Disclosure: I participated as a member of the “Insider Launch Team” to help promote the May 2019 release of The Latte Factor. As a participant, I received a complimentary review copy (advance reader’s edition paperback) of this book. The hardback book that is the giveaway prize? I purchased that at full release price. I was not asked to write a blog post. As always, all opinions below are my own.
As a runner who could easily spend all of my disposable income on travel to races, and a woman who statistically will live longer than any man I might marry, I know that managing my personal finances well is in my best interest. While I’m putting money in my 401(k), and saving to buy a house, and otherwise trying to be responsible, it never hurts to read another book.
The Latte Factor is the latest offering from David Bach (author of a dozen books on personal finance) and John David Mann (author of a dozen books on leadership and business). Initially, the book reads like a novel, with all the classic elements that you studied in English class: an interesting opener, characters you care about, starting en media res. Finance doesn’t enter the picture until page 10–and the book only has about 120 pages. If you have read any of Bach’s prior books (e.g. Smart Women Finish Rich), nothing in this book will be new to you; I suspect that you are not the target audience. If you prefer a novel to a non-fiction book, or are a Millenial who never learned how to balance a check book (or even write checks, actually), this is your book.
The main character, Zoey, starts out as a 27-year-old New Yorker, working at a magazine. Her spending habits are based on a client composite Bach has used in at least one prior book. (I can’t remember which one, though I clearly remember the pattern of her spending habits: pre-work Starbucks, mid-morning Jamba Juice break, lunch out every day, afternoon decaff.) The other central characters include a caring boss who befriended Zoey when she first started, a cafe worker, and one of Zoey’s friends who works freelance in app development (who is the mouth-piece for what I believe are supposed to be “skeptical things Millenials say about money”). Instead of following the more impersonal and direct finance lessons of his prior books, this book is a novelization where the lessons are communicated to Zoey by other characters. These lessons take place while Zoey is facing a major career decision, and the story includes Zoey’s internal thoughts and feelings. You might find yourself comparing Zoey’s life to yours–as I did (even though 27 was a long time ago!)
The core concept, and the book’s title, is “the latte factor.” It represents all of the small, unimportant things you spend money on that don’t contribute to living richly in the moment. The concept is not that lattes are bad, or that you should always make your own coffee; maybe that latte contributes immense happiness to your day. Instead, the concept is that spending $4-5 (or more) per day on things that don’t really add to the quality of your life isn’t your best bet; rather than spend $150 each month on coffee you don’t think about, you could use that money for purposes that would better enrich your life: paying off debt, funding your 401(k), or a savings account to pay for the things you really want to do with your life. Or, say, lots of race entries and some airplane tickets.
Like Bach’s other books, this one also touches on financial concepts like the magic of compound interest, paying yourself first, and using automation to make it easier to manage your money. If you are interested in learning more, you could buy your own copy (and claim bonuses from the authors); you might also check out The Latte Factor Podcast, available on Stitcher and iTunes.
Disclosure: As a member of the official Blue Ridge Marathon blogger-ambassador team, I received a free entry to the Slow K. As always, all opinions are my own.
Everyone knows you shouldn’t go straight from being very active, or running long miles, to couch-potato-worthy zero. Yet that’s what most of us do the day after a race. Worse, for destination marathons that fall on a Sunday, many runners hop an airplane back home the same day. Yikes!
Another problem avid runners face is the non-running-significant-other. It’s fun to have your spouse or boyfriend or whatever come along on race weekend, but I’m not sure how much fun it is for them when the entire weekend revolves around an event they aren’t participating in.
This year, the Blue Ridge Marathon races brilliantly solved both problems with The Slow K: an untimed 5k-ish event. It was brilliant.
The Slow K started across the street from our hotel, so we thought we’d walk over. Minor issue, part of the path was shut-off by a chain-link fence, so we had a little pre-5K parkour event. Upon our arrival, we found a super chill pre-brunch scene.
Upon checking in each not-runner received their number on a flower lei (not a bib), and a coffee mug. Pre-“race” there was plenty of coffee and hot cocoa, as well as some donuts to snack on. (Don’t judge. Most of us had just done a mountainous race!) The event was fairly small–this was the first year–and there was plenty of space to mill around, chat, and meet other runners.
It was fun to see runners just as stiff and sore as I was hobbling around and trying to get the juices flowing again, while non-runner husbands and girlfriends who were not walking like zombies filled coffee mugs. There were a few strollers and plenty of walking kiddos as well. That’s the great thing about a “Slow K,” it is literally for everyone. Exactly zero people were there to race, or even run!
