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As you may have guessed from my lack of blog reviews on the 2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Series,  I had a less than amazing experience for much of the year. Combine the lacking and lackluster race experience with the most frustrating ambassador experience I have ever had, and I just decided my blog didn’t need it. Out of an abundance of caution–I knew I could not return to the ambassador team (RIP Rock ‘n’ Blog) if I didn’t see some serious changes–I bought a bib to Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco 2019 at the expo, so I wouldn’t lose my legacy status.

View of the bay, and the brdge
While I missed running to the Hopper Hands, I am always up for a cheeseball tourist photo stop along the Bay!

Pro tip: If you are an Active Advantage member–that’s the membership you pay for, not free usage–do NOT buy pre-sale bibs at the race expo. You WILL be charged the Active fees (which you get for free as an Advantage member) and the free tee shirt probably isn’t worth it.

If only the bibs were actually this size, people might follow these instructions!

Pre-Race Expo. San Francisco is an easy town for public transit, and the Uber/Lyft/app-cabs are plentiful. I flew into SFO and took BART to Embarcadero, then walked from the BART station to the Expo out at Pier 35. The weather was lovely, so I didn’t mind a walk, especially after a flight. My expectations were low for this expo; frankly, the expo has sucked since it left the Moscone Center. (Originally I assume the expo moved because Moscone was under construction; no clue what the story is now.)

Bib Pickup: Status Same-Old. Once again, the race did not sell out in advance (as it did the first three years at least) so you could register at the expo. I’m guessing the City of San Francisco granted a permit for 8000. There were only 7000 numbers, and one of my friends who registered at the expo was given number 7575, a little underwhelming. The bibs are the same gigantic papers they have used for years; their enormity has led many to fold them or pin them somewhere other than “completely covering my entire torso,” though at least they now have integrated timing chips AND a station at the expo to test and make sure they work. The race waiver is now two separate waivers, and though they send out like ten pre-race emails about them (“remember to sign your waivers!”) almost no one does–like who even owns a printer? Bib pickup also included an LED light wristband (more on that later).

Rock n Roll trucker hats
Some of the new trucker designs

Race Shirts…Better Design, Cheaper Quality. I really wanted to like this year’s race shirt, especially after the horribly generic shirts that Ironman offered to Rock ‘n’ Roll participants in early 2018. While the design is much better, everything else is worse. First, the shirts came individually wrapped in plastic. This is unnecessary on the consumer end, but may indicate that the shirts have changed country of origin. (Federal law requires fabric goods from some countries be shipped individually wrapped in plastic. When I worked at Macy’s we literally filled a dumpster with plastic bags each time we unloaded a truck.) Second, the shirt quality is cheap. The fabric isn’t pleasant to the touch, and it is rather sheer. Third, there are tags sewn into the collar of the shirt, and they are not the easy-tear-away tags found in most athletic clothing. Fourth, the shirts are sized even smaller than previous years. I always order a women’s XL so that the shirt isn’t too short and isn’t too tight. This year, the women’s XL is both. When I took it out of the bag and flattened it, it wasn’t even shaped–it was a rectangle/box like a man’s shirt. Finally, the design placement is weird and unflattering on every body I saw with a shirt on it. Verdict: unwearable. They could cut costs by offering a tee-shirt-quilt panel instead of a shirt.

Race Bags: Still Plastic, Still Awful. When I first started running Rock ‘n’ Roll races, the bags were durable drawstring bags made of gym bag type fabric. Themed races–Los Angeles/Halloween, Vegas/Strip at Night–had themed bags. The series later changed to cheaper fabric bags that were not as durable–the hard edge of a box might cause a tear–black for every race, no themed bags. Eventually the series switched to plastic bags that tear if you look at them funny (though they are durable enough for a few uses as a post-race laundry bag). Allegedly these are for security, but they are frosted and not sheer, so I don’t believe that’s the real reason. They must have ordered a billion of them. When I have time to plan ahead, I bring an empty one so I don’t have to take yet another plastic bag. The contents are as tired as the bags: sample of shave oil that claims to be the best invention since shaving, sample of Calmoseptine (which I find uncomfortable and stinging, but my friend Andrew uses it so he takes all my samples), discount card for a boxed meal service, discount card for produce delivery. The better way to do this would be to put these items out at a “help yourself” station (where I would take ALL of the Hemp Hearts samples!). Or at least have a space at the expo to dump the stuff we won’t use. It’s such a waste.

Merch: HUGE UPGRADE. Last year the race merch was sparse and poorly designed, and included a rack of what I guess you would call “stuff we found in a warehouse somewhere and ought to try to sell.” The only potentially interesting race-specific merch were the Ironman-style shirts with all of the participants names on them. (Personally, I do not see the appeal, but that’s because the last shirt I had like that was a 1980s elementary school fundraiser.) This year there were several options I liked, and many more that even I can see are a HUGE upgrade: a wall of trucker hats, racks of beanies, shorts, tights, quarter zips, tanks, long-sleeve, short-sleeve, and more. There is also a line of tie-dye themed stuff (socks, knock-off Flip Belt, etc.) to match the Brooks Rock ‘n’ Roll shoes released last year (and the shoes are back). The people working at Brooks weren’t that helpful though, as there was a bra sale and a friend of mine wanted to try a bra on but couldn’t get anyone to help her–at the end of the day, when the expo wasn’t busy.

Expo, Sponsors: Sparse. So other than Brooks and United Airlines (which has its own special medal this year for those doing a race in 2 of the 5 United hub markets), I’m not sure who is left. Toyota is gone, and there is no car company replacement. Geico wasn’t there (though I’ve heard a rumor that Team Geico no longer gets post-race massages anyway). Oh, I guess Michelob Ultra still sponsors the beer, but honestly most runners would rather have a local beer sponsor. United did have a cool photo op with a backdrop, and a pilot and flight attendant (or people dressed like a pilot and flight attendant).

Lombard Street, San Francisco
There are even more stairs up Lombard Street than you can see from the bottom!

Expo, Exhibitors: Improved. Last year, the expo was at least 1/4 and probably more like 1/3 empty tables/booths. I bought nothing (or at least remember nothing beyond how weird it is to have an expo with so many empty spaces). This year I was really thrilled to see a booth by Potatoes USA! In addition to freshly cooked multi-colored creamers to eat, they had a recipe book, stickers, and lip balm. I took advantage of the Pro Compression expo special to buy some of the new spring designs, and tasted the Honey Stinger offerings (though I didn’t buy, since I just stocked up at the Shamrock Run expo). I was glad to see Run Club SF and Marathon Matt, the race pacers. There were also a number of footwear, running gear, and race booths. Verdict: still a small, unimpressive race expo, but MUCH better than last year.

We Run Social Shakeout Run! This year, We Run Social and lululemon Cow Hollow co-sponsored a 5kish shakeout run. We started near the expo, took the obligatory groupies, I handed out RunGum, and the piled up our gear to be Ubered to lululemon. The rest of us took off on a quick run over part of the race course, up Lombard Street–which inexplicably appeared on the 2018 medal, even though no Rock ‘n’ Roll course has ever gone there (but it should!) and then headed over to lululemon. Once there, we had a mini-party! Hostess-with-the-mostess Ashley, founder of Every Runner Counts, greeted us with hint water (which I love!) and snacks, as well as a discount on certain items. I shared RunGum with the other staff working the store to thank them for putting up with us, and there were raffle prizes including We Run Social multi-function headwraps and Pro Compression socks! Afterwards a bunch of us headed to Amici’s to carb up.

Exhaustion sets in! At that point it was maybe 8:30, but I was Done With Saturday. The disadvantage of a fly-in, fly-out race weekend, I suppose. Since the first corral started at 6:15 a.m. I knew the morning would come all too quickly. I slept well.

Rock n Roll corral wristbands were a bummer
Does this look painful to you? Because it is. Hello, I need that blood flow!

About Those Corrals: Do Better. The theory behind the new corral system was very sound (that’s a pun, wait for it…): the City wouldn’t allow amplification (for music, for pre-race announcements, etc.) and, I’m told, didn’t want “crowd noise” outside for an extended period before the race started. The “well, they meant well” solution was to move the pre-corral hanging out portion to inside Pier 35, and use an LED light bracelet system to alert people when it was their turn to line up  outside. Let’s talk about the logistics first. Pier 35 is north of The Embarcadero and has two doors: one to the west, and one to the east. ALL of the readily available parking, and nearly all of the hotels, are to the west of Pier 35. Rather than think that through–or maybe no one on the logistics team was local to San Francisco–the race set up the WEST door as the exit to the corrals. As a result, the massive wave of people I was walking with were stopped before the west door to let the first corral out of Pier 35. Not only could we not reach the entrance (the east door) until the entire corral had passed, but shorter people were elbowing their way up from behind me–hey, it’s not like we were standing around chatting, there were hundreds of people ALL FACING THE SAME DIRECTION who ALL STOPPED AT THE SAME TIME–and pushing people forward even though we could not, in fact, move forward. Hot mess, and uncomfortable, too. Once inside (after the corral left and the crowd got to the east door) the logistics crew bombed again. The tiny “stage” with the pre-race DJ and announcer was WAY in the back and poorly lit. It made total sense to put it in the back, since they wanted to keep everyone from cramming up near the corral exit, but since it was not well lit and tiny, it was difficult to find. It would have made much more sense to build a bigger stage, place it on the west wall (the east wall has a sort of separate room, and the restrooms, so that’s not an option) and throw some real lighting on it. Instead, people heard the sound system up front and stayed up near the corral exit door, creating a traffic jam. Also the pre-race bananas and water were BEHIND the stage–like yards behind it–so most people don’t know they were there. I only knew because someone in my group chat posted that they were all the way at the back.

Brooks inflatable out on the course
The Brooks Dude got a makeover this year. I think he is a gorilla!

Corral Bracelets: FAIL. This year, the race implemented a new corral system copied right from a K-Pop concert: LED light bracelets that can respond to a transmitter and pulse colors with the music. These should have been an excellent crowd management plan, but they were not. Let us count the reasons why:

  1. Runners are stupid. Despite the signs on the wall at registration and the pre-race email that was only about the corrals (okay, maybe people ignored that since Rock ‘n’ Roll sent like 27 other emails about signing waivers), most people had no clue how the system was supposed to work. Thus when it malfunctioned, no one knew how to respond. (Add to this that like many electronic things with batteries, there was a plastic tab you had to remove to contact the battery and make the bracelet active, and many runners did not do that.)
  2. Like I need something else on my arm for the race? If you’re a runner, you probably don’t need to do this, but if you’re not, take a look at Instagram and the runners there. One of the most popular post-run shots is a picture of your running watch (showing the run’s stats). Take a look at enough of them, and you’ll see that many runners have quite the arm-party going on: race watch (mine’s a Coros), Road ID, Momentum wrap(s), regular jewelry, charity rubber band(s), and maybe those temporary paper bracelets (Rock ‘n’ Roll uses them for the Remix weekends, and for pre-race ID to enter the beer garden in states where that’s allowed.) A big fat piece of plastic? Really?
  3. OUCH. The bracelets are NOT adjustable (unlike their K Pop predecessors.) Now I don’t think I have particularly well-developed forearm muscles, but I definitely do not have dainty lady-arms. The bracelets were like the silicone charity bracelets you’ve probably seen (thing Livestrong) but about 40% was attached to the light/battery part, which was hard, inflexible plastic. I put the thing on my wrist and it pinched my skin. Since there was no way to adjust it, and that thing would not stretch, I ended up clipping my Orange Mud pack strap through it. Other runners just ditched theirs (as I saw many runners without them on race day).
  4. SO. MUCH. PLASTIC. WASTE. Since the bracelets have tiny little screws, you can clearly replace the battery. This means they are reusable. I had hoped, pre-expo, that there would be collection bins at the finish line, to re-use or recycle the bracelets. NOPE. Unfortunately, it is cheaper to throw them away than it is to change the batteries. So every runner now has a useless plastic gadget with a battery to dispose of, and you can bet that 0% of runners disassembled the thing to remove the battery for proper disposal. They can’t be recycled in your recycling bin. Between the plastic bags on the shirts, the plastic race bags, and the uninteresting stuff inside the plastic race bags, I just don’t understand why Rock ‘n’ Roll hates the environment so much. HEY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL! DO BETTER!
  5. Ridiculously overcomplicated. Pre-race, the bracelets were supposed to change colors and pulse with the music. (Mine didn’t do that more than twice.) There were 9 corrals, and each corral was assigned a different color. So when the first corral was supposed to head out, their bracelets were supposed to turn red. Only a bunch of them turned blue instead, and blue was assigned to the second corral. So the folks at the exit were trying to turn people back, because the had the wrong bracelet color, but they in fact had corral 1 bibs. I’m still puzzled as to why they didn’t go with the obvious solution. Since the bracelets could be programmed to only respond to some signals–the corral 9 bracelets, for example, did not turn red or  blue or any other solid color when it was time for corral 1 to go–the obvious would have been “when your bracelet lights up solid green, go to your corral.” No need to remember what color your corral was assigned. We all know that green means go. They could have even removed green from the pre-race program, so that no one saw green until it was time to go.
  6. Many dud bracelets. As I was getting pressed uncomfortably forward into the exiting corral 1, waiting to enter Pier 35, my bracelet did nothing. Not one light. The pattern around me seemed random, with some bracelets flashing colors, other with solid colors, still others like mine with no lights at all. Mine didn’t light up at all until I’d been inside for 20 minutes. Then it did a color change maybe twice.
  7. The extras were meh. One of the on course activations–oh right, smart races don’t use that term because only crazy social media people and those in the industry know what an “activation” is–was for the bracelet to turn blue during the Wear Blue: Run to Remember mile that honors those who have died in service to our country. This could have been cool, but by the time we got to that mile it was broad daylight (cloudy, but daylight) so it was barely noticeable. It might have been cool at a night race, like the David Moo-nlight Race or Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas, but during the day it was meh.

