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Disclosure: I received free samples of MeStrength because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

Psst! Want a discount on MeStrength? Through September 30, 2016 you can get MeStrength for 25% off by using the code bibchat716 at the MeStrength online shop.Click To Tweet
Sampler pack of all the flavors
Sampler pack of all the flavors

Runners today are lucky to live in a world with unlimited hydration options. Do you like flavored or unflavored? Liquid, powder, tablet? Single serve or bulk? Sugar, monkfruit, stevia, sugar alcohols? Carbs? Caffeine? Electrolytes alone, or in combination with fuel/protein/something else? Pre-workout or post-workout? Strawberry, grape, lemon-lime…we could be here for awhile. Anyway, you get the point.

MeStrength is hydration with creatine. “Creatine?” I can hear you asking. “Isn’t that something that 1970s musclehead lifters use?” Au contraire, and that is the focus of this review.

(If you want to read about all the details that make MeStrength a fine product–such as the attention to detail in the manufacturing process, or how the electrolytes are isotonic which is the same as they exist naturally in your body–you can head to the MeStrength website. There are too many specifics to cover in my one little review.)

What is Creatine and Why Should You Care?

Let’s start at square one. “Creatine is a nitrogenous substance, derived from arginine, glycine, and methionine, found in muscle tissue.” Your body makes it in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. It is part of creatine kinase, which is an isoenzyme found in muscle and brain tissue that catalyzes the formation of ATP (remember that from high school biology?). Creatine is present in HIGHER amounts after muscle injury, which should make it very interesting to anyone involved in sports training, since part of what you do when you work out (and race) is break down muscle tissue (that’s injury).

Creatine is considered a non-essential nutrient. Precision Nutrition defines a non-essential nutrient as “food-based nutrients that either the body can make itself, assuming adequate nutritional intake, or nutrients that aren’t needed for normal physiological functioning.” Creatine falls into this category, along with glutamine, the other non-essential amino acids, caffeine, and green tea extract.

Creatine is also one of the best-studied potential supplements. According to the Precision Nutrition textbook (see Resources section), there are over 500 published studies on creatine supplementation. When I did a search in PubMed specific to creatine and exercise, I found 414 studies (and remember, PubMed doesn’t index every published study). Oh, and in case you have Olympic dreams, creatine isn’t on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned substances list.

Highly portable MeStrength
Highly portable MeStrength

Let Me Drop Some Science On You: ATP and Energy In the Body

ATP is adenosine triphosphate; basically that’s adenosine (A) with three phosphate molecules (P) attached. One of the ways the body makes energy is to break the bonds that hold the A to one of the P, creating ADP (adenosine with two phophates) and P (just the phosphate, all by itself); the body then regenerates the ATP, basically recycling it. This all happens through the ATP-PCr system. Creatine kinase breaks up phosphoecreatine (PCr) into two parts, creatine (Cr) and phosphate (the same P we’ve been discussing), by breaking the bond that holds them together. That creates both energy from breaking the bond, and extra P that can be used to make more ATP (by combining with

The body stores about 80-100 grams of ATP, which is enough to fuel maximal exercise–think crazy hard sprint–for a few seconds. When you engage in intense exercise, the body’s natural supply of PCR only lasts about ten seconds. Once that system is maxed out, you MUST slow down–your body can’t carry you faster.

Creatine Benefit #1: Improved Muscular Performance

If you train hard, doing the type of high-intensity exercise that is dependent on the ATP-PCr system (hill repeats? strength training?wind sprints?), and would like to add lean muscle mass, creatine supplementation can help you. (In contrast, if you do low-volume or infrequent exercise, or always run in the very comfortable jog-zone, creatine isn’t likely to offer you many benefits.)

Supplementing with creatine improves your performance in a very specific way: “By increasing the intramuscular creatine pool, more creatine (and PCr) will be available for high intensity, short-bury muscle contractions. Research has shown that higher concentrations of intramuscular creatine are linked with improved force during maximal contraction, and improved staying power with high intensity exercise.” (74) In other words, adding creatine helps your hard training by letting your body continue to recycle the ATP, and that gives you strength and longer endurance (for the high-intensity periods like sprints or lifts you can improve your staying power past the usual ten seconds).

Creatine Benefit #2: Improved Muscle Recovery

If you’ve read anything about training or worked with a trainer, you’ve probably heard about the SAID principle which states that the body responds to training with Stragetic Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  In other words, if you repeat an exercise over time your body will get better and more efficient at doing that exercise. (This is also the reason why you eventually burn fewer calories doing the same workout, and why trainer Tony Horton’s programs all vary exercises instead of sticking with the same program over and over; he calls it “muscle confusion,” but let’s be real: your muscle isn’t confused, it’s just getting better at performing something it has rehearsed many times.)

The body’s responses to training include increases in stored ATP and increases in stored PCr. The more you engage in high intensity exercise, the better your body adapts to using the ATP-PCr cycle to fuel the system, and the faster it can do it. This has an additional benefit: “Increasing the rate of creatine phosphate resynthesis during intense exercise appears to lower blood lactate accumulation and ammonia levels, both byproducts that inhibit peak performance output,” according to research cited by Elliott Reimers (see Resources below).

Translated into everyday language, that means two things. First, in doing high intensity exercise, your body recovers faster so you can spend less time resting  between intervals. Second, your final recovery may also be easier (as your body will have less muscular waste product–lactate and ammonia if you supplement with creatine). There is at least one study that shows creatine supplementation can help with recovery following injury.

MeStrength

Packaging. MeStrength comes in individual “stick” style packets, making it portable and easy to use while on the run (or at the gym, if that’s your schtick–see, I’m funny!). The instructions say to mix with 20 oz of water, though if you happen to have a water bottle that only holds 16 oz (as I did during one test), it just ends up with a slightly stronger flavor, and you can always add more water later. As with any supplement (and pretty much any other consumable product I can think of, from canned tomatoes to toilet paper), buying the larger package is more economical.

Usage. While I initially thought of MeStrength as a pre-workout because that provides the benefit of pre-hydration and available extra creatine within the body, it also works well as an in-workout hydration product. Given the study showing creatine can aid recovery, and I don’t know anyone who is properly 100% hydrated following a hard workout, there is also evidence it would make a good post-workout/recovery beverage.

Ingredients. Setting aside creatine, what’s in it? MeStrength contains five electrolytes: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. Personally, I find this superior to the hydration products that rely exclusively on sodium and potassium. I’m a sweaty girl, and I’m sure I lose ALL the electrolytes during an intense workout. It’s definitely better than consuming only potassium (which can cause cardiac issues in some individuals) or just sodium (which makes some of us feel water-logged but still thirsty).

The other ingredients are citric acid, natural flavor, vegetable and fruit juice for color only, and stevia (for a touch of sweetness).

  • Citric acid exists in nature in fruits and vegetables, and is often used as a preservative. It also occurs in the citric acid cycle, part of the metabolic processes in humans (and other living things).
  • Natural flavor has a very specific meaning in the administrative code relevant to the FDA:  “[natural flavor] means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 21, Section 501.22 MeStrength is a vegan product, so the natural flavor does not come from meal, etc. You can safely ignore all the fear-mongers who claim the term natural flavor is a way to hide mystery ingredients in food.
  • Vegetable and fruit juices for color only means the small amount of juices present do not add nutrients (or calories) to the product.
  • Stevia is a sweetener/sugar-substitute that comes from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana. It has a slightly bitter aftertaste so it isn’t usually used as the sole sweetener, but I didn’t notice any bitter aftertaste in MeStrength.

Taste & Opinions. Overall, I liked the taste of MeStrength, with my favorite flavor being fruit punch. (That’s almost always my favorite flavor in supplements. Something about how much I loved Hawaiian Punch as a kid.) It isn’t super sweet like, say, full-strength Gatorade or Powerade. As I mentioned above, there isn’t a bitter aftertaste. I’m willing to bet those who complain they don’t like the new Nuun formulations due to the stevia won’t even notice it in this product. I also like that this product separates hydration (electrolytes) and supplementation from fuel. I tend to need hydration at a more rapid rate than fuel, and my stomach cramps if I rely on a two-in-one product. This way I can use MeStrength by itself, add it to a fuel product, or consume separate fuel (like actual food!)

Fruit punch is my favorite!
Fruit punch is my favorite!

Resources

The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Certification Manual, second edition. John Berardi, PhD; Ryan ANdrews, MA, MS, RD. (All of the material in quotation marks above is from this textbook, numbers indicate page numbers.)

“All About Creatine.” Ryan Andrews

“Body Fuel: Creatine Myths” John Berardi, PhD

“Does Creatine Impact Recovery & Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?” Elliott Reimers

My search on PubMed returned 414 results on July 12, 2016. (Search terms: “creatine supplementation and exercise performance”)

 

Disclosure: I received raspberry Ultima sticks and a lemonade Ultima canister because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like. All opinions are my own.

Spread the word! You can save 35% and get free shipping on Ultima with code BIBRAVE2016Click To Tweet

It’s summer, which means I need to up my hydration game. (Sadly, wine doesn’t count.) That’s part of why I asked to be one of the BibRave Pro Team members to test the new and improved formula of Ultima; I’m always looking for variety in my hydration game.  Ultima sent me a 30-serving container of lemonade, as well as a box of raspberry individual stick-style packets. Ultima is a hydrating electrolyte beverage, NOT a fuel product. There are no carbs, proteins, or fats in Ultima (and therefore nothing for your body to use as fuel). Ever since I learned you can separate hydration from fuel, I’ve been a huge fan of taking that approach. First, since I sweat a lot (especially in the heat!) I need hydration more often than I need fuel. Second, separating hydration and fuel allows me to fuel with real foods and fat-containing foods, such as peanut butter. Third, the science is with me on this one: gastric emptying (stuff leaving your stomach and getting into the other parts of your body) is slowed by the addition of carbohydrates. (See resources below.)

First Thing’s First: How Does It Taste?

Flavor: Raspberry. If you’re like me, you need your hydration (and nutrition) to taste good. I can’t count the number of people who don’t drink enough water because “the water where I live tastes bad” (or some variation of that excuse). There are plenty of hydration options I don’t like because they are too sweet, too sour, too salty, taste like old socks, etc. To me, the raspberry flavor smells like a red popsicle. It has a pleasant taste that I like enough to both look forward to drinking while out running, and to drink at my desk to encourage me to stay hydrated. While it is sweetened in part with stevia, I had to try very hard to taste the stevia. At least one of the BibRave Pro team members  (Heather from Heather Runs Thirteen Point One) loathes stevia and gave up on her prior hydration when the stevia flavor in the new formula got to be too much for her. (Note: I do not have this problem. I also like cilantro. That said, I’m sympathetic to those who have the genetic disposition that makes cilantro taste like soap. Perhaps there is a similar thing for stevia?)

