’m unlikely to run it this year. (The race calendar is full. Maybe in 2017?)
Then Lillie helped me take a selfie (which I guess makes it not-quite-a-selfie?) with Elba Benzler, race director for Blooms to Brews (and a guest on Runner of A Certain Age, the podcast I now co-host, for a pre-race interview).
He’s also got a new event cooking, the North County Wine Run (first running: September 24, 2016). The medal is gorgeous, epic, and functional–so naturally I asked for a demonstration!
After picking up bibs and shirts, Lillie decided to call it a day and headed off to whatever it is that people do when they are not fixated on running. I stayed behind to wander the expo a bit before teh 3:00 #werunsocial meetup. (Actually, first I cased the joint to find an outlet to charge my phone.) Because I had decided that I was NOT going to buy anything at the expo, Nuun had to go and have a Seattle-specific water bottle. Guess who bought some more Nuun? I know, I know, way to stick to my resolve, but it’s something I use regularly, and it isn’t like it will spoil quickly. Besides, I was running low on cherry limeade. Then I came across the CEP booth, which tempted me with a good sale (I resisted) and a $10 copy of Meb for Mortals (I caved).
The #werunsocial meetup was a great time, as always. I am always glad to see Briana, Carleeh, Sarah, Carlee, Brian, Linzie…you get the idea. I remember I was so nervous at my first meetup that I forced myself to go talk to everyone about Run 10 Feed 10, and i was so nervous doing it that I accidentally gave the same spiel to one group of people twice! D’oh! Since then I’ve figured out that the cool kids are really nice, and I’ve made a bunch of friends. It makes travel to races even better, because I can always look forward to “running” into at least one of them. Pro Compression sponsored the meetup and donated some prizes, and after we took all the selfies there was barely enough time for me to hit my hotel for an all-too-brief nap.
I capped off the evening with dinner at Buca di Beppo, a pretty standard pre-race carb-fest for sure. This time the dinner planning landed in my lap, and I kept changing the number of seats on the reservation. In the end we had more seats than people (though in San Francisco it was the other way around, so I never know how it will shake out). I was quite happy the bus landed just a few blocks from the restaurant, as it started to drizzle as I was leaving the restaurant. Once I hit the hotel, I’d love to say I slept like a log for the few hours I had left to sleep. I didn’t. I’d love to say I love it when I’m sleepless for two nights in a row before a race…
All good Seattle stories end with coffee…and in the second half of this race review, you can enter to win some of your very own!
Disclosure: I received a free entry to the Buffalo Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.
I had a PLAN. (Then I had another plan.)
Leading up to the Buffalo Marathon, I had BIG plans. The universe pointed and laughed.
When I first heard that the BibRave Pro Team members would have the opportunity to run Buffalo, I figured I would run the half marathon. The half marathon is my “safe” spot, a distance I have done many times (like 80), and knew I could finish at around 3:00 even if the conditions are less than perfect, faster if I pushed myself. Then we had our first team call with race director Greg Weber. After enough jokes that the rest of the BibRave Pros were convinced I was going to get a pony, I was positive that I was going to run the full. I had a full already on calendar (Dopey Challenge) and plenty of time to train. Game. On.
I didn’t exactly run the marathon I’d planned at Disney World, in part due to my inability to plan ahead (read: failure to submit proof of time so I got placed in the last corral). Sure, I got to take plenty of pictures and I finished, but the “balloon ladies” got MUCH closer than I’d planned on. Whatever, I was tired, and by then I had signed up to run the Sedona Marathon for the BibRave Pro Team.
As you may have read–or can go read now–the Sedona Marathon didn’t go as planned either. (Something about how I live at about 10′ above sea level.) I took a little time off to rest my poor lungs, made a training plan on the ASICS running website, and endeavoured to plow forward. If I just followed that plan, I could break 6:00 (my goal, since the finish line deconstruction happened then). Onward!
This time, the universe cackled.
The Universe? Had a different plan.
After Sedona, every long run left with me really sore hips. Both sides. Work took me to places where running was a questionable idea. Eventually I was back to running, mostly well, just with somewhat sore hips after long runs, and I thought that a flat course might be reasonably do-able. After running Revel Mt. Charleston I developed a crazy knot in the spot at my glute-hamstring tie-in. (Turns out I needed my chiropractor to reset my pelvis; it had canted such that my left hip–the one that was trying to kill me–was pressed forward and higher than the right one. Trust me, it was super muy no bueno, and I was kicking myself for not finding a way to get to the chiropractor earlier.) Not much running happened. I looked into dropping down to the half–the glute-hamstring tie-in was quite painful still–but I’d missed the deadline and actually not been injured until a few days afterwards.
The Race had a plan!
Then the pre-race emails started coming: Buffalo was expecting a heat wave. Since I’m a delicate little flower who comes from two long lines of pasty white people from very northern climes, this did not bode well for me. I packed more than one option–Mother Nature is fickle and loves to see runners arrived over/under dressed. I packed my Orange Mud single barrel hydraquiver so I could carry Nuun on the course (for a supplement to the race-provided hydration options), as well as an extra Buff (to dunk in water to assist with cooling by evaporation).
One of the pre-race emails was “Racing When It’s Warm/Hot” by Steve Gonser from runsmartonline. (Steve also gave the course preview, including course-specific tips on heat, during the pasta party.) On the 27th, all participants received an email with details on what the Buffalo Marathon heat plan included, again with tips specific to running in the heat. The heat plan included:
Contact with the weather service monitoring the predicted temperature pre-race
6000 pounds of ice distributed throughout the course (in two formats: bags of ice intended for runners to take away in cups, and tubs of ice and water with washcloths to take away for cooling/evaporation)
Additional fluids distributed on the course, including an aid station every mile after the half marathon split
Mobile water delivery, including both trucks with bottled water and bicycle course monitors carrying bottled water.
Putting water supply trucks on standby to insure aid stations do not run out of water (because we’ve all been to a race where that happened, right?)
Adding gel and bananas to more locations on the course
Nurses at 7 aid stations
Cooling vans (air conditioned vans/buses for runners to take a little break and cool down, or sag out, if necessary)
Buffalo Fire Department opened some fire hydrants along the course, added more than the originally planned number of EMS stationed around the course, and added misters at the finish line
Rural Metro (the ambulance service) added more ambulance stations
Pre-race, Buffalo Marathon used the media to ask residents and businesses on the course turn on their sprinklers (so runners could use them to cool off)
The Buffalo Convention Center lowered the temperature inside the building to provide a post-race cooling zone.
Since running the 5k had given me a taste of what the heat was going to be like on the back half of the course, I was a little bit worried, but between the Buffalo Marathon’s preparations and my own experience with heat, hydration, and electrolyte balance, I crossed my fingers. Yes, I was injured and had a great “excuse” to drop out at any time, but I’m a little stubborn and didn’t want a DNF. (Besides, the medals were awesome.) Recommendations for runners, applicable to any hot race, included:
• Slow down. (Listen to your body, run conservatively.)
• Start the race well-hydrated. (Drink before the race, take fluids early and often during the race).
• Consider carrying a bottle. (Option to toss it at an aid station if it turns out you don’t need it.)
• Wear a hat. (Keeps sun off face/head; soak in water and add ice beneath at aid stations to cool.)
• Sunblock. (Sunburn taxes your body’s resources.)
• Chill out pre-race. (Stay horizontal and soak up the AC.)
• Know the warning signs. As the email said, “Heat exhaustion can be dangerous. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded or disoriented, stop running. Ask for help from a race volunteer who will help you to a medical tent.” (This communication included a link to signs of heat-related illness, which you may recalls I once wrote about on this blog.)
• Carry salt packets and/or drink Gatorade. (Sweat depletes electrolytes.)
• Stay positive. Visualize success.
As a side note, what constitutes a “heat wave” for running purposes depends on the location of the run and the typical experience of a high percentage of the pool of runners. Several races in the Northeastern states were black-flagged or cancelled pre-race due to the heat. These are tough decisions made by race directors in consultation with local EMS, water, and other authorities. What is normal for one location may be a potential disaster for another. I was really disappointed after the weekend to see runners talking smack about the choices some races made. Sure, maybe YOU are used to running in 90+ degree temperatures in full sun, maybe that wouldn’t be cause to shut down a race in Atlanta, or Houston, or Phoenix, but it’s not normal for most of the rest of the country.
A woman, The Universe, The Race, and the plan.
On race morning I suited up and headed out to the starting line. There were exactly zero people complaining that the race started at 6:30 a.m., and I was actually wishing we started an hour earlier since there was no pre-race chill. First we covered some of the same road as the 5k, which was partially shaded by trees and dotted with old brick buildings. The next section was through a gorgeous neighborhood with a lush green boulevard/park in the center of the street. There were a ton of families out, some with their sprinklers on and turned towards the streets. It was only mile 3ish at that point, but the sprinklers felt good. Despite the abundance of cute dogs, I knew I was going to slow down substantially on the back half of the course so I didn’t stop. I stuck as strictly as possible to 1-1 run-walk intervals and tried to cover as much ground as possible.
The course headed back through the downtown area, and then west through another residential area. I think it was around mile 6 or 7 when I was offered my first cup of ice, which I split 50-50 between my mouth and my sports bra. Just before we headed down to Lake Erie we passed by what I assume was a condo association or planned community, where they had recently laid down cedar shavings/bark on the landscaping. It was exceptionally stinky, and I could feel the heat and wet coming off of the adjacent lawns.
Running along Lake Erie let me see the Buffalo waterfront from a different perspective than canalside (at least until we ran up to that point). As we ran through the marina area, various landscaping sprinklers had been adjusted to mist up and out away from the lawns and onto the runners. At this point I was still feeling pretty good and pacing a 6:00ish marathon.