Verdict: epic fail. Look, I get that this was a test-drive, and there are bumps and hiccups the first time. I can excuse some of those (at least for the bracelets–I’m sorry, but reversing the Pier 35 openings to west is entrance and east is exist is a total no-brainer), but there was no need to make it so complicated.

Rock n Roll San Francisco bridge shot
Since Karl The Fog was out in full force, I did not need my sunnies–and I did not get sunburned!

Race course: Decent as Usual. People are allegedly drawn to this race to get to run over the Golden Gate Bridge. My understanding is that the City, or bridge authority, or whatever, will no longer issue the race a permit to close down one lane of the bridge; personally, I hate running on the sidewalk and really miss the days when one lane of traffic was closed for runners to go north, and the southbound return was via the sidewalk. At least that way I got to see many more runners I knew, plus it avoided the descent and ascent necessary to pass under the bridge to return south on the west sidewalk. (The current course goes north on the east sidewalk, and south on the west sidewalk, which requires passing under the bridge on the Marin side.) The course is, otherwise, largely an out-and-back; this is an effective way to keep the permitting and costs down, as you have to close (and police/staff) fewer roads. It’s also nice to see Chrissy Field from two perspectives. It would be nice to change up the on-course photo ops–they have used the same few for the past several years–but if the data show that this is largely a “one and done” race (as opposed to one with repeat participants from year to year), then perhaps the expense doesn’t justify it.

Race Course Aid Stations: Well Done. For the first time in my Rock ‘n’ Roll experience, every aid station had what it promised to have. When I got to the gel aid station, there was plenty of gel, and even a selection of flavors. There was plenty of water and gatorade, and the volunteers were actively handing it out. (Some races, the volunteers get bored, and next thing you know you’re hitting an aid station with a bunch of kids on instagram.)

SF hippies
An annual fixture, the “flower children” hand out real flowers, some of which end up gracing the signs at the Wear Blue mile.

Finish Line Experience: Improved, but… This year the finish line had the usual finisher chute and odd little beer garden (part of the street, blocked off to traffic, and fenced in to keep the alcohol police happy) there were two new experiences. One was a stretch zone with yoga mats and straps, sponsored by Smile Direct. They also had wipes to detox the mats after the runners got off of them (because sitting in someone else’s sweat is gross). Inside the beer garden area there was also a recovery zone with those inflatable pressure boots, the thera-gun, vibrating rollers, and more. I didn’t spend much time there, but Briana did, so you can ask her about it. The beer garden also had a “pay to charge your phone” station. It was a nice touch, but the majority of people I know carry a power pack these days. Now, the finish line itself…I finished late in the game, for reasons of my choosing (one, helping someone, two, I really needed that Philz Truck coffee). The course has a 4-hour limit, and like my friend Ashley, I strongly believe that Every Runner Counts. I don’t care if you walked every inch, if you finished, you should be celebrated just like every other finisher. (Several years ago I kicked my butt, hard, to finish Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia, only to find zero food, zero water, zero hydration, zero anything in the finisher chute, despite seeing faster runners walking around with literal boxes of post-race food.) Super mad props to the volunteers handing out medals, the whole flock was still there and ready with medals. I was also happy to see plenty of bottled water (well, not happy it was bottled, but races have limitations) and Gatorade. MAD PROPS to Team Chocolate Milk for still having enough chocolate milk for us slowpokes! I also thought the snacks were good–bananas, Cheez-Its, and Ghirardelli squares with caramel–until I caught up with my faster friends at the beer garden. Some of them had multiple full-sized chocolate bars, not just one, as well as instant hash-browns (which I assume came from Potatoes USA, and they might still be learning). Also, there’s never a good way to carry your post-race snacks and you can’t re-enter the chute to get more once you’ve left. I need to remember to stuff a bag in my race pack.

Overall…I am biased. I started running Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco the very first year, when they had purchased race permits from another company. The original expo was huge, fun, and better than most other races. I’ve seen two good shirts, a few good medals, and lots of runners. Since I’ve run it every year, I’ll keep running it. It’s fun to head back to the Bay Area now that I don’t live there, and since I know so many runners who show up to this race it’s always worth the trip.

Soooo…. If you ran Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, what did you think of 2019? If you’ve run in the past, but didn’t run this weekend, why not?

Disclosure: in accordance with the FTC guidelines for influencers, as well as my own promise to be honest and up front with readers, I disclose that White Cedar Naturals provided me with a bottle of White Cedar Naturals’ full spectrum hemp oil in exchange for my honest review. White Cedar Naturals had absolutely no control or input on the contents of this review; 100% of the opinions and research are my own.

The market for hemp-derived CBD in the United States was an estimated $591 million in 2018, and the Financial Post predicts it will be worth $22 billion by 2022. As with other innovative markets–organic products, supplements–the majority of companies benefit handsomely from consumer misunderstanding. There is A TON of misinformation out there about CBD. If you have shied away from trying CBD products because (1) “they are drugs!” or (2) it’s just too crazy confusing with all the conflicting advertising, labels, and shifty bloggers, this review is for you.

Warning! At the outset, it is very important for anyone subject to testing for drugs or banned substances–whether that’s because you are a competitive athlete or hold a job with the U.S. federal government–that many brands of CBD, as well as other hemp-derived products, are not subject to third-party testing for THC content. Look for products that are NSF International Certified for Sport or bear the Informed-Sport certification, and use your influence as a consumer to demand more companies participate. Further, as with ANY herb, tea, OTC drug, or grapefruit juice, CBD can interfere with some medications. It is very important that you keep your medical care providers apprised of y our CBD usage (take them the package(s) for the product(s) you use). As a side note, known side-effects of CBD consumption include diarrhea, changes in appetite, and fatigue.

What is CBD and isn’t it just for stoners?

CBD is the abbreviation for the phytocannabinoid named cannabidiol. It is a naturally occurring compound that is part of the cannabis family of plants. Cannabis has three classifications: cannabis indica, cannabis sativa, and cannabis ruderalis. (You can see sketches and read more HERE.) Humans have been selectively breeding cannabis plants for centuries, just like humans used selective breeding to create big ears of corn from plants that originally had just a few kernels per stem. The variety of cannabis bred to maximize the content of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (a different phytocannabinoid), is known as marijuana. THC is a psychoactive substance, and consuming it results in a “high.” Marijuana plants also have some naturally occurring CBD in them.

Hemp—often referred to as industrial hemp—is a variety of cannabis sativa. Hemp was one of the first plants to be spun into fibers, and historically hemp has been used in paper, textiles, rope, and clothing. Hemp has much lower concentrations of THC than marijuana—you don’t get “high” from smoking hemp because the THC concentration is 0.3% or less (marijuana has a THC concentration of 15% to 40% depending on the strain)—and much higher concentrations of cannabidiol, or CBD. Hemp is a very versatile plant. In addition to spinning the fibers, you can eat the hemp seeds. (I’m a huge fan of Manitoba Harvest in case anyone asks. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of nutritional fiber, protein, and healthy fat and they are delicious on salads and yogurt parfaits. Bonus: no known allergans. Tilray just acquired Manitoba Harvest for $419 million, proving the hemp market is a cash cow.) Hemp seeds are also used for animal feed and bird seed. Parts of the plant can be used for biofuel. Hemp oil from the seeds is used in oil-based paints, as a moisturizer for creams, and for cooking.

Hemp seeds
Unshelled hemp seeds

CBD is NON-psychoactive. It is also NOT addictive. The Wikipedia entry has all the nerdy good stuff on it, from the chemical structure to the currently known pharmacology. Running Shoes Guru has already outlined the preliminary benefits and linked to the research.

Can CBD really do so many things? Is it a scam?

You’ve probably read at least one article claiming that CBD is The Answer for anxiety, depression, insomnia, muscle pain, acne, and more. (If not, seriously, go look at the Running Shoes Guru article already.) If you’re like me, the claim that one compound can help with such a wide variety of conditions makes your inner skeptic start asking questions, like “How can that be?” The answer, as of 2019, is that the mechanism by which CBD operates in the body is not (yet) well understood.

CBD is one of hundreds of plant compounds called phytocannabinoids (“phyto” for plant-based). The human body also produces cannabinoid compounds. These are called endocannabinoids (“endo” is short for “endogenous” which means “having an internal cause or origin”). The human body has a regulatory system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS for short), which I did not learn about in my high school or college biology classes for the simple reason that it hadn’t been discovered yet! The ECS is made up of receptors found in the nervous system throughout the body, endocannabinoids produced by the body, and enzymes that break down cannabinoids. This system helps to maintain balance within the body in many ways. Among other things, the endocannabinoid system has an effect on motor learning and memory, appetite, the stress response, and pain sensation. There is some evidence that CBD has an effect on certain types of cancer cells (when pure CBD is applied directly to the cells) and epilepsy.

CBD can hook up with some of the types of receptors in the endocannabinoid system. Depending on what it interacts with and how, CBD can have a variety of effects in the body. This article has a chart (scroll down to Figure 2) that explains what CBD does and how it does it. Some scientists hypothesize that endocannabinoid deficiency is the root cause of multiple diseases, including fibromyalgia. Despite the blooming market for CBD products, we still don’t fully understand how the human endocannabinoid system works.

It is Legal? Yes, but also Maybe No.

When Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which included a provision making industrial hemp legal, the entire CBD industry let out a cheer: hemp-derived CBD is legal! Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true. It might seem odd if you work outside the world of highly-regulated industries (wait, hemp is legal but a component of hemp is not?). If you are sincerely interested in the nitty-gritty, I highly recommend you follow the status reports issued by the American Herbal Products Association. Without getting too far into the weeds, here are the highlights following the 2018 Farm Bill:

  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not have authority over hemp, cultivation of hemp, or hemp products (which includes plants, plant parts, and plant derivatives). This is because the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the “controlled substances” list (and that’s what the DEA controls).
  • Each state has the opportunity to assert primary regulatory authority over hemp. (Remember how the federal government only gets the powers enumerated in the Constitution, and the rest are reserved to the States? This is a little bit like that.) To take primary control, each state has to submit a “hemp plan” to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). If a state does not submit a “hemp plan,” that state’s hemp is regulated by USDA.
  • Hemp is no longer a controlled substance under federal law, which means hemp ingredients MAY be used in food, dietary supplements, cosmetics, and personal care products sold across state lines…but not necessarily right now. (See below.) You still can’t sell marijuana across state lines, and that includes CBD derived from marijuana. (I’m just the messenger–don’t tell me that makes no sense.)
  • Hemp ingredients are subject to the same regulations as other herbal ingredients. Those regulations include rules about production facilities, labels, “serious adverse effect” reports, and more.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken the position that CBD cannot be added to foods sold over state lines, and that CBD can’t be a dietary supplement. Sound wrong, since hemp is legal now? It’s because the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) has a rule that any article being investigated or approved as a drug is forbidden from being marketed as a supplement or added to any food, and there are several CBD-based drugs under investigation with the FDA by a company called GW Pharmaceuticals plc. (In Jun 2018 the FDA approved the first CBD medication, Epidiolex, for the treatment of seizures associated with rare/severe forms of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.)
  • Ironic, right? The fact that there is evidence CBD has health benefits means it can’t be used in OTC health products yet? Slow your roll. The FDA is trying to find a way to both permit CBD in food and supplements, while preserving the financial incentives for companies to study potential pharmaceutical use. The most likely solution is to put a limit on the concentration or dosage of CBD in non-pharmaceuticals.
  • The FDA does have the power to use its rule-making authority to allow CBD use in food and supplements, it has to actually act to make that happen. Right now, don’t hold your breath…though some legislators have noted that the FDA really ought to do something, given that CBD products are readily available despite the lack of rules.
  • AHPA noted “Immediately following the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, the FDA Commissioner issued a statement noting that the legislation preserves FDA’s current authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds, and indicated that such ingredients–including hemp and hemp derivatives, such as CBD–will be treated as the agency treats any other FDA-regulated products.”

FDA Commissioner Gottlieb resigned a few months after the 2018 Farm Bill passed. As a result, a great deal remains up in the air. There is a significant possibility the new commissioner may have completely different priorities, and ignore Commissions Gottlieb’s stated intent to reform DSHEA (the act regulating supplements) and act on the hemp provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Hemp Hearts are shelled hemp seeds–no CBD content implied

Further, the nebulous state of the law on CBD products means there is no uniform labeling language used on all products. The hazy state of the law has led some companies to label their products as “hemp extract” instead of “CBD.” This has the benefit, potentially, of not being regulated as a “CBD” product (definitely a benefit in states where CBD is state-regulated and illegal) but the downside of not clearly stating the component parts (e.g. how much CBD, how much other phytocannabinoids, how much plant terpenes?), as well as making it difficult to compare products across brands.

If you’re interested in hemp, you might want to keep an eye on the various hemp industry groups’ websites, or join their mailing lists. In addition to the AHPA, there is also the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which is championing the U.S. Hemp Authority Certification; the Hemp Industries Association; and for basic education, keep on eye on the annual Hemp History Week.

By the way, if you’re not in the United States? The law is probably more clear. CBD is legal in the UK, Europe, Canada, and Japan

Limits on Self-Experimentation.

Before I launch into my review of White Cedar Naturals and my experience with the product, I think it is important to acknowledge that self-experimentation has limits. The placebo effect–basically the idea that your brain can convince your body that a fake treatment is real–exists and is recognized by all serious medical authorities, including Harvard Medical School. This is why “double blind” studies–whee neither the participant nor the researcher know which study participants receive the investigational medicine and which receive a placebo–are the gold standard for peer-reviewed research. In taking a product for a test-drive, there is no way to conduct such a study, and no way to separate my potential expectations from my experiences.

In general, prior to trying any hemp-derived product I was cautious. I read as much as I could find in both general advertising from CBD companies, as well as the published peer-reviewed research on PubMed. Because many compounds remain active in the body long after they are taken–that’s part of how many anti-depressants work, which is why they have an “on ramp” and “off ramp” dosage for starting and stopping–I conducted my first experiments on the weekend, and made sure I did not have to operate heavy machinery or drive. (Just about every medication I have taken says not to drive or operate heavy machinery until you know how it affects you, so that just seemed like a smart thing to do.)

Photo courtesy of White Cedar Naturals

Introducing White Cedar Naturals

When I was first approached by White Cedar Naturals they had a website, but the only way to purchase products was via their Amazon store. I read every word on the website, as well as the studies linked in support of product claims. While I wasn’t particularly impressed with the initial website–remember, I’m both a skeptic and the daughter of an English teacher–I provided detailed, extensive feedback to the representative who reached out to me. That feedback ranged from “you’re missing a comma here” to “the summary of that study is misleading, because it implies that it applies to taking hemp extract orally but the study was conducted by putting CBD directly onto tumor cells.” I was extremely impressed when 100% of my feedback was incorporated into the updated (much prettier!) website. The updated website has much clearer, more accurate language (in my opinion).

I liked that the hemp plants used by White Cedar Naturals are sourced from specific farms in Kentucky, from a specific breed of plant (“Cherry”). While I have no facts regarding how this affects quality or efficacy, to me it shows that the company cares about the source ingredients (as opposed to buying whatever is cheapest on the market). Like the majority of companies, White Cedar Naturals does not disclose who does its third-party testing but it does state that all products are tested. (Third-party testing is testing done outside of the company by an independent lab.)

I also liked the idea that the White Cedar Naturals oils are made from both cold-pressed raw hemp extract (from the entire plant) and cold-pressed hemp seed oil. While I have found absolutely no scientific support for this, in my mind I compare it to apples: drinking apple juice does not give a body the same nutrition as eating the whole apple, or eating applesauce; juice has none of the fiber, and may be missing other unstudied plant components.

Finally, I really like that the White Cedar Naturals website has a solid FAQ aimed at the non-expert consumer. You can check that out here.

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My Personal Experimentation and Opinion

This is MY experience. I am not a doctor or a medical professional. I cannot predict how your body will react, nor do I attempt to do so.

Prior to trying White Cedar Naturals full spectrum hemp extract (the 300mg product) I had tried only one other CBD oil. Frankly, it tasted like the smell of old gym socks and I gulped that product down while trying to avoid it touching my tongue. The package of the White Cedar Naturals oil described it as “cinnamint” flavor, and directed me to hold the oil under my tongue before swallowing. (Sublingual–under the tongue–absorption is recommended for a variety of products, including the vitamin B12 supplement I take. The idea is that some component of the product dissolves or is warmed or otherwise made available to absorption into the bloodstream via the tissues under your tongue. If you look under your tongue, you can see the network of blood vessels there.) Much to my surprise, the cinnamint flavor is quite pleasant. A little mint, a little cinnamon. Not too pungent. Not too tingly. Most important: no old gym socks flavor.

The first Friday night I tried White Cedar Naturals, I tried two droppers-full. I wasn’t feeling particularly agitated or sleepless, but was hoping the hemp extract would allow me to fall asleep (and more important: STAY asleep!) and have a solid sleep that night. I did. I can’t be sure that was due solely to the hemp extract (you can’t conduct a double-blind study on yourself), but honestly for that kind of sleep I don’t care if it was a placebo!

I also conducted the next several trials on weekend nights. (Just in case. Always better to be cautious.) In my experience, one dropper post-workout helped my muscles relax a wee bit more post-workout during the warm shower. In my experience, two droppers is about right for an average night for sleeping soundly. I did try three droppers on a few nights when I was feeling agitated, overstimulated, or too “wide awake” to sleep, and that seemed to work fine. Each time when I awoke the next morning I felt well-rested, had no memory of disrupted sleep, and did not feel groggy or have any of the slowness that I associate with sleep-aid medications. I felt absolutely zero effects that I would describe as a “high.” Instead I felt just a little more relaxed, and slept quite well.

If you are looking for a solid hemp extract product from a company that cares about the quality of its products, White Cedar Naturals is worth your attention and is a solid candidate for your first hemp-derived product.  White Cedar Naturals has a  90-day 100% satisfaction guarantee, and (based solely on my own experience) is very responsive to questions. (To me, that’s a virtue. If you can’t be bothered to give me satisfactory answers to my genuine questions, you don’t deserve my money or my patronage.) I’m excited to try their chocolates!

For more sane resources on CBD and hemp:

I also highly recommend searching PubMed (which comprises more than 29 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books) for published, peer-reviewed studies on CBD and hemp extract, especially if you are trying to evaluate the evidence to support a product’s claim that “CBD can help with condition X.”

On the THIRD Day of Christmas–yes, the Third Day…go ahead and google that, I can wait…I offer you a post about OATS. (Better than three French Hens, and easier to prepare, too.)

Why Oats?

Earlier this year, I used my first Inside Tracker test. (I’m reminded of this as I am about to take the next one on Friday.) Inside Tracker tests your blood for certain biomarkers–including the ones your doctor is interested in, such as triglycerides and cholesterol. Each is assigned to green (optimized), yellow (needs work), and red (take action immediately). Based on the results of the blood testing, as well as your goal input, Inside Tracker recommends specific actions you can take to improve those biomarkers (for example, to lower your cholesterol). These actions include food and supplement recommendations to move your biomarkers into the green zone.

One of the foods Inside Tracker recommended for me? Old fashioned rolled oats. Inside Tracker described the purpose like this: “Oats are high in soluble fiber, which can reduce cholesterol levels and raise HDL. A serving is 1/2 cup raw or 1 cup cooked. Enjoy one serving each day.” Being the nerd I am, I immediately started in on the research.

Nature's Path Love Crunch
Nature’s Path Love Crunch, like many granolas, features rolled oats as the main ingredient

Dietary Fiber: Soluble v. Insoluble v. Resistant Starch

First, let’s talk fiber. As I recall, fiber only had two types when I took my freshman nutrition class, but now there are three? Actually, that depends on which source you consult. (If you’re truly interested, the Wikipedia entry on Dietary Fiber breaks it all down for you.) Dietary fiber comes from plants: fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.  In general, dietary fiber is a carbohydrate component of food that cannot be completely broken down by your digestive system.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and makes a gel-like substance. According to the Mayo Clinic, soluble fiber is helpful in controlling blood sugar and can help reduce cholesterol. Sources of soluble fiber: oats, barley, flaxseed, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruit, carrots, psyllium. As the FDA points out, soluble fiber is broken down by bacteria in the intestines, and does provide some calories to the body as a result.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. This is the fiber that makes up the bulk of feces. It helps move material through your digestive system. Sources of insoluble fiber: whole wheat, wheat bran, beans, cauliflower, green beans. This type of fiber passes through the body undigested, and is not a source of calories.

Resistant starch is a type of insoluble fiber. It can be fermented in the gut. Resistant Starch develops during the heating and then cooling of some foods such as potato, pasta, and rice; it also exists in raw bananas. There are also some grains that were developed specifically for their high resistant starch levels including high amylose corn and high amylose wheat. Foods high in resistant starch often have a low glycemic index, which means they have a relatively lower impact on blood glucose levels.

Sources of fiber. For a list of foods that are good sources of fiber, check out this list by Today’s Dietician.

In addition to positive affects on blood sugar and cholesterol, dietary fiber also regulates bowel movements, and helps create a sense of satiety so you feel fuller when eating less than you would (if you only had low-fiber foods). Fiber also slows the passage of food through the digestive system, which helps you feel full longer after you eat. Researchers are looking at the effects of a high-fiber diet on risk for colon cancer, and how fiber affects the microbiota in the gut, which has implications for obesity prevention. (PubMed has at least a dozen articles on this research.)

All About Oats

As a vegetarian, of course I appreciate fiber–most of what I eat should fall into the high-fiber category, right? Well, not exactly. Processing affects the amount of fiber in foods–and grain processing often removes the fiber! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Oat basics. According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Oats, formally named Avena sativa, is a type of cereal grain from the Poaceae grass family of plants. The grain refers specifically to the edible seeds of oat grass[.]” Their page on oats states oats are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, phosphorus, thiamine (also called vitamin B1), magnesium, and zinc. For more, check out Harvard’s page on oats.

More about oats.Oats require a cold climate to grow. Oats do not exist as a Genetically Modified Organism or GMO, so if you are buying oats that have a non-GMO label, you’re paying extra for that label which could be applied to every oat in the universe. Oats themselves have no gluten, and are therefore gluten-free. However, if you have Celiac Disease you should proceed with caution and only purchased oats that are certified gluten-free. This is because (1) oats can be contaminated if they are grown on a field that previously had a gluten-containing crop on them, and (2) oats processed in a facility that also processes gluten-containing products may be cross-contaminated.  (Thanks to the Prairie Oat Growers Association for this data.) Finally, there is some evidence that some people with Celiac Disease may have adverse reactions to oats. This may be because oats contain a protein called avenin, which is similar to gluten.