Off to one side was a mimosa bar where, for a small donation, you could DIY your own combo with sparkling wine, juice, and fresh fruit. I’m pretty sure the idea was to grab one after the Slow K, but the mimosa cups fit inside the coffee mugs so perfectly that some of us just couldn’t help ourselves! They also had fancier coffee (in case the more pedestrian coffee that came with the donuts wasn’t up to your standards). Through the magic of square, I made my donation (I should have taken notes, I want to say this was for an arts or music program), selected some pineapple juice, made a little more room in the cup, and added fresh strawberries. Not a bad way to start a “run” (quotes intentional, as no one was running).
The added bonus of a slow event where you’re trying to get people to move but not run, and where you hand out coffee mugs instead of medals: it’s really, really hard to run with a coffee mug in your hand and not spill all over the place. At least as the event started, most of us still had full or semi-full mugs in our hands.
The weather was slightly soggy, but not really rainy–sort of a continuation of the weekend’s theme. The loop course wound along the river, through some park areas, and back to the start. There were a bunch of cute signs close to the start/finish to cheer on the “runners” too.
The Slow K was so much fun that I’m a bit confused as to how every race isn’t doing this. It’s a brilliant way to end a weekend and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments.
Disclosure: I returned to the Blue Ridge Marathon races in 2019 as one of the official race ambassador-bloggers. Race ambassadors receive free entry, swag, and the VIP experience in exchange for assistance in promoting this race. Speaking of the race, you can register for 2020 RIGHT HERE. See you then?
Funny story, I distinctly remember getting to mile 19, but all of my notes from 2017 say I stopped at mile 17… If you missed Part 1, I recommend you start there.
Avenging a DNF Begins With…
When registration opened for 2018, I signed up to run. In the interim I changed jobs and moved back to Oregon, so the 2018 race didn’t happen for me. In 2019, I signed up again. I also applied to join the ambassador team again, to help spread the word about how much I love this race. I also signed up for the training program again. I also did not finish the training program again….yeah, so life happens sometimes, and you have to put o your grownup-pants and decide what to do. Undertrained, a little fatter, but basically eager to return to Roanoke and give it another try anyway, I decided to go for it. Jackie also planned to return and run the double, but unfortunately she injured herself and had to drop out. I ended up rooming with Jessica, which was perfect (though I’m bummed Jessica and Jackie didn’t get to meet, as I’m sure they’d get along famously!). This year I flew into Raleigh, met friends for dinner, and spent the night before the drive up to Roanoke. The drive is pretty and green, and not very stressful even though it took me about three hours; Google maps sent me up largely on state highways that I would not have guessed were highways, and I saw lots of both North Carolina and Virginia. (At one point I pulled off the road to make sure I was still getting directions!)
Expo 2019 at the Patrick Henry
In 2017 the Expo was in a different location, so it was a bit like going to a new race. On the way into the hotel, representatives from Foot Levelers greeted each runner with a cinch-backpack and stickers for the appropriate distance. Packet pickup was upstairs, and the traffic flow was pretty much perfect to get your packet, walk past some tables for local races, and then head back down the stairs. One thing I love about this expo is that the race-specific merchandise is all high-quality, with a smaller (but awesome!) selection. Since I have sweet ambassador swag to rock, this year I bought one of the Deneen pottery 10th anniversary ceramic mugs. There is always a tasting for the hydration on course (Skratch fluid, as well as the gummies) and the local Fleet Feet had a selection of race-day essentials on hand. I snagged a Squirrel Nut Butter (that stuff is the best!). This year, Get 2 Know Noke sponsored a happy hour lounge, with one free beer or flavored non-alcoholic seltzer for everyone who signed up for their mailing list. The Roanoke area is right next to the Blue Ridge Parkway (you know, the race goes there?) which is managed by the National Park Service, and the hiking, biking, and running are all high-quality. Jessica introduced me to some of the other BibRave Pros running the event, and we took a break before heading over to dinner.
Pasta Dinner & Galloway Running School
I knew from the 2017 event that I wanted a ticket for the pasta dinner. Not only was it the easiest pre-race dinner, it also meant seating for the Friday night concert, and shelter from the rain (it rained a little bit, but it wasn’t a big deal—no more than sprinkles). This year, Jeff Galloway came to run the Blue Ridge Marathon for the first time and as part of his appearances he was offering “Jeff Galloway’s Running School.” I signed up because I wasn’t sure when I’d have the opportunity to attend again, and as a certified run coach I figured it would be neat to hear from an Olympian.