After passing through canalside, I got to say hi to Mr. Horton again on my way to the hockey arena. Dad had gotten up and taking the trolley down to that area to say hello as I ran through. By that point I had passed mile 11, it was past 8:00ish so the sun was up and shining, and the next stretch had no shade. A small section of the pavement was a bit torn up, so I proceeded carefully around that block, past The Buffalo News, and back over to say hi to Dad again before aiming for central downtown once more.
The mile 13 marker was mentally challenging. The vast majority of the people around me turned to take the half marathon finish, and I could hear all the cheering and crowds as I ran through. Crowds of folks with finisher medals were heading back to their hotels as I ran around the back side of the Convention Center and headed up to Linwood Avenue. I started to encounter the soft-re-opening of the course, and at one point was the only runner in my sight for at least three blocks. I could feel my pace starting to slow and while mentally I was pushing to keep the run intervals as fast as possible I was trying to balance that with the desire to not burn out before mile 16. I stopped briefly at every aid station to drink something, grab ice, splash water on my body, and refill my Nuun (the tube fits neatly into the slim pockets on the back of the Orange Mud).
I plodded onward along the Forest Lawn Cemetery boundary, and kinda wished the race ran through it. (I love cemeteries. They are some amazing green spaces and hold a crazy amount of history.) As I turned into Delaware park I stopped to pet the first dog of the day before tackling the loop around the golf course. About a half mile in, I saw a few other runners. Aha! Future road kill! I was going to pass someone!
Wherein one of us abandons the plan.
I pulled up alongside this runner and determined she was in the marathon. (There were some extraneous walkers/runners in the park as well.) She seemed overheated, so I gave her the rest of my ice, and then some tips on where to put it/how to use it (since thirst was not the issue). I pulled ahead a little bit for a short time, and then hit the back side of the park where there was a mini-aid station with bottled water and snacks where she caught up with me again. We started away from the aid station together. I’m going to call this runner “Vanessa” (that is not her name). She asked if she could “try to keep up” with me and as soon as I learned this was her very first marathon and she was by herself, any plan I had for my finish time evaporated. I thought about my Marathon Maniac angel Dexter, who pushed me through the last lap of the New Year’s Double Marathon in the cold and wet, and there was pretty much no choice but to pay it forward.
As we wound through the neighborhood behind the park, Vanessa and I got to know each other. This was her first marathon and she had trained for it, but heat wasn’t her jam either. She had finished multiple other races, including some half marathons. Vanessa raised two fine kids as a mostly single mom after growing her self-esteem and booting her now-ex-husband. (I know they are fine kids because Vanessa bragged on them a little, but also because she was a great human and so she must have pretty fine kids too.) Neighbors left sprinklers out for us to run through, and one guy was outside of his house with a table of oranges and other snacks, as well as a hose to spray us down. We grabbed ice at every opportunity. I poked Vanessa to carry a bottle and sip from it every now and then even though she didn’t “feel thirsty.”
After we exited the park, there was a tricky stretch towards Buffalo State College and down to mile 22. Every half mile or so, I’d convince Vanessa to take a “run break” (which is like a “walk break” but running). While she had definitely put in the miles and stuck to her training plan MUCH more faithfully than I had, there were many things she didn’t know about running that I had learned as much by trial-and-error as by exercising my extremely nerdy streak. Vanessa encouraged me to keep yapping to distract her from the pain–if you’ve made it as far as mile 20, you know what we were feeling there. When I ran out of running topics, I told her all about my cat. (Yes, I’m THAT runner.)
By this point the trucks had come to sweep the course, take down the aid stations, and re-open the roads to traffic. Multiple vehicles–including an ambulance–slow-followed us and called out to make sure we were okay, ask if we needed more water, and make sure we understood we were being officially moved to the sidewalks. It was pretty awesome course support, since at that point the race organization was 100% within rights to sweep us to a DNF. Vanessa was starting to dog it a little bit and I as my own dogs were barking (the sprinklers felt great on my body, but had soaked my shoes and socks) and hatching blisters. I promised her that she was crossing that finish line if I had to drag, pull, or push her over it. Vanessa steeled her nerves and dug deep, and we pressed forward.
Wherein the three of us hatch a New Plan.
Down Bidwell, onto Richmond, we started to pass some outdoor parties (it was, after all, Memorial Day weekend). Each time we passed a party people would clap and say encouraging things, and I’d bust out with “FIRST TIME MARATHONER! KICKING BUTT!!” and point to Vanessa. While she got a little shy whenever I did that, she also got a little more confident in her forward strides, so I hammed it up big time. Our running breaks got shorter but more frequent.
By this point there were zero directional signs left (though there were some cups of water left on tables at what was left of the aid station, and we had plenty of fluids with us). I whipped out my iPhone, low on battery from streaming Rock My Run tunes but still alive, to check the course. A few more blocks, and then to North. I may have lied slightly about how much course was left to go…and I didn’t stop at the Humane Society picnic in the park even though it was chock full o’ cute doggies. Around this point we came across another runner. Her name was not Jennifer. Vanessa and I introduced ourselves and the three of us continued to inch towards the finish line.
Jennifer was also running her first marathon. Unlike Vanessa, she hadn’t run a full training plan. As Jennifer explained it, the whole thing was her boyfriend’s idea. He read about the Buffalo Marathon, decided to do it, and enlisted Jennifer to help. (Note: said boyfriend was NOWHERE to be seen until after we crossed the finish line!) The way she tells it, they went out and ran 15 miles and that felt pretty good, so they showed up at the starting line. The three of us brainstormed what Jennifer should ask the boyfriend to do as payback and continued to take run-breaks.
Around mile 25.5ish, Vanessa’s triathlete friends appeared on a corner. Vanessa hadn’t wanted to “ruin” any of their races, and encouraged them to go forth and kill it, which I suspect they all did because they were wearing medals. They offered to carry all of her gear, handed her a cold water bottle, and otherwise did all the good things.
I knew we were close, and I started to push the trio faster and closer to that finish line. Jennifer started to wonder if there would even BE a finish line, as official course time was 6 hours and we were well into the seventh hour. She was honestly a little worried that there wouldn’t be anyone there to give her a medal. Since I knew how much Greg Weber, the Race Director, was invested in making this race a runner’s race, I promised both Jennifer and Vanessa that if we got to the end and there were no medals, I would personally call up Greg and ask to get them medals.
We hit Niagara Square and the 26 mile point. I was hot and disgustingly sweaty and tired, but I was so incredibly proud of how hard Vanessa was pushing herself to finish, and the dedication Jennifer had to persevere even though the boyfriend was MIA. We navigated around the roundabout (Niagara “Square” isn’t very square) and turned on to Court Street. I knew there was just one more turn to go.
Just before we came to Franklin Street I yelled to Jennifer and Vanessa that there was just half a block left to go, and they’d better run the instant we turned that corner. As the three of us turned on to Franklin I dropped back and yelled, “Go! Go! You’ve got this! Run! Finish strong!” and chased them to the finish line. Or rather where the finish line used to be. The last portion of the barricades were still up, though the finish line itself had been disassembled for about an hour.
Volunteers were waiting with medals and bottled water. Jennifer’s boyfriend appeared and I laughed a little inside as I thought about our semi-delirious race-brain suggestions for how she should exact her revenge. Vanessa’s friends were waiting for her, cheering up a storm and patting her on the back. Due to some minor glitch in the tracking program, Dad wasn’t at the finish line yet, but John (my Runner of a Certain Age co-host) was headed in my direction. I turned around in time to see Vanessa burst into tears, and I was so happy for her that I had to choke back a few myself. She ran over to give me a big hug. “Thank you,” cry hug cry, “thank you SO much!” Aw shucks. I didn’t even do half as good a job as Dexter did when he pushed me to that finish line. “YOU did it,” I whispered, “it was ALL. YOU.” I gave her a big squeeze, hoping that through a hug she could feel how proud I was that she kept on going and finished what she started.
(Almost) The End.
Vanessa’s friends spirited her away, and I’m really hoping Jennifer was chewing out her boyfriend for his incredibly stupid idea. Dad, who had sensibly only run the 5k (I say that because one, he wasn’t trained up to run even a half, and two, his wife Ellen would have killed me if I’d let him join me for the marathon, which thankfully was sold out when he went to register) was running down the street to meet up with me.
I chugged water. I hugged Dad, who is my hero, always. I admired the beautiful Buffalo Marathon finisher medal. Note that at that point, the finisher party was still raging on inside the Convention Center (which I know because I watched video of the final finishers an hour or so behind us), but I looked around and saw nothing outside, and just wanted to hang out with my Dad. It wasn’t until I saw the videos several hours later that I was like, wait, I missed the party?
(The final night and day in #Buffalove Part 3. Also, free coffee.)
Disclosure: I received a free entry to the Buffalo Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.
Flying to Buffalo from California takes ALL DAY. I finally landed in Buffalo at 4ish, met Dad at the airport, and the adventure began! I wish I’d taken a picture of the injured butterfly I attempted to help (by moving it from laying in the middle of the sidewalk to resting in a patch of tall grass). We headed to the Hyatt, the host hotel for the Buffalo Marathon races, and I promptly took a nap. Side note, the Hyatt was pretty great! They were totally ready for the deluge of runners, and really friendly.
VIP Reception. When I woke up, Dad and I went down to the VIP reception, where I finally met race director Greg Weber in person. I also got to meet Liam, who was one of the race team members that facilitated the interview with Meb. I was otherwise a little too exhausted–why does flying make me soooo tired??–to be social, and since so many of the guests seemed to be catching up with each other, I didn’t want to intrude. (Translation: rats! Missed a selfie with Bart Yasso!) Dad enjoyed the Mile 27, a beer brewed only for the Buffalo Marathon, and I had a glass of wine, before we headed out to dinner. (There were snacks at the reception, but nothing grabbed me as dinner.)