Can you see why I thought this cute little scoop was too small?
Can you see why I thought this cute little scoop was too small?

Flavor: Lemonade. Since the raspberry Ultima I received came in sticks, it was easy to measure. (Cut one open, dump it in the glass, boom.) My lemonade Ultima came in a tub. By the way, I LOVE this. Thirty servings fit in the palm of my hand! This is a bonus to me because it means Ultima doesn’t hog a lot of pantry space and is travel-friendly. Of course a smaller package is also more environmentally-friendly (e.g. uses less plastic in the packaging, takes less fuel to transport, etc.) and a bulk package is less expensive than individually wrapped sticks (cost is about $0.66 per serving instead of $1 per serving). If you buy the larger canister (90 servings) the cost goes down to around $0.33 per serving. Anyway, when I first pulled out the teeny-tiny scoop I thought for sure it was too small to be the actual serving size, and mixed a heaping scoop with water. Bad move! It tasted like a non-gritty Country Time Lemonade mix! WAY too sweet! When I actually used the scoop to measure a level scoop–the real serving, and it seems tiny–it came out much better. The taste is lemonade, but a sweetish lemonade, not a sour/tart one. It’s not overly sugary, and I bet it would make a nice margarita when mixed with tequila.

Other flavors. Ultima also comes in orange, grape, cherry pomegranate, and “toddler berry punch” (which as the name implies, is intended for kids–a useful thing to have in your arsenal when your kid is getting dehydrated due to vomiting and diarrhea, for example). I’m using the BibRave discount to buy a big tub of cherry pomegranate the instant it comes back in stock.

Raspberry after initial mixing (the clumps around the sides dissolved too)
Raspberry after initial mixing (the clumps around the sides dissolved too)

Mouth-feel. I hate gritty drink mixes. Many powdered drink mixes seem to not fully dissolve, leaving little sand-like particles floating around in the drink (and this makes me crazy). Initially I was afraid that might be the case for Ultima, but it turns out I was just being silly–like most powders, if you mix Ultima in ice water it isn’t going to dissolve very well. Oops. When I tried very cold water (from a pitcher that had been refrigerated overnight), I put the Ultima in the bottom and poured the water over the top. This time, some powder rose to the top almost like bubbles. A quick swish with a spoon and they were gone. The resulting beverage was translucent pink, and smooth like water. The very bottom of the glass had a small amount of undissolved solids, but that didn’t bother me (though the very last sip had a tiny bit of a granular texture, it wasn’t sandy, and overall didn’t bother me–plus when I’m running I almost never get all the way to the bottom of the bottle before I refill).

What is NOT in Ultima?

Ultima’s website and packaging spend quite a bit of space on what is NOT in Ultima. Since that may also be important to you, here’s a list:

  • No sugar
  • No calories
  • No artificial flavors
  • No artificial colors
  • No GMO ingredients (Non-GMO Project verified)
  • No gluten (certified gluten-free)
  • No animal products (certified vegan)
  • No caffeine
  • No added maltodextrin (the natural flavors have a tiny amount)
My Ultima arrived all wrapped up like a present!
My Ultima arrived all wrapped up like a present!

What is actually IN Ultima? A bunch of things.

You probably know you lose “salt” when you sweat, especially if you are a salty sweat-er (you can feel the grit on your face when you are done). Many people rely on salt packets when they run, but this is a mistake (outside the scope of this article, read the science-y bits of the article cited below). The short story is that you need to replenish ALL of the electrolytes you lose through sweat. (Did you know you sweat out iron too, especially in hot weather? That’s also a blog post for another day.)

Since many of the ingredients are familiar to the average person as “something from the periodic table” or “a chemical,” I thought it might be helpful to understand what each of these ingredients does inside the body–yes, every one of the main ingredients in Ultima already exists inside your body AND is critical for it to function at peak performance. I’ve included a quickie description, but also a link to that nutrient’s page on the Precision Nutrition Encyclopedia of Food. That way you can read more about food sources for that nutrient, as well as more than the examples I’ve given of problems that a deficiency may cause, and find out where that item lives in your food/diet.

The name in parenthesis is the form found in Ultima. (That way if you are as nerdy as I am, you can use your Google-fu for more information, and compare the bioavailability of various forms.) Potassium, for example, can combine to form many chemical compounds including potassium chloride, a common substitute for regular table salt (sodium chloride). In selecting the forms to include in Ultima, the creators tried to use the form that your body can most easily access and use (known as the most “bioavailable” form).

  • Potassium (potassium aspartate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Assists in keeping the proper electrochemical gradient across cell membranes; this is important for nerve impulse transmission, cardiac function, and muscle contraction. The proper electrochemical gradient allows nutrients into the cell and waste products to exit. Deficiency can cause cardiac problems and muscle cramps. Read more.
  • Magnesium (Magnesium citrate and Magnesium aspartate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Helps your body metabolize fats and carbohydrates, involved in DNA and protein synthesis, plays a role in wound healing. Deficiency can cause hypokalemia (deficiency of potassium in the bloodstream).  Read more.
  • Chloride (sodium chloride)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Like Potassium, assists in keeping the proper electrochemical gradient across cell membranes (see above); also aids in the digestion and absorption of many nutrients. Deficiency can cause low blood pressure and weakness.  Read more.
  • Calcium (calcium citrate and calcium ascorbate)
    • Essential mineral, and the most common mineral in the body
    • Electrolyte
    • We all know it plays a role in healthy bones and teeth, but did you know it also regulates nerve impulse transmissions, muscle contractions, and hormone secretions? Deficiency can cause skeletal problems (e.g. rickets, osteoporosis), among others. Read more. 
  • Selenium (amino acid chelate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Helps create antioxidant balance in the body, works in concert with certain proteins and enzymes. Deficiency can lead to problems with cartilage development/formation, among other problems. Read more.
  • Zinc
    • Essential mineral
    • Helps with growth, development, neurological function, reproduction, and immune function (that’s a lot of different things!); acts as a catalyst in some chemical reactions within the body; forms/sustains cell structure; regulates genetic expressions, signaling among cells (including in the nervous system), and release of hormones. A zinc deficiency can slow wound healing. Read more.
  • Phosphorus (potassium phosphate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Yes, this is the stuff on match tips (but please don’t go eat them!). It forms bone structure, plays a role in energy transfer, helps with hormone production and enzyme production, signals cells, and facilitates binding site activity for hemoglobin. Deficiency is pretty rare. Read more.
  • Sodium (sodium chloride)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Often painted as the dietary bad-guy, sodium is something you lose through sweat, and replacing it is important! Like Potassium, Sodium assists in keeping the proper electrochemical gradient across cell membranes. It also regulates extracellular fluid (fluid outside of your cells) and is key to blood volume and blood pressure. A sodium deficiency spells race day disaster: nausea, vomiting, disorientation/confusion, cramps, headache, and fatigue. Read more.
  • Copper (copper citrate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Pennies might not be made of it anymore, but copper does help make up some neurotransmitters and the myelin structures that coat your nerves. (No copper? Nervous breakdown, ha ha!) Copper helps with collagen and elastin structures, and helps with protein synthesis and cell energy. Deficiency can cause anemia that doesn’t respond to iron treatments, and cause imbalances/deficiencies in your white blood cells. Read more.
  • Manganese (manganese citrate)
    • Essential Mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Tiny but mighty? That’s manganese. It helps metabolize carbs, cholesterol, and amino acids (the building blocks of protein); it helps the antioxidant enzymes of the mitochondria (the “powerhouse” organelles inside your cells). Deficiency is rare. Read more.
  • Molybdenum (sodium molybdate)
    • Essential Mineral
    • Acts as a cofactor (a substance required for enzymes to do their jobs) for the enzymes in the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles; also helps with metabolism of drugs. Read more.
  • Chromium (chromium dinicotinate glycinate)
    • Essential Mineral
    • Enhances the effects of insulin and assists in metabolism of glucose and fat. Deficiency (predictably!) can cause impaired glucose tolerance and elevated circulating insulin. Read more.

There are some additional ingredients that vary by flavor (for example, beta carotene exists naturally in oranges, so it is present in orange flavor). You can read Ultima’s description of their ingredients on their website.

That’s The Basics. You’ve probably now learned more than you ever needed or wanted to know about Ultima, but in case you need more, do go to the website: http://www.ultimareplenisher.com/ The website can tell you where to find Ultima in stores near you, but the code BIBRAVE2016 which gets you 35% off plus free shipping will only work on the Ultima website.

Selected References:

Happy Running! NERD OUT!!

Disclosure: if you’ve read the other two #Buffalove posts, you know I got the opportunity to run and help promote the Buffalo Marathon because I am on the BibRave Pro Team. (If you haven’t read them, why not?!?) This post is a continuation of my adventures in Buffalo. This post has no sponsors or sponsored content. BibRave, Buffalo Marathon, and Spot don’t even know I’m going to write it.

Coffee and compression socks for the win
Coffee and compression socks for the win

As you may have figured out, I love a good cup of coffee. (Yes, I have a Starbucks Gold Card; when you travel for work as much as I do, it is often the only place to get coffee and/or the only place with reliable wifi…and sometimes I am not feeling adventurous.) When I travel for fun, I like to check out the local variations on the bean of life. It gives me an excuse to explore a little, and usually a place to check my email, start my race review, and otherwise kick back a little. In Buffalo, I checked out Spot Coffee. Spot has coffee and the usual coffee place menu (e.g. baked goods) but also serves real food (like breakfast, burritos/wraps, sandwiches, pizza, salads, and other things that are not just sweet little noshes to go with coffee).

 

 

 

Spot's welcome chalkboard
Spot’s welcome chalkboard

The Spot I visited was smack in the middle of downtown; I ran past it during the marathon, and made a mental note of the name so I could look it up later. (Okay so I lost that note and had to google, but hey.) There is a Starbucks literally across the street, and yet both times I was there (you know I like coffee, right?) it had plenty of customers. The chalkboard marquis distracted me from my immediate goal (get coffee inside me, pronto) and enticed me to walk past the bags of freshly roasted coffee. That turns out well for you, as there is a chance to win a bag at the end of this post!

Before I left, I saw the roasting room. I didn’t have time to beg for a tour (I had a plane to catch) but I did stop to ogle the equipment and try not to drool.