Running School was not what I expected. First, there were no handouts or outlines. I took plenty of notes though, so here are the highlights (at least as I saw them). Jeff is very big on some material I’m not familiar with yet, a book called Spark that is supposed to recap research showing running promotes brain health, and another book called The Story of the Human Body that emphasizes that running was a short distance activity for most of human history. That led to an explanation of how and why to use “walk breaks,” which are key to what has come to be called the Galloway method. He explained how he lays out his training plans, as well as his observations—most of which are based on his experience coaching, as opposed to data from weekend-warrior types runners—which include using a long run that is longer than the distance of the goal race. (On the theory that people tend to hit the wall within a mile of the long run they did in the three weeks prior to the race.) This is the opposite theory of the Hanson’s Method, which also seems to be producing fine runners.
Jeff Galloway is now in his 70s, and has run six days per week, every week, since he was 16 years old. This turned out to be both an advantage and a disadvantage, as some of his advice on injuries and performance nutrition haven’t kept pace with the most current research. For example, he doesn’t recommend ANY type of warm-up prior to running, and instead uses the first mile as his warm-up. This might be great for someone who has run six days a week for several decades, but it doesn’t seem like great advice for those of us who drive a desk five days a week and don’t run as often. (He’s right that pre-run static stretching is a terrible idea though—the research tends to show stretching before stressing the muscle decreases performance and increases the risk of injuries). He’s also still a fan of ice, which I agree has its place but shouldn’t be used on joints or after every run—inflammation is a result of the healing process, and is necessary for muscles to repair themselves. I disagree with some of his very broad-brushstroke nutrition advice, including what to eat the morning of the race (he says nothing, unless you need it for “gastric motility;” I’d pass out if I ran without eating some carbs and a wee bit of protein an hour or 90 minutes before the race) and salt (he says avoid salty food on the grounds that it takes plasma from the blood and makes it harder for the body to replace lost fluids; I notice that I need salty foods to replace the electrolytes I lose through sweat—I could be a DIY salt facial after a race). He’s down on cross-training (which makes sense if you’ve been running all your life) and only does weight training for postural muscles (useful trick, even if I disagree with his conclusion on the grounds that it doesn’t work on my body).
After running school, I met up with Jessica and we went back to the hotel. I had a glass of wine while we set up our flat runners. Neither of us slept much that night, because Jessica had to be at the starting line for the Double Marathon at some ungodly hour like 3 a.m., and because I always have a hard time sleeping the night before a race—this one more than any other, because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen the next day: Just like 2017, I arrived at the starting line in 2019 underprepared. I hadn’t stuck to the training plan (for all new reasons, sigh). I had gained some extra weight. In the interim I had learned I have exercise-induced asthma.
If Only The Days Started Later…
The alarm went off after what seemed like ten minutes of sleep, and I dragged myself out of bed to suit up and drive over to the start. There was plenty of nearby parking, so I arrived with plenty of time to head to the VIP breakfast in the library and on the patio. While there was a fantastic spread with plenty of coffee, I chose my snacks conservatively and packed a “to go” waffle (the Honey Stinger kind). One last use of the indoor plumbing, and it was down to the starting line.
As in 2017, the corrals were self-sorting. Friendly runners were mingling, taking selfies, and shaking out the pre-race jitters. I found Jessica, who looked fresh after having run the whole marathon, and was ready for her second loop. She was hanging out with the 6:30 pacer, and I decided to join them. It wasn’t long before we were off. Our pacers chose a “steady effort” method, which makes sense on a super hilly course. The idea is that instead of aiming for a specific time per mile, the time per mile would vary (uphill and very steep downhill are both difficult; flat and gentle downhill are easier) but the amount of effort would stay as even as possible.
I stuck with the pacers up to the first mile? Maybe second mile? I can’t remember. It was fun running with a group for a bit, but as we started to take a relatively easy jog up the first gentle climb, I couldn’t catch enough air to keep running and busted out the inhaler. I passed the turnaround for the half, and ran into the national forest section. I remembered the rolling hills, and then crossing the highway to the first serious climb, up Mt. Roanoke. In my head it was a hard climb in 2017, but this year it was even harder in my body. Abut 1/3 from the top of the climb, I had to start taking breaks to catch my breath that included stopping completely. Step, step, step, step, stop. Over and over. I felt very wimpy. I must have looked equally awful because at several points as I was climbing up, runners passing me on the way back down asked if I was okay instead of cheering for me.