Types of oats. The Oldways Whole Grains Council has a wealth of information on oats, and has photographs of each of the types of oats, which is helpful in understanding the difference.

  • Whole Oat Groats are the entire grain kernel. They take a long time to cook, and are usually only found in health food stores. If you harvest oats and then take off the hull, that’s a whole oat groat.
  • Steel Cut Oats are whole oat groats that have been cut into pieces (using steel, right?). Irish Oatmeal is steel cut oats.
  • Stone Ground Oats are whole oat groats that have been ground up using stones (traditionally) instead of cut with blades. This results in smaller pieces and a creamier texture when cooked. Scottish Oatmeal is stone ground oats.
  • Rolled Oats are whole oat groats that have been steamed and then smashed flat. This turns them into flakes. When you see oats in oatmeal cookies, those are usually rolled oats. Rolled oats are also called old fashioned oats.
  • Quick Oats and Instant Oats are rolled oats that have been steamed longer and/or ironed into thinner flakes. This makes them cook faster, but changes the texture. Quick oats/instant oats ARE whole oats, and therefore a whole grain.
  • Oat Flour is whole oat groats that have been ground into a flour.

Some non-whole grain forms of oats include oat germ and oat bran. Prior to doing this research, I didn’t realize that rolled oats and quick oats have the same exact content as stone ground oats! Did you?

Research on the benefits of oats

Harvard’s page on Oats (linked above) identifies all sorts of neat health benefits:

  • Beta-glucan (the primary type of soluble fiber inoats) slows digestion, increases feelings of fullness, and suppresses appetite
  • Beta-glucan can bind to cholesterol and help move it out of the body
  • Phenolic compounds and phytoestrogens are antioxidants that reduce chronic inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes

The Harvard page also identifies specific studies about oats and heart disease, diabetes, weight control, and digestive health. The Whole Grains Council—which has more of an interest in promoting the health benefits of oats than Harvard’s School of Public Health—has a page with descriptions and links to studies that reach the following conclusions about oats and health:

  • Oats may reduce asthma in children
  • Oats may boost nutrition in gluten-free diets
  • Oats increase appetite-control hormones
  • Oat beta glucans improve immune system defenses
  • Oats help cut the use of laxatives
  • Oats may help reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Oats may improve insulin sensitivity
  • Oats lower bad cholesterol
  • Oats help control blood pressure

Adventures in Oats!

Since eating more oatmeal cookies would make me happy but not necessarily advance my health goals, and I don’t have time to cook steel cut oats every morning, I looked into other ways to eat more oats. My initial foray into making “overnight oats” via an online recipe turned out to be…disgusting, in a word.

Oats Overnight items included in the prize
Oats Overnight Blender Bottle and individual serving packets

Oats Overnight.

Since my own overnight oats were terrible, I decided to try some pre-packaged ones. Unlike other types of overnight oats, Oats Overnight is intended to be drinkable. The main ingredient is whole rolled oats. Preparation involves putting a packet into a Blender Bottle minus the plastic blender ball, and adding milk or a liquid of your choice. Pop it in the fridge overnight and poof! Breakfast! Pros:  Added protein. Easy to prepare. There are now a variety of flavors including three vegan options that use pea protein. The oats are certified gluten-free. The “classic” flavors are made with whey protein and the mocha flavor has caffeine. Shaker bottle can be reused an infinite number of times (unless you leave it somewhere hot with milk still in it, in which case the plastic might take on a permanent odor). Cons: If you like to chew your breakfast, this is not your best option. Individual serving packets are not recyclable.

 

Maker Oats
Maker Oats five-pack and glass jar (not included in giveaway prize)

Maker Oats.

Another type of overnight oats, the Maker Oats starter kit comes with a glass jar, but you could easily use any jar (so long as you don’t add too much liquid). Similar to Oats Overnight, you put a packet in the jar, add your milk or plant-based milk, shake, and stick it in the fridge. Poof! Breakfast! The main ingredient is thick cut rolled oats. The consistency is much thicker and more substantial than Oats Overnight. The starter set includes a jar and packets, otherwise you buy a box with packets. Pros: Thick, spoonable oats. If you like them hot, you could easily heat them in their jar (just watch out as glass gets hot). You may find that a single “serving” is enough for two breakfasts. Maker Oats also contain chia seeds. Cons: So far there are only three flavors, so you might get bored. No added protein, so if you use plant-based milk or nut milk this is not a high-protein breakfast. If you have Celiac Disease, these may not be your best choice as they are not certified gluten-free. Like the others, individual serving packets are not recyclable. To date, these are my favorite!

Bob's Red Milll products
Bob’s Red Mill single serve oatmeal and muesli samples

Bob’s Red Mill.

I live in Oregon–how could I not love employee-owned Bob’s? Bob’s Red Mill makes a variety of products containing oats. There are single-serve oatmeal cups (pineapple coconut, fruit and seed, cranberry orange, classic, and gluten-free varieties: blueberry hazelnut, brown sugar & maple, apple cinnamon oatmeal) and bagged multi-serve oatmeal (regular rolled oats, thick rolled oats, steel cur oats, Scottish oatmeal, old fashioned rolled oats, quick rolled oats, and several gluten-free varieties). Pros: multiple options, including both flavored oatmeal and plan oats. Sign up for the mailing list and get coupons by mail. If you’re not into oatmeal, you can try the museli, which also contains oats. Most of the oatmeals also contain flax and chia seeds. Cons: the flavored varieties tend to be higher in sugar than either Maker Oats or Oats Overnight. The single-serve cup packaging is not reusable.

 

The Soulfull Project
The Soulfull Project: eats for me and a donation too? WINNING.

The Soulfull Project.

The Soulfull Project is a certified B-Corporation. The Soulfull Project’s cereals are all multi-grain; as far as I can tell, they all have rye, oats, quinoa, flax, and chia (but I didn’t examine every label so this might not be 100% true). Their big selling point is that for every serving they sell, they donate a serving to a food bank or other community-based group fighting hunger by providing meals, and you can see where their donations go on the website. The Soulfull Project products come in single-serve cups, 5-packs of single servings in plastic bags, and in multi-serving pouches. Pros: All of the products are vegan. Some products are certified gluten-free. If you don’t add too much liquid, the resulting cereal is thick and sticks to your spoon. Single-serve plastic cups might be recyclable (depending on where you live). Cons: The flavored products tend to be higher in sugar than Maker Oats and Overnight Oats (up to 12 grams of sugar).

The Giveaway!

There is ONE prize pack up for grabs to one winner with a United States mailing address. (Sorry international friends, but postage is dear and I don’t know what the rules are for shipping food to various other countries.) This prize is not sponsored by any company or brand, though I received some (but not all) of the contents at trade shows. Contents:

  • Oats Overnight Blender Bottle and 4 individual packets (chocolate peanut butter banana, strawberries & cream, green apple cinnamon, peach upside down cake) (retail value: $22.00)
  • Maker Oats, apple & coconut (one serving package) (retail: $2.00)
  • The Soulfull Project 4 Grain Blend, full size (retail: $6.50)
  • Bob’s Red Mill Oatmeal cup (cranberry orange one serving package)
  • Bob’s Red Mill Fruit & Seed Muesli, 2 servings (one serving packages)
  • Grandy Oats original Coconola coonut granola, grain free (sample size)
  • Better Oats Steel Cut Oats, maple & brown sugar (one serving)
  • Nature’s Path Love Crunch dark chocolate and red berries (sample packet)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: Merrithew Health & Fitness sponsored Sweat Pink’s BlogFest at IDEA World Convention for several years, and I am thankful for their sponsorship and for the programming they provided. The prizes for this giveaway were provided to me by Merrithew Health & Fitness as part of Sweat Pink’s BlogFest with no strings, no compensation, and no requirements (e.g I was not asked to write a blog post, host a giveaway, or do anything else). The entire contents of this post, including all words and opinions, are my own honest opinions.

Hey, it’s time to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas! “Wait,” you may be asking, “wasn’t Christmas yesterday?” Indeed, it was! The Twelve Days of Christmas are actually the twelve days in between Christmas (the First Day of Christmas) and the day Christians celebrate as the day the magi (the three wise men/three kings) arrived, also called Epiphany. Traditionally, the last of the twelve days was the day you took down the Christmas decorations (I swear, I am not making this up). You know Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night? That’s about the twelfth night of Christmas. But enough of the history lesson…On the SECOND day of Christmas, I offer you this review and giveaway!

Merrithew Fitness Circle Lite (image from Merrithew website)

The Pilates Fitness Circle. If you’ve ever looked at a Pilates Fitness Circle and thought, “that’s a weird gadget that I can’t imagine doing much for me,” I’m with you—I used to think the same thing. (Pilates Fitness Circle Resistance Ring is a trademark of Merrithew Health and Fitness. You may also have seen a similar gadget called by another name: Pilates ring, magic circle, exercise circle, exercise ring.) Even in my Pilates classes, the Fitness Circle was largely used to help with body placement and awareness. It never occurred to me that the Fitness Circle had a role to play in athletic conditioning.

Workout. I took the DVD “Athletic Conditioning with the Fitness Circle” for a test drive, using the Fitness Circle lite. (The Merrithew Fitness Circle also comes in two other models, flex and Pro. Flex provides less resistance and has a unique handle design that differs from the lite and the Pro. Pro is similar in design to lite, but is made of steel instead of plastic; as a result, the price for the Pro is $65.00 while the price for the lite is $34.99. It’s also a bit heavier than the lite.)  This workout is part of Merrithew’s CORE line, focused on athletic conditioning and performance training, so it is not strictly Pilates. According to Moira Merrithew, who introduces the workout, the 27 exercises in the workout are focused on strength, alignment, and efficient biomechanics. I now have an entirely new outlook on the Fitness Circle (and I’m glad I have one of my own!).

Athletic Conditioning with the Fitness Circle (image from Merrithew website)

The workout is led by John Garey, a Master Instructor Trainer for Merrithew Health and Fitness. Two additional Merrithew Instructor Trainers (meaning they train teachers to teach the classes) demonstrate all of the exercises. John’s instruction is clear and detailed, carefully explaining body positioning and movement step-by-step. If you have never done any Pilates or mat-work style exercise before, you’re in good hands with John—just follow his instructions. Of course it is a video, so if you miss an instruction, you can take a look at the movement on the screen and follow along. That said, if these exercises are new to you, there are some exercises you may have a difficult time performing at the same tempo/speed as the DVD. I found this true of the hinge-back with rotation exercise.

The warm-up uses the Fitness Circle to assist with some stretches that may already be familiar to you. Throughout the workout, the Fitness Circle acts as a replacement for a yoga strap in some stretches, which limits both the range of motion (in a good way—making the stretch more stable) and the amount of tension on the wrists and forearms.

DVD and Fitness Circle lite
CORE Athletic Conditioning with the Fitness Circle (and a Fitness Circle lite)

I was skeptical of the “Level of Difficulty” rating, which is four out of five. That is, until about five minutes into the workout, when there is a series of kneeling hinge-backs that incorporate the Fitness Circle. (A “hinge-back” from the kneeling position involves keeping everything from your knees to the top of your head in a line, and taking that line straight back to a 45 degree angle.) Holy quads and abs! Several of the exercises involve using the Fitness Circle either between your ankles (pressing in on the Fitness Circle) or with both feet inside the Fitness Circle (pressing out). I found these more difficult than they looked, as one of my legs is clearly bossier than the other! I enjoyed the variations on classic Pilates exercises, including a modified version of The Hundred and a version of Shoulder Bridge where you press one arm behind you on the Fitness Circle.

What really kicked my butt, however, were the single leg bridge variations. The gist of the exercise is to press up into a bridge pose, then lift one leg while pressing the Fitness Circle into that leg. My other hamstring was ON FIRE. So much so that I couldn’t do even half of the set on either leg. WHOA.