Dinner. I fixated on the idea of getting a burrito, and Dad and I set out to walk over to the burrito joint. I somehow missed the turn, and we ended up walking through the historic theatre district where just a few of Buffalo’s gorgeous building live. Once I realized my mistake we circled back, and as soon as I saw Prima Pizza Pasta I wanted pizza. I had a more than sufficiently large calzone. Dad ordered “two tacos” which was really like “two burritos.” Basically we weren’t carb-loading, we were everything-loading.
Crashing. After the somewhat obligatory “flat me” photo and otherwise setting out race stuff, Dad and I were both asleep at record speed. This is what happens when I get up for a 6:20 a.m. flight on the west coast.
Morning came to early, as it always does on race day. We aimed to be picking up bibs before 7, so we would have plenty of time to walk back to the hotel, stash our shirts, and eat a little (and drink another bottle of Nuun) before the race. It was already heating up, and I started to sweat on the barely-two-blocks walk to the convention center. The pre-race emails had warned that Buffalo was expecting unusually hot weather for race weekend, and since heat knocks me down pretty quickly, I was worried about overheating and dehydration.
Pre-race. There was a single corral, with runners self-seeding into what seemed to be the appropriate areas. I saw a lot of kids, which made me happy–not only do I love the idea that a kid could find out they love running early in life, but pretty much all the kids running were there with their parents. There seemed to be a good mix of newer runners, walkers, Team RWB, marathon and half-marathon runners doing a shake-out run, families, and charity teams.
Race! The race started at 8:30. While the lack of corrals meant we all started in a clump, because the runners were pretty good at self-seeding, there wasn’t a lot of shuffling or down time after crossing the starting line.
For those familiar with Buffalo, the course started on the Pearl Street side of the Convention Center, eventually crossed to Franklin Street, went to Barker St., and turned down Delaware, eventually cutting through Niagara Square and finishing on the Franklin Street side of the Convention Center. There were plenty of people out cheering, and a crowd of volunteers directing traffic and doing the usual race day things.
For those NOT familiar with Buffalo, the course makes a big ol’ box around a portion of downtown. The course runs by a bunch of the beautiful buildings in Buffalo, the kind that make you look at the architecture and think, “Wow, they do not build buildings like this anymore.” The trees are lush and green, too!
There was very little elevation. Basically there was a low-grade up-hill on the way out, and a low-grade downhill on the way back. The course was suitable for even the most non-technical runner. The 5k also provided a nice preview of the marathon finish, as the downhill piece leading to the finish line was the same for both races.
Like most 5k races, there was one aid station. Given the unusually hot weather, it would have been nice to have two, but it was only a 5k so it wasn’t a big deal. When I finished the race, everything I was wearing was drenched, and it wasn’t from dumping water on myself!
Breakfast/Brunch at the Hyatt. A shower was NOT optional prior to eating. (Seriously, I could smell the other runners at the finish line. It was gross hot.) My room rate included breakfast (though not all do), which was either from the menu or the buffet. The buffet had the usual buffet-type breakfast foods–cold cereal, yogurt and Greek yogurt with toppings, pastries and bread, fruit, cheese, eggs, potatoes, bacon, waffles, sausage–and also included cooked-to-order omelets, pancakes, and hot oatmeal (with toppings!). Despite having only run 5k I was really, really hungry and made full use of the buffet, plus an omelet!
Expo. Packet pickup was a breeze. The layout had bibs and shirts behind one set of registration tables, with several stations (sorted by bib number) staffed by volunteers. I love that each race has a different shirt, and that the half marathon shirt says “half marathon” on it. (As a mostly half-marathoner, I love it when the race treats the half marathon as its own event. Most of the time the shirts say “race series” or “marathon and half marathon” or sometimes just “marathon.”) Race bibs had attached timing chips, and the ID sticker indicated whether the volunteer should hand over a wooden nickel which served as the pasta party ticket.
Given the size of the race and the venue, the expo was a decent size. I’d estimate there were 40 booths covering race sponsors, other races, and running-related products. There were also multiple tables with information on upcoming races in the area which made me a little jealous since I can’t exactly fly across the country for races all the time–plus there were multiple races over the border in Canada! I’m sure the opportunities dry up in winter, but I could easily have planned an entire summer and fall of races based just on the booths and flyers.
While I always look at the shoes (you never know when you might score a deal on your favorites), sadly there were no Brooks waiting for me to find them. I picked up an extra tube of Nuun, since I had started slurping it on Friday and only had a few tablets left. I was glad to find HB Tune, as I was well on the way to wearing out my second HB Tune, plus my new iPhone was a tight fit. Turns out there is an updated design that can switch between right and left hands AND has a quick release so you can whip out your phone and snap pictures. Win! New to me is the TreadBand, a non-slip sweatwicking headband that ties (kind of like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle headband, only not intended to go on your eyes). TreadBands have a strip of yoga-mat-like material firmly attached, positioned so you tie that piece on your forehead before you tie the band. Since I always run with a hat and a half-Buff this won’t be a running accessory for me, but I’m excited to see if that strip also helps keep sweat out of my eyes during hot yoga!
Oh, and the Expo also had a stellar speakers line-up! Appearing live at the expo were Bart Yasso (Chief Running Officer, Runners’ World); DeAnna Bennett (an MMA fighter!), Misy Diaz (a Spartan Race runner whose cause is spina bifida), Molly Barker (Founder of Girls on the Run), and Lisa Howard (an ultra runner who is also a coach with Team RWB). The one and only Meb Keflezighi also appeared by livestream, complete with Q&A! If you have any doubt this was a world-class event, that should banish it!
Tour. One of the neat things the Buffalo Marathon has to offer is an open-bus tour of the course. I had hoped to do this but it didn’t work out–in part because I didn’t figure out how to get tickets until the day of, and in part because they only had one bus so it sold out! I’m hoping that next year there will either be two buses or two time options. One of the things that is so cool about Buffalo is that all sorts of history happened there–the War of 1812 (which, it turns out, was really fought in 1813), the assassination of president McKinley–and there are monuments and historic sites everywhere. That’s in addition to the magnificent architecture in every style (a little Victorian here, a little Beaux-Arts there, some Art Deco here, classic brick work over there). Next year, I’m on that bus.
In lieu of the bus tour, Dad and I took the streetcar down to Canalside, along with John (co-host of the Runner of a Certain Age podcast). Canalside is a newer development in the Buffalo scene, and includes the Liberty Hound brew pub and restaurant, a military museum, and three museum ships. There is a place to rent pedal-boats and remote controlled model boats, and a large park that was filled with a carnival while we were there. It was super hot, as I think I’ve mentioned, so we took a quick look around and then headed back.
Pasta Dinner. For most races I skip the pasta dinner. I’m really glad I didn’t skip this one! Dinner was at the convention center and consisted of food service catered salad mix, pasta, meatballs or chicken, rolls, and cookies. The pasta sauce had a nice zing to it without being overly spicy, and since I don’t eat meat I was able to talk them into a slightly bigger pasta serving. The meal also included beverages (various soft drinks, ice water with citrus slices, and Mile 27 beer). There were 600 seats, and Team RWB was out in full force.
The evening also included a welcome by race director Greg Weber (one of our guests on the Runner of a Certain Age), a raffle to win a Buffalo Bills jersey signed by Meb (proceeds to Meb’s charitable foundation), and a course preview.
The course preview was reason alone to attend. Steve Gonser, physical therapist and founder of RunSmartOnline.com, gave the presentation. (If you tuned in for any of the pre-race webinars on training and injury prevention, Steve hosted those too.) Most course previews are just a quick-speed film of the course with a few comments on the elevation. Not this one. While Steve did show video, he really focused on giving
[Elevation chart above taken from the Revel Mt. Charleston website. All rights belong to them. If asked to remove it, I will.]
When my friend Jackie asked me if i wanted to run a race in Las Vegas, my first reaction was “Sure! When?” I’ve only run two other races in the Las Vegas area, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon (multiple times) and the Sin City Shootout, and enjoyed both, so why not? That’s how i decided to run Revel Mt. Charleston–I signed up a few days later.
While I had never run a Revel race, many of my friends had run the Revel Canyon City race and enjoyed it. Since they all said it was a class act, I figured it wasn’t too much of a risk–plus it would be an excellent excuse to hang out with Jackie, and all I had to do was show up.
Luckily I was going to be working in Southern California, just one short plane hop to Las Vegas. Not-so-luckily there was a giant storm and they shut down McCarran, so my 55 minute flight took more than six hours to get off the ground, and I had to miss the expo.
Jackie reported the expo was fairly small–remember we both do tons of races and have seen expos that look like mini-malls–but well organized. Once I figured out I was likely to miss the expo (even though it was open until 8 pm!), I sent Jackie a text with my driver’s license and asked her to get my packet. Revel allowed her to pick up my packet, which I really appreciated.
Speaking of the packet, I was impressed. The drawstring bag came pre-tagged with my bib tag, so I didn’t have to do anything to it before using it as a sweat-check bag. Not only that, if you had registered early enough to personalized you bib (Jackie did, I did not) the race bib’s reverse was pre-printed with the emergency contact information from online registration. Nifty!
In addition to just a few race postcards (for the Revel series, and a few others that might be of interest to Revel-ers) and a few samples, the packet included a cold weather kit: runner gloves, a heat sheet (folded in a tiny pouch), and a sweet tech-fabric beanie that even had a hole for my ponytail. Race shirts came in three varieties, and at registration the runners could choose a tank, a short sleeved shirt, or a long sleeved shirt. I love the ombre design and colors, as well as the turtle-shell logo for Mt. Charleston.
Just like at Disney, race day started way the flapjack too early. Since the course was a point-to-point, there was bus service up to the starting point, and we’d run back. Parking was in a shopping center and quite plentiful. The bus service used charter coaches (not school buses) and seemed to run very smoothly. A belated thank you to the volunteer who told me I was about to get on the marathon bus, or this story would not have had a happy ending!