I have never had my lungs act up so obnoxiously as they did going up Roanoke Mountain. After my 2017 DNF I learned I have exercise-induced asthma. I had my inhaler with me. (I have never had any serious complications, and I had both my phone with extra battery and my RoadID with me. I promise that even if I am crazy, I take health and safety VERY seriously.) After that, I couldn’t run at all—my legs were willing, but my lungs not so much. But since I took a DNF the last time I tried this, I was determined to finish. Even if it didn’t happen until Monday.
At the very top I took just a moment to pause and admire the hard-earned view. Then it was time to head back down, down, down Mt. Roanoke. I tried to make some runs, as I’m usually pretty good at downhill, but my lungs couldn’t suck in enough air to make it happen. At that point I began to suspect there was no way I was going to make the race’s 7-hour cut-off. You know how runners talk about distance being a mental game? This was that, exactly. There were a few others in front of me, and I think one or two behind, so it was pretty quiet as I continued on my way back towards Roanoke and Mill Mountain.
Suddenly, It Was Just Me.
As I approached the aid station at the turn to Mill Mountain, all of the volunteers cheered and offered me water, Skratch, and snacks. The aid station is right at the split, after you descend Roanoke but before you go up Mill, a very nice race official/volunteer said, “You know you missed the cut-off, right?” Inside, I cried and thought, “damn, I hope that is not a problem…” Outside, I said, “Well, I do now…” Mr. Race Official asked if I needed anything, or if they could do anything for me. I should have said “please save me a medal, because I WILL finish.” Instead, I said, “no, thank you, I have plenty of fuel and fluid.” Mr. Race Official did not tell me that I had to stop. (I’m also not a jerk. If a race official tells me I must do something, 99 times out of 100 I will do it. I will always seriously evaluate a black flag on the course, an EMT or similar who is looking at me like I might die.) So I kept going, up to the top of Mill Mountain. Another race person stopped as they drove past and asked if I was okay, and when I explained that all I wanted to do was finish, I ugly cried a little bit but promised I’d be okay.
Atop Mill Mountain I took the world’s lamest selfie with the Star. The aid station was all packed up neatly. For a minute I thought seriously about taking a bag of pretzels, but they were big bags and I wasn’t sure how I’d carry one once I opened it. Besides, I did have plenty of snacks. So it was down Mill Mountain, where I saw a really sweet looking dog who I assumed belonged to the moo-mosa house, but didn’t (I asked when I went by). The moo-mosas were gone by the time I got there, which I expected. It looked like a good time was had by all!
Every volunteer I saw asked if I needed anything (I had packed nutrition and hydration, but did take some water and chips). One woman, who appeared to be the head of a stop on the way up Peakwood, apologized that the aid station was closed! I assured here it was supposed to be closed, and she had nothing to apologize for, since I knew I was late and expected the aid stations to be closed. she still offered me one of everything in her car, and when I accidentally left my tube of Tailwind in her van, one of the younger kids (teenager) ran to catch me to deliver it!
Sure, I missed out on the moo-mosas (I had one in 2017, so that’s okay) and the champagne on Peakwood (I had some later, so that’s okay too). But I kept rolling. Every time a volunteer drove by, they waved and cheered. The guys taking down the course cones and signs all asked if I was sure I was okay. (Clearly I’m a head case, but yeah, I was fine.) When I hit the point where the cones had been picked up and traffic was back to normal, I side-walked myself. I wanted a DNS–Did Not Stop.
The app was great for the map, though I took a minor re-route on (Jefferson?) as there was a bridge/flyover with no apparent sidewalk. Unfortunately I got off course after the loop in south Roanoke and when I realized it, I was 2 miles away from the finish line (but my watch already said 25.xx). I ended up taking the shortest route back from wherever i was, which still had me over 26.2. I saw some yellow birds with a pretty song that I’ve never seen before. I saw a billion cardinals, and some dogs, and the easter bunny.
At several points I thought I might be going crazy, because only a crazy lady decides to finish a marathon on her own, right? But again, phone with extra battery (I was prepared to call a Lyft at the first sign of lightning) and plenty of fuel and fluid. Two different cars stopped on my way down Peakwood, asking if I needed a ride. (Roanoke-ians are so nice!) The one thought I was nuts to be walking in the rain, I’m sure. Then I passed a cooler that still had extra water pods and one bottle of cold beer inside. The crews dismantling the course’s directional signs, cones, and road barriers were all surprised I was still out there–asked if I needed anything (including a ride back to the start) and wished me good luck.