While I am currently not at my optimal level of fitness, I found this DVD very accessible with an appropriate level of challenge. Given my experience teaching yoga to very muscular men, I strongly suspect that serious athletes (like CrossFit junkies) would find at least parts of this program very useful in conditioning smaller muscles that don’t get much love during a typical workout, such as the multifidus, and for the range of motion and movement principles.

Brand new to Pilates type movements? The DVD includes a tutorial on the Five Basic Principles (Breathing, Pelvic Placement, Rib Cage Placement, Scapular Movement & Stabilization, and Head & Cervical [spine] Placement).

Merrithew yellow soft hand weights
Soft hand weights can be incorporated into many yoga and Pilates exercises

Merrithew also offers additional DVDs that use the Fitness Circle as the only prop, including Fitness Circle Flow, the Fitness Circle Challenge, Power Paced Fitness Circle, and Precision & Control: Pilates with the Fitness Circle. If you prefer a workout that incorporates a reformer or more props, you can find more titles on the Merrithew website. Finally, there are a variety of other brands/companies/individuals that produce video content that incorporates the Fitness Circle and you can find many other options online.

 

 

 

This prize pack includes:

  • Merrithew Fitness Circle Lite in black (MSRP $34.99)
  • Athletic Conditioning with the Fitness Circle DVD (MSRP $16.95)
  • Merrithew Soft Dumbbells 1.65 pound each (MSRP $23.99)
  • Miscellaneous treats and surprises
Bain's cat checks out the goodies
Professor Nick Sterling has thoroughly inspected the prizes!

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Disclosure: I received advance access to the e-book version of Following Fit in exchange for my feedback and honest review. The author also graciously offered a copy of the printed book, which is the prize in this giveaway. All of the words and opinions in this post are my own.

Following Fit book cover
Available now in Kindle format, coming soon in print!

When I started to read Following Fit, I knew from the first pages of the introduction that I was going to rip through this book like college kids rip through a bag of Doritos. Like Kristen Perillo, I was a “bread thief” (and even had extra rolls and a tiny amount of butter instead of dessert in the no-fat, high-carb 90s). I also dropped athletic pursuits early. We had the same early experiences with self-imposed perfectionism and anything less than 100% meaning failure. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you’ll recognize parts of your own life in Kristen’s story, too.

Like blogs? You’ll love the book. This book evolved from Kristen’s former blog, so it is written in bite-sized pieces. Each short chapter tells part of the story, and could stand alone as an essay. I could see an English class using this book as a study in essays, one chapter each week; I could see reading one chapter each night as a light and easy read before bed. Her commentary on how popular media treat the female body in a number of contexts is particularly on point.

It’s not just about the fitness. Even if you’re not an avid reader of health and fitness books, there’s something in here for you. This book touches on the very personal meanings of concepts like commitment, worthiness, motivation, health, and failure. I particularly enjoyed that several of the sections focused on fitness myths (e.g. “women should never lift weights over five pounds”), and how even a basic non-professional knowledge of weight lifting allowed Kristen to connect with her male high school students. Ultimately this is less a book about fitness, and more a book about identity and self-knowledge.

It’s not a “how to” book. Unlike many books in the health/fitness/healthy-diet space, this is not a how-to. Kristen does not pretend she has all the answers, or dole out advice claiming it is “one size fits all.” Instead, Kristen tells HER story—not in the social media highlights-reel-only style, instead including the parts of her life that film editors would leave on the cutting room floor. The scenes of lost motivation, feelings of disconnection between mind and body, and looking back on past choices and habits and wishing they were different are all a part of life, and all included in the book. One of the chapters I found most challenging to read was about Kristen’s decision to transition away from vegetarianism (being a vegetarian myself, and being constantly told this is “just a phase” punches my buttons to this day). It’s clear that this was the very best choice for her, and as I read through her process I found myself internally finding more empathy for my friends who are ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians. (I have always maintained that it’s not my job to decide what eating pattern is best for your body; the “I was vegetarian for x years” comments feed into my annoyance with the whole “just a phase” thing.)

Author, Teacher, Certified Personal Trainer: Kristen Perillo

Kristen is not one of those “fake experts.” I also really appreciated how—unlike most fitness bloggers—Kristen consistently reminds the reader she’s not a medical professional, sticks to facts when writing about medical issues, and always consults a medical professional when it is appropriate for her. If other bloggers learned nothing else from her book but this, she’d be doing a massive service to the fitness community. If her readers learned nothing beyond “hey, this is the pattern that reliable, legitimate bloggers follow,” again, that’s a massive service to the fitness community.

It’s not all sunshine and unicorns. Throughout the book, Kristen keeps it real. As a blogger myself, I’m sure she had plenty of material to work with and had to pick and choose which posts would become book chapters and which would be omitted. Yet instead of showing only the shiny happy moments, Kristen also shares her struggles with gaining weight due to binge eating, frustrations with a post-surgery shoulder that isn’t as strong as she would like, and nerves before her first session working as a personal trainer.

Just Read It. Following Fit is a delightful departure from the books that dominate the health and fitness market. I highly recommend this book, and wouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself re-reading sections, or making notes in the margins and at the end of each chapter. Wherever YOU are in your relationship with yourself, this book will remind you that you are not alone. More important, you are fine just where you are.

Where to get it. Following Fit is on my Amazon list of books for runners (affiliate link). Once you’ve read it, why not leave a review on GoodReads? If you want to learn more about Kristen, check out her website. Or follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Win Yours Here!

Rules: This giveaway is NOT sponsored by anyone or anything. You must have a mailing address in the United States or Canada to enter. (Sorry, international readers–postage overseas is killer.) Entries will be verified, so please follow the instructions. Winner will be notified by email and have a reasonable amount of time to respond and claim the prize. Winner must be patient! The printed book has not yet been released! You’ll get it when I get it, grasshopper.

 

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Disclosure: As a Sweat Pink member, I received an ActivMotion Bar for review purposes via Fit Approach. ActivMotion is also offering you a 25% discount (read on for details). Per my editorial policy, all of the opinions in this review are my own honest thoughts. 

If you’ve been to a Flywheel class, you’ve used one of the half-sized Body Bar to do the arm exercises in class. If you belong to a gym, you may have seen or used a full-length Body Bar in group ex class or with a trainer. The ActivMotion Bar start with the idea of a bar as a workout tool and ups the game: instead of a solid weighted bar with a rubber exterior, the ActivMotion Bar is a weighted bar composed of a hollow tube and metal balls inside. The exterior is metal, though there are rubber end caps so you don’t scratch the floor. When the ActivMotion Bar is level, the balls come to rest in the center. Change the angle even a wee bit and the balls start to slide, shifting the weight of the bar and challenging your balance and coordination!

I’ve played with ActivMotion Bars at the last few IDEA World conferences. Since I have the natural balance abilities of a drunken toddler, I was too shy to enter. My friend Sarah entered one of their IDEA World challenge sessions, during which participants go through a variety of movements and then hold a static position while holding the ActivMotion Bar horizontal with one hand. It’s MUCH harder than it looks! I was thrilled to get my hands on one to use at home–where I can work on my horrible balance with only myself laughing!–and trust me, you want one too.

ActivMotion Bar, 15# in my hand

First, the basics. According to creator Derek Mikulski, “The ActivMotion Bar was developed to provide an external stimulus that forces us to focus more on mind-muscle connection and to engage the core as we stabilize an unstable load, helping improve every aspect of fitness.” Derek, inspired to help others after losing 80 pounds changed his life, invented ActivMotion Bar as a tool to help his personal training clients.  Being a Michigan native, I’ve also got a soft spot for any innovation that comes out of Detroit–but I’d be an ActivMotion Bar fan no matter where it came from! (Want a peek at the new HQ in Sterling Heights? Check out the September video newsletter.)

ActivMotion Bar comes in a variety of weights, from 3 pounds to 18 pounds. As the bar gets heavier, it gets thicker in circumference, not longer. There is also a new bar called the ActivMotion Glimpse Bar, which has a clear window in the center so you can see the rolling balls, and use visual input to help you maintain the horizontal position. (Whether this makes things harder or easier is up for debate!) I opted to try the 15 pound bar, and so far it is PLENTY heavy enough for me. My bar arrived in a sturdy cardboard tube, with the end caps reinforced with tape (otherwise the weight of the bar would easily bust through).

Don’t be fooled by the relatively low weight. If you’re used to doing your upright row or biceps curl with 20 pounds in each hand, that 18 pound bar is still going to kick your butt in new and interesting ways. The unstable weight forces your body to recruit more core muscles for balance, and as the weight shifts during difference exercises you can feel your body engaging slightly different parts of each muscle. For example, the first exercise I tried was a standing upright row. I can do this with a decent amount of weight on a standard barbell, or with a dumbbell in each hand. What I can’t tell using those tools is just how much I favor my right side–the balls started rolling left as soon as I began moving! This immediately required me to engage core muscles to maintain my upright position, as well as give more with my left arm. It sounds incredible to say the ActivMotion Bar engages 173% more muscles than the same activity done with a stable weight, but I believe it (and there is a 2015 University of Michigan study to back that claim).

When you buy an ActivMotion Bar, you get four free workouts (provided as digital downloads, not DVDs–immediate access, no plastic coasters). These include exercises you probably already know, like a biceps curl, but also exercises you might not think to do with the ActivMotion bar. One move I really like to do with the ActivMotin Bar is a variation on yoga’s “boat pose.” When I was teaching classes at Harbor Bay Club I used to up the ante by having everyone hold a light dumbbell and use it to “row the canoe” by twisting to one side and making a dipping motion with the weight, followed by the same movement on the other side. This is significantly more challenging with the ActivMotion Bar! Holding the bar in the center–there are white stripes on the bar for your hand position (approximately shoulder-distance apart)–you take boat pose and then row kayak-style. Each dip of your “oar” causes all the balls to roll to one side, shifting the balance of the bar. Twist while you do this, and you can feel your abs responding to that shift.

You can also purchase IGNITE, which is a 60-day program featuring 15 workouts led by 6 trainers. Each workout is 20-30 minutes, making it easy to fit into your busy schedule. You can download or stream the workouts (again, no plastic coasters). The program comes with a schedule you can follow (so you don’t have to decide which workout to do when), or you can mix it up. There’s also a dietary guide with nutrition information. IGNITE has a 30-day 100% money back guarantee. IGNITE can be purchased with an ActivMotion Bar, or without one (in case like me, you already own one). It’s just $60 to own all the videos ($25 to rent them), which is $1/day if you follow the entire program.

Opting-in to the newsletter guarantees you will receive a wealth of additi0nal information. For example, this week’s newsletter included a link to this video, featuring three variations on a hockey-inspired lateral move. You can find additional videos on the ActivMotion Bar YouTube channel.

Head to the ActivMotion website and use code fitapproach25 to save 25% on your purchase, now through January 7. (Hint: there’s a good pre-Christmas sale on right now–and the discount code stacks!–so don’t wait.)

Want to read what my fellow Sweat Pink Ambassadors thought? I swear, I’m not the only one who loves this fitness tool. Check out these other reviews!

I AM HUMAN.
My body needs exercise.
My body will always need exercise.
This will never change.
It’s not negotiable—it’s science.

The world is filled with workouts and meal plans, most of them making promises that in X amount of time you can achieve Y result (and all you have to do is stop being so lazy and commit already). A quick walk through the exercise and fitness section of any bookstore demonstrates just how popular this formula is: 40 Days to Personal Revolution, 8 Minutes in the Morning… The last thing the world needs is  another book laying out a rigid plan and making promises that “all you have to do” is follow the plan. So Lyn Lindbergh did NOT write that book.

Couch to Active is a book for anyone who wants to transition from couch-ing to exercising. Though the subtitle is “The Missing Link That Takes You From Sedentary to Active,” I personally hate the term “sedentary” as the starting point.  Truthfully, many people who don’t exercise are not sedentary; instead, they are caring for young children or aging parents, working full time at demanding jobs, and otherwise constantly in motion mentally, if not physically. Lyn’s got your back, perfectly normal, average person with a full, busy life, and this book is for you.

Couch to Active–this could be YOU!