But back to the Spot experience. There is a lot of real estate that could support a line to wait to order, but on the Tuesday after a holiday weekend (and not during a rush hour) there was no wait to belly up to the coffee bar. There were more choices than I expected, and the staff were kind and friendly as I dithered about what to get.

Sorry this shot turned out so dark--next time I'll try a filter! (Yes, that was my attempt at a coffee joke.)
Sorry this shot turned out so dark–next time I’ll try a filter! (Yes, that was my attempt at a coffee joke.)

The decor was a funky mix, with unique lighting fixtures (I don’t think any two of the chandeliers over the tables matched each other), a mural covering one wall, and all sorts of seating. The main room (the part surrounding the bar, above) included tables and bar-style window seats. There were two outdoor areas, one reserved for smoking and the other non-smoking. Also, bonus, lots of places to plug in gadgets (since I started playing Ingress, my iPhone is always in need of a charge). The back room had a few bigger tables, some chairs and lamps, and a few booths. I like how there were many different types of seating; there was something suitable for every possible purpose at a cafe from study alone or read the paper to hosting a group meeting.

Chandelier and purple wall!
Chandelier and purple wall!

Aside from the mural, there were also various pieces of art hung around the cafe. I really enjoy visual art, and appreciate it when cafes support artists by hosting shows, or serving as a temporary art gallery. Another thing I like about checking out the local cafes is that there is usually a literature and brochure area. Sure, I did read The Buffalo News while in town, but I also like to read the alternative papers. It was fun to see postcards and papers out for other local races, Pride events, art shows, churches, and community groups. (Sometimes there is more than one place for these items, and sometimes there is a bulletin board as well. I find it is a way to get a different, less touristy, feel for a place I’m visiting.) Several of the fun runs sounded like I’d enjoy them, but since I live in California I knew they’d be a no-go.

 

 

 

Condiment bar with sriracha? Yes, please!
Condiment bar with sriracha? Yes, please!

My first go at Spot, I had a (hot) mocha. I’m pretty sure the barista thought I was insane for ordering a hot drink on a hot day; if he saw the marathon medal that should have confirmed my insanity right there. It was made with a strong, dark espresso and wasn’t overly sweet. Tuesday I tried a variation, adding a shot of hazelnut (because as soon as I saw they had it, I had a major jones for hazelnut syrup). Yes, that made my drink taste more like a candy bar, but I loved every sip of it!

For a list of locations in Buffalo and elsewhere, try the Spot Coffee website. It also lists contact information and hours for each cafe.

 

 

Now the part you’ve been waiting for: win some coffee! This giveaway has two prizes. Prize #1 is Spot Coffee Company’s “House” coffee. The label identifies notes of milk chocolate, nougat, and cream. Prize #2 is Spot Coffee Company’s “Espresso” coffee. The label says it has notes of dark chocolate, stonefruit, and “syrupy” (which I believe refers to the consistency or mouth-feel after brewing). These are both 12 oz., sealed packages of whole-bean coffee roasted by Spot in Buffalo, NY.

Win this coffee!
Win this coffee!

Enter using the Rafflecopter below. Please note this contest is void where prohibited by law. I will happily ship prizes to addresses in the U.S. and Canada. Winners will be notified and must respond within 7 days or forfeit. There is only one of each prize, and the first winner drawn will get to choose which prize they would prefer.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Disclosure: I received a free entry to the Buffalo Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

I had a PLAN. (Then I had another plan.)

Leading up to the Buffalo Marathon, I had BIG plans. The universe pointed and laughed.

Buffalo Theatre District
Buffalo Theatre District

When I first heard that the BibRave Pro Team members would have the opportunity to run Buffalo, I figured I would run the half marathon. The half marathon is my “safe” spot, a distance I have done many times (like 80), and knew I could finish at around 3:00 even if the conditions are less than perfect, faster if I pushed myself. Then we had our first team call with race director Greg Weber. After enough jokes that the rest of the BibRave Pros were convinced I was going to get a pony, I was positive that I was going to run the full. I had a full already on calendar (Dopey Challenge) and plenty of time to train. Game. On.

I didn’t exactly run the marathon I’d planned at Disney World, in part due to my inability to plan ahead (read: failure to submit proof of time so I got placed in the last corral). Sure, I got to take plenty of pictures and I finished, but the “balloon ladies” got MUCH closer than I’d planned on. Whatever, I was tired, and by then I had signed up to run the Sedona Marathon for the BibRave Pro Team.

As you may have read–or can go read now–the Sedona Marathon didn’t go as planned either. (Something about how I live at about 10′ above sea level.) I took a little time off to rest my poor lungs, made a training plan on the ASICS running website, and endeavoured to plow forward. If I just followed that plan, I could break 6:00 (my goal, since the finish line deconstruction happened then). Onward!

This time, the universe cackled.

The Universe? Had a different plan.

After Sedona, every long run left with me really sore hips. Both sides. Work took me to places where running was a questionable idea. Eventually I was back to running, mostly well, just with somewhat sore hips after long runs, and I thought that a flat course might be reasonably do-able. After running Revel Mt. Charleston I developed a crazy knot in the spot at my glute-hamstring tie-in. (Turns out I needed my chiropractor to reset my pelvis; it had canted such that my left hip–the one that was trying to kill me–was pressed forward and higher than the right one. Trust me, it was super muy no bueno, and I was kicking myself for not finding a way to get to the chiropractor earlier.) Not much running happened. I looked into dropping down to the half–the glute-hamstring tie-in was quite painful still–but I’d missed the deadline and actually not been injured until a few days afterwards.

Team RWB raises the flags at the starting line
Team RWB raises the flags at the starting line

The Race had a plan!

Then the pre-race emails started coming: Buffalo was expecting a heat wave. Since I’m a delicate little flower who comes from two long lines of pasty white people from very northern climes, this did not bode well for me. I packed more than one option–Mother Nature is fickle and loves to see runners arrived over/under dressed. I packed my Orange Mud single barrel hydraquiver so I could carry Nuun on the course (for a supplement to the race-provided hydration options), as well as an extra Buff (to dunk in water to assist with cooling by evaporation).

Heat so nice, they warned us twice
Heat so nice, they warned us twice

One of the pre-race emails was “Racing When It’s Warm/Hot” by Steve Gonser from runsmartonline. (Steve also gave the course preview, including course-specific tips on heat, during the pasta party.) On the 27th, all participants received an email with details on what the Buffalo Marathon heat plan included, again with tips specific to running in the heat. The heat plan included:

  • Contact with the weather service monitoring the predicted temperature pre-race
  • 6000 pounds of ice distributed throughout the course (in two formats: bags of ice intended for runners to take away in cups, and tubs of ice and water with washcloths to take away for cooling/evaporation)
  • Additional fluids distributed on the course, including an aid station every mile after the half marathon split
  • Mobile water delivery, including both trucks with bottled water and bicycle course monitors carrying bottled water.
  • Putting water supply trucks on standby to insure aid stations do not run out of water (because we’ve all been to a race where that happened, right?)
  • Adding gel and bananas to more locations on the course
  • Nurses at 7 aid stations
  • Cooling vans (air conditioned vans/buses for runners to take a little break and cool down, or sag out, if necessary)
  • Buffalo Fire Department opened some fire hydrants along the course, added more than the originally planned number of EMS stationed around the course, and added misters at the finish line
  • Rural Metro (the ambulance service) added more ambulance stations
  • Pre-race, Buffalo Marathon used the media to ask residents and businesses on the course turn on their sprinklers (so runners could use them to cool off)
  • The Buffalo Convention Center lowered the temperature inside the building to provide a post-race cooling zone.

Since running the 5k had given me a taste of what the heat was going to be like on the back half of the course, I was a little bit worried, but between the Buffalo Marathon’s preparations and my own experience with heat, hydration, and electrolyte balance, I crossed my fingers. Yes, I was injured and had a great “excuse” to drop out at any time, but I’m a little stubborn and didn’t want a DNF. (Besides, the medals were awesome.) Recommendations for runners, applicable to any hot race, included:

• Slow down. (Listen to your body, run conservatively.)
• Start the race well-hydrated. (Drink before the race, take fluids early and often during the race).
• Consider carrying a bottle. (Option to toss it at an aid station if it turns out you don’t need it.)
• Wear a hat. (Keeps sun off face/head; soak in water and add ice beneath at aid stations to cool.)
• Sunblock. (Sunburn taxes your body’s resources.)
• Chill out pre-race. (Stay horizontal and soak up the AC.)
• Know the warning signs. As the email said, “Heat exhaustion can be dangerous. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded or disoriented, stop running. Ask for help from a race volunteer who will help you to a medical tent.” (This communication included a link to signs of heat-related illness, which you may recalls I once wrote about on this blog.)
• Carry salt packets and/or drink Gatorade. (Sweat depletes electrolytes.)
• Stay positive. Visualize success.

As a side note, what constitutes a “heat wave” for running purposes depends on the location of the run and the typical experience of a high percentage of the pool of runners. Several races in the Northeastern states were black-flagged or cancelled pre-race due to the heat. These are tough decisions made by race directors in consultation with local EMS, water, and other authorities. What is normal for one location may be a potential disaster for another. I was really disappointed after the weekend to see runners talking smack about the choices some races made. Sure, maybe YOU are used to running in 90+ degree temperatures in full sun, maybe that wouldn’t be cause to shut down a race in Atlanta, or Houston, or Phoenix, but it’s not normal for most of the rest of the country.

Any idea how this flat runner thing got started?
Any idea how this flat runner thing got started?

A woman, The Universe, The Race, and the plan.

On race morning I suited up and headed out to the starting line. There were exactly zero people complaining that the race started at 6:30 a.m., and I was actually wishing we started an hour earlier since there was no pre-race chill. First we covered some of the same road as the 5k, which was partially shaded by trees and dotted with old brick buildings. The next section was through a gorgeous neighborhood with a lush green boulevard/park in the center of the street. There were a ton of families out, some with their sprinklers on and turned towards the streets. It was only mile 3ish at that point, but the sprinklers felt good. Despite the abundance of cute dogs, I knew I was going to slow down substantially on the back half of the course so I didn’t stop. I stuck as strictly as possible to 1-1 run-walk intervals and tried to cover as much ground as possible.

Running through one of the beautiful Buffalo neighborhoods in the first half of the half
Running through one of the beautiful Buffalo neighborhoods in the first half of the half

The course headed back through the downtown area, and then west through another residential area. I think it was around mile 6 or 7  when I was offered my first cup of ice, which I split 50-50 between my mouth and my sports bra. Just before we headed down to Lake Erie we passed by what I assume was a condo association or planned community, where they had recently laid down cedar shavings/bark on the landscaping. It was exceptionally stinky, and I could feel the heat and wet coming off of the adjacent lawns.

Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park
Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park

Running along Lake Erie let me see the Buffalo waterfront from a different perspective than canalside (at least until we ran up to that point). As we ran through the marina area, various landscaping sprinklers had been adjusted to mist up and out away from the lawns and onto the runners. At this point I was still feeling pretty good and pacing a 6:00ish marathon.

This ones not a bison, but a Buffalove!
This ones not a bison, but a Buffalove!

After passing through canalside, I got to say hi to Mr. Horton again on my way to the hockey arena. Dad had gotten up and taking the trolley down to that area to say hello as I ran through. By that point I had passed mile 11, it was past 8:00ish so the sun was up and shining, and the next stretch had no shade. A small section of the pavement was a bit torn up, so I proceeded carefully around that block, past The Buffalo News, and back over to say hi to Dad again before aiming for central downtown once more.

The real Tim Horton. Thanks for the coffee and donuts!

The mile 13 marker was mentally challenging. The vast majority of the people around me turned to take the half marathon finish, and I could hear all the cheering and crowds as I ran through. Crowds of folks with finisher medals were heading back to their hotels as I ran around the back side of the Convention Center and headed up to Linwood Avenue. I started to encounter the soft-re-opening of the course, and at one point was the only runner in my sight for at least three blocks. I could feel my pace starting to slow and while mentally I was pushing to keep the run intervals as fast as possible I was trying to balance that with the desire to not burn out before mile 16. I stopped briefly at every aid station to drink something, grab ice, splash water on my body, and refill my Nuun (the tube fits neatly into the slim pockets on the back of the Orange Mud).

I plodded onward along the Forest Lawn Cemetery boundary, and kinda wished the race ran through it. (I love cemeteries. They are some amazing green spaces and hold a crazy amount of history.) As I turned into Delaware park I stopped to pet the first dog of the day before tackling the loop around the golf course. About a half mile in, I saw a few other runners. Aha! Future road kill! I was going to pass someone!

Wherein one of us abandons the plan.

I pulled up alongside this runner and determined she was in the marathon. (There were some extraneous walkers/runners in the park as well.) She seemed overheated, so I gave her the rest of my ice, and then some tips on where to put it/how to use it (since thirst was not the issue). I pulled ahead a little bit for a short time, and then hit the back side of the park where there was a mini-aid station with bottled water and snacks where she caught up with me again. We started away from the aid station together. I’m going to call this runner “Vanessa” (that is not her name). She asked if she could “try to keep up” with me and as soon as I learned this was her very first marathon and she was by herself, any plan I had for my finish time evaporated. I thought about my Marathon Maniac angel Dexter, who pushed me through the last lap of the New Year’s Double Marathon in the cold and wet, and there was pretty much no choice but to pay it forward.

As we wound through the neighborhood behind the park, Vanessa and I got to know each other. This was her first marathon and she had trained for it, but heat wasn’t her jam either. She had finished multiple other races, including some half marathons. Vanessa raised two fine kids as a mostly single mom after growing her self-esteem and booting her now-ex-husband. (I know they are fine kids because Vanessa bragged on them a little, but also because she was a great human and so she must have pretty fine kids too.) Neighbors left sprinklers out for us to run through, and one guy was outside of his house with a table of oranges and other snacks, as well as a hose to spray us down. We grabbed ice at every opportunity. I poked Vanessa to carry a bottle and sip from it every now and then even though she didn’t “feel thirsty.”

Buffalo is filled with interesting details
Buffalo is filled with interesting details

After we exited the park, there was a tricky stretch towards Buffalo State College and down to mile 22. Every half mile or so, I’d convince Vanessa to take a “run break” (which is like a “walk break” but running). While she had definitely put in the miles and stuck to her training plan MUCH more faithfully than I had, there were many things she didn’t know about running that I had learned as much by trial-and-error as by exercising my extremely nerdy streak. Vanessa encouraged me to keep yapping to distract her from the pain–if you’ve made it as far as mile 20, you know what we were feeling there. When I ran out of running topics, I told her all about my cat. (Yes, I’m THAT runner.)

By this point the trucks had come to sweep the course, take down the aid stations, and re-open the roads to traffic. Multiple vehicles–including an ambulance–slow-followed us and called out to make sure we were okay, ask if we needed more water, and make sure we understood we were being officially moved to the sidewalks. It was pretty awesome course support, since at that point the race organization was 100% within rights to sweep us to a DNF. Vanessa was starting to dog it a little bit and I as my own dogs were barking (the sprinklers felt great on my body, but had soaked my shoes and socks) and hatching blisters. I promised her that she was crossing that finish line if I had to drag, pull, or push her over it. Vanessa steeled her nerves and dug deep, and we pressed forward.

Wherein the three of us hatch a New Plan.

Down Bidwell, onto Richmond, we started to pass some outdoor parties (it was, after all, Memorial Day weekend). Each time we passed a party people would clap and say encouraging things, and I’d bust out with “FIRST TIME MARATHONER! KICKING BUTT!!” and point to Vanessa. While she got a little shy whenever I did that, she also got a little more confident in her forward strides, so I hammed it up big time. Our running breaks got shorter but more frequent.

By this point there were zero directional signs left (though there were some cups of water left on tables at what was left of the aid station, and we had plenty of fluids with us). I whipped out my iPhone, low on battery from streaming Rock My Run tunes but still alive, to check the course. A few more blocks, and then to North. I may have lied slightly about how much course was left to go…and I didn’t stop at the Humane Society picnic in the park even though it was chock full o’ cute doggies. Around this point we came across another runner. Her name was not Jennifer. Vanessa and I introduced ourselves and the three of us continued to inch towards the finish line.

Jennifer was also running her first marathon. Unlike Vanessa, she hadn’t run a full training plan. As Jennifer explained it, the whole thing was her boyfriend’s idea. He read about the Buffalo Marathon, decided to do it, and enlisted Jennifer to help. (Note: said boyfriend was NOWHERE to be seen until after we crossed the finish line!) The way she tells it, they went out and ran 15 miles and that felt pretty good, so they showed up at the starting line. The three of us brainstormed what Jennifer should ask the boyfriend to do as payback and continued to take run-breaks.

Brick construction, showing evidence of past additions and deletions
Brick construction, showing evidence of past additions and deletions

Around mile 25.5ish, Vanessa’s triathlete friends appeared on a corner. Vanessa hadn’t wanted to “ruin” any of their races, and encouraged them to go forth and kill it, which I suspect they all did because they were wearing medals. They offered to carry all of her gear, handed her a cold water bottle, and otherwise did all the good things.

I knew we were close, and I started to push the trio faster and closer to that finish line. Jennifer started to wonder if there would even BE a finish line, as official course time was 6 hours and we were well into the seventh hour. She was honestly a little worried that there wouldn’t be anyone there to give her a medal. Since I knew how much Greg Weber, the Race Director, was invested in making this race a runner’s race, I promised both Jennifer and Vanessa that if we got to the end and there were no medals, I would personally call up Greg and ask to get them medals.

We hit Niagara Square and the 26 mile point. I was hot and disgustingly sweaty and tired, but I was so incredibly proud of how hard Vanessa was pushing herself to finish, and the dedication Jennifer had to persevere even though the boyfriend was MIA.  We navigated around the roundabout (Niagara “Square” isn’t very square) and turned on to Court Street. I knew there was just one more turn to go.

Just before we came to Franklin Street I yelled to Jennifer and Vanessa that there was just half a block left to go, and they’d better run the instant we turned that corner. As the three of us turned on to Franklin I dropped back and yelled, “Go! Go! You’ve got this! Run! Finish strong!” and chased them to the finish line. Or rather where the finish line used to be. The last portion of the barricades were still up, though the finish line itself had been disassembled for about an hour.

Eyes on this prize!
Eyes on this prize!

Volunteers were waiting with medals and bottled water. Jennifer’s boyfriend appeared and I laughed a little inside as I thought about our semi-delirious race-brain suggestions for how she should exact her revenge. Vanessa’s friends were waiting for her, cheering up a storm and patting her on the back. Due to some minor glitch in the tracking program, Dad wasn’t at the finish line yet, but John (my Runner of a Certain Age co-host) was headed in my direction. I turned around in time to see Vanessa burst into tears, and I was so happy for her that I had to choke back a few myself. She ran over to give me a big hug. “Thank you,” cry hug cry, “thank you SO much!” Aw shucks. I didn’t even do half as good a job as Dexter did when he pushed me to that finish line. “YOU did it,” I whispered, “it was ALL. YOU.” I gave her a big squeeze, hoping that through a hug she could feel how proud I was that she kept on going and finished what she started.

(Almost) The End.

Vanessa’s friends spirited her away, and I’m really hoping Jennifer was chewing out her boyfriend for his incredibly stupid idea. Dad, who had sensibly only run the 5k (I say that because one, he wasn’t trained up to run even a half, and two, his wife Ellen would have killed me if I’d let him join me for the marathon, which thankfully was sold out when he went to register) was running down the street to meet up with me.

I chugged water. I hugged Dad, who is my hero, always. I admired the beautiful Buffalo Marathon finisher medal. Note that at that point, the finisher party was still raging on inside the Convention Center (which I know because I watched video of the final finishers an hour or so behind us), but I looked around and saw nothing outside, and just wanted to hang out with my Dad.  It wasn’t until I saw the videos several hours later that I was like, wait, I missed the party?

I earned this one. Is it ironic that it is long-sleeved?
I earned this one. Is it ironic that it is long-sleeved?

(The final night and day in #Buffalove Part 3. Also, free coffee.)

 

 

 

Disclosure: I received a free entry to the Buffalo Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

Flying to Buffalo from California takes ALL DAY. I finally landed in Buffalo at 4ish, met Dad at the airport, and the adventure began! I wish I’d taken a picture of the injured butterfly I attempted to help (by moving it from laying in the middle of the sidewalk to resting in a patch of tall grass). We headed to the Hyatt, the host hotel for the Buffalo Marathon races, and I promptly took a nap. Side note, the Hyatt was pretty great! They were totally ready for the deluge of runners, and really friendly.

VIP Reception. When I woke up, Dad and I went down to the VIP reception, where I finally met race director Greg Weber in person. I also got to meet Liam, who was one of the race team members that facilitated the interview with Meb. I was otherwise a little too exhausted–why does flying make me soooo tired??–to be social, and since so many of the guests seemed to be catching up with each other, I didn’t want to intrude. (Translation: rats! Missed a selfie with Bart Yasso!) Dad enjoyed the Mile 27, a beer brewed only for the Buffalo Marathon, and I had a glass of wine, before we headed out to dinner. (There were snacks at the reception, but nothing grabbed me as dinner.)