The marathon and half marathon were both on Mt. Charleston, with the entire course running down the mountain (until the last few miles). Marathoners started nearer to the top of the mountain, with half marathoners starting at marathon mile 13. The marathon runners reported starting temperatures in the 30s, and snow on the ground! From the half marathon start we could see the snow, but the temperatures were quite a bit warmer–mid-40s at the start.
The half marathon staging area had a gigantic bank of porta-potties, a hydration station with both water and gatorade, trucks for the sweat-check bags, and plenty of room to mill about and selfie. The desert mountain scenery was pretty, so there was hot and frantic selfie-taking action! (I suppose if you live in that scenery, you were probably looking at the rest of us and wondering what the big deal was.) I snapped a #Buffie with Smitha, marveled at how short the porta-potty lines were (race directors, take note: more potties = shorter lines), and yapped with Jackie about what the race plan would be. Smitha pointed out that the race director was boots-on-the-ground, wearing a safety vest and directing bus traffic. That’s pretty awesome, and the kind of all-hands teamwork I love to see in the running community.
The race start was a short walk down the mountain road. While there was a clearly marked start, there was no clearly defined START to the race. As we were walking down, I heard many people saying what I was thinking: “wait, did the race already start?” On the one hand, I’ve never been to a race where people just got to the starting line and started, so it was pretty weird. On the other hand, it did work wonders to keep the race traffic appropriately spaced out on the course. Overall I liked it, but I would have liked some warning (“start will be at 6:30 or whenever you hit the starting line”) so I could set my expectations accordingly. (Of course if I had remembered Carlee’s review of the Revel in California, I would have expected this.)
The course was 100% on paved roads in good repair. Most of the half marathon course headed down the mountain, with the last 3 miles or so veering off to the right to return to the start. Runners had about half of one of the lanes on this four-lane road, plus a generous shoulder; the remainder of the road was open to police-directed/escorted traffic. One nice perk of this course is that the road was NOT canted for rain-drainage purposes. (You know how sometimes you’re running on the outer lane and it’s very clear your left foot doesn’t have as far to go down as your right? Then maybe your SI joint starts to whine? None of that here.) My guess is that this is because the road itself is downhill with very slight curvature, allowing the water to naturally drain away. Overall, a great surface to run on–no potholes, dips, chips, or other road hazards.
For the first mile, I felt like I was FLYING. The course was clearly downhill, even though driving up to the start didn’t feel like much of a climb. It wasn’t such a huge grade that I was worried about momentum (you know, like when you feel like you’re gaining so much speed that you might fall over and you start to rein in that momentum). Since I hadn’t done any downhill-specific training–and yes, the Revel website does quite clearly recommend hill training!–I was working on managing my energy output. Before the race I had turned off the interval function on my Garmin, and initially ran and walked random, untimed, intervals. (Later on I switched to using the metal posts by the side of the road, doing a run-2, walk-1, for example.) This mainly worked out well.
Similar to my experience in Sedona, I had to really work on my breathing. As a flat-lander, my lungs don’t want anything to do with elevation. It took about 4 miles for me to get into a good breathing rhythm, and even so the prime movers felt a little fire. At times I’d run until it hurt to breathe, then walk until I’d recovered. There were plenty of people also running intervals–timed, distance, or random–and much to my great delight, everyone signaled their stops and slow traffic kept right. (It’s not rocket science–the rules of the road are very simple–but some runners are so rude!)
At mile 3 I noticed my run intervals were around 9:35/mile pace (though I wasn’t running an entire mile at a time). That’s pretty darned FINE for me. I continued to run my intervals at that pace (or sometimes faster!) for quite a few more miles. Through miles 4, 5, and 6 I still felt like I was just cruising down that hill–no surprise, since I’d looked at the course elevations, and the first six miles had the most slope. By mile 6 I was pretty sure I had killed my 10k PR (though I haven’t looked at the data to confirm).
Around mile 8, I started to feel a hot spot on my left foot, along the arch. This was puzzling, as I had worn my usual foot gear (wonky toe taped, 2Toms Sport Shield applied, Wright’s Double Layer socks) and the Brooks Glycerin didn’t have that many miles on them (I’m guessing under 150, based on my total mileage this year and the races/runs for which I have worn other shoes). At first I thought I had something inside my shoe, and I stopped to fish it out, but that wasn’t it. At mile 10 I considered my sock might have wadded up, and I stopped to straighten it out, but that wasn’t it either. (I’m going to be working with the good folks at Brooks to figure this out–I’ve never had a problem with any pair of Brooks, so this is an anomaly.)
As the course came to the bottom of the run down the mountain, it turned right to run along some roads and head to the finish (a park by where we had parked). The course flattened out quite a bit, and there were a few uphill sections (what the what?), one up to the freeway’s service drive, and another up to the overpass. We ran a brief section by the freeway, but mostly through residential areas. There was a volunteer/course marshall at every turn, so getting lost was not an option.
As we turned the second-to-last turn we started to run past spectators! Since there were basically none (other than aid station volunteers) on the mountain, this gave me another kick of energy. There were lots of kids holding signs to cheer on mom and/or dad. When I hit the final turn and saw the finish line, I took everything I had to sprint, blister-in-formation be darned, across that finish line. Then I hit stop on my Garmin. (Or so I thought…) PR achieved! In fact, I actually beat my old PR by a few minutes (not that I’m fast), which impressed me because my prior PR I was about 20 pounds lighter and in much better shape. (So if I start training now…)
The finisher chute had bananas and water and carbs. Better, there was hot pizza! Better, there was pie!! I had a slice of ‘za and a slice of pumpkin, met up with Jackie, and wandered out into the now-sunny park to hang out for a bit.
The park had a few booths from miscellaneous vendors, a massage tent, a tent with Revel merchandise, and a stage with live music. I put my feet up on one of the chairs and relaxed in the grass for a bit. There were also several backdrops with signs and such for taking photos. Oh right, almost forgot another cool benefit: Revel gives runners FREE race photos. (Yup, that’s free, no additional charge, go ahead and download them all.)
After we walked back to the car, drove over to brunch, ordered, and sat down…I noticed I hadn’t even paused my Garmin. Whomp, whomp, sad trombone noise for me! User error aside, I had a fantastic race and would gladly do this one again. Have you run Revel? Join me at the next one?
Disclaimer: I received a swag kit to review and a free entry to The Color Run Sacramento because I am a BibRave Pro. (As always, ALL opinions are my own and I wrote my review all by myself.) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews! Reviewing races on BibRave helps other runners plan their race schedules, and helps race directors make races even better!
In the world of the Serious Runners, there are MANY people who have strong opinions about The Color Run. I’m one of them. So when BibRave provided us with the opportunity to have a swaggy giveaway and help promote The Color Run, I was ALL IN. In my least humble opinion, here are the most important things to know.
Pro Tip: Plan Ahead! If you’re worried about inhaling too much color (for whatever reason) stick to the outer lane of the course, and wear a bandanna over your mouth/nose. If you plan to take pictures, cover your camera with a clean plastic bag (as that color is sneaky and will get everywhere). You don’t need massive race gear, but if you want to carry a water bottle, choose one that seals shut (so you can control whether it turns colors!).
The Color Run is the original, reliable, real deal. If you sign up for The Color Run, you’re going to have a run, as well as all the swag you pre-ordered. I mention this because over the past few years there have been a ton of imitation races that have not been responsible members of the running community. (If you are one of the people who got stiffed by the 5k Foam Fest, I’m so sorry. I promise, The Color Run is NOT like that!) I’ve done The Color Run and they deliver!
The Color Run is FUN (and colorful). Part of the joy of The Color Run is that everyone is there to have a good time–it’s okay to act like a kid! Everyone gets a packet of color to toss, and you have the opportunity to get more (you can buy them at the event, and when I ran the DJ at the starting line was tossing out packets too). The colors are basically non-toxic coloring agents and corn starch. If you missed the opportunity to play with these colors during the Indian festival of Holi–which you probably did, since it is a spring festival and took place in March this year (though I just learned the Krishna Temple hosts Color Festival events throughout the summer in various locations)–The Color Run is your opportunity! Unlike many of the color powders now used in India, The Color Run’s colors are made in the USA and do not contain heavy metals or other questionable ingredients. Common sense should reign, however, and you can take away this important safety tip: tossing color straight up in the air does not produce a cool shower of color, but instead guarantees it will fall straight back down into your face. Oops.
Pro Tip! Wear The Color Run white shirt to the event. The colors show up best on white. If you want to keep the color on your shirt after you wash it, spritz it with water to let the color soak in, then let it dry 100% before washing. Don’t use bleach (it is the anti-color).
The Color Run may or may not involve running. As the website explains, The Color Run is not a timed event. You don’t get a prize for coming in first. While some runners complain this isn’t a “real” run, I think those folks just need to relax! I am in favor of any fun, physical activity that gets people up off the couch and out into the world. One thing I really liked about The Color Run is that everyone could enjoy it. I saw singles and groups of high school students, college friends, adults of all ages, families, and parent-child teams. Personally, I think it’s a great sneaky way to get kids to exercise. 5k is still 3.1 miles, which isn’t really that far for any kid (they walk more if they go to Disneyland), but the permission to get messy and colorful is pretty much the opposite of what a kid associates with exercise.
Pro Tip! If you DO want to run, you should seed yourself accordingly: plant yourself at the very front of your wave. (To reduce the chance that anyone gets trampled, The Color Run uses a wave start to break runners into groups.) If you are planning to stroll (or roll!), hang out towards the back. The Color Run is like a mullet–serious in the front, party in the back.
The Color Run Tropicolor is coming to Baltimore on May 21! All the details are HERE and you should go register immediately. (I’m not in Baltimore or anywhere nearby, so I’m running in Sacramento.) Plus you can save $5 with code BRP16.
Pro Tip for Post-Race! Pack a post-race kit for your car. (Unless you want a tropicolor-mobile, in which case, ignore this tip.) Personally, my Color Run kit includes a gallon of water, face/body wipes, and a big beach towel to cover my car’s seats. The water is nice for rinsing off hands–I don’t trust wipes 100%!–which will turn brown when all the colors mix up on your hands.