The typical fitness book is written with a mixture of tough love (“suck it up, buttercup”) and praise (“you finished today’s workout—see you tomorrow!”) that can leave you feeling bad and discouraged when you can’t follow the plan to a T. Couch to Active is written with compassion and understanding. A big focus of the book is finding self-compassion while creating YOUR exercise plan for life. I can’t really say “it starts with baby steps” because you, the reader, get to decide how big the steps are, but it does start with self-inquiry and the entire program is about tailoring the plan to your actual life (not the hypothetical one where you sleep 8+ hours every night and have a personal Pilates trainer).

The typical fitness book has a plan laid out and orders you to follow it. While this may work for people with an abundance of motivation, energy, and free time, it doesn’t work for the rest of us. Instead of starting with a one-size-fits-most plan, Couch to Active begins with the premise that “We need to actually enjoy the exercise we do.” From there, Lyn skillfully guides you through some basic premises—injury-free is always the goal, social media can be a help or a harm—and then walks you through a step-by-step system to create your active life. Over the span of eight weeks, Couch to Active asks you to think critically and creatively about your life, your needs, and the barriers and obstacles to the active life you want to lead. While the process is broken down into bite-sized pieces distributed over two months, Lyn points out that you can tackle the work at your own speed—take two weeks, take a year—as long as you tackle it in order. If you’re like me and you hate being told what to do, go ahead and read the whole thing before you start—I concluded the process is laid out in a logical fashion that nudges each participant to succeed.

Couch to Active doubles as a workbook and Lyn encourages readers to write in the book. Each chapter is set up as a week with a theme, a worksheet to plan your exercise, and thinking/writing assignments. There is plenty of space to write in the book, including response pages within each chapter. Exercise worksheets, and extra pages for notes, though you may prefer a separate journal for some of the more introspective portions. Each week, the exercise plan is up to you, and Couch to Active is not snobby about what constitutes “exercise,” recognizing that each reader will start in their own place. Instead of formulaic  workout grids with 10 reps of each exercise, Lyn has created templates that reflect different circumstances that might parallel a real person. Instead of beginner, intermediate, and advanced, the samples have names like “I Hate Exercise, But My Doctor Is Making Me Do This” and “I’m a Chronic Mess of Health Issues.”  Similarly, instead of generic checklists, Couch to Active has the reader create checklists tailored to their exact life circumstances.

Couch to Active is peppered with stories from real people, using their real names, though Lyn has also created two composite characters. These are people you can relate to–with jobs and kids and responsibilities–not celebrities with personal trainers on the payroll and unlimited me-time.

You CAN do this!

 

 

Unlike the typical fitness book, the only promise Couch to Active makes is that if you do the work to design your own active life, tailored to your situation and needs, and then follow your plan, you will end up living an active life. That’s the goal: an Active life.

Need some guidance on how to get to YOUR active life? Win a copy of Couch to Active! I have two to give away. Can’t wait to win one? Buy one here (affiliate link) via Amazon. Want a better price? Go to Lyn’s website, https://www.couchtoactive.com/shop  and get the book directly from the author! You can also join the brand new “Couch to Active” club, for just $11/month. More details at Lyn’s website, HERE.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

MARK your calendar NOW! October 3-6, 2019!

Have you run an inaugural race? Many runners I know have a fear of inaugural races, and that fear is not an unfounded one: I’ve heard horror stories about pretty much every aspect of a race that was accidentally neglected the first year. I’ve been lucky so far, with the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, Revel Mt. Charleston, Livermore Half Marathon, and several others under my belt, all of which ran smoothly. The Race? It didn’t just run smoothly, it exceeded all of my expectations as a race—and as an added bonus, I got to pace the 3:30 half marathon!

I Ran The Race! 

One of the Mile Markers

If you missed my pre-race post about The Race, I jumped on board the Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign early. (It wasn’t exactly blind faith, as my friend Jessica knew the race director and key staff and confidently told me they were rock stars who would completely nail it.) Once she offered to let me crash at her pad, I sealed the deal and signed up for VIP. Unfortunately I missed the VIP weekend kick-off party—I do have a “day job” that actually wants me to show up—but from what I saw Thursday night was a lot of fun!

I flew into Atlanta on Friday and landed with enough time to check out the expo, figure out what time it was, eat dinner, and crash. As we walked into the expo, the area where a long line would have waited (if there had been a long line) featured the mile markers: individually painted works of art!

The Expo

Aren’t these cute? How amazing is it that I didn’t buy any?

Packet pickup was fast and easy. There was no line, and it would have taken two minutes to pick up my packet and shirt but Jessica seems to know everyone in the Atlanta running community, so packet pickup was just the first in a series of welcomes and meeting new friends. We also had a good laugh about how Atlanta-area runners had the “Who’s On First?” experience the prior week. (“Are you running this weekend?” “Yes! I’m running The Race!” “Which race?” “The Race!” “Yes, I know you’re racing, but which race?”) VIP included a wristband for the race-day festivities as well as a sweet inaugural backer patch that I sewed onto my jacket. Yes, I know, I “need” another running jacket like I “need” a PhD in astrophysics, but my spidey senses told me I wanted to snag one while the full range of sizes was still available and besides they were so cute. Several weeks later, I’m glad I did—not only did The Race rock, the jacket is perfect for fall weather in Portland. (No surprise, since Leslie Jordan, the jacket manufacturer, is based in Portland.)

Inaugural gear for The Race 2018

The expo was better than most of the race expos I have been to this year. I wasn’t there for the whole thing since I flew in Friday afternoon and I’m still certain it was one of the top expos I’ve been to in the past five years (during which I have run dozens of races). The stage had a series of panels featuring runners and running, with DJ sets in between. The lighting and music permeated the expo and gave it a dance party feel. As promised, the expo featured primarily local, Black-owned businesses–24 of them, to be exact. There were soaps and gorgeously scented bath products by Livy & Sophie, and fabric and fashions by Cam Swank, for example.

Local vendors at the inaugural expo:
Run Social Atlanta
Westview Corner Grocery
Chef Levy
D Café & catering
iwi fresh
Angie O’Neal Designs
Charm City Noir
RocketSports-1
WJR club
Buy From a Black Woman
Wyatt Family Dental
Urb’n Charm Jewelry
The Village Market
Vital Life Chiropractic
Run Host
Natural Fit Designs
Livy & Sofie’s Natural Body Elements
Reggae Runnerz
South Fulton Running Partner
Eco Sneakers
Cam Swank
Yelani
WhitePaws RunMitts
P.S. Beads

There was also a selection of limited edition, inaugural race merch. While I love my boco hats and am a sucker for socks, I successfully managed to purchase only The Race jacket. Gotta leave something for next year, right?

Did I mention I signed up to pace?

The Race Legacy Pace Team for 3:30

A few weeks before The Race, the organizers put out a call for pacers. Since I’m something of a slowpoke, I was really excited to see a 3:30 pacer slot (the course had a 4 hour limit). Of course I volunteered, figuring that I could do a 3:30 without any difficulty. Without consulting the actual race course itself. My co-pacer and I spent the remaining weeks wondering whether the Atlanta hills were as bad as our friends who previewed the course said they were, and whether she would be okay pacing just a week after the Chicago marathon. We talked about using intervals, which we both agreed would be key to managing a slower pace while still eating hills for breakfast. I stopped by the pacer booth at the expo to make sure I understood the race day details and got some insight into the course and its many hills from the locals. I left with a red legacy pacer singlet, and renewed worries that I might just be in over my head, but remained committed to kick as much ass as I could.

Carb-fest and Pre-Race

We grabbed dinner at a local pizza and pasta place called Little Azio, where I carbed it up with some pasta, and then topped it off with ice cream from Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream (salted caramel and dark chocolate chili). I’m no stranger to good quality ice cream—Portland is home to Salt & Straw—but oh boy was that tasty. We turned in early and I crashed like a rock, exhausted from travel and nervously anticipating The Race.

Jessica and I got up early in order to make it to the parking lot and get settled. (I’m glad we did, as a sufficiently large number of people did not, and the last-minute traffic was heavy.) As VIPs, we had access to the warmer inside, as well as the coveted flush toilets. Since we were parked in the lot nearby, we didn’t make use of the gear check, but there was plenty of gear check room: Tate the Great MMoving provided a truck for general gear check, while the VIP area had its own area. Then we headed down to the astroturf area in front of the stage for a warm-up with ___. It was a great way to get moving, and the women from ___ did not blink an eye when the power went out temporarily, cutting their mics—the only “problem” I saw all weekend. Without missing a beat they hopped down onto the grass and finished the workout with us with as much enthusiasm as they’d had when backed by a DJ.

Who Ran The Race?

As a so-white-I-put-on-sunblock-before-the-sun-came-up runner, I was thrilled to be in the minority at The Race. The vision of The Race was awesome and I really, really wanted it to happen exactly like that, not so much for me, or even for the organizers and Atlanta, but for the running community as a whole. (The 1,411 participants were 86% African American, according to The Race’s instagram.) I believe it is important for the running community to not just include anyone who wants to run—regardless of skin tone, regardless of the choice to wear a hijab or a yarmulke—but to create a space where runners are actively welcome, not just the tokens or the Kenyans or the future Black Olympians. (As a side note, I also personally believe it is very important for those who are perceived to be in the American “majority”—which I’ll broad-brushstroke as white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, probably Christian—to have real experience of what it is like to be the minority. There’s just no substitute for experience.)

After hopping by the pacer tent to pick up the 3:30 stick and snap some photos, it was time for the runners to head into the corrals. I was starting to get worried as I hadn’t seen Felicia yet. Runners were divided into three waves: red, green, and black, the colors of the flag of African unity. VIP runners had the option to start in any corral. A full-on drum line marched us into the corrals and they were spectacular! (I took pictures, but the sun wasn’t up yet and the pictures are blurry.) They continued to perform, lining the lead corral on both sides, until it was time for the final pre-race moments.

As the 3:30 pacer, I headed to the back, crossing my fingers and hoping Felicia, who was caught in the later traffic from the host hotel, would make it on time. Immediately I had a bunch of people start asking questions about pacing strategy, and I am quite glad I’d thought this one through. In order to cross in 3:30, we needed to average 16:00/mile. I knew I could do that easily on flattish land running intervals of 2:1 (walk:run) but also knew there were significant hills in two locations, one early in the course, and a few after mile 10, followed by a whopper at mile 12. My plan was to take as many of the early miles as possible at 15:00 in order to bank time for the killer hill at mile 12.  ___ arrived just before the start, and suddenly we were off and running with participants from 34 states.

My First Pace Gig…HILLS FOR BREAKFAST!

Bain Discovers “Rummy Bears”

I’ve been the completely unprepared runner in the back completely relying on the pacer to pull my butt over the finish line. (Thank you, Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles 2013 pace team, with extra mad props to the 3:00 pacer.) As a result, I took my pacing responsibilities VERY seriously. While I wanted to keep as many runners as possible for as long as possible, I also absolutely had to cross the finish line at or before our assigned time—even if no one was with me—because that is what I promised to do. There weren’t a lot of selfies for me at this race, as I alternated between looking around (I’d never been to Atlanta, and it is unlikely I’d stroll through these parts of town as a tourist), looking at my watch, and calling out words of encouragement in between RUN! WALK! and count-downs to switch from one to the other.

Early in the game, Team 3:30 resorted to my first rule of running (“Bain does not run UP hills”) and it’s corollary (“Running downhill with control is an excellent way to find ‘extra’ time”). This kept us almost perfectly on pace at 15:00/mile until almost mile 10. Not knowing exactly how bad the “bad hill” at mile 12 was kept me nervous, but I still had to take care of the people who were relying on us, so I continued to joke around and shout encouragement to the group that had clustered around us. By mile 5 I’m pretty sure I had annoyed the snot out of one group of runners (seriously, I’ve never been that perky that early in the morning!) and was pleasantly surprised that a few had passed us. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is still my best running strategy, followed closely by “if you feel like you’re going to die, find someone who needs your help and focus on getting them to the finish.” By mile 8 I imagine we were the mid-point of the group that had started with us, but we were still nailing 15:00/mile. The aid stations had plenty of staff, serving up water and RED Gatorade. (I have no idea why every race uses yellow, it’s nasty.) I had a bottle of Tailwind in my Orange Mud vest, but gladly accepted some Gatorade at a few points when I knew I needed it.