Dinner. I fixated on the idea of getting a burrito, and Dad and I set out to walk over to the burrito joint. I somehow missed the turn, and we ended up walking through the historic theatre district where just a few of Buffalo’s gorgeous building live. Once I realized my mistake we circled back, and as soon as I saw Prima Pizza Pasta I wanted pizza. I had a more than sufficiently large calzone. Dad ordered “two tacos” which was really like “two burritos.” Basically we weren’t carb-loading, we were everything-loading.

Crashing. After the somewhat obligatory “flat me” photo and otherwise setting out race stuff, Dad and I were both asleep at record speed. This is what happens when I get up for a 6:20 a.m. flight on the west coast.

Morning came to early, as it always does on race day. We aimed to be picking up bibs before 7, so we would have plenty of time to walk back to the hotel, stash our shirts, and eat a little (and drink another bottle of Nuun) before the race. It was already heating up, and I started to sweat on the barely-two-blocks walk to the convention center. The pre-race emails had warned that Buffalo was expecting unusually hot weather for race weekend, and since heat knocks me down pretty quickly, I was worried about overheating and dehydration.

Pre-race. There was a single corral, with runners self-seeding into what seemed to be the appropriate areas. I saw a lot of kids, which made me happy–not only do I love the idea that a kid could find out they love running early in life, but pretty much all the kids running were there with their parents. There seemed to be a good mix of newer runners, walkers, Team RWB, marathon and half-marathon runners doing a shake-out run, families, and charity teams.

Race! The race started at 8:30. While the lack of corrals meant we all started in a clump, because the runners were pretty good at self-seeding, there wasn’t a lot of shuffling or down time after crossing the starting line.

For those familiar with Buffalo, the course started on the Pearl Street side of the Convention Center, eventually crossed to Franklin Street, went to Barker St., and turned down Delaware, eventually cutting through Niagara Square and finishing on the Franklin Street side of the Convention Center. There were plenty of people out cheering, and a crowd of volunteers directing traffic and doing the usual race day things.

For those NOT familiar with Buffalo, the course makes a big ol’ box around a portion of downtown. The course runs by a bunch of the beautiful buildings in Buffalo, the kind that make you look at the architecture and think, “Wow, they do not build buildings like this anymore.” The trees are lush and green, too!

There was very little elevation. Basically there was a low-grade up-hill on the way out, and a low-grade downhill on the way back. The course was suitable for even the most non-technical runner. The 5k also provided a nice preview of the marathon finish, as the downhill piece leading to the finish line was the same for both races.

Like most 5k races, there was one aid station. Given the unusually hot weather, it would have been nice to have two, but it was only a 5k so it wasn’t a big deal. When I finished the race, everything I was wearing was drenched, and it wasn’t from dumping water on myself!

Breakfast/Brunch at the Hyatt. A shower was NOT optional prior to eating. (Seriously, I could smell the other runners at the finish line. It was gross hot.) My room rate included breakfast (though not all do), which was either from the  menu or the buffet. The buffet had the usual buffet-type breakfast foods–cold cereal, yogurt and Greek yogurt with toppings, pastries and bread, fruit, cheese, eggs, potatoes, bacon, waffles, sausage–and also included cooked-to-order omelets, pancakes, and hot oatmeal (with toppings!). Despite having only run 5k I was really, really hungry and made full use of the buffet, plus an omelet!

Expo. Packet pickup was a breeze. The layout had bibs and shirts behind one set of registration tables, with several stations (sorted by bib number) staffed by volunteers. I love that each race has a different shirt, and that the half marathon shirt says “half marathon” on it. (As a mostly half-marathoner, I love it when the race treats the half marathon as its own event. Most of the time the shirts say “race series” or “marathon and half marathon” or sometimes just “marathon.”) Race bibs had attached timing chips, and the ID sticker indicated whether the volunteer should hand over a wooden nickel which served as the pasta party ticket.

Given the size of the race and the venue, the expo was a decent size. I’d estimate there were 40 booths covering race sponsors, other races, and running-related products. There were also multiple tables with information on upcoming races in the area which made me a little jealous since I can’t exactly fly across the country for races all the time–plus there were multiple races over the border in Canada! I’m sure the opportunities dry up in winter, but I could easily have planned an entire summer and fall of races based just on the booths and flyers.

While I always look at the shoes (you never know when you might score a deal on your favorites), sadly there were no Brooks waiting for me to find them. I picked up an extra tube of Nuun, since I had started slurping it on Friday and only had a few tablets left. I was glad to find HB Tune, as I was well on the way to wearing out my second HB Tune, plus my new iPhone was a tight fit. Turns out there is an updated design that can switch between right and left hands AND has a quick release so you can whip out your phone and snap pictures. Win! New to me is the TreadBand, a non-slip sweatwicking headband that ties (kind of like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle headband, only not intended to go on your eyes). TreadBands have a strip of yoga-mat-like material firmly attached, positioned so you tie that piece on your forehead before you tie the band. Since I always run with a hat and a half-Buff this won’t be a running accessory for me, but I’m excited to see if that strip also helps keep sweat out of my eyes during hot yoga!

Oh, and the Expo also had a stellar speakers line-up! Appearing live at the expo were Bart Yasso (Chief Running Officer, Runners’ World); DeAnna Bennett (an MMA fighter!), Misy Diaz (a Spartan Race runner whose cause is spina bifida), Molly Barker (Founder of Girls on the Run), and Lisa Howard (an ultra runner who is also a coach with Team RWB). The one and only Meb Keflezighi also appeared by livestream, complete with Q&A! If you have any doubt this was a world-class event, that should banish it!

Tour. One of the neat things the Buffalo Marathon has to offer is an open-bus tour of the course. I had hoped to do this but it didn’t work out–in part because I didn’t figure out how to get tickets until the day of, and in part because they only had one bus so it sold out! I’m hoping that next year there will either be two buses or two time options. One of the things that is so cool about Buffalo is that all sorts of history happened there–the War of 1812 (which, it turns out, was really fought in 1813), the assassination of president McKinley–and there are monuments and historic sites everywhere. That’s in addition to the magnificent architecture in every style (a little Victorian here, a little Beaux-Arts there, some Art Deco here, classic brick work over there). Next year, I’m on that bus.

In lieu of the bus tour, Dad and I took the streetcar down to Canalside, along with John (co-host of the Runner of a Certain Age podcast). Canalside is a newer development in the Buffalo scene, and includes the Liberty Hound brew pub and restaurant, a military museum, and three museum ships. There is a place to rent pedal-boats and remote controlled model boats, and a large park that was filled with a carnival while we were there. It was super hot, as I think I’ve mentioned, so we took a quick look around and then headed back.

Pasta Dinner. For most races I skip the pasta dinner. I’m really glad I didn’t skip this one! Dinner was at the convention center and consisted of food service catered salad mix, pasta, meatballs or chicken, rolls, and cookies. The pasta sauce had a nice zing to it without being overly spicy, and since I don’t eat meat I was able to talk them into a slightly bigger pasta serving. The meal also included beverages (various soft drinks, ice water with citrus slices, and Mile 27 beer). There were 600 seats, and Team RWB was out in full force.

The evening also included a welcome by race director Greg Weber (one of our guests on the Runner of a Certain Age), a raffle to win a Buffalo Bills jersey signed by Meb (proceeds to Meb’s charitable foundation), and a course preview.

The course preview was reason alone to attend. Steve Gonser, physical therapist and founder of RunSmartOnline.com, gave the presentation. (If you tuned in for any of the pre-race webinars on training and injury prevention, Steve hosted those too.) Most course previews are just a quick-speed film of the course with a few comments on the elevation. Not this one. While Steve did show video, he really focused on giving

 

[Elevation chart above taken from the Revel Mt. Charleston website. All rights belong to them. If asked to remove it, I will.]

When my friend Jackie asked me if i wanted to run a race in Las Vegas, my first reaction was “Sure! When?” I’ve only run two other races in the Las Vegas area, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon (multiple times) and the Sin City Shootout, and enjoyed both, so why not? That’s how i decided to run Revel Mt. Charleston–I signed up a few days later.

While I had never run a Revel race, many of my friends had run the Revel Canyon City race and enjoyed it. Since they all said it was a class act, I figured it wasn’t too much of a risk–plus it would be an excellent excuse to hang out with Jackie, and all I had to do was show up.

Luckily I was going to be working in Southern California, just one short plane hop to Las Vegas. Not-so-luckily there was a giant storm and they shut down McCarran, so my 55 minute flight took more than six hours to get off the ground, and I had to miss the expo.

Jackie reported the expo was fairly small–remember we both do tons of races and have seen expos that look like mini-malls–but well organized. Once I figured out I was likely to miss the expo (even though it was open until 8 pm!), I sent Jackie a text with my driver’s license and asked her to get my packet. Revel allowed her to pick up my packet, which I really appreciated.

Speaking of the packet, I was impressed. The drawstring bag came pre-tagged with my bib tag, so I didn’t have to do anything to it before using it as a sweat-check bag. Not only that, if you had registered early enough to personalized you bib (Jackie did, I did not) the race bib’s reverse was pre-printed with the emergency contact information from online registration. Nifty!

In addition to just a few race postcards (for the Revel series, and a few others that might be of interest to Revel-ers) and a few samples, the packet included a cold weather kit: runner gloves, a heat sheet (folded in a tiny pouch), and a sweet tech-fabric beanie that even had a hole for my ponytail. Race shirts came in three varieties, and at registration the runners could choose a tank, a short sleeved shirt, or a long sleeved shirt. I love the ombre design and colors, as well as the turtle-shell logo for Mt. Charleston.

Nifty tech shirt!
Nifty tech shirt!

Just like at Disney, race day started way the flapjack too early. Since the course was a point-to-point, there was bus service up to the starting point, and we’d run back. Parking was in a shopping center and quite plentiful. The bus service used charter coaches (not school buses) and seemed to run very smoothly. A belated thank you to the volunteer who told me I was about to get on the marathon bus, or this story would not have had a happy ending!

Flat Bain, unpacking for Revel
Flat Bain, unpacking for Revel

The marathon and half marathon were both on Mt. Charleston, with the entire course running down the mountain (until the last few miles). Marathoners started nearer to the top of the mountain, with half marathoners starting at marathon mile 13. The marathon runners reported starting temperatures in the 30s, and snow on the ground! From the half marathon start we could see the snow, but the temperatures were quite a bit warmer–mid-40s at the start.

The half marathon staging area had a gigantic bank of porta-potties, a hydration station with both water and gatorade, trucks for the sweat-check bags, and plenty of room to mill about and selfie. The desert mountain scenery was pretty, so there was hot and frantic selfie-taking action! (I suppose if you live in that scenery, you were probably looking at the rest of us and wondering what the big deal was.) I snapped a #Buffie with Smitha, marveled at how short the porta-potty lines were (race directors, take note: more potties = shorter lines), and yapped with Jackie about what the race plan would be. Smitha pointed out that the race director was boots-on-the-ground, wearing a safety vest and directing bus traffic. That’s pretty awesome, and the kind of all-hands teamwork I love to see in the running community.

Jackie is still asleep, while I have learned to sleep with my eyes open
Jackie is still asleep, while I have learned to sleep with my eyes open

The race start was a short walk down the mountain road. While there was a clearly marked start, there was no clearly defined START to the race. As we were walking down, I heard many people saying what I was thinking: “wait, did the race already start?” On the one hand, I’ve never been to a race where people just got to the starting line and started, so it was pretty weird. On the other hand, it did work wonders to keep the race traffic appropriately spaced out on the course. Overall I liked it, but I would have liked some warning (“start will be at 6:30 or whenever you hit the starting line”) so I could set my expectations accordingly. (Of course if I had remembered Carlee’s review of the Revel in California, I would have expected this.)

The course was 100% on paved roads in good repair. Most of the half marathon course headed down the mountain, with the last 3 miles or so veering off to the right to return to the start. Runners had about half of one of the lanes on this four-lane road, plus a generous shoulder; the remainder of the road was open to police-directed/escorted traffic. One nice perk of this course is that the road was NOT canted for rain-drainage purposes. (You know how sometimes you’re running on the outer lane and it’s very clear your left foot doesn’t have as far to go down as your right? Then maybe your SI joint starts to whine? None of that here.) My guess is that this is because the road itself is downhill with very slight curvature, allowing the water to naturally drain away. Overall, a great surface to run on–no potholes, dips, chips, or other road hazards.

Fast, flat, downhill
Fast, flat, downhill

For the first mile, I felt like I was FLYING. The course was clearly downhill, even though driving up to the start didn’t feel like much of a climb. It wasn’t such a huge grade that I was worried about momentum (you know, like when you feel like you’re gaining so much speed that you might fall over and you start to rein in that momentum). Since I hadn’t done any downhill-specific training–and yes, the Revel website does quite clearly recommend hill training!–I was working on managing my energy output. Before the race I had turned off the interval function on my Garmin, and initially ran and walked random, untimed, intervals. (Later on I switched to using the metal posts by the side of the road, doing a run-2, walk-1, for example.) This mainly worked out well.

Similar to my experience in Sedona, I had to really work on my breathing. As a flat-lander, my lungs don’t want anything to do with elevation. It took about 4 miles for me to get into a good breathing rhythm, and even so the prime movers felt a little fire. At times I’d run until it hurt to breathe, then walk until I’d recovered. There were plenty of people also running intervals–timed, distance, or random–and much to my great delight, everyone signaled their stops and slow traffic kept right. (It’s not rocket science–the rules of the road are very simple–but some runners are so rude!)

At mile 3 I noticed my run intervals were around 9:35/mile pace (though I wasn’t running an entire mile at a time). That’s pretty darned FINE for me. I continued to run my intervals at that pace (or sometimes faster!) for quite a few more miles. Through miles 4, 5, and 6 I still felt like I was just cruising down that hill–no surprise, since I’d looked at the course elevations, and the first six miles had the most slope. By mile 6 I was pretty sure I had killed my 10k PR (though I haven’t looked at the data to confirm).

SPI belt Venture joins me in running Revel Mt. Charleston
SPI belt Venture joins me in running Revel Mt. Charleston

Around mile 8, I started to feel a hot spot on my left foot, along the arch. This was puzzling, as I had worn my usual foot gear (wonky toe taped, 2Toms Sport Shield applied, Wright’s Double Layer socks) and the Brooks Glycerin didn’t have that many miles on them (I’m guessing under 150, based on my total mileage this year and the races/runs for which I have worn other shoes). At first I thought I had something inside my shoe, and I stopped to fish it out, but that wasn’t it. At mile 10 I considered my sock might have wadded up, and I stopped to straighten it out, but that wasn’t it either. (I’m going to be working with the good folks at Brooks to figure this out–I’ve never had a problem with any pair of Brooks, so this is an anomaly.)

As the course came to the bottom of the run down the mountain, it turned right to run along some roads and head to the finish (a park by where we had parked). The course flattened out quite a bit, and there were a few uphill sections (what the what?), one up to the freeway’s service drive, and another up to the overpass. We ran a brief section by the freeway, but mostly through residential areas. There was a volunteer/course marshall at every turn, so getting lost was not an option.

Finally!
Finally!

As we turned the second-to-last turn we started to run past spectators! Since there were basically none (other than aid station volunteers) on the mountain, this gave me another kick of energy. There were lots of kids holding signs to cheer on mom and/or dad. When I hit the final turn and saw the finish line, I took everything I had to sprint, blister-in-formation be darned, across that finish line. Then I hit stop on my Garmin. (Or so I thought…) PR achieved! In fact, I actually beat my old PR by a few minutes (not that I’m fast), which impressed me because my prior PR I was about 20 pounds lighter and in much better shape. (So if I start training now…)

The finisher chute had bananas and water and carbs. Better, there was hot pizza! Better, there was pie!! I had a slice of ‘za and a slice of pumpkin, met up with Jackie, and wandered out into the now-sunny park to hang out for a bit.

Beanie & Bling
Beanie & Bling

The park had a few booths from miscellaneous vendors, a massage tent, a tent with Revel merchandise, and a stage with live music. I put my feet up on one of the chairs and relaxed in the grass for a bit. There were also several backdrops with signs and such for taking photos. Oh right, almost forgot another cool benefit: Revel gives runners FREE race photos. (Yup, that’s free, no additional charge, go ahead and download them all.)

It's a sign!
It’s a sign!

After we walked back to the car, drove over to brunch, ordered, and sat down…I noticed I hadn’t even paused my Garmin. Whomp, whomp, sad trombone noise for me!  User error aside, I had a fantastic race and would gladly do this one again. Have you run Revel? Join me at the next one?

 

Disclosure: (1) I borrowed the featured image above from the SPI belt website. (2) I received a complimentary SPI belt Venture series because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.

I bought my first SPI belt several years ago, long before I had invested in much running “gear,” the Original SPI belt. I picked a bright turquoise color because most of my running gear was drab (this was before the dayglo/neon revival, and before the advent of patterned leggings) and I thought a pop of color would be a little wild for me. When I upgraded to iPhone 6, I also upgraded to a slightly larger, waterproof, Endurance series SPI belt with a wider elastic (to protect the phone, and because it fits better).

Prior to trying out the SPI belt Venture, I was NOT a fan of hydration belts. I dislike them for the same reason I dislike most waist-packs: bouncing.  Even when I’m running a race and I see other people running with hydration belts, it makes me nuts to see the bottles/bottle cages flapping up and down. How can anyone run like that?!? The other thing I really hate about hydration belts–actually, most bottles–is that the liquid sloshes around and they leak and make a mess. It’s fine if you’re running in the heat and just carrying water, but is miserable when it’s cold and sticky and disgusting when you carry a hydration-fuel product.

While I was skeptical about the SPI belt Venture series, my experience with SPI belts was that they don’t have that bouncing/flapping problem most other belts do when I run, so maybe they figured out this hydration belt thing.

SPI belt Venture joins me in running Revel Mt. Charleston
SPI belt Venture joins me in running Revel Mt. Charleston

Now that I’ve successfully completed three races with the Venture, I’ve reached the conclusion that used properly, this is a viable option for anti-bounce, anti-flap, anti-slosh hydration. Even when I had consumed part of the liquid, I didn’t feel the sloshing I’ve felt with other hydration belts. It’s not just me, BibRave Pro Gina also found merit to the no-bounce claims. There are three factors that make Venture work for me:

  1. Bottles clip on. As you can see from the photo above, the bottles clip onto the belt; there is no cage or strapping device on the outside. This makes them easy to grab and replace, as you can clip them anywhere on the belt (in other words, you’re not aiming for a special slot). This also means you can choose to wear the pouch in the front or the back (or on the side, I guess). The clips slide the bottles far enough down that they don’t bounce, as they are pretty securely attached. The clips are removable (see photo below) which makes them easy to clean.
  2. Bottles are vaguely “body shaped.” Like some other brands of hydration bottles, the Venture bottles have a curve to them. I found that curve–in combination with the clips on the outside–prevented the bottles from poking or stabbing me as I ran. At the same time, the bottles stand up on their own on a flat surface, making them easy to fill. (I broke a Nuun tablet in half and put half into each bottle.)
  3. Bottles have a leak-resistant system, Jet Nozzle. This is THE big one. I can’t exactly say they are 100% leak-proof (because that’s like saying they are idiot-proof, and since I found a way to make them leak, that makes me a better idiot). When you initially fill the bottles and close them, you can invert them without any liquid escaping. While you run, getting liquid out requires creating pressure (e.g. squeezing the bottle or sucking the nozzle with your mouth). If you look inside the valve, you can see there is a little X-shaped cut in the rubber that seals the valve shut. (It did not photograph well.) That’s what prevents the leakage. Note it IS possible to leave a few drops of liquid between that cut and the tip of the nozzle, and if you do that, those drops can slip out and get your waist a little wet. (I may have learned this through personal experience.)
Venture comes with two bottles and their clips
Venture comes with two bottles–the SPI H2O Companion–and their clips.

A few additional details: The bottles hold 8 ounces and are top-rack dishwasher safe and BPA-free. The pouch comfortably held my iPhone 6s, though it was a bit of a pain to try to get it out and then re-stow it while running (which I suppose you only do rarely unless you happen to be a blogger!). The belt has an adjustible buckle, so you can make the fit snug to your body. The Venture also comes with bib clips–elastic you thread through the hole on the bib and then through a toggle. You can run the toggles over any part of the belt, adjusting to all bib sizes/shapes. Christine’s review reminded me that there are also elastic loops on either side of the pouch. Both she and Abbie figured those were to hold gels; but the loops are tiny, as Abbie pointed out, and I thought they were to thread the bib holder toggles through (since other SPI models have a different type of loop for holding nutrition). Heather’s review has better pictures than mine, and shows how she did use the loops for gels.

Important safety tip #1: It is possible to clip the bottles anywhere on the belt (meaning you can wear the pouch part in the front or the back), you should wear the bottles in the front when you run.  If you don’t, and you’re wearing the belt on your waist, the movement of your butt might jostle the clip up and kick the bottle off of the belt in a way that doesn’t happen when you walk. (I may have learned this through personal experience.)

Important safety tip #1, corollary: If you drop the bottle on pavement, nozzle down, the nozzle/lid WILL dent/scratch, and this may result in a sharp/pokey/pointy surface. A few light passes of an emery board or fine sandpaper will take the edge off. (I may have learned this through personal experience.)

Important safety tip #2: The pouch on the Venture is NOT waterproof. It says so right on the website, and I felt no compulsion to test it out for myself. If it is going to rain, or you tend to use water stops to take a shower, you should put your phone or other electronics into something waterproof. SPI recommends using a LOKSAK® re-sealable bag; I’ve used a Ziploc freezer bag.

Interested in checking out the SPI belt Venture series? Score a 10% discount with code elizabeth10. Don’t forget to join us for #BibChat on Tuesday, May 24th, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time. Maybe you can win some goodies?

Have you tried the SPI belt Venture? How do you carry hydration on your long runs?

 

Disclaimer: I received a swag kit to review and a free entry to The Color Run Sacramento because I am a BibRave Pro. (As always, ALL opinions are my own and I wrote my review all by myself.) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews! Reviewing races on BibRave helps other runners plan their race schedules, and helps race directors make races even better! 

In the world of the Serious Runners, there are MANY people who have strong opinions about The Color Run. I’m one of them. So when BibRave provided us with the opportunity to have a swaggy giveaway and help promote The Color Run, I was ALL IN. In my least humble opinion, here are the most important things to know.

Pro Tip: Plan Ahead! If you’re worried about inhaling too much color (for whatever reason) stick to the outer lane of the course, and wear a bandanna over your mouth/nose. If you plan to take pictures, cover your camera with a clean plastic bag (as that color is sneaky and will get everywhere). You don’t need massive race gear, but if you want to carry a water bottle, choose one that seals shut (so you can control whether it turns colors!).

A burst of color at the starting line. (Individual runner's packet, not a mile-marker color zone!)
A burst of color at the starting line. (Individual runner’s packet, not a mile-marker color zone!)

The Color Run is the original, reliable, real deal. If you sign up for The Color Run, you’re going to have a run, as well as all the swag you pre-ordered. I mention this because over the past few years there have been a ton of imitation races that have not been responsible members of the running community. (If you are one of the people who got stiffed by the 5k Foam Fest, I’m so sorry. I promise, The Color Run is NOT like that!) I’ve done The Color Run and they deliver!

THIS is how I roll!
THIS is how I roll!

The Color Run is FUN (and colorful). Part of the joy of The Color Run is that everyone is there to have a good time–it’s okay to act like a kid! Everyone gets a packet of color to toss, and you have the opportunity to get more (you can buy them at the event, and when I ran the DJ at the starting line was tossing out packets too). The colors are basically non-toxic coloring agents and corn starch. If you missed the opportunity to play with these colors during the Indian festival of Holi–which you probably did, since it is a spring festival and took place in March this year (though I just learned the Krishna Temple hosts Color Festival events throughout the summer in various locations)–The Color Run is your opportunity! Unlike many of the color powders now used in India, The Color Run’s colors are made in the USA and do not contain heavy metals or other questionable ingredients. Common sense should reign, however, and you can take away this important safety tip: tossing color straight up in the air does not produce a cool shower of color, but instead guarantees it will fall straight back down into your face. Oops.

Pro Tip! Wear The Color Run white shirt to the event. The colors show up best on white. If you want to keep the color on your shirt after you wash it, spritz it with water to let the color soak in, then let it dry 100% before washing. Don’t use bleach (it is the anti-color).

Small to Tall, Fun for All!
Small to Tall, Fun for All!

The Color Run may or may not involve running. As the website explains, The Color Run is not a timed event. You don’t get a prize for coming in first. While some runners complain this isn’t a “real” run, I think those folks just need to relax! I am in favor of any fun, physical activity that gets people up off the couch and out into the world. One thing I really liked about The Color Run is that everyone could enjoy it. I saw singles and groups of high school students, college friends, adults of all ages, families, and parent-child teams. Personally, I think it’s a great sneaky way to get kids to exercise. 5k is still 3.1 miles, which isn’t really that far for any kid (they walk more if they go to Disneyland), but the permission to get messy and colorful is pretty much the opposite of what a kid associates with exercise.

Pro Tip!  If you DO want to run, you should seed yourself accordingly: plant yourself at the very front of your wave. (To reduce the chance that anyone gets trampled, The Color Run uses a wave start to break runners into groups.) If you are planning to stroll (or roll!), hang out towards the back. The Color Run is like a mullet–serious in the front, party in the back.

Post Race Posing at The Color Run
Post Race Posing at The Color Run

The Color Run Tropicolor is coming to Baltimore on May 21! All the details are HERE and you should go register immediately. (I’m not in Baltimore or anywhere nearby, so I’m running in Sacramento.) Plus you can save $5 with code BRP16.

Pro Tip for Post-Race! Pack a post-race kit for your car. (Unless you want a tropicolor-mobile, in which case, ignore this tip.) Personally, my Color Run kit includes a gallon of water, face/body wipes, and a big beach towel to cover my car’s seats. The water is nice for rinsing off hands–I don’t trust wipes 100%!–which will turn brown when all the colors mix up on your hands.

Also, enter to win a Tropicolor Swag Pack from The Color Run. Don’t wait! It’s a short, sweet, swag giveaway.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Try Out ThursdaysI’ve joined Running With SD Mom for the “Try Out Thursdays” LinkUp. I tried The Color Run–and I’m committed to do it again!

When I was a kid, this was one of my favorite jokes:

Q: If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?

A: Pilgrims!

I thought this was hilarious. (It probably didn’t hurt that I grew up in a town named Plymouth, and the main fancy hotel downtown was The Mayflower Hotel. Every joke about pilgrims was hilarious.)

As May approaches and I’m writing my May #ButFirstCoffee post, I wondered if the Mayflower also brought coffee. I mean, we all learned in elementary school that the people on the Mayflower drank tea, because it played a big role in one of our most cherished national folktales, the Boston Tea Party. But did they have coffee?

Short answer: Yes. Or rather, maybe.

So wait…how did the colonists have coffee? It isn’t exactly a Spanish or British crop. While there are whole books that examine the history of coffee (none of which I read for this post), the most popular origin legend goes something like this:

Once upon a time–maybe it was a thousand years ago, or 850 A.D., or the 10th century–there lived a shepherd. His name was Kaldi, and he lived in a land far, far, away–either lived in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, or somewhere in “Arabia,” or on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. One day, Kaldi observed his normally sanguine goats dancing around joyously. Upon further investigation, Kaldi saw they were eating bright red berries from a bush/tree with shiny green leaves. Kaldi tried some of the berries and joined his happy dancing goats. Because coffee.

Personally, I’m going to go with an earlier year versus a later one, as The Atlantic (see below) reported “the first person known to write about coffee was a Persian physician and philosopher named Rhazes or Razi (850 to 922 AD), who characterized it as a medicine.”

The legend continues–perhaps this is an add-on to combat suspicious Europeans’ description of coffee as “the bitter invention of Satan” or as a Christianization of the fact that Muslims used coffee to maintain wakefulness during long prayer sessions :

Some time later, a sleepy monk happened upon Kaldi and his happy goats. The monk asked Kaldi about the goats, and Kaldi told the monk about the effect the red berries had on the goats. The monk, who had a tendency to fall asleep while reciting his prayers, saw this as a gift from God (because coffee!) and tried the magic berries. Indeed they did help him stay awake during his prayers. The monk took the berries back to his monastery where he came up with the idea of drying the berries to make a tea to drink before prayers. He shared it with other monks, and monasteries began to cultivate coffee, beginning the spread across Europe.

IMG_4094

At some point, it becomes easier to tell what is likely fact, and what is a legend. (Don’t ask me how.) According to Tori Avery (PBS, see below), modern roasted coffee originated in Arabia and was popular during the 13th century. She reports the tradition is that not a single coffee plant existed outside of Arabia or Africa until the 1600s, when an Indian pilgrim (Baba Budan), left Mecca with some hidden fertile beans and introduced them to Europe. (Most of the sources I looked at noted that the Arabian businessmen who were exporting coffee to Europe deliberately parched the coffee beans so that they would be infertile. Think about that the next time you accuse Monsanto of coming up with new ways to be evil.) The Atlantic gives roughly the same timeframe, but pinpoints the cause of the spread of coffee as the Turkish conquest of the Arabian peninsula.

Conquest played a role in the spread of coffee, which is true of pretty much every type of agricultural and cultural cross-pollination I’ve read about. Coffee just spread from there. Avery writes that the Dutch founded the European-owned coffee estates in Sri Lanka (1616), then Ceylon, then Java (1696). As the European age of exploration and conquest continued, it makes sense that they planted coffee on plantations in each new location with a suitable climate (the French in the Caribbean, the Spanish in Central America, the Portuguese in Brazil). While I didn’t research this specifically, I’d bet my next ten cups that slavery played a huge role in coffee production for hundreds of years.

By the mid-1600s, the Dutch settlers brought coffee to New Amsterdam (nka New York). The National Coffee Association summaries what later ensued. “Though coffee houses rapidly began to appear, tea continued to be the favored drink in the New World until 1773, when the colonists revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George III. The revolt, known as the Boston Tea Party, would forever change the American drinking preference to coffee.” Drinking tea was now unpatriotic.

According to the Rainforest Alliance, the United States is only 25th in consumption of coffee. Trust me, I’m doing my share!

 

P.S. According to Avery, the natural caffeine in coffee acts as an insecticide. (Consider that the next time you assume anything that kills bugs must also be bad for people.)

IMG_4096 (1)

For further investigation

Books (that I have not read) about the history of coffee:

  • Steward Lee Allen, The Devil’s Cup: Coffee, the Driving.
  • Mark Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. Revised Second Edition. New York: Basic Books, 2010.
  • William H. Ukers, All About Coffee. New York: The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, 1922.

Selected Online Resources:

Sells a variety of coffees (this is NOT an affiliate link, I get no love from them) and includes coffee reviews and articles about health, business, history, and the arts as related to coffee.

The RA works with small farmers to teach them agricultural methods to boost yields and keep the land productive for future generations. The Rainforest Alliance certification involves social and economic criteria in addition to environmental ones.

 

Disclosure: I forgot to put this on my Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio post. Oops. I am a member of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Blog team, and as a team member I am rocking a TourPass. Despite the name, being a member of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team does not obligate me to blog about each race (or do anything else in particular regarding race recaps). As always, all opinions–and every single word in this post–are exclusively mine.

Rock 'n' Blog discount code for YOU!
Rock ‘n’ Blog discount code for YOU!

When Briana and I first saw The Lone Star Legend at the Heavy Medals display in San Antonio,  we knew we had to have it. The medal is about as Texas as you can get–shape of the state, check; Texas flag, check; a lone star, check–and since I frequently find myself running for shiny objects, I immediately declared “in.” Plus I ran the Dallas Remix in 2015 and figured it would be a good excuse to see friends and family.

My favorite spectator sign this weekend
My favorite spectator sign this weekend

Friday I got up entirely too early to fly to Dallas, catch DART from the airport to the hotel, and crash for a little bit. The nice thing about the Dallas Remix is that if you choose a hotel within walking distance of DART, you don’t need a car at all. After Briana arrived we had a quick bite to eat at the hotel and then headed over to the expo. I love the Friday expo, since there are almost never any lines when the marathon or half is on Sunday.

After picking up both of my bibs and shirts I did a quick cruise around the expo. (The Dallas expo was a little difficult to find, since an auto show had taken over most of the convention center and there were not a bunch of big signs. Fortunately, DART goes right to the convention center, and there was a parade of people with Rock ‘n’ Roll bags…so we all just made like salmon.) Like last year, I found the Dallas expo smaller than most Rock ‘n’ Roll expos. Sad to say, this year there was no Dunkin’ Donuts coffee! There was a ton of cute stuff for the race, but I’m trying to be fiscally responsible this year. My closet is basically filled with running clothing, and there isn’t much I need–so if I bought something, when would I wear it??

Flat Bain for the 5k--short sleeves!
Flat Bain for the 5k–short sleeves!

Then there was dinner. One of the things I really love about the Rock ‘n’ Roll series is that so many people with TourPass go from race to race. Last year I made a ton of new friends, and now I’ve always got a group to eat dinner with while I’m on the road. (In fact, I ate with a bunch of the same people again in San Francisco.) Dallas has a bunch of great, interesting places to eat all within walking distance of the downtown hotels. Finally there were the obligatory flat-me “selfies,” and there was sleeping, and suddenly it was time to get up for the 5k.

 

 

This coffee was NOT optional
This coffee was NOT optional

Since it was now Saturday, and I’d packed for the weather they were predicting on Thursday, the first step outside was sad–windy AND chilly! We headed over to the DART station when I saw my savior: 7-Eleven. They sell garbage bags! I had just enough time to buy a 12 pack and jump on the train, where I made some new friends. DART dropped us off right at Fair Park–though the station closest to the stadium, where the race started, was actually the next stop over–and we headed to the starting line. Lots of runners were huddled together, so it was time to make new friends. I actually met several people who were going to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas half marathon in the morning and then hop a plane to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mexico City half marathon in the evening! (They called it the Tex-Mex combo. Salsa not included.) By the way, you can hear a great race recap with one runner who first heard about Tex-Mex at the Dallas expo, signed up, and drove home to get his passport! Check out Runner of a Certain Age.

Cotton Bowl selfie. Yes, I wore my Buff over my head, neck, and ears for the whole race.
Cotton Bowl selfie. Yes, I wore my Buff over my head, neck, and ears for the whole race.

The course around Fair Park is not the world’s most exciting, but access to Fair Park is easy by DART or car. If you are a local, you’ve likely already seen all the things there are to see at Fair Park, and the course is going to be a bit of a yawn–think of it as a shakeout run for the half marathon. On the other hand, if you are a local with kids who are ready to do 3.1 miles, this is a great race since it has tons of parking, doesn’t require travel, and has all the party amenities of Rock ‘n’ Roll. (I did hear some people complaining about finding parking, but these were family/friends who came to pick up runners at the end of the race. This year there were several other large events going on in Fair Park that started around the time the race ended, so that may have contributed to the griping.)  I saw tons of kids who were clearly running with mom and/or dad (or both!), and later proudly wearing the medals they earned. Start ’em young!

Did you know Fair Park is the only intact/unaltered pre-1950s world fair site remaining in the United States? I love checking out the 1930s art and architecture.
Did you know Fair Park is the only intact/unaltered pre-1950s world fair site remaining in the United States? I love checking out the 1930s art and architecture.

Personally, I liked running around Fair Park. This was basically the same course as last year, only run in reverse. The course itself is quite flat, and half nifty and half meh. This year the nifty part–the grand WPA-era pavilions and buildings, reflecting pool, carvings and murals–was first. The “meh” part is an out-and-back along the seasonal rail line that runs through the big parking lot on the back side of Fair Park. I’m not local, so I could be wrong, but I don’t know that there are any viable alternatives to this course, beyond turning it into a two-loop course. It seems like there just isn’t enough real estate to make 3.1 miles happen (evidenced by the “everybody gets a PR!” phenomenon caused by a course that everyone I talked to said measured quite short–2.7 or 2.8 miles vs. 3.1). I like the Fair Park location though, due to easy access via DART or car, plenty of parking, and convenient for those who planned their hotels around the half marathon location.

It is such a shame we no longer build edifices like this.
It is such a shame we no longer build edifices like this.

The aid stations had water (maybe Gatorade? I’m writing this a month later, and I don’t think I took anything but water, personally). At the finish line there were bananas, water, Gatorade, chips, and other snacks. The finish line also had a beer tent for those over 21 with the Rock ‘n’ Roll sponsor beer, which I think is Michelob Ultra again. (I don’t drink beer.) There was a concert, of course, with plenty of room to dance (and lots of the kids who ran their first 5k were dancing like little rock stars)

While I could have lived without the out-and-back section around the parking area, it’s tough to get 3.1 in within Fair Park itself, on paths/sidewalks wide enough to hold a race. Fortunately I ran into several other people I knew or had previously met, and got to say hi to Derek Mitchell on my way through that section, so I enjoyed it anyway. (When a race gives you lemons, add vodka!)

Bottom line: as I said on my BibRave.com review, this is not a “destination 5k.” While it is a fun event, and I enjoyed meeting other runners and using it as a pre-half marathon shakeout run, I would not have made the trip JUST for the 5k. If you’re local and want a party-like 5k, and don’t mind the course, this is a good choice.

WeRunSocial meets SweatPink
WeRunSocial meets SweatPink

The rest of Saturday was a whirlwind of activity. We took DART back to the hotel, with several bewildered locals curiously observing all the runners. I was still tired from Friday, so it took me forever to shower and put on clean clothes…and so I missed most of the epic #WeRunSocial meetup. I arrived just in time for the “we need photographic proof we made it” latecomers, ha ha! From there, Briana and I headed to BeautyCon Dallas, which just happened to be taking place at Fair Park. (More on that later.) From there, we made a trip to Target for warmer duds. Seriously, Target is my savior when it comes to changing weather and travel. If they don’t sell it, I can’t possibly need it. I scored tech fabrics on the clearance rack! Then it was off to another group dinner before hitting the bed early to get some precious sleep!

Flat Bain for the half marathon--note the long pants, long sleeves, and gloves!
Flat Bain for the half marathon–note the long pants, long sleeves, and gloves!

Sunday morning came WAY too early. (Why do races have to start so darned early??) On our way to the starting area I was still debating whether to check my jacket, but decided to keep both long-sleeved layers due to the WIND WIND WIND. I did eventually let go of my recycled heat sheet, but only because it’s hard to run dressed like a baked potato.

The course this year was NOT the same as last year. I’m sure the changes were based on runner feedback, because the Rock ‘n’ Roll series does take that seriously. The new route did not go over the torn-up and pothole-ridden roads, which made me happy. The start and finish were also in a different location, near Reunion Tower. I don’t know the city well enough to explain the rest of the course changes. While I was bummed to not run by Oak Lawn Coffee (where I enjoyed an epic mocha during last year’s race), I didn’t miss the roughed-up roadways. Note to runners: fill out those post-race surveys, and review your races! Race directors generally do want you to have a good race and enjoy it. If there is something you don’t like, point it out! Good race organizations do respond to critical feedback.

Epic Bridge Non-Selfie
Epic Bridge Non-Selfie

As I mentioned, race day was VERY WINDY. Like you could “lean in” it windy. Comically windy (but not funny as you ran into the wind and crossed the final overpass/bridge). It seemed like no matter which way the course turned, the wind was in my face, never at my back. I don’t know if the wind was the reason, but this year the course did not have the giant neon Texas-themed selfie stations, the Texas backdrops, or the bands with huge sets (like the one that had an entire BBQ joint, complete with smoker, in 2015). While waiting to jump into the corrals many runners huddled inside the nearest buildings to wait for their corrals to start. I was really hoping for warm as I made my way along the course. Nope.

In my experience–as a mid-to-back-of-the-packer–course support was up from last year, with more families and random cheering people than last year. Aid stations were on point and well-stocked, though as usual I wish half marathons put their first fuel option earlier on the course. On course entertainment included local cheerleading groups, bands, and other performers–including the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at the finish line!

Epic Donut Selfie
Epic Donut Selfie

About that “flat course”…the course was not truly flat, but it wasn’t technical or super challenging either (hills led up to, and down from, the bridges). The course was fairly flat, on balance. Just like last year, we ran over the almost-brand-new Margaret McDermott bridge, an architectural beauty that inspired hundreds of selfies. (I didn’t take them all, but I did have to dodge several people who came to a dead stop right in the center of the road.) While I assume the city’s whims played a role in course development (in case you’re not aware, host cities can pick and choose which streets they will let you close, and for how long, and place other conditions on the race permit), it seemed to me like the course was designed to show off many different aspects of Dallas. We ran through some areas that were clearly under urban renewal, and some areas that looked a lot like the suburban town I grew up in, complete with parks and ball fields. We ran over what are ordinarily heavy traffic streets and a freeway (literally over that one, as we were on the bridge), and down quiet neighborhood streets. I really like it when a race course tries to show all the facets the location has to offer.

Bottom line:  I like this race as it gives me an excuse to see my extended family over the weekend. It’s also an early-season Rock ‘n’ Roll race, and one of my first opportunities to meet up with my runner peeps from other states. I’d be more enthusiastic about the race except for the WIND WIND WIND (which wasn’t an issue last year). Assuming I decide to try to go for Hall of Fame next year, I’ll probably be back.

The Bling is Bigger in Texas!
The Bling is Bigger in Texas!

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Remix was my first Tour Stop of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll season. Up next: San Francisco!