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 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!



“What?” you may ask, “Is that an antique fire truck that serves beer?” Oh heck yeah!!

Disclosure: I received a free entry to the Blooms to Brews Half Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.

Not all races end with beer. But when Blooms to Brews ends with beer, they do it up right. I’m not a beer fan myself, but just count the number of taps on that truck! If you want to read more about Blooms to Brews and the race website just isn’t enough, try Sarah’s blog, A Sweet Blonde & Her Fit Life. (If it isn’t up yet, it’s coming–patience!)

Flat Bain for the Blooms to Brews half marathon (how did this tradition get started, anyway??)
Flat Bain for the Blooms to Brews half marathon (how did this tradition get started, anyway??)

This race is amazing! Go put it on your calendar for 2017, right now. As word about this event “gets out,” you’re going to be left behind. I don’t know what the capacity limit for this course is, but you want to run it now so that when it is a regular sell-out and everyone is raving about it YOU can say, “I ran that race back in the day before it was ‘discovered.'”

Obligatory PDX carpeting shot
Obligatory PDX carpeting shot

Blooms to Brews takes place in Woodland, WA. Woodland is about 45 minutes north of Portland (depending on where you start and when you drive) and 2 to 2.5 hours from Seattle. While Woodland itself doesn’t have a ton of hotels, I had no problems securing a reservation the week before the race. You could probably drive from Seattle on race day morning, but it costs $20 for day-of-race packet pickup and you’d miss the entire expo. Portland is a better bet, and Vancouver, WA is filled with hotels of all stripes. (You could, of course, also try a bed and breakfast, or use Air BnB. Lots of options.) If you’re flying in, PDX is the closest airport. If you’re road-tripping, I’d make a long weekend of it since there is so much to do nearby.

The brand-new Woodland High School hosted the Blooms to Brews expo. There was plenty of parking, as well as two days to pick up your packet. I took a ton of photos, but in my brilliant attempt to organize them I deleted EVERY expo photo I took. (Awesome, right?) The expo was small but mighty. Packet pickup had no line on Saturday afternoon, and it was still possible to register for the 10k, half marathon, marathon, or marathon relay. In addition to Blooms to Brews logo merchandise, there were about 8-10 vendors, including a cool wraparound sports skirt company, Sweet Spot Skirts (neat design fits a variety of sizes, stays put, and covers what you might want to cover–made in USA!). A few race companies were there, including the Portland Marathon. The Woodland Rotary was selling some delicious coffee as a fundraiser to support building a local sport park for the youth and teens of Woodland, and at the end of this post YOU can win a bag!

A jacket from the race-logo merch
A jacket from the race-logo merch

One thing I really liked about the expo is that each of the tables was manned by a person who really cared about that table’s goods/services. There were no hired guns. Everyone was really friendly. I was particularly lazy for the remainder of the day. After a quick trip to  Burgerville for the handmade, in-season, strawberry milkshake, I checked into my hotel and took a nap. I emerged to buy a few groceries, eat dinner, and head back to bed.

Morning came all too soon as it tends to do on race days, and I dragged myself out of bed and suited up. While my hotel was technically within walking distance of the start at Horseshoe Lake (about 17 minutes) I opted to be pre-race lazy and drive. Added bonus, there is a drive-through coffee shop right before you turn into the parking area. (I’m not going to lie, one of the things I really, really miss about living in the Pacific NW: drive-through coffee.) Parking was plentiful–there could have been many more cars there–and despite my mocha detour I was able to leave my hotel at 7ish and still make it to the starting line with plenty of time to spare.

This is one short bus you WANT to be on--it's full of pizza!
This is one short bus you WANT to be on–it’s full of pizza!

Starting line amenities included a bag check, water, snacks, music, and a post-race party that was ready to start. I took a few minutes to walk around and look at the amenities, since I still had plenty of time to spare. There was a school bus food truck that sold pizzas and other tasty food, right next to the BBQ. While I’m on the subject, part of the race instructions (and the promos, now that I think about it) said there would be a BBQ sandwich for each runner, with a vegetarian alternative for those of us who are not meat-eaters. As a vegetarian, I don’t expect special treatment–but at the end of the race I do expect some food! I once read a statistic that said on average, 10% of the U.S. population eats vegetarian when they eat out–some choose vegetarian or vegan, others are keeping Kosher, observing Halal dietary laws, or only eating organic or free-range–plus there are several well-known plant-based running groups, so it isn’t insane to think there will be other vegetarians. Anyway, when I went to ask for my sandwich, AS PROMISED there was tofurky on a bun, warmed with vegetarian baked beans. Score!