The hills towards the end were hilly, but not *that* bad…until mile 12. While it wasn’t one of the hills at the Tiburon Half—hills so steep that I literally stopped and laughed when I arrived at the first one!—it was a steep, serious hill. I’m not going to lie, I trudged that one. Felicia and I had made a pact that I’d keep the pace, no matter what, and when we hit that hill her legs—remember she had JUST run the Chicago Marathon not a full week before—started giving her some serious sass. As I trudged I kept my eye on my watch, listening to my own legs squawk and doing bad runner-brain math, convinced I’d blown it until I hit the top of the hill and the last .1 when I realized if I could pull just a little bit more out of my legs I could probably make that 3:30. By that point I was solo, our entire group having already finished or fallen further behind. I sucked it up and attempted a sprint—which looked much more like a jog!—across the finish line.

The Race Legacy Pace Team 3:30 nails it

3:30:5x. BOOM. (Though I didn’t hit “stop” on my watch fast enough, and spent the post-race period thinking I missed it by 0:01:00.)

A Fantastic Finish!

I accepted my medal and then ran back across the finish line to run-in ___, barely a minute or two behind me. The momentary pause in the action gave me the opportunity to meet the race director for The Race, who I’d previously only “met” via the Facebook group for The Race ambassadors.

The sun was shining, the weather was gorgeous, and there was a full-on party! The DJ held court from the stage, with runners sunning themselves and stretching on the faux-grass. Several of the vendors from the expo were in attendance, and there were food trucks and the usual post-race snackage occurring.

The VIP area was delightful and worth every penny. In addition to access to interior seating (and the flushing toilets), VIP had its own food truck! I can’t remember what all of the choices were, but even as a vegetarian I thought the food smelled spectacular. (I enjoyed two vegan tacos so good I licked all the bits that fell off out of the cardboard food boat. If you need a caterer in Atlanta, you seriously should look into ___.) There were also big washtubs of beverages, both beer (I don’t remember what kind—sorry, I don’t drink beer) and La Croix (which I jokingly said was selected to make us white suburbanites feel comfortable). In addition to tables with plenty of seating, the VIP area also had a massage station (first-come, first-served) and plenty of socializing. Even though I’m not from Atlanta, and even though my only Atlanta-friend there was Jessica, I felt really welcome and included. Everyone I met was friendly and kind, which was just icing on the cake after loving The Race itself.

Charitable Impact

While I was exhausted and slept a fairly unreasonable amount both Saturday and Sunday, part of the goal of The Race was to make a positive impact on the historically black areas of Atlanta and the black running community. Money from every registration went to charitable donations, for more than $9,200 donated! The Race supported more than a dozen charities, including:

✓Carrie Steele-Pitts Home
✓ L.I.F.T Organization
✓ Westside Future Fund
✓ A Better Way Ministries
✓ Sylvan Hills Neighborhood
✓ Adair Park Neighborhood
✓ Girls on The Run Atlanta
✓ Metro Atlanta Cycling Club
✓ HBCU Scholarship Fund
✓ Kilometer Kids
✓ Grady High School
✓ Boy Scouts of Atlanta
✓ Stone Mountain High School
✓ TechBridge

Sunday, there were 16 different community impact projects, with runners and others donating more than 600 hours of volunteer service. (The Race itself had 275 volunteers in addition to the runners.)

What About Next Year?

Did I mention there were FREE race photos? And that they were available online the evening of The Race? Yup, it was THAT good.

It’s pretty rare that I don’t have at least a few suggestions to make about any race, and The Race is no different. The only suggestions I have, however, are pretty minor. One, I would love to see shuttles from the host hotel to the start/finish since so many out-of-towners stayed there. This would alleviate the pressure on traffic and parking, in addition to being easier for those unfamiliar with the area. Two, the race course could have used some porta-potties. I never needed one, so I was never looking for one, though I did see a few runners dashing out of gas stations (where I assume they made use of the facilities). Third, the mile markers could use a slightly more sophisticated set-up. (They were taped to sticks that stood up in traffic cones.) That’s it. Those are my only “complaints.” I loved everything else, from the course (even the hills), to the graphic design on the shirts and gear, to the atmosphere, to the free race photos (yup, free!).

The Race weekend continued on Sunday with community service projects and a post-race block party. Despite the compression socks, my legs just would not get me out of bed that morning so our day had a slow start and I missed the service projects. The remainder of my time in Atlanta was spent celebrating Pride with brunch and a killer view of the parade, before jaunting off to the airport. I understand the block party was a blast, though my legs were glad to be sitting most of Sunday.

In short, The Race rocked. If the inaugural was this good, I can’t wait to see what the Second Annual looks like!

Registration Opens on Black Friday! Stay tuned to www.theraceuc.com for more information, or follow The Race on instagram.

Another Mile Marker from The Race: Sign Up for 2019 on Black Friday!

 

Disclosure: this is NOT a sponsored post. I’m not receiving any compensation, and the giveaway isn’t sponsored either. While I am attended BlogFest at IDEA World for free thanks to our generous sponsors, so did everyone else.

Welcome to Zumba
Zumba Instructors Convention, 2014

It all started with Zumba. If you’ve met me and we’ve spent a sufficient amount of time hanging out, you know it’s true: I cannot dance my way out of a paper bag. But back when Zumba was first taking the fitness world by storm, I really wanted to be good at it. In fact wanting to “be good at it” initially held me back from attending Zumba classes–I was afraid I’d be so bad as to be distracting to the other people, or that in a crowded class I’d break left instead of right and step on someone’s foot by accident.

Back in the day, I watched Zumba videos on YouTube. I bought the Zumba book when it first came out. I went online and ordered the Zumba boxed set (which turned out to be the second boxed set, not the original, but that was fine by me). Eventually I worked up the nerve to go to a class in person. Turns out it was totally non-intimidating: the instructor was brand new, class was in an old church hall, and in terms of how much rhythm my classmates had I was not the whitest girl there.

Naturally I decided to become a licensed Zumba instructor. Doesn’t everyone just go take the instructor training?

Zumba Instructor Network members at trainig
A room full of ZIN members ready to JAM!

Every instructor wanna-be has to take Zumba Basic Steps 1, so I started there too. At the time I was living in California, and I was lucky enough to be looking for a Basic 1 training in time to register for the very best one: the pre-conference training on Wednesday, the opening day of the IDEA World conference. IDEA, originally founded as the International Dance Education Association (think 1970s aerobic dance classes–yes, just like that one video you keep seeing on Facebook), is one of the biggest organizations of fitness professionals in the world. The IDEA World conference brings together instructors from every corner of the world, plus the best of the best of fitness instructors. Got a favorite fitness DVD, YouTube channel, website, or program? The person who invented it has probably taught a workshop at IDEA.

At no-o’clock in the morning I boarded a flight in Oakland, and headed down to Los Angeles to learn how to teach Zumba. I had to ditch a lot of my uptight “I’m not good at this-ness” in that workshop. (Funny thing, that was a big theme of this year’s BlogFest.) Part of Zumba’s popularity is due to the fact that a class is structured less like a traditional class (learn the steps, add some more, move on to the next step) and more like a party. If you mess up a step, most likely no one notices, and even if someone notices no one cares. Zumba participants can opt for what I call “the middle school dance step-touch” level of energy, or can go all World of Dance on it. You can try a move, and then skip it if you don’t like it. The point is to have fun–because exercise that is fun, instead of a chore or another item on the to-do list, is exercise you will do. I loved the music (and I love being a white girl who knows enough Spanish to be dangerous), and had a great time in the workshop learning authentic dance moves that go with salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, and more. The formula to create a class from scratch didn’t seem totally foreign, though I had no clue how I’d remember more than one step at a time. (As a competitive Irish dancer, I generally did two steps, one on each side, unless it was a “set dance.”)

A selfie frame at BlogFest
Mugging for the Selfie!

I feel obligated to point out that while an instructor can teach Zumba classes with only a Zumba license, the master instructors teaching the training repeatedly encouraged us to pursue further group exercise (“group x”) training. Accreditation agencies such as ACE and AFAA offered discounts to us so we could study for and complete a primary group x certification. Prior to this workshop I had only taught yoga classes, and the world of yoga certifications, credentials, diplomas, trainings, and licenses is fairly complicated. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was some kind of universal, generic certification to prepare a person to teach group exercise in general (as opposed to teaching a specific format, like Zumba or Les Mills Pump or PiYo live).

TRX straps ready for class
TRX ready for a group class

The magic really happened after I left that workshop. Tired, but ready to take advantage of every minute I had between class and my plane home, I headed down to the IDEA World expo. The opening night party pretty much rocked my socks. I watched a demo of Kangoo Jumps at the stage. I tasted a brand new product called Shakeology that the people behind P90X were sampling. I participated in a plank crunch challenge using a suspension trainer called the TRX (becoming the first among my friends to try one). I bought my very first FitBook, the best food and fitness tracker I’ve used. It was my first fitness expo, and I left ON FIRE.

My first IDEA World was well before BlogFest was born, but when I first found out that BlogFest would be held in conjunction with IDEA World, I knew I HAD to be there. After that first Zumba workshop, I went on to attend two Zumba conventions and take training for Zumba Basic Steps 2, Zumba Kids, Zumba Sentao, and Zumba Toning; I earned a primary group x cert from AFAA and from ACE, trained to teach PiYo Live and TurboKick (before BeachBody purchased Powder Blue), trained to teach other formats including Piloxing and Real Ryder, became a certified health coach through ACE (complementing my graduation from Coach U), and eventually became a certified personal trainer through NASM. It all began with that workshop, and the expo at IDEA World.

Strong by Zumba
Strong by Zumba at IDEA World and BlogFest 2017

BlogFest isn’t just a gathering of bloggers for nerdy blog-camp, it’s also a front row seat to what is up and coming in the world of fitness. When Zumba debuted the Strong by Zumba program, which is less “dance-y” and instead focuses on body-weight strength moves with music crafted specifically to work out to the beat. Check out the free 20-minute demo video here! BlogFest attendees had exclusive access to a class with Beto Perez, the founder of Zumba–even at a Zumba Instructor Convention that class would have had several hundred people there–and a meet and greet. That’s why today’s giveaway, inspired by BlogFest, features a Zumba-themed prize pack.

(Oh, and  I trained to teach in August I trained to teach Strong by Zumba, which I promise you is NOT a dance workout. This is bodyweight strength moves in a HIIT format with cardio–and I might even go teach this class! Honestly, NO dancing. But it is a gigantic sweat-fest…and the training is another story for another day.)

Strong by Zumba fierce
With Master Trainer Madalene Aponte after training in Strong by Zumba

Win a Zumba-themed Prize Pack!

What’s included? Over $100 of workout motivation!

  • ZUMBA: Ditch the Workout, Join the Party! The Zumba Weight Loss Program by Beto Perez and Maggie Greenwood-Robinson, PhD (hardcover, 2009). Includes an exclusive Zumba Fitness DVD! (the DVD is open, but in perfect playable condition) MSRP $27
  • Zumba Incredible Results kit (Zumba with a special round Zumba-specific step). Includes the “Fresh and Simple Nutrition Book,” Program Guide, and DVDs, as well as the Zumba Rizer (which I have to ship separately). MSRP $40
  • Zumba Toning sticks (1 lb. size) MSRP $20
  • Vintage Zumba tote, purple (metallic foil covered)
  • Strong by Zumba promotional viewers
  • Vintage Zumba necklace (silvertone on black cord) MSRP $20
  • Assorted Zumba swag–arm party bracelets and more!

To enter, use the widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

The first time I used turmeric, I was cooking from a recipe for an Indian curry in the kitchen of the very first apartment I rented by myself. As I was cleaning up, I spilled some of the curry on the brand-new white linoleum. Immediately I wiped it up but it left a bright yellow spot on the floor. Eek! Terrified to lose any part of my security deposit, I grabbed the first liquid cleaner I could find. The bright yellow? Promptly turned bright purple!!

Fortunately it only took a damp washcloth to wipe away the bright purple. (whew!)

Brightly colored turmeric
The vibrant color of turmeric can stain! Beware!