Here’s The Theme: Persevere
At almost 9 hours, and over 27 miles, I trudged into Elmwood Park. One of the guys dismantling the rest of the chute recognized me and said, “Hey! You finished!” Hell yes, I DID! But…not within the official posted time limits. When I crossed where the finish line used to be, I cried. (Wouldn’t you?) As I was climbing up Roanoke Mountain and my lungs were screaming, I thought, “I’m glad I’m here this year, I can’t do this again.” But…now I feel like I have to go and finish within the time limits.
I posted my story and asked the race officials if they would send me a medal. I know not everyone would agree with me receiving a medal–I finished, but not within the time–but I’m not posting it on social media or sharing photos. At least not until I make it a special little “Finisher & DNF” sash.
Seriously, if you’re looking for a challenge you should try one of the Blue Ridge Marathon Races. If you’re not up for a full marathon get a team together for the relay, or run the half or the 10k. For a fairly chill race-cation, volunteer at the race and join the runners for the Slow K on Sunday.
According to WordPress, I started this post in August 2017…four months after the race. Sometimes, you have to go back and finish what you started. Buckle up and grab a glass of wine, as this is going to be a looooong post. Actually, I think I’ll make it two posts. Let’s call this “Part I.”
My 2017 DNF Was Amazing!
Disclosure: after registering for the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, I was accepted to the Official Blogger contingent! Blog team members receive a free race entry as a thank you for helping to spread the word about the race. As I had already registered, the race team graciously allowed me to give my entry to another runner–the one who originally suggested I apply to the blog team. Per usual, all opinions in this post are mine (and you KNOW I have plenty of them to go around).
A few years ago when some friends of mine registered for Goofy’s Race-and-a-Half Challenge (the Disney World combo where you run a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday) I thought that was the dumbest idea ever. A year later, I registered to run The Dopey Challenge (the Disney World combo where you run a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon on consecutive days). That actually turned out to be fun–“fun,” says the woman who once said, “run? only if I’m being chased by something with big teeth.”
It was probably 2015 when I was poking around the Marathon Maniacs facebook group–as a newly-minted Double Agent who had just sworn “no more marathons, except maybe Disney”–that I first heard about the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon. This is a race that bills itself as “America’s toughest road race” due to the changes in elevation and has added MORE elevation to the original course! This did not sound like The Race for Bain.
Since I inevitably do everything I swear I won’t–be careful! this is what happens when you say, “I’ll NEVER run a marathon”–I signed up to run the marathon. (Actually, my friend Jackie saw that the race was looking for bloggers and encouraged me to apply. Which I did…and I’m honestly not sure if that was before or after I registered to run.) I’m going to blame the fact that I was at a race expo at the time, and not only was the price at a great discount but they also gave me last year’s race shirt and a pair of Farm to Feet socks. (Yes, it appears I will run for socks.)
As a flat-lander living at something like 8′ above sea level, and as a runner whose lungs are still royally pissed that I decided to run the Sedona Marathon, naturally I was terrified! Fortunately there is a solid remote training program, complete with a flat-lander modification option. (There was also an in-person training program, but it was a little inconvenient to travel from Oakland to Roanoke several times a week.) The training plan included the big-picture overview (like a chart of every week’s workouts), weekly emails with each week’s training plus race news and helpful tips, and a private Facebook group. Between when I signed up to run and the actual race date, life took some complicated turns (that’s why I’ve been so prolific on the blog, right?) and I didn’t get it nearly the amount of training I had planned. I didn’t stick to the training plan.
I DID try to get in some hill training–but trust me, I wish I’d had more! In my dream-plan I would have driven to Tiburon to train on the hills. In my reality-calendar I conquered Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, took all of my “all out” treadmill intervals at OrangeTheory at a 15% incline, and worked with my sports medicine people to build my glutes, keep my IT band happy, and add strength to my hamstrings. If you’re considering this race, which I hope you are, the flat-lander training plan includes some faux-hill options such as using the treadmill and taking your downhill practices down the hills in parking garages (with obvious safety precautions!).
Aside from training, Blue Ridge takes a little more planning in the travel department than most races I have run. Generally, I hop on the Southwest website and my race travel is plug-and-play. Not for this race. For one, Southwest doesn’t fly to Roanoke (which they definitely should fix before the race next year). So I met up with my friend Jackie in the Phoenix airport, and we flew to DC together and then took a road trip through parts of Virginia. Jackie took care of the hotel arrangements, we signed up for the pre-race pasta party to make that easier, and an epic road adventure began!