It was an overcast marathon start with a fluffy blanket of clouds
It was an overcast marathon start with a fluffy blanket of clouds

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The starting line had the usual platformed trusses and a banner. When I read that the marathon started at 7:30 and the half at 7:40 I was like, “um, corrals? Is that enough time?” No, no corrals. Just as they should, runners self-seeded (with a little help from the well-spaced pacers) and the entire marathon group took off without any incident. In addition to various Marathon Maniacs (and Double Agents), I saw a man dressed up like…bacon?? He must have been with one of the four-person relay teams. One of the cool things about Blooms to Brews Marathon was the option for a FOUR person relay team. That means you only needed to be able to run about 6.5 miles to join in the marathon–a very cool opportunity, as many marathons don’t offer a relay, and others only offer a 2-person relay. Several of the spunky folks running the second and third legs whizzed right past me on my run, too! (Fresh legs, they had fresh legs. Or at least that is what I kept telling myself.) The relay medal was very cool–four magnetic pieces that fit together to form a key with tulips on top!

Pre-race not quite twinsies: BibRave singlet, Orange Mud hydraquiver, BibRave custom Buff...#orangeisthenewfast
Pre-race not quite twinsies: BibRave singlet, Orange Mud hydraquiver, BibRave custom Buff… orangeisthenewfast
Still cloudy at mile...whatever this is, but very green
Still cloudy at mile…whatever this is, but very green

As promised, the course is FLAT (just as promised!). The entire thing, all the way. There were three almost insignificant not-flat parts: one, leading up to a railroad crossing; two, leading down from the road to the beginning of the unpaved section (not sure if that was technically a dike, since the Horseshoe isn’t connected to a river?); three, coming off of the unpaved section and returning to paved road. Each of these was extremely brief–measured in feet, not yards. The marathon follows a separate course from the half marathon, but starts in the same manner and re-joins for the last few miles. As a marathoner, I love it when I’m not “just” running two loops of the half marathon course. (Personally, I hate passing the finish line before I get to cross it!) The relay teams all seemed to be having a great time–some dressed in matching costumes, others had a theme going, still others dressed like I do for a run (if it passed the sniff test, it’s good to go).

MIlestones, er, cardboards?, had fun messages on them
Milestones, er, cardboards?, had fun messages on them
No, not beer--just water and Gatorade
No, not beer–just water and Gatorade

It’s fairly rare, in my experience, that a course that says it is flat is really, really flat. This one is, I promise. (Well, I can’t opine as to the looped portions of the marathon since I didn’t run them, but the half is like a pancake baby.) Since the vast majority of the race was rural, there were no “unofficial aid stations” or sponsored cheering stations. There were, however, plenty of well-stocked and cheerfully staffed aid stations! At least two of the aid stations had gummy bears–they were hiding in Dixie Cups–but there were no other foodstuffs served on course. (But again, that was NOT in the promises the race made, so I had packed some Glukos chews and Honey Stinger chews, and I was just fine. Yet another reason why you should actually read the race website and the emails from the race director, even if you run races all the time and figure you know everything there is to know.)

Truly pastoral, though I knew I was in trouble when one of the calf babies started running faster than me!
Truly pastoral, though I knew I was in trouble when one of the calf babies started running faster than me!

This was NOT my best race, sad to say. After the icky hills of Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco and the Livermore Half Marathon, I was really excited to be on an actually flat course. Up until about mile 7 I was on pace to PR (not that I’m that fast, but a PR is a PR, right?) and was thinking about what corral that might put me in for the Dopey Challenge next year. Right around that point, that glute-hamstring tie-in on my left leg tweaked HARD and started to whine at me. Whiiiiiine, ow, whiiiine. UGH. This is a new one for me, and I thought it was a hill issue (since I had experienced it in San Francisco). So bummed, since I spent a good deal of my cross-training on the posterior chain last year (e.g. Lagree method). Around mile 9 I gave in to reality: this course would not be close to a PR. (Sad trombone noise! Whomp whomp!) Every time I tried to run–oh right, I was using 1-1 run and walk intervals–my left leg complained. ARGH.

A band of tulips!
A band of tulips!

Still, the course was flat (hooray!), green (hooray!), and reminded me of all the reasons why I love the Pacific NW. It wasn’t until after I had passed the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens that I realized I had been to Woodland before the race–twice! The first time I was there for the festival at the lilac gardens. Maybe it wasn’t a festival, but it was some big event, and it had a Volkswalk associated with it. I was in Woodland again later for the tulip festival at Holland America Bulb Farms–going on during this race!–and another Volkswalk. Of course that was in my pre-running days, so I doubt I would have noticed a race going on.