Turmeric is the hot ingredient du jour, and played a major role at Expo West in 2017 and 2018. Since I’m not a big fan of the “golden milk” flavor, I’m giving away a turmeric prize pack (more on that below), but first I thought I’d do a deep dive into the truth about turmeric.

Disclosure: I received the contents of the Turmeric Taster Prize Pack as a New Hope Blogger Co-op member. All of the content in this post is mine, and none of the brands included even know I am writing this.

Get Your Nerd On!(Or Start Scrolling)

Since I’m an attorney for my day job, let’s start by defining turmeric. In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21 (Food and Drugs), Part 73 (Listing of Color Additives Exempt from Certification), Subpart A (Foods) defines turmeric:

(a) Identity. (1) The color additive turmeric is the ground rhizome of Curcuma longa L. The definition of turmeric in this paragraph is for the purpose of identity as a color additive only, and shall not be construed as setting forth an official standard for turmeric under section 401 of the act. [Bain: Section 401 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is “Definitions and standards for food.”]

Tur Latte mix
Tur Latte mix–included in the giveaway!

(2) Color additive mixtures made with turmeric may contain as diluents only those substances listed in this subpart as safe and suitable in color additive mixtures for coloring foods.

(b) Uses and restrictions. Turmeric may be safely used for the coloring of foods generally, in amounts consistent with good manufacturing practice, except that it may not be used to color foods for which standards of identity have been promulgated under section 401 of the act, unless the use of added color is authorized by such standards.

(c) Labeling. The color additive and any mixtures intended solely or in part for coloring purposes prepared therefrom shall bear, in addition to the other information required by the act, labeling in accordance with the provisions of 70.25 of this chapter. [Bain: this is the labeling requirements for color additives, other than hair dyes, 21 CFR 70.25]

Golden Turmeric cereal
Golden Turmeric cereal

(d) Exemption from certification. Certification of this color additive is not necessary for the protection of the public health, and therefore batches thereof are exempt from the certification requirements of section 721(c) of the act. [Bain: Section 721 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is “Listing and certification of color additives for foods, drugs, devices, and cosmetics.”]

21 CFR 73.600 (revised as of April 1, 2017). There is an entire separate definition for “turmeric oleoresin” at 21 CFR 73.615 (which is “the combination of flavor and color principles obtained from turmeric by extraction using any one or a combination of” specified solvents).

Hey, this is what you get when you cross a nerd with a blogger.

If you read that and wondered what the part in (a) is about “definitions and standards for food,” here it is:

Turmeric tea sampler
Multiple companies are making teas infused with turmeric

Whenever in the judgment of the Secretary such action will promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers, he shall promulgate regulations fixing and establishing for any food, under its common or usual name so far as practicable, a reasonable definition and standard of identity, a reasonable standard of quality, or reasonable standards of fill of container. No definition and standard of identity and no standard of quality shall be established for fresh or dried fruits, fresh or dried vegetables, or butter, except that definitions and standards of identity may be established for avocados, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, and melons. In prescribing any standard of fill of container, the Secretary shall give due consideration to the natural shrinkage in storage and in transit of fresh natural food and to need for the necessary packing and protective material. In the prescribing of any standard of quality for any canned fruit or canned vegetable, consideration shall be given and due allowance made for the differing characteristics of the several varieties of such fruit or vegetable. In prescribing a definition and standard of identity for any food or class of food in which optional ingredients are permitted, the Secretary shall, for the purpose of promoting honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers, designate the optional ingredients which shall be named on the label. Any definition and standard of identity prescribed by the Secretary for avocados, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, or melons shall relate only to maturity and to the effects of freezing. [BTW: the official version use “avocadoes” which makes me think former Vice President Quayle did the editing!]

21 USC 341. (You can find all of the nerdy goodness at http://uscode.house.gov in Title 21, Food and Drugs.)

If you don’t care about the legal stuff, start reading here.

Turmeric Taster Prize Pack
Part of the Turmeric Taster Prize Pack

I was surprised to learn there are six different plants called “turmeric” (see the disambiguation page here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turmeric_(disambiguation) The one I care about, of course, is the gold-yellow one: curcuma longa, ”a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.”

In English, it’s a plant that has underground stem that sends out roots and shoots, and if you separate that piece it can become a new plant (“rhizomatous”). It does not have a permanent woody stem, but has a stem that dies at the end of the growing season like a potato or a carrot (“herbaceous”). While the stem dies at the end of the growing season, a part of the plant survives underground and the plant can grow a new stem in the next growing season (“perennial”). This means that unlike some other plants that Americans have fixated on over the years, it’s unlikely we’re going to accidentally wipe out turmeric.

Uses of Turmeric

As a plant dye, turmeric has been used to dye clothing. (Wikipedia reports it isn’t very good for that purpose as it fades in sunlight, but another site I found claims Asian monks use it to dye their robes.) Turmeric is also used as a dye in food products, as well as in cosmetic products. (According to UKfoodguide.net it is sometimes identified by E100 on labels.) You can find turmeric as a colorant and a featured ingredient in soaps, teas, cheeses, and more.

Penzey’s Turmeric Root

In cooking, the turmeric root is ground up and used as a flavoring. Turmeric is what makes yellow mustard yellow. It flavors and colors a variety of curries. A little turmeric in rice turns the dish yellow and adds a little flavor. If you just run a quick web search, you’ll find millions of recipes that use turmeric. (Here are a bunch from my friends at Luvo, and here is one for roasted carrots that I think looks delicious!)

The part of turmeric that does all the cool things is called curcumin. (Note this is not the same as cumin, which is an entirely different plant.) Curcumin’s chemical formula is (1,7-bis(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-1,6-heptadiene-3,5-dione),  and it is also called diferuloylmethane; it is a polyphenol. [Hewlings/Kalman for that factoid, and for most of the rest of this paragraph.] Not all that helpfully, Wikipedia explains that polyphenols are “are a structural class of mainly natural, but also synthetic or semisynthetic, organic chemicals characterized by the presence of large multiples of phenol structural units.” Curcumin is also a curcuminoid (which has an equally unhelpful definition for those of us who are not chemistry majors). That category includes curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and demethoxycurcumin. The FDA labels curcuminoids “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), even at amounts much longer than you are ever likely to ingest (12,000/mg day).

Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine?

With all the hype turmeric has gotten in the past few years, you’d think there is a bunch of science backing the effectiveness of turmeric. Nope!

Turmeric tablets
What’s old is new again, as youtheory demonstrates with their Turmeric tablets

Sure, ancient people did not have microscopes and the period table, or even a basic understanding of biology (just look at the history of “hysteria”), but there wasn’t any interest in proving turmeric had health benefits until recently. Call me cynical, but that interest seems to coincide with the natural product manufacturers’ realization that adding a health claim to a turmeric product would make it much more profitable. Saying, “it tastes nice” is one thing, but if you can say “contains anti-oxidants” then you can up the price.

Ready for a total oversimplification of the science? The two main ways curcumin acts within the human body are as an antioxidant and as an anti-inflammatory. There is evidence curcumin acts to reduce markers of oxidative stress in the body. [Hewlings/Kalman]  Oxidative stress and inflammation are like BFFs, and as near as I can tell from reading what’s on PubMed, one can cause the other. There is some evidence curcumin can downregulate (stop the action of) things that cause inflammation. While we’re on the topic of inflammation, that word gets tossed around WAY too much these days, especially in the fake-science and pseudoscience that is running rampant on the internet. You’ve got two ways to know you have real inflammation, and pretty much only two: one, observing something that is inflamed like a bruise or an injured body part or two, diagnostic testing by a qualified medical professional, like a blood test (other tests may be appropriate to diagnose inflammation). If you vaguely feel crummy, you can’t just magically tell inflammation is the cause or get diagnosed over the internet.

Some of the promising research on curcumin (not turmeric) has been for arthritis and the cluster of symptoms known as metabolic sydrome. The Hewlings/Kalman article has a decedent overview and summary of the state of the research up to 2017. Unfortunately, most of the research to date has been animal research, not human research; and while we have some means to logically extrapolate, the results of even well-designed animal studies do not always translate to how a substance actually works in humans.

Turmeric has been used medicinally for a long time, though until recently there wasn’t much research to support the effectiveness. While we now have additional research and data out, the health benefits of turmeric specifically, and curcumin generally, is not as rock-solid as the ads for turmeric-based products would have you believe. Even the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states, “Claims that curcuminoids found in turmeric help to reduce inflammation aren’t supported by strong studies.” [NCCIH]

Important Safety Tips!

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. As with ANY supplement, herb, vitamin, or mineral you use on a regular basis: tell your doctor! If you’re interested in trying a supplement of any kind and you also take prescription medication, please talk to your doctor or pharmacist first. You’ve probably come across at least one mention of an older person who got sicker or died because they drank grapefruit juice with their medication. There is some evidence that curcumin can affect anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, and interact poorly with GERD and some other health conditions.

natural Factors Muscle Recovery and
natural Factors has an entire line of supplements, the curcuminRich line

Understand this: turmeric is NOT what’s been studied. Remember that all of the studies and papers out there are testing refined curcumin compounds and NOT mere ground-up turmeric like you can buy in the spice section. Turmeric is only about 3% curcumin!! In addition, most of the studies don’t use pure curcumin because the human body can’t simply grab all the goodness out of the curcuminoids; instead, they enhance the bioavailability (making it easier for your body to grab the goods) by adding another substance. One of the more common ways to enhance the bioavailability of the ingredients in certain supplements that I have observed (by reading labels) is something called piperine, which is a substance extracted from black pepper.

Remember, you’re not a lab rat. In addition, most of the studies of curcumin have been done either in petri dishes or in animals–not in people. This makes sense, since it’s unethical to test potential medical things on human being until there is sufficient evidence that (1) it’s safe, and (2) it’s probably going to be effective. After all, if there is a treatment that will definitely cure your cancer, and something that will probably work but if it does not then you will die, it would be cruel to put you in a double-blind study instead of just giving you the treatment that is proven to work. In any case, animal studies can be useful, but human bodies do not respond the same way that mouse bodies (or any other animal bodies) do. Oh, and some of the published studies were retracted due to problems with potential data manipulation (read: lying). [Blakemore]

As with any substance, too much can cause problems. With turmeric, you’re pretty much good to eat your curries every day–remember curcumin is just one component of turmeric. If you’re scarfing down huge quantities of curcumin, like drinking the tea all day and swallowing a fistful of capsules as well, you might have some unfortunate side effects. Most things you eat too much of will cause some tummy troubles, from indigestion and nausea to vomiting and diarrhea. [Hall]

gaia herbs golden milk
“Golden Milk” mixes are readily available in the grocery store

References

Harriet Hall.” Turmeric: Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine.” Science-Based Medicine, June 17, 2014. Available online. This is now four years old, but is a very readable overview.

Susan J. Hewlings and Douglas S. Kalman. “Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health.” Foods. 2017 Oct; 6(10): 92. PMCID: PMC5664031; PMID: 29065496. Available online. Not as old, but much more technical; great for getting your nerd on.

NCCIH (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health), “Turmeric.” https://nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm (This article has a bibliography at the bottom that includes many articles available online.)

Gid-MK. “The Bitter Truth about Turmeric.” January 30 2018. Medium. Super readable, mostly focused on poor (misleading) media coverage of the study on curcumin and Alzheimers.

Erin Blakemore. “What should you make of the health claims for turmeric?” August 20, 2017, Washington Post. A quick read, covers some of the potential problems with studies in curcumin, including that it might be some other compound delivering the claimed benefits.

Turmeric Taster Prize Pack!

There is ONE prize, which consists of the following items:

  • natural Factors Muscle Recovery & Growth Curcumizer  5.5oz (approx. retail $22)
  • gaia herbs golden milk 3.7 oz (approx. retail $15)
  • Golden Goddess Turmeric Chocolate Elixir sample x2, Turmeric Chai Elixir sample x2, and turmeric infused tea sample tin
  • Tea samples: yogi tea Honey Chai Turmeric Vitality, pukka turmeric glow, Republic of Tea turmeric
  • Nature’s Path Golden Turmeric cereal sample x2
  • youtheory Turmeric tablet samples x2
  • Raw and Root Organic Tur Latte Golden Milk Infusion ($22 on Amazon)

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