Also, enter to win a Tropicolor Swag Pack from The Color Run. Don’t wait! It’s a short, sweet, swag giveaway. a Rafflecopter giveaway
I’ve joined Running With SD Mom for the “Try Out Thursdays” LinkUp. I tried The Color Run–and I’m committed to do it again!
Disclosure: I forgot to put this on my Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio post. Oops. I am a member of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Blog team, and as a team member I am rocking a TourPass. Despite the name, being a member of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team does not obligate me to blog about each race (or do anything else in particular regarding race recaps). As always, all opinions–and every single word in this post–are exclusively mine.
When Briana and I first saw The Lone Star Legend at the Heavy Medals display in San Antonio, we knew we had to have it. The medal is about as Texas as you can get–shape of the state, check; Texas flag, check; a lone star, check–and since I frequently find myself running for shiny objects, I immediately declared “in.” Plus I ran the Dallas Remix in 2015 and figured it would be a good excuse to see friends and family.
Friday I got up entirely too early to fly to Dallas, catch DART from the airport to the hotel, and crash for a little bit. The nice thing about the Dallas Remix is that if you choose a hotel within walking distance of DART, you don’t need a car at all. After Briana arrived we had a quick bite to eat at the hotel and then headed over to the expo. I love the Friday expo, since there are almost never any lines when the marathon or half is on Sunday.
After picking up both of my bibs and shirts I did a quick cruise around the expo. (The Dallas expo was a little difficult to find, since an auto show had taken over most of the convention center and there were not a bunch of big signs. Fortunately, DART goes right to the convention center, and there was a parade of people with Rock ‘n’ Roll bags…so we all just made like salmon.) Like last year, I found the Dallas expo smaller than most Rock ‘n’ Roll expos. Sad to say, this year there was no Dunkin’ Donuts coffee! There was a ton of cute stuff for the race, but I’m trying to be fiscally responsible this year. My closet is basically filled with running clothing, and there isn’t much I need–so if I bought something, when would I wear it??
Then there was dinner. One of the things I really love about the Rock ‘n’ Roll series is that so many people with TourPass go from race to race. Last year I made a ton of new friends, and now I’ve always got a group to eat dinner with while I’m on the road. (In fact, I ate with a bunch of the same people again in San Francisco.) Dallas has a bunch of great, interesting places to eat all within walking distance of the downtown hotels. Finally there were the obligatory flat-me “selfies,” and there was sleeping, and suddenly it was time to get up for the 5k.
Since it was now Saturday, and I’d packed for the weather they were predicting on Thursday, the first step outside was sad–windy AND chilly! We headed over to the DART station when I saw my savior: 7-Eleven. They sell garbage bags! I had just enough time to buy a 12 pack and jump on the train, where I made some new friends. DART dropped us off right at Fair Park–though the station closest to the stadium, where the race started, was actually the next stop over–and we headed to the starting line. Lots of runners were huddled together, so it was time to make new friends. I actually met several people who were going to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas half marathon in the morning and then hop a plane to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mexico City half marathon in the evening! (They called it the Tex-Mex combo. Salsa not included.) By the way, you can hear a great race recap with one runner who first heard about Tex-Mex at the Dallas expo, signed up, and drove home to get his passport! Check out Runner of a Certain Age.
The course around Fair Park is not the world’s most exciting, but access to Fair Park is easy by DART or car. If you are a local, you’ve likely already seen all the things there are to see at Fair Park, and the course is going to be a bit of a yawn–think of it as a shakeout run for the half marathon. On the other hand, if you are a local with kids who are ready to do 3.1 miles, this is a great race since it has tons of parking, doesn’t require travel, and has all the party amenities of Rock ‘n’ Roll. (I did hear some people complaining about finding parking, but these were family/friends who came to pick up runners at the end of the race. This year there were several other large events going on in Fair Park that started around the time the race ended, so that may have contributed to the griping.) I saw tons of kids who were clearly running with mom and/or dad (or both!), and later proudly wearing the medals they earned. Start ’em young!
Personally, I liked running around Fair Park. This was basically the same course as last year, only run in reverse. The course itself is quite flat, and half nifty and half meh. This year the nifty part–the grand WPA-era pavilions and buildings, reflecting pool, carvings and murals–was first. The “meh” part is an out-and-back along the seasonal rail line that runs through the big parking lot on the back side of Fair Park. I’m not local, so I could be wrong, but I don’t know that there are any viable alternatives to this course, beyond turning it into a two-loop course. It seems like there just isn’t enough real estate to make 3.1 miles happen (evidenced by the “everybody gets a PR!” phenomenon caused by a course that everyone I talked to said measured quite short–2.7 or 2.8 miles vs. 3.1). I like the Fair Park location though, due to easy access via DART or car, plenty of parking, and convenient for those who planned their hotels around the half marathon location.
The aid stations had water (maybe Gatorade? I’m writing this a month later, and I don’t think I took anything but water, personally). At the finish line there were bananas, water, Gatorade, chips, and other snacks. The finish line also had a beer tent for those over 21 with the Rock ‘n’ Roll sponsor beer, which I think is Michelob Ultra again. (I don’t drink beer.) There was a concert, of course, with plenty of room to dance (and lots of the kids who ran their first 5k were dancing like little rock stars)
While I could have lived without the out-and-back section around the parking area, it’s tough to get 3.1 in within Fair Park itself, on paths/sidewalks wide enough to hold a race. Fortunately I ran into several other people I knew or had previously met, and got to say hi to Derek Mitchell on my way through that section, so I enjoyed it anyway. (When a race gives you lemons, add vodka!)
Bottom line: as I said on my BibRave.com review, this is not a “destination 5k.” While it is a fun event, and I enjoyed meeting other runners and using it as a pre-half marathon shakeout run, I would not have made the trip JUST for the 5k. If you’re local and want a party-like 5k, and don’t mind the course, this is a good choice.
The rest of Saturday was a whirlwind of activity. We took DART back to the hotel, with several bewildered locals curiously observing all the runners. I was still tired from Friday, so it took me forever to shower and put on clean clothes…and so I missed most of the epic #WeRunSocial meetup. I arrived just in time for the “we need photographic proof we made it” latecomers, ha ha! From there, Briana and I headed to BeautyCon Dallas, which just happened to be taking place at Fair Park. (More on that later.) From there, we made a trip to Target for warmer duds. Seriously, Target is my savior when it comes to changing weather and travel. If they don’t sell it, I can’t possibly need it. I scored tech fabrics on the clearance rack! Then it was off to another group dinner before hitting the bed early to get some precious sleep!
Sunday morning came WAY too early. (Why do races have to start so darned early??) On our way to the starting area I was still debating whether to check my jacket, but decided to keep both long-sleeved layers due to the WIND WIND WIND. I did eventually let go of my recycled heat sheet, but only because it’s hard to run dressed like a baked potato.
The course this year was NOT the same as last year. I’m sure the changes were based on runner feedback, because the Rock ‘n’ Roll series does take that seriously. The new route did not go over the torn-up and pothole-ridden roads, which made me happy. The start and finish were also in a different location, near Reunion Tower. I don’t know the city well enough to explain the rest of the course changes. While I was bummed to not run by Oak Lawn Coffee (where I enjoyed an epic mocha during last year’s race), I didn’t miss the roughed-up roadways. Note to runners: fill out those post-race surveys, and review your races! Race directors generally do want you to have a good race and enjoy it. If there is something you don’t like, point it out! Good race organizations do respond to critical feedback.
As I mentioned, race day was VERY WINDY. Like you could “lean in” it windy. Comically windy (but not funny as you ran into the wind and crossed the final overpass/bridge). It seemed like no matter which way the course turned, the wind was in my face, never at my back. I don’t know if the wind was the reason, but this year the course did not have the giant neon Texas-themed selfie stations, the Texas backdrops, or the bands with huge sets (like the one that had an entire BBQ joint, complete with smoker, in 2015). While waiting to jump into the corrals many runners huddled inside the nearest buildings to wait for their corrals to start. I was really hoping for warm as I made my way along the course. Nope.
In my experience–as a mid-to-back-of-the-packer–course support was up from last year, with more families and random cheering people than last year. Aid stations were on point and well-stocked, though as usual I wish half marathons put their first fuel option earlier on the course. On course entertainment included local cheerleading groups, bands, and other performers–including the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at the finish line!
About that “flat course”…the course was not truly flat, but it wasn’t technical or super challenging either (hills led up to, and down from, the bridges). The course was fairly flat, on balance. Just like last year, we ran over the almost-brand-new Margaret McDermott bridge, an architectural beauty that inspired hundreds of selfies. (I didn’t take them all, but I did have to dodge several people who came to a dead stop right in the center of the road.) While I assume the city’s whims played a role in course development (in case you’re not aware, host cities can pick and choose which streets they will let you close, and for how long, and place other conditions on the race permit), it seemed to me like the course was designed to show off many different aspects of Dallas. We ran through some areas that were clearly under urban renewal, and some areas that looked a lot like the suburban town I grew up in, complete with parks and ball fields. We ran over what are ordinarily heavy traffic streets and a freeway (literally over that one, as we were on the bridge), and down quiet neighborhood streets. I really like it when a race course tries to show all the facets the location has to offer.
Bottom line: I like this race as it gives me an excuse to see my extended family over the weekend. It’s also an early-season Rock ‘n’ Roll race, and one of my first opportunities to meet up with my runner peeps from other states. I’d be more enthusiastic about the race except for the WIND WIND WIND (which wasn’t an issue last year). Assuming I decide to try to go for Hall of Fame next year, I’ll probably be back.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Remix was my first Tour Stop of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll season. Up next: San Francisco!
Disclosure: I receiveda free entry to the Blooms to Brews Half Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.