None of my photos do the tulips justice, so you’ll have to go run this race yourself and check them out. The fields were set back from the road, and as we passed I could see stripes of red, yellow, white, and other colors in addition to the non-blooming fields closer to the road.

At any rate, after grabbing some gummy bears at the last aid station I started to pass runners with medals on, which confirmed what I knew: the end was really close! The runners headed home with their bling all cheered and high-fived, which was cool. As I rounded the corner to the very last piece, the home stretch, I noticed the final not-flat piece of the course: a very slight downhill to the finish line! Hey, I’ll take ANY downhill to the finish line, no matter how slight.

Once again I do *not* win best dressed
Once again I do *not* win best dressed

The finish line was very organized! Race director Elba Benzler  was on the ground, handing out high-fives and congratulating runners. (After having him as a guest on the Runner of a Certain Age podcast before the race, it was nice to finally meet in person!) Traffic cones at the end of the chute subdivided runners–at that point it was really just me!–based on which race they finished, so they could receive the appropriate medal. What’s that? Why YES, there were completely different medals for the half, full, 10k, and marathon relay! You know how most races have one design, and the half gets a smaller version while the full gets a bigger one? Not here!

After greeting Elba I tried to find Sarah, who I’d heard and seen as I crossed the finish line. Of course we both had runner brain and each went to where we last saw the other, so it took us a little bit. Then I wanted to drink as many cups of delicious Opal apple cider as I could get without being silly (side note: the Opal apple was at the Walnut Creek Half Marathon two years ago, and it is the best apple ever). We posed and laughed before heading over to the VIP area, and then we posed more! All the post-race selfies!

Snacks and space heaters, aka a runner's paradise
Snacks and space heaters, aka a runner’s paradise

One nice perk of BibRave is that race directors sometimes give us VIP privileges at races. These were some really nice VIP privileges! In addition to access to the beer garden like other runners, the VIP area had a separate bar with the beers plus Washington State wine, and mimosas. In addition to the aforementioned BBQ sandwiches, VIP also had a spread of bananas, nuts, KIND bars, chips, and other assorted food. There was a complimentary massage station that I eyed but didn’t take advantage of due to having to check out of the hotel by 1 (and needing a shower, badly!). My favorite part of VIP was probably the patio heaters. It wasn’t exactly cold weather, but post-race my core temp definitely dropped, and the jacket I had packed into my bag wasn’t doing the trick, so I was happy to huddle under a heater.

"Seriously, I just got lapped by a cow!"
“Seriously, I just got lapped by a cow!”

Overall, this race rocked my socks. It delivered on everything, as advertised. As I was driving out of Woodland–post-race, post-shower, and post-Burgerville–the finish line party was still going strong. It’s reasonably priced, has a variety of distances, and is close enough to food, coffee, and other amenities that your finish line cheer squad can see you off, do something else, and then meet you at the finish. If you want to hear more, check out the latest episode of Runner of a Certain Age Podcast.

Since the race is Blooms to Brews, and you brew coffee, I’m giving away a bag of coffee beans! Not just any beans, mind you, but Rotary Club of Woodland’s premium dark roast. My purchase of these beans helps the Rotary fund the new sports complex in Woodland. This coffee was roasted just before the race (April 7th) by local coffee producer the Luckman Coffee Company.

Important! This giveaway is not sponsored by BibRave, Blooms to Brews, the Rotary, Elvis, or any other entity real or fictional. There is ONE prize, a bag of coffee beans. I’ll ship to the US and Canada for free. If you live elsewhere I’ll still ship, but I’ll ask you to make a charity donation in the amount of the cost of postage.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

As a kid, I thought coffee was disgusting. As an adult, I learned that drip coffee made from ground beans so old they’ve been in the metal can longer than most wine is aged, that’s disgusting. Good coffee? Mmmm, I love coffee.

This month, I’m giving a jolt of caffeine to the But First Coffee blogger linkup: every month, we start with coffee. No April foolin’, just posts about coffee. (If you’re a blogger and want to join, just reach out.)

53x11 direct to me!
53×11 direct to me!

Last year, while I was researching the impact of caffeine consumption on distance athletes, I learned that Hammer Nutrition has their own line of USDA certified organic and Fair Trade coffee, called 53×11. (Based on the graphics, I assume 53×11 is some super-secret cycling reference intended to taunt me into doing a triathlon. Nice try, but still NO.) According to Hammer, “Originally created by cyclists, for cyclists, 53×11 Coffee today is dedicated purely to delivering the best cup of organic, fair-trade coffee in the world. We utilize only sustainable organic, pesticide-free farms, and support trade wages and direct purchasing to give more to those growing the beans.” That, plus if you join the coffee club (2 bags/month on autoship) you get some freebies and perks (pun intended).