When we arrived in Roanoke, the hotel had a cute little welcome sign for the runners as well as goody bags! Our hotel was within walking distance of the starting line, and also had a special early-hours breakfast available, all of which were bonuses.
After checking into the hotel, the first order of business was packet pickup. Roanoke isn’t a gigantic town, so we were able to walk over (dodging a few raindrops here and there). It seemed like the locals took advantage of early pickup as there was quite literally no line when we arrived. (There was, however, a big rent-a-tent to provide shade from the sun/shelter from the raindrops.) After we collected our bibs we moved inside to pick up our shirts and check out the expo. Personally I LOVED all the colors for the shirts, and am also a fan of the soft technical fabric. (I’ve already worn mine several times since the race.)
2017 was the first year I went to Roanoke, Virginia for the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, I had high hopes. Sure, the race has 7,430 feet of elevation change and goes up and down three mountains, but I was in relatively good shape even though I hadn’t finished the training program. At that point I was running about a half marathon a week, and I’d tackled really hilly races like the Tiburon Half Marathon (which has one hill that literally made me stop and laugh before I went up).
2019, Looking Back at 2017
One of the funniest things–at least to other people–is that this was a total DNF, but I raved to everyone about how great the race was. Everything was pretty much perfect, I had zero complaints. The pasta dinner had both vegetarian and gluten-free options–the first time I’d been to a pre-race feed with a gluten-free choice–and was followed by a course overview by the race director and some long-time runners. The starting line had corrals markers, and runners properly self-sorted themselves without any inadvertent walker roadblocks. The volunteers on the course were THE BEST. Aid stations had tons of people, all cheering, offering genuine warmth and support. Unlike an ordinary race, aid stations were more like trail races or ultras, with a variety of snacks salty and sweet, plus water and electrolytes. There are also plenty of “unofficial aid stations” offering everything from “moo-mosas” to beer to bottled water pods and orange slices.
Looking back, I remember the first climb up Roanoke Mountain was tough, but I felt great as I turned to go up Mill Mountain; I had just barely made the cut-off. I adored the view from beneath the big star, and the “moo-mosa” on the way down the other side of Mill Mountain. By mile 17 or so I wasn’t feeling so great. It was warm and humid, the two things my body dislikes most, and I was having trouble breathing. (I later learned that I have exercise-induced asthma. Go figure.) By mile 18, I was “wogging” with my own personal bicycle escort under some seriously black clouds. About halfway to the mile 19 aid station, my escort got word that the course had been black-flagged (that means the course is closed/race is officially off) due to lightning in the area. While a race cannot actually force you to stop running, they do have to make sure every runner is safe. Since I didn’t know the course, and wasn’t carrying enough to get through the next 7 miles, I boarded the bus back to the start. After all, I’m sure there are better ways to die than being hit by lightning on the other side of the country. Along the way we passed Jackie, my race weekend roommate, who was much closer to the finish. I think she only had three miles to go, and she refused to get on the bus.
A DNF Still Means I Had The Sads
Back at the hotel, I was seriously sad I had not finished the course, and even sadder after Jackie came back with her medal (even though I was also very proud of her for finishing). I took a hot bath and a nap, and after the storm passed we went out to dinner. I can’t remember where we went or what we ate, but it was delicious–as was breakfast the next morning before we left town.
Even though I hadn’t finished the course, I had one of THE BEST race experiences of my life. (The Blue Ridge Marathon isn’t just a race, it’s a weekend EVENT. More on that in another post.) The shirt was cute, the swag was great, the volunteers on the course were the best…the only thing “wrong” is that I hadn’t finished the race. So I signed up for the 2018 race. In between I changed jobs and moved to a different city, so I wasn’t able to make the race. It didn’t bother me though, as I know the money stays in the Roanoke area his event is owned and operated by the Roanoke Outside Foundation whose mission to make outdoor activity and environmental stewardship a core component of our community’s lifestyle by promoting a “conservation through recreation” philosophy. I’m good with that.
Funny story, I distinctly remember getting to mile 19, but all of my notes from 2017 say I stopped at mile 17…
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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:
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.)
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?
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 Harvestin 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.
CBD is NON-psychoactive. It is also NOT addictive. The Wikipedia entryhas 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.
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
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.)
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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 FDApoints 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.
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.
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 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 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).
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)
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!
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!).
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.
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 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)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!