Not all races end with beer. But when Blooms to Brews ends with beer, they do it up right. I’m not a beer fan myself, but just count the number of taps on that truck! If you want to read more about Blooms to Brews and the race website just isn’t enough, try Sarah’s blog, A Sweet Blonde & Her Fit Life. (If it isn’t up yet, it’s coming–patience!)
This race is amazing! Go put it on your calendar for 2017, right now. As word about this event “gets out,” you’re going to be left behind. I don’t know what the capacity limit for this course is, but you want to run it now so that when it is a regular sell-out and everyone is raving about it YOU can say, “I ran that race back in the day before it was ‘discovered.'”
Blooms to Brews takes place in Woodland, WA. Woodland is about 45 minutes north of Portland (depending on where you start and when you drive) and 2 to 2.5 hours from Seattle. While Woodland itself doesn’t have a ton of hotels, I had no problems securing a reservation the week before the race. You could probably drive from Seattle on race day morning, but it costs $20 for day-of-race packet pickup and you’d miss the entire expo. Portland is a better bet, and Vancouver, WA is filled with hotels of all stripes. (You could, of course, also try a bed and breakfast, or use Air BnB. Lots of options.) If you’re flying in, PDX is the closest airport. If you’re road-tripping, I’d make a long weekend of it since there is so much to do nearby.
The brand-new Woodland High School hosted the Blooms to Brews expo. There was plenty of parking, as well as two days to pick up your packet. I took a ton of photos, but in my brilliant attempt to organize them I deleted EVERY expo photo I took. (Awesome, right?) The expo was small but mighty. Packet pickup had no line on Saturday afternoon, and it was still possible to register for the 10k, half marathon, marathon, or marathon relay. In addition to Blooms to Brews logo merchandise, there were about 8-10 vendors, including a cool wraparound sports skirt company, Sweet Spot Skirts (neat design fits a variety of sizes, stays put, and covers what you might want to cover–made in USA!). A few race companies were there, including the Portland Marathon. The Woodland Rotary was selling some delicious coffee as a fundraiser to support building a local sport park for the youth and teens of Woodland, and at the end of this post YOU can win a bag!
One thing I really liked about the expo is that each of the tables was manned by a person who really cared about that table’s goods/services. There were no hired guns. Everyone was really friendly. I was particularly lazy for the remainder of the day. After a quick trip to Burgerville for the handmade, in-season, strawberry milkshake, I checked into my hotel and took a nap. I emerged to buy a few groceries, eat dinner, and head back to bed.
Morning came all too soon as it tends to do on race days, and I dragged myself out of bed and suited up. While my hotel was technically within walking distance of the start at Horseshoe Lake (about 17 minutes) I opted to be pre-race lazy and drive. Added bonus, there is a drive-through coffee shop right before you turn into the parking area. (I’m not going to lie, one of the things I really, really miss about living in the Pacific NW: drive-through coffee.) Parking was plentiful–there could have been many more cars there–and despite my mocha detour I was able to leave my hotel at 7ish and still make it to the starting line with plenty of time to spare.
Starting line amenities included a bag check, water, snacks, music, and a post-race party that was ready to start. I took a few minutes to walk around and look at the amenities, since I still had plenty of time to spare. There was a school bus food truck that sold pizzas and other tasty food, right next to the BBQ. While I’m on the subject, part of the race instructions (and the promos, now that I think about it) said there would be a BBQ sandwich for each runner, with a vegetarian alternative for those of us who are not meat-eaters. As a vegetarian, I don’t expect special treatment–but at the end of the race I do expect some food! I once read a statistic that said on average, 10% of the U.S. population eats vegetarian when they eat out–some choose vegetarian or vegan, others are keeping Kosher, observing Halal dietary laws, or only eating organic or free-range–plus there are several well-known plant-based running groups, so it isn’t insane to think there will be other vegetarians. Anyway, when I went to ask for my sandwich, AS PROMISED there was tofurky on a bun, warmed with vegetarian baked beans. Score!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The starting line had the usual platformed trusses and a banner. When I read that the marathon started at 7:30 and the half at 7:40 I was like, “um, corrals? Is that enough time?” No, no corrals. Just as they should, runners self-seeded (with a little help from the well-spaced pacers) and the entire marathon group took off without any incident. In addition to various Marathon Maniacs (and Double Agents), I saw a man dressed up like…bacon?? He must have been with one of the four-person relay teams. One of the cool things about Blooms to Brews Marathon was the option for a FOUR person relay team. That means you only needed to be able to run about 6.5 miles to join in the marathon–a very cool opportunity, as many marathons don’t offer a relay, and others only offer a 2-person relay. Several of the spunky folks running the second and third legs whizzed right past me on my run, too! (Fresh legs, they had fresh legs. Or at least that is what I kept telling myself.) The relay medal was very cool–four magnetic pieces that fit together to form a key with tulips on top!
As promised, the course is FLAT (just as promised!). The entire thing, all the way. There were three almost insignificant not-flat parts: one, leading up to a railroad crossing; two, leading down from the road to the beginning of the unpaved section (not sure if that was technically a dike, since the Horseshoe isn’t connected to a river?); three, coming off of the unpaved section and returning to paved road. Each of these was extremely brief–measured in feet, not yards. The marathon follows a separate course from the half marathon, but starts in the same manner and re-joins for the last few miles. As a marathoner, I love it when I’m not “just” running two loops of the half marathon course. (Personally, I hate passing the finish line before I get to cross it!) The relay teams all seemed to be having a great time–some dressed in matching costumes, others had a theme going, still others dressed like I do for a run (if it passed the sniff test, it’s good to go).
It’s fairly rare, in my experience, that a course that says it is flat is really, really flat. This one is, I promise. (Well, I can’t opine as to the looped portions of the marathon since I didn’t run them, but the half is like a pancake baby.) Since the vast majority of the race was rural, there were no “unofficial aid stations” or sponsored cheering stations. There were, however, plenty of well-stocked and cheerfully staffed aid stations! At least two of the aid stations had gummy bears–they were hiding in Dixie Cups–but there were no other foodstuffs served on course. (But again, that was NOT in the promises the race made, so I had packed some Glukos chews and Honey Stinger chews, and I was just fine. Yet another reason why you should actually read the race website and the emails from the race director, even if you run races all the time and figure you know everything there is to know.)
This was NOT my best race, sad to say. After the icky hills of Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco and the Livermore Half Marathon, I was really excited to be on an actually flat course. Up until about mile 7 I was on pace to PR (not that I’m that fast, but a PR is a PR, right?) and was thinking about what corral that might put me in for the Dopey Challenge next year. Right around that point, that glute-hamstring tie-in on my left leg tweaked HARD and started to whine at me. Whiiiiiine, ow, whiiiine. UGH. This is a new one for me, and I thought it was a hill issue (since I had experienced it in San Francisco). So bummed, since I spent a good deal of my cross-training on the posterior chain last year (e.g. Lagree method). Around mile 9 I gave in to reality: this course would not be close to a PR. (Sad trombone noise! Whomp whomp!) Every time I tried to run–oh right, I was using 1-1 run and walk intervals–my left leg complained. ARGH.
Still, the course was flat (hooray!), green (hooray!), and reminded me of all the reasons why I love the Pacific NW. It wasn’t until after I had passed the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens that I realized I had been to Woodland before the race–twice! The first time I was there for the festival at the lilac gardens. Maybe it wasn’t a festival, but it was some big event, and it had a Volkswalk associated with it. I was in Woodland again later for the tulip festival at Holland America Bulb Farms–going on during this race!–and another Volkswalk. Of course that was in my pre-running days, so I doubt I would have noticed a race going on.
None of my photos do the tulips justice, so you’ll have to go run this race yourself and check them out. The fields were set back from the road, and as we passed I could see stripes of red, yellow, white, and other colors in addition to the non-blooming fields closer to the road.
At any rate, after grabbing some gummy bears at the last aid station I started to pass runners with medals on, which confirmed what I knew: the end was really close! The runners headed home with their bling all cheered and high-fived, which was cool. As I rounded the corner to the very last piece, the home stretch, I noticed the final not-flat piece of the course: a very slight downhill to the finish line! Hey, I’ll take ANY downhill to the finish line, no matter how slight.
The finish line was very organized! Race director Elba Benzler was on the ground, handing out high-fives and congratulating runners. (After having him as a guest on the Runner of a Certain Age podcast before the race, it was nice to finally meet in person!) Traffic cones at the end of the chute subdivided runners–at that point it was really just me!–based on which race they finished, so they could receive the appropriate medal. What’s that? Why YES, there were completely different medals for the half, full, 10k, and marathon relay! You know how most races have one design, and the half gets a smaller version while the full gets a bigger one? Not here!
After greeting Elba I tried to find Sarah, who I’d heard and seen as I crossed the finish line. Of course we both had runner brain and each went to where we last saw the other, so it took us a little bit. Then I wanted to drink as many cups of delicious Opal apple cider as I could get without being silly (side note: the Opal apple was at the Walnut Creek Half Marathon two years ago, and it is the best apple ever). We posed and laughed before heading over to the VIP area, and then we posed more! All the post-race selfies!
One nice perk of BibRave is that race directors sometimes give us VIP privileges at races. These were some really nice VIP privileges! In addition to access to the beer garden like other runners, the VIP area had a separate bar with the beers plus Washington State wine, and mimosas. In addition to the aforementioned BBQ sandwiches, VIP also had a spread of bananas, nuts, KIND bars, chips, and other assorted food. There was a complimentary massage station that I eyed but didn’t take advantage of due to having to check out of the hotel by 1 (and needing a shower, badly!). My favorite part of VIP was probably the patio heaters. It wasn’t exactly cold weather, but post-race my core temp definitely dropped, and the jacket I had packed into my bag wasn’t doing the trick, so I was happy to huddle under a heater.
Overall, this race rocked my socks. It delivered on everything, as advertised. As I was driving out of Woodland–post-race, post-shower, and post-Burgerville–the finish line party was still going strong. It’s reasonably priced, has a variety of distances, and is close enough to food, coffee, and other amenities that your finish line cheer squad can see you off, do something else, and then meet you at the finish. If you want to hear more, check out the latest episode of Runner of a Certain Age Podcast.
Since the race is Blooms to Brews, and you brew coffee, I’m giving away a bag of coffee beans! Not just any beans, mind you, but Rotary Club of Woodland’s premium dark roast. My purchase of these beans helps the Rotary fund the new sports complex in Woodland. This coffee was roasted just before the race (April 7th) by local coffee producer the Luckman Coffee Company.
Important! This giveaway is not sponsored by BibRave, Blooms to Brews, the Rotary, Elvis, or any other entity real or fictional. There is ONE prize, a bag of coffee beans. I’ll ship to the US and Canada for free. If you live elsewhere I’ll still ship, but I’ll ask you to make a charity donation in the amount of the cost of postage.
This past weekend I rocked Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas for the second year in a row. While I wasn’t originally planning to return to Dallas–even though I loved the races, spring is really busy–but it quickly became a must when Rock ‘n’ Roll announced the Lone Star Legend. (Seriously, I like my running bling.) The medal prototype debuted at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio expo and, like the Desert Double-Down, is a cross-year challenge: first run San Antonio (typically December) and then run Dallas (typically March). The reward? A Texas-shaped, glittery medal, complete with a spinning Lone Star.
San Antonio 2015 was the capstone to my 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll season: Rock ‘n’ Roll #11! For my friend Briana, it was also her tenth race, earning her the Gold Record. Briana’s friend Maria and our mutual friend, and Rock ‘n’ Blogger, Andrew joined us again, and the three of us all had the luxury of the VIP experience for the half marathon. The weekend began on Friday, with a quick bib pickup at the Expo. Well, it SHOULD have been quick, but one of the brilliant runners accidentally neglected to register for San Antonio and didn’t figure that out until after arriving at the Expo. Oops. This is the one hazard of having a Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour Pass–it’s easy to plan out your race calendar and then forget to go actually sign up for the races. Fortunately the Rock ‘n’ Roll team was quick to help me out, get me registered, and issue some bibs and shirts. There is a special bonus bib for Gold Record, and Briana was excited to pick it up.
By the time I’d fixed my “I forgot to register” problem, we didn’t have much time to explore the Expo. There was just enough time to snap a few quick pics of some of my favorite gear before the Expo closed and the runners were ushered out.
We then headed out to dinner. San Antonio is a good place to eat. Briana had a recommendation for dinner, and everything we ate there was amazing. Naturally we celebrated with a drink (when in a Tex-Mex restaurant, a little celebration is in order). After dinner we wandered down to see the lights on the River Walk, and run a few errands. Maria has a tradition of drinking pickle juice prior to every race in order to ward off cramps. I think pickles are gross, and find this a little disgusting, but there is science behind it. Plus I needed to pick up a few things at the drugstore. Turns out it is impossible to find jars of pickles downtown. We ended up talking a local Subway out of a little cup of pickle juice, and headed back to the hotel. I’m pretty sure we crashed instantly.
Saturday morning was the San Antonio 10k. The Rock ‘n’ Roll series has been adding 10k and 5k races in some markets, both in response to demand for shorter races (not everyone wants to run a half marathon), and to create the Remix (two races, three medals–no brainer for most of us who were going to do the half already). The 10k is sort of sweet spot for me–I hate the first 2 miles of every race, so the 5k isn’t as much fun as the 10k. We got gorgeous weather for the run, and after many races that were hot or cold or wet or windy in 2015 I felt pretty spectacular. The 10k finishes right in front of the Alamo, where there was live music for the beer garden. Since San Antonio is the last race in the Rock ‘n’ Roll season, general shenanigans ensued.
Turns out that gigantic Hall of Fame medal makes a lovely drinking cup/shot glass. At one point a line of Hall of Famers that drank their Michelob Ultras out of the backs of their medals, but I wasn’t fast enough on the draw with my iPhone. (For those who are not aware, Michelob Ultra is the official beer sponsor for the Rock ‘n’ Roll races in the United States, so that is the only beer available at the finish line. Other beers might be available in VIP at certain locations, but since I don’t like beer, I haven’t researched that for you. If you run in Vancouver, there are local microbrews instead.)
Smart folks that we are, we then hustled off to get breakfast tacos (and coffeeyescoffee). Between the other runners with their medals, and a group of re-enactors in period garb, it was a colorful brunch. (Also a loud one–muskets don’t come with silencers, and we started before the re-enactment ended.) I’m not sure why the rest of the country has not caught on, but it seems like the only place to get a proper breakfast taco is the part of Texas encompassing Austin and San Antonio. I’ve come close, but never quite hit perfection.
After lunch there was just enough time to shower and change, and take a quick stroll through the rest of the Expo (replenish my Nuun stash, etc.) before I had to lay down and rest my legs a bit. I had every intention of going to the Hall of Fame ceremony, awarding a special framed gold record to the runner who did the most Rock ‘n’ Roll races during the year, but I was exhausted from the prior week and suddenly it was time for dinner. Initially we attempted to meet up with a group of fellow fly-to-runners, but we had a little car issue and by the time we arrived our seats had been given to people on the wait list. Regardless, it was pasta time! (Yes, I know, most of us non-professional, not-running-to-place runners don’t need to “carb load.” I respect the science, but I also like pasta.) Dinner was delicious, and more moreso by the company of Briana and Andrew, since we’d shared various Rock ‘n’ Roll adventures since the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona in January.
All three of us had VIP for the half marathon (for me, as one of the perks from Rock ‘n’ Blog). We took a Lyft or an Uber over to the stadium early enough to enjoy some of the brunch amenities: bagels, peanut butter, toast, bananas, fruit platters, and I think some other stuff….I eat vegetarian, which was fine for breakfast since I typically don’t eat much before a race (but explains why I might not remember some of the breakfast food). Most important, COFFEE. The corrals were not that far from the VIP tent, so we didn’t have to rush out too soon. I actually walked to the corrals, reconsidered my clothing layers, and went back to bag check before heading back to the corral. I loved the smaller VIP-only bag check, as well as the VIP porta-potties (no lines, hand-washing station, extra paper towels and feminine hygiene supplies).
Each race’s VIP comes with different perks, so it’s important to read what the VIP experience offers for each market. In San Jose, for example, VIP was held inside a nearby restaurant, while in Dallas and Virginia Beach the VIP area was in a hotel. San Antonio also had VIP parking (close-in, included with each VIP) and a post-race massage area. The VIP tent offered shade (which I appreciate as a white girl who burns just thinking about the sun), and had table-seating. I didn’t take advantage of the post-race massages (they are first-come, first-served and I came in pretty late, plus I didn’t have ).
San Antonio has both a full marathon and a half marathon. I was completely done with marathons by the time December rolled around, plus I had the Dopey Challenge in front of me, so I ran the half. You don’t usually think of San Antonio as hilly–at least if you don’t live there, or haven’t been in awhile–but trust me, they are there! Fortunately also there were the students and faculty from Trinity University, who served as excellent cheerleaders and had some of the best signs I’ve seen. I didn’t take many pictures along the course, but again the weather was lovely and the course support was great!
After the race, I met up with Andrew and Briana in the VIP tent. I’m not much of a complainer in general, but I have one HUGE complaint about the VIP tent’s post-race food: none of it was vegetarian! Yes, I understand I was in Texas, and Texas is the home of Team Beef (this is really a thing), but I was a vegetarian when I lived in Texas, and I’ve never had a problem finding things to eat. My choices at the post-race VIP food were extremely limited. I remember wilted lettuce leaves that appear to have been the serving platter decoration for something else (as the platter was empty). There may have been brown banana pieces (brown from sitting out for 5+ hours between pre-breakfast and when I finished the race), but the rest of the breakfast food was gone. There weren’t even Power Bars or potato chips (though I did eat the ones handed to me when I crossed the finish line). I was very, very upset about this–and remember, I got my VIP as a Rock ‘n’ Blog perk, so just imagine how I’d feel if I’d paid full price! I even asked the servers if there was any food without meat. Seriously, there were chicken enchiladas and beef enchiladas, but they couldn’t make cheese ones? Or haul out any breakfast leftovers? But the servers said, Nope! NO FOOD FOR YOU. This is really bizarre since on average, 10% of the population eats vegetarian outside of the home (whether they are vegetarian, vegan, limiting meat intake, keeping kosher, keeping halal, or for other reasons). This was a gross oversight. I’ve done everything in my power to bring this to the attention of management–I’ve tweeted and repeated, slathered it all over facebook, put it on my race feedback form, put it out there to the Rock ‘n’ Blog wranglers–and expect them to correct it for this year. (If not, they can expect me to have pizza delivered AND send them the bill.)
What did the VIP tent have for me post-race at San Antonio? Champagne. Let’s just say it is a bad idea to refuse to feed me but then give me champagne.
Naturally there was also an obligatory Gold Record shot. I tried to wrangle more people for a Gold Record and Hall of Fame photo, but it turns out many of those folks are gluttons for punishment and were running the full marathon. Many of them met up at the Expo for the Hall of Fame ceremony, but I was trying to pick a time when those getting their Gold Record at San Antonio could also join the photo. So I only managed to snag one Hall of Famer.
In between champagne, Nuun-tinis, and orange juice, we got to meet the third place men’s overall finisher for the marathon, Jose Roberto Zavala Calderon. Race officials were trying to explain that they were going to go get his award, but they didn’t speak any Spanish and the message was getting mangled. By that time I’d had sufficient champagne to jump in with my espanola semi-gringa and fix the situation. Jose turned out to be a super nice guy who didn’t mind my mangled Spanglish.
Would I do San Antonio again? Well, if I play my calendar correctly, San Antonio could be half marathon #100 for me…stay tuned for more!
P.S. I’m definitely ordering a pizza sent to VIP post-race!
Imagine a building that is about the size of a medium-sized airport, with at least as many people as you’d find in a medium-sized airport. Spread out as far as you can see (and then some) inside are more than 6,000 exhibitors, some of whom have more than one booth space. The path to the front door is backed by a stage, flanked by sampling stands, and swarmed with perky teens and twenty-something offering samples–breakfast bars, gluten-free snacks, yogurt, ice cream, fizzy fruit drinks, and more. Everyone wants to hand you something!
If you can picture that, you might come somewhere near picturing Natural Products Expo West. It filled every big ballroom in the Anaheim convention center (including the lower level and third floor), plus two giant rooms in one of the adjoining hotels–and that’s just the product and ingredient exhibitors! There were also educational sessions, meet-ups, morning yoga, and various other activities filling the area. 2016 was my first year at ExpoWest, and it gave me enough food for thought (figuratively and literally) to blog about for weeks. Lucky for you, it also gave me more than enough snacks, samples, and coupons, so I’m going to share them with you! But first, a quick word on a very important topic:
What does “natural” mean?
First, “natural” does not mean “organic.” Organic has a very specific meaning, and there are loads of rules about what can be labeled organic, and who can certify that something is organic. (To read more about what organic means, check out Organic.org) Organic things are arguably natural, but things bearing the natural label are not necessarily organic.
Second, “natural” does not automatically mean “good for you to eat.” Many, many things that you and I would both agree are natural products are also things we would both agree we do NOT want to eat! Need a few examples? Here they are: arsenic, mercury, moose feces…oh wait? You want me to limit the list to plants and animals? How about hemlock, poison ivy leaves, cyanide, dart frogs, black widow spider venom…I could go on for quite a few pages. As several comics have noted, nature is always trying to kill you. (See also, lightning, earthquakes, sunburn, poisoning from naturally occurring radiation, and food allergies.)
Third, “natural” does not mean “unprocessed.” Let’s take a peanut butter made from only peanuts (zero other ingredients). Wouldn’t you agree that is natural? How about raspberries that are picked, washed, and frozen–aren’t those natural too? Is cider made from pressed apples (and nothing else) natural? What about flour made only from ground rice? ALL of these examples are processed food. Since the term “processed” has gotten a bad rap lately and many bloggers are quick to condemn anything that comes in a package (as all of my examples do), I’d be straying from my mission if I didn’t point this out.
So…wait, what does “natural” mean? As I write this, if you see the word “natural” on a package, it means anything the product manufacturer wants it to mean. You read that right. “Natural” currently has no legal definition. If I want to make a product using meat I grew in a petri dish seasoned with chemicals cooked up in the lab next door,and add some high-fructose corn syrup, I can legally label that product “natural.” (You might find this surprising, given the level of detail given to the Code of Federal Regulations–think of it as the federal food rules–gives to the definition of “cheese” versus “cheese product” versus “cheese food.” I am not making this up–go check out Part 133, Cheeses and Related Cheese Products.)
BUT WAIT! In response to confusion from the public, the FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) is currently considering new rules to limit the use of the term “natural” on food. You can read more about the proposed definition and limits and–much more important–provide YOUR input to the FDA, by clicking over to the “Natural” on Food Labelingpage of the FDA. Seriously, this is your chance to help shape food policy in this country. Please, let your voice be heard!
So, on to Expo West!
Next, a little overview of things to come… Expo West is a trade show for the natural products industry, and covered everything from sourcing ingredients, manufacturing, and packaging through finished products to eat, wear, and use. The ingredients-focused section is known as Engredea. Since I’m not in the market for organic cane sugar syrup or hypoallergenic pouches, I took a fairly brisk walk up and down the aisles of this section without doing more than looking. I think you might be shocked at the variety of ingredients available to use in natural products. Anyway, my goal was to check out the natural foods exhibitors, and seek out the top trends in the natural food industry. Here’s what I observed:
Snackification. Holy cow, everything is a snack. New Hope Network natural media had been documenting this trend prior to the show, but I had NO idea. Whether you’re on a six mini-meals per day plan or just get hungry between meals, it turns out that Americans now get a significant number of daily calories from snacks. Apples and celery are not always at the ready, right? Expo West contained more snack bars—paleo, protein, meat-based, vegan…so many options there!—than I had ever dreamed of, plus other ways to snack: Mamma Chia squeeze pouches, cooked fruit in pouches, Cracked nut butters, Hope hummus dips in individual servings, Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods heat and eat soups, chips made from fruit or veggies or both or beans…
Popcorn. It’s everywhere. There are snacks based on popcorn, like PopCorners. There are bagged popcorn snacks, like Gaslamp Popcorn in flavors from white cheddar to birthday cake, and Beer Kissed popcorn; Boulder Canyon,POP! Gourmet, Kettle Foods, and Angie’s Boomchickapop. I was happy to see Halfpops, a snack for those of us that dig the not-quite-popped kernals from the bottom of the bag—I know them from many race expos. New to me was Black Jewell Popcorn, a popcorn with almost no hull (outer shell); if you shy away from popcorn because it gets stuck in your teeth, THIS is your solution. (I tasted it myself—no joke, there is almost nothing to stick in your teeth.) Popcorn is gluten-free, FODMAPS friendly, and one of my personal favorites. Several companies were also popping popcorn in coconut oil, which reminds me how the thought on this has come full circle: first we ate popcorn at the movies popped in a butter that was mostly solid at room temperature, then we decided those fats solid at room temperature were bad so all the cinemas switched to oil, and then we discovered that hm, maybe those medium-chain triglycerides were okay after all and here we are back at popping in coconut oil. It made the expo smell delicious, and the popcorn popped in coconut oil rich in MCT (medium chain triglycerides) tasted amazing with just a tiny bit of salt. I’ll be trying this at home…
Nut butters. As a kid I was a picky eater, so I ate A LOT of peanut butter and jelly. I thought I was in heaven when I discovered macadamia nut butter as an adult (at like $12/jar!) but I have since been blown away by the amazing, nutritious, tasty goodness in today’s nut butters. I finally got to meet two of my heroines (and Shark Tank favorites), the Wild Friends nut butter founders (try the cinnamon raisin peanut butter, and you’ll understand why jam is optional). My friends from Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter were there with their simple-ingredient, super tasty, family-owned peanut butters. Expo West gave me the opportunity to meet Bliss Nut-Butters (cinnamon chia seed peanut butter for the win!), and Cracked Nut Butter (the pouched chocolate chip cookie dough is SO going with me on my next run!) Peanut Butter & Co., Justin’s, and Once Again were also there with their tasty nut butters. Allergic to peanuts? How about a creation from San Diego-based Nuttzo, which has non-peanut options. Many of these delicious nut butters also come in individual-serving-sized pouches, perfect for hitting the trail or the road.
Vegan food that does not suck. If you’ve ever met me in person and talked food, you know I always say maybe I could be vegan, but I’d miss the butter and cheese. I can’t say that anymore! Expo West introduced me to Miyoko’s Kitchen, which is just up the peninsula from my home in Alameda. Miyoko’s makes a vegan butter that tastes buttery! I don’t mean “tastes like butter flavored margarine” I mean tastes just like butter! (What’s in it? Organic coconut oil, water, organic safflower oil or organic sunflower oil organic cashews, soy lechitin, sea salt, and cultures. Nothing weird.) I also tried Miyoko’s Fresh VeganMozz, Aged English Sharp Farmhouse, and a vegan pizza featuring their products. HEAVEN! I also tried some frozen pizza from Oh Yes! (vegan and non-vegan, gluten-free and non-gluten free varieties), which as a bonus also “hides” a serving of vegetables. Those were just two of the brands of vegan food you could easily slip to a meat-eater to change their opinion of vegan food.
Non-dairy milk. Speaking of vegan, the world of milk has gotten so much better since you first tried soy milk. While I was thrilled to meet the family behind Califia Farms—the almost milk I “discovered” at my corner grocery the week before Expo West—there are now so many more options than you imagined in the non-dairy milk section. Want a coffee creamer that tastes creamy? Califia makes that too—and a whole line of packaged coffee drinks. Milkadamia is made from macadamia nuts. Rebel Kitchen makes Mylk, a coconut milk with no refined sugar. My favorite discovery is, sadly, not-quite-yet available in the United States: Veggemo is a milk made from actual vegetables, yet it has the consistency and texture of 2% dairy milk. It even tastes milky, not vegetable-y. Trust me, you want this as soon as the nice folks in Canada let us have some!
Coffee. Oh #coffeeyescoffee and #butfirstcoffee because there were some amazing coffees at Expo West! I got to see and handle the recyclable k-cup style coffee pods by Marley Coffee(and more important, drink the coffee!). I met the folks behind Steamm, which I’ve stalked during its crowd-funding phase. Café Kreyol introduced me to the boots-on-the-ground work they are doing in Haiti and how coffee can be a force for economic growth in developing nations while still being amazing (I didn’t even put cream in that coffee). Intelligensia Coffee, another staple from my corner store, was there, along with innovative and amazing non-dairy creamers and milk-based creamers, and creamers with functional benefits. Trust me, I’m going to be writing about coffee…
But this is getting long.
So how about a giveaway? I was only able to hit Expo West for two days—the beloved day job expects me to attend—but I still want to share the love and the swag! On Saturday as I was driving to parking, a guy at the intersection gave me two sealed packs of Expo West-related goodness, and I’m giving one to you! This prize pack consists of Naturally Healthy, a special issue of Gourmet News issued just for Expo West, so you can read about innovations in the natural food space; Modern Oats 5 berry all natural oatmeal; Fig Bar in raspberry; Cosmos Creations Coconut Crunch premium puffed corn; fruit bliss organic Turkish mini figs; and a few surprises! You’ve got two weeks to enter, so don’t delay!