There are four blends in the Hammer coffee line-up: Chain Breaker, Big Ring, Early Break, and Downshift (which is decaff, so why would I bother??). All blends come in the standard 12 oz. bag–word to the wise, nobody seems to sell coffee by the pound anymore–and in whole bean or ground. Personally, I think the money I invested in my coffee grinder has paid dividends in better-tasting brews, and I recommend doing the same. (I bought mine at Target for about $15; Hammer sells a fancier model for just under $30.)  I ordered the obvious three and here are my thoughts.

IMG_3171Chain Breaker: Our signature espresso blend is the perfect choice for those who favor a darker roast. This rich, nutty blend is equally extraordinary for espresso or drip use. The Chain Breaker consists of beans from Africa, Indonesia, and the Americas which results in a complex, yet smooth cup. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

Much to my surprise, this is the coffee I liked the least out of the three–and I expected it to be my favorite! I usually make dark roast coffee like an espresso blend, quite strong, and then add some form of milk and a little cocoa to it. (Exceptions for exceptionally smooth, low-acid coffee, like the Jamaican coffee I had while actually in Jamaica.) Generally speaking, the darker the better. This is definitely DARK coffee. It isn’t as acidic as most of the dark roasts I like, and I suspect that threw off the flavor profile at least as far as my taste buds were concerned. Don’t misinterpret that–this coffee was just fine. If you like strong coffee before a run (or ride or whatever) but the acidity messes with your stomach, this is a great choice.


Big Ring: Our 100% organic Sumatra single origin coffee, medium roasted and shade grown under a canopy of diverse species of trees that provide a viable habitat for migratory birds. The Big Ring represents the classic Sumatran flavor profile with low acidity and full body. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

This coffee is delicious! It is definitely my favorite of the three…so much so that when I switch to two bags a month, I might make them both The Big Ring. If I made this coffee at Midwestern strength, I could probably drink it without anything added. Life on the Left Coast has led me to prefer my coffee made just strong enough to start to dissolve the spoon (kidding!), so that’s unlikely.

What I liked most about The Big Ring is that it delivered exactly what it promised: a full-bodied flavor with low acidity. If you’re only going to try one of Hammer’s coffees, THIS is the one.

IMG_3170Early Break: A morning staple at the 53×11 office. This medium-roasted blend of Central, South American, and Sumatran beans represents a well-rounded, mildly acidic cup with a clean finish. The Early Break is a great “everyday” coffee. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

Again, this one promised what it delivered: balanced body, rich flavor. (That’s on the label, but if you’re a Runner of a Certain Age like I am, you might not be able to read it.) It’s also low in acidity. When I brew this one I up the amount of coffee in the coffee-to-milk ratio. I like this one with some Califia almond milk and a small splash of quality vanilla extract. (Feeling daring? Try a dash of cinnamon too.) I like this one for the weekends, when I want to sit down and get to work while drinking more than one giant mug of coffee. (That would be a a BAD idea with the Chain Breaker, at least for me…I might get more done, but I’m pretty sure the typo level would increase dramatically!)

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t try the decaff blend. Seriously, what is the point of unleaded coffee? In case you’re curious, here’s how Hammer describes it: Down Shift: A decaffeinated version of our beloved Chain Breaker signature espresso blend. No shortcuts were taken here. This blend represents the four major coffee growing regions as well, resulting in a remarkable decaf. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean. Based on the other three, I’m sure it is lovely, but I don’t see the point.

In addition to the four coffees, Hammer can also hook you up with an electric kettle (great for making drip coffee at the office), a refillable Keurig cup (because seriously K-cups are the most wasteful, non-recyclable, non-compostable thing on the planet), a french press pot, and pretty much anything else you might need to partake of the coffees. Join the coffee club for a free mug, coffee filters, and drip-into-that-mug maker, plus lower prices.

By the way, Hammer makes all manner of other nutrition products for athletes. I’m working my way through the ones that are appropriate for me–and they have actual, real, live people to talk on the phone or chat online if you need help deciding what is best for your personal goals. So far, customer service has been GREAT. Before every coffee club shipment, I get an email reminding me that it’s about to ship, and have the option to delay or modify the order. The Hammer website also has loads of information on nutrition and endurance sports. If you’re thinking about making your first order, might I suggest you use my referral code? If you do, you’ll get 15% off your first order and a special packet of goodies including samples of some of the most popular Hammer products. Just place your order, and in the “referred by” section: Elizabeth Bain, email address bananafishie AT gmail, and code 252426. Voila!

Want to try before you buy?

Enter to win a bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee from Train With Bain! Just follow along on the Rafflecopter widget below. Please note the following: (1) This giveaway is in no way sponsored by Hammer Nutrition (or any other company or person or animal or alien), it’s 100% Train With Bain, baby. (2) I will happily ship to you for free within the US and Canada. If you’re in another country, I’ll have to look at postage…if it is extreme, I might ask you to help pay for it (or donate to a charity in lieu of paying postage). (3) Winners have to contact me with their shipping details within a reasonable amount of time–if I haven’t heard from you in a week, I’ll assume you are not interested.

Prizes: one bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee (new, unopened, fresh). The first winner to get back to me gets first pick of the blends!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Like coffee? Why not take a spin around the April But First Coffee loop? It’s a short one this month! Next in line is Endure, Run Conquer

Disclosure: I received a complimentary bottle of 2Toms Sport Shield for Her (and a few single use packets too!) 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! 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.

Blisters are a built-in self-defense mechanism: you get them because your body is trying to protect you. Just like a million years of dripping water can carve a canyon, unchecked friction could rub your skin off. As friction works on your skin, the layers of skin tear apart from each other, creating space where there shouldn’t be any; your body creates a little pillow of fluid to fill the space as plasma or serum leaks out from the damaged cells. In outdated British slang, a “blister” is also an annoying person. Take precautions! Don’t annoy your skin!

These are my blister-free toes. I like keeping them that way.
These are my blister-free toes. I like keeping them that way.

Since friction is the cause of blisters on your feet while you’re running, the obvious solution is to eliminate the friction. So stop running! (Kidding!!) Depending on your feet and the distance you are running you may not be able to completely eliminate the friction. If that’s the case, your goal is to reduce the friction as much as possible.

Runners’ blister prevention starts with shoes that fit properly, and socks that are NOT cotton and have wicking properties to take sweat away from your body. (Damp skin is more susceptible to blistering.) I’ve found that different shoes require different socks, so I now have quite the selection of running socks. Running form is a secondary factor for some people; if you grip with your toes while you run, you’re highly likely to get blisters (eventually callouses) on the tips of your toes. For shorter runs, all I need to stay blister-free is my run shoes, running socks, and a reminder to relax my toes when I go faster.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering: blisters are annoying, but can also lead to very serious problems. Blisters can become infected with all sorts of bacteria, including MRSA. Trust me, 1.5 ounces of Sport Shield is less expensive than whatever it costs to treat an infection.)

These are my funky-shaped toes. Still, no blisters here!
These are my funky-shaped toes. Still, no blisters here!

Once I’m running longer than 10k, it’s time to up the ante. That’s because the longer the run, the more heat the body generates, and the more sweat the body uses to cool down.  Increased heat and moisture make blisters more likely. (Runner’s World points out that this is why many runners only have blisters during races.) How you hydrate during a race can also affect blister formation by affecting fluid retention. Extremely minor friction that doesn’t bug me at a mile or five could be very painful at mile 12 or 21. (Think back to that dripping water: a day probably won’t do much. Duration matters.) In addition, a longer run means more pounding on the feet, and a greater likelihood that the feet will swell up in response. My pinkie toes are pretty much triangular and slide almost entirely underneath the next toe neighbor, resulting in a bottom-of-the-toe blister that, when aggravated, can all but encapsulate that toe. Here’s where blister prevention products come in.

Prior to taking up running, my blister-prevent regimen for long walks consisted of petroleum jelly and a lot of bandaids. It was messy and inefficient. Then I started running, and was introduced to wax-based anti-chafing products like Body Glide. While I prefer those over Vaseline, I find that on cold race-mornings it can be hard to spread on, leaving me with lumps of product in some spots and not much in others. I’d never tried a liquid anti-chafing product until BibRave introduced me to 2Toms Sport Shield.

Sport Shield comes in a roller-top bottle like liquid deodorant. Sport Shield for Her, the product I tried, comes in a 1.5 ounce package, so I can easily pop it into my carry-on bag when I fly out for a race without TSA assuming I’m a terrorist. It is also available in single use packets (though I found the towellette in the single packet was good for more than one use).

Bye-Bye Blisters, Hello 2Toms!
Bye-Bye Blisters, Hello 2Toms!

The main ingredients are dimethicone and shea butter. Dimethicone is a silicone-based polymer (“polymer” just means big molecule that has several–poly–smaller units stuck together) with an oil-like feel to it. It creates a protective barrier on top of the skin, both preventing moisture that is already inside the skin from getting out, and reducing friction. Dimethicone spreads easily, which is why it is used in many types of body lotions, shampoos, and other products. It is FDA approved for use in body care products, and limited use in food products; the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database lists it as a low-risk ingredient, with all of the concerns basically related to what might, maybe, possibly happen if you eat too much of it. (Note to readers: Skin Shield isn’t food. It is an anti-friction, anti-chafing, anti-blister product you apply externally to the areas where you experience friction. The instruction specifically state it is for external use only, don’t swallow it–this isn’t a lipcare product–and don’t use it on broken skin.)

The main concern most skincare consultants seem to have about dimethicone is that using it daily–like in a body lotion–can cause your skin to become more dry because it does not sink into your skin, but sits on top of it. In Sport Shield, that effect is neutralized by shea butter. Shea butter is fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree. It is used in lots of moisturizing products like The Body Shop’s shea body butter, and in Alaffia skincare products. It melts at body temperature, sinks right into the skin, and binds with water to keep it in the skin. (Note to readers: some shea butter is edible. This product is not edible.) The other ingredients in Sport Shield for Her are also known for their skin-soothing and moisturizing properties: calendula extract, green tea extract, horsetail plant extract, aloe vera extract, Vitamin E. By the way, Sport Shield for Her is vegan–NO animal products! (The Sport Shield product–not Sport Shield for Her–is made of dimethicone, aloe vera extract, and Vitamin E. So if you’re opposed to plant extracts, or dislike shea butter, just order the dude version.)

Sport Shield delivers the goods. In my experience, the combination of dimethicone and shea butter is perfect. The shea butter keeps my skin hydrated, while the dimethicone forms a protective layer on top to prevent friction. I liked the roll-on format, as it spread thinly and evenly over my skin without any effort and I didn’t have to get my hands messy. It is unscented, or at least I didn’t detect any smell at all.

Gratuitous cat pic. Nothing to do with the review.
Gratuitous cat pic. Nothing to do with the review.

Here’s how it held up to the claims on the label:

  • “Provides 24 hour protection against rubbing & friction.” Honestly, I didn’t do anything for 24 hours during this test, but I generally don’t! It lasted through runs up to half marathon length–the longest I ran during my test drive–without any problems. Check.
  • “Sweatproof & waterproof.” It didn’t seem to wear off or rub off, even as my feet got hot and sweaty. Check. (It does wash right off with soap and water.)
  • “Creates an invisible, silky smooth protective barrier.” Once on, it’s invisible. I suppose if you look really hard you can see the difference between an area I applied it to and one that I didn’t, but I really don’t want anyone that close to me while I’m running. Check.
  • “Non-staining, non-toxic.” I mainly run in white socks. They stayed white (save for the dirt from running on unpaved surfaces)–no visible stains. My skin didn’t show any reaction (it might if you are allergic to any of the ingredients). I didn’t find any credible, science-based information anywhere stating the ingredients are toxic. Check.

Added bonus: a little really does go a long way. This bottle will last months, if not all year. By the way, there is a 100% 2Toms Guarantee. If you don’t like it, just send the unused portion and a receipt back to 2Toms, and they will issue a refund. Plus you can score a sweet 20% discount using code 2Toms20 to buy 2Toms products. The discount is good through the end of April 2016.

2Toms also makes other products, though I only tried this one. In addition to preventing blisters on my feet, I also used the product to prevent pantyhose chafing. (If you are a woman with legs of a certain length, there are no pantyhose in the universe that fit properly.) It worked well, and I went chafe-free through my day in court. Faith Fitness Fun tried out Sport Shield on some non-feet body parts. Run Wifey Run did a video review of Butt Shield, which could be a great stocking stuffer for the cyclist or triathlete in your life.

Assuming I figured out the HTML bits, here’s a video by 2Toms on how to prevent chafing:

P.S. For a ridiculously detailed guide to blisters–more than you ever need to know–check out Blister Prevention. If you have a blister in a weird location that doesn’t respond to anything you’ve tried to prevent it, the answer is probably there. (Yes, there is an entire guide to blisters by the location where they form.)

#runalltheraces #earnalltghebling
#runalltheraces #earnalltghebling

This past weekend I rocked Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas for the second year in a row. While I wasn’t originally planning to return to Dallas–even though I loved the races, spring is really busy–but it quickly became a must when Rock ‘n’ Roll announced the Lone Star Legend. (Seriously, I like my running bling.) The medal prototype debuted at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio expo and, like the Desert Double-Down, is a cross-year challenge: first run San Antonio (typically December) and then run Dallas (typically March). The reward? A Texas-shaped, glittery medal, complete with a spinning Lone Star.

The only thing Texans love more than the shape of their state? The Texas flag.
The only thing Texans love more than the shape of their state? The Texas flag.

San Antonio 2015 was the capstone to my 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll season: Rock ‘n’ Roll #11! For my friend Briana, it was also her tenth race, earning her the Gold Record. Briana’s friend Maria and our mutual friend, and Rock ‘n’ Blogger, Andrew joined us again, and the three of us all had the luxury of the VIP experience for the half marathon. The weekend began on Friday, with a quick bib pickup at the Expo. Well, it SHOULD have been quick, but one of the brilliant runners accidentally neglected to register for San Antonio and didn’t figure that out until after arriving at the Expo. Oops. This is the one hazard of having a Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour Pass–it’s easy to plan out your race calendar and then forget to go actually sign up for the races. Fortunately the Rock ‘n’ Roll team was quick to help me out, get me registered, and issue some bibs and shirts. There is a special bonus bib for Gold Record, and Briana was excited to pick it up.

By the time I’d fixed my “I forgot to register” problem, we didn’t have much time to explore the Expo. There was just enough time to snap a few quick pics of some of my favorite gear before the Expo closed and the runners were ushered out.

Orange Mud gear on sale at the Rock n Roll San Antonio Expo
Orange Mud gear on sale at the Rock n Roll San Antonio Expo
Cute food tastes better.
Cute food tastes better.

We then headed out to dinner. San Antonio is a good place to eat. Briana had a recommendation for dinner, and everything we ate there was amazing. Naturally we celebrated with a drink (when in a Tex-Mex restaurant, a little celebration is in order). After dinner we wandered down to see the lights on the River Walk, and run a few errands. Maria has a tradition of drinking pickle juice prior to every race in order to ward off cramps. I think pickles are gross, and find this a little disgusting, but there is science behind it. Plus I needed to pick up a few things at the drugstore. Turns out it is impossible to find jars of pickles downtown. We ended up talking a local Subway out of a little cup of pickle juice, and headed back to the hotel. I’m pretty sure we crashed instantly.

Saturday morning was the San Antonio 10k. The Rock ‘n’ Roll series has been adding 10k and 5k races in some markets, both in response to demand for shorter races (not everyone wants to run a half marathon), and to create the Remix (two races, three medals–no brainer for most of us who were going to do the half already). The 10k is sort of  sweet spot for me–I hate the first 2 miles of every race, so the 5k isn’t as much fun as the 10k. We got gorgeous weather for the run, and after many races that were hot or cold or wet or windy in 2015 I felt pretty spectacular. The 10k finishes right in front of the Alamo, where there was live music for the beer garden. Since San Antonio is the last race in the Rock ‘n’ Roll season, general shenanigans ensued.

Jimbob demonstrating how to drink like a Hall of Famer
Jimbob demonstrating how to drink like a Hall of Famer

Turns out that gigantic Hall of Fame medal makes a lovely drinking cup/shot glass. At one point a line of Hall of Famers that drank their Michelob Ultras out of the backs of their medals, but I wasn’t fast enough on the draw with my iPhone. (For those who are not aware, Michelob Ultra is the official beer sponsor for the Rock ‘n’ Roll races in the United States, so that is the only beer available at the finish line. Other beers might be available in VIP at certain locations, but since I don’t like beer, I haven’t researched that for you. If you run in Vancouver, there are local microbrews instead.)





Sometimes, I toast with java!
Sometimes, I toast with java! (Coffee over breakfast tacos.)

Smart folks that we are, we then hustled off to get breakfast tacos (and coffeeyescoffee). Between the other runners with their medals, and a group of re-enactors in period garb, it was a colorful brunch. (Also a loud one–muskets don’t come with silencers, and we started before the re-enactment ended.) I’m not sure why the rest of the country has not caught on, but it seems like the only place to get a proper breakfast taco is the part of Texas encompassing Austin and San Antonio. I’ve come close, but never quite hit perfection.

After lunch there was just enough time to shower and change, and take a quick stroll through the rest of the Expo (replenish my Nuun stash, etc.) before I had to lay down and rest my legs a bit. I had every intention of going to the Hall of Fame ceremony, awarding a special framed gold record to the runner who did the most Rock ‘n’ Roll races during the year, but I was exhausted from the prior week and suddenly it was time for dinner. Initially we attempted to meet up with a group of fellow fly-to-runners, but we had a little car issue and by the time we arrived our seats had been given to people on the wait list. Regardless, it was pasta time! (Yes, I know, most of us non-professional, not-running-to-place runners don’t need to “carb load.” I respect the science, but I also like pasta.) Dinner was delicious, and more moreso by the company of Briana and Andrew, since we’d shared various Rock ‘n’ Roll adventures since the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona in January.


Pre-race vegetarian eats
Pre-race vegetarian eats

All three of us had VIP for the half marathon (for me, as one of the perks from Rock ‘n’ Blog). We took a Lyft or an Uber over to the stadium early enough to enjoy some of the brunch amenities: bagels, peanut butter, toast, bananas, fruit platters, and I think some other stuff….I eat vegetarian, which was fine for breakfast since I typically don’t eat much before a race (but explains why I might not remember some of the breakfast food). Most important, COFFEE. The corrals were not that far from the VIP tent, so we didn’t have to rush out too soon. I actually walked to the corrals, reconsidered my clothing layers, and went back to bag check before heading back to the corral. I loved the smaller VIP-only bag check, as well as the VIP porta-potties (no lines, hand-washing station, extra paper towels and feminine hygiene supplies).

Each race’s VIP comes with different perks, so it’s important to read what the VIP experience offers for each market. In San Jose, for example, VIP was held inside a nearby restaurant, while in Dallas and Virginia Beach the VIP area was in a hotel. San Antonio also had VIP parking (close-in, included with each VIP) and a post-race massage area. The VIP tent offered shade (which I appreciate as a white girl who burns just thinking about the sun), and had table-seating. I didn’t take advantage of the post-race massages (they are first-come, first-served and I came in pretty late, plus I didn’t have ).

San Antonio has both a full marathon and a half marathon. I was completely done with marathons by the time December rolled around, plus I had the Dopey Challenge in front of me, so I ran the half. You don’t usually think of San Antonio as hilly–at least if you don’t live there, or haven’t been in awhile–but trust me, they are there! Fortunately also there were the students and faculty from Trinity University, who served as excellent cheerleaders and had some of the best signs I’ve seen. I didn’t take many pictures along the course, but again the weather was lovely and the course support was great!

Did I mention Trinity is atop a BIG HILL?
Did I mention Trinity is atop a BIG HILL?


The department-specific signs were hilarious!
The department-specific signs were hilarious!


Trinity isn't a huge school, I think every student and staff member was out cheering
Trinity isn’t a huge school, I think every student and staff member was out cheering

After the race, I met up with Andrew and Briana in the VIP tent. I’m not much of a complainer in general, but I have one HUGE complaint about the VIP tent’s post-race food: none of it was vegetarian! Yes, I understand I was in Texas, and Texas is the home of Team Beef (this is really a thing), but I was a vegetarian when I lived in Texas, and I’ve never had a problem finding things to eat. My choices at the post-race VIP food were extremely limited. I remember wilted lettuce leaves that appear to have been the serving platter decoration for something else (as the platter was empty). There may have been brown banana pieces (brown from sitting out for 5+ hours between pre-breakfast and when I finished the race), but the rest of the breakfast food was gone. There weren’t even Power Bars or potato chips (though I did eat the ones handed to me when I crossed the finish line). I was very, very upset about this–and remember, I got my VIP as a Rock ‘n’ Blog perk, so just imagine how I’d feel if I’d paid full price! I even asked the servers if there was any food without meat. Seriously, there were chicken enchiladas and beef enchiladas, but they couldn’t make cheese ones? Or haul out any breakfast leftovers? But the servers said, Nope! NO FOOD FOR YOU. This is really bizarre since on average, 10% of the population eats vegetarian outside of the home (whether they are vegetarian, vegan, limiting meat intake, keeping kosher, keeping halal, or for other reasons). This was a gross oversight. I’ve done everything in my power to bring this to the attention of management–I’ve tweeted and repeated, slathered it all over facebook, put it on my race feedback form, put it out there to the Rock ‘n’ Blog wranglers–and expect them to correct it for this year. (If not, they can expect me to have pizza delivered AND send them the bill.)

What did the VIP tent have for me post-race at San Antonio? Champagne. Let’s just say it is a bad idea to refuse to feed me but then give me champagne.

One Hall of Fame plus Three Gold Records
One Hall of Fame plus Three Gold Records

Naturally there was also an obligatory Gold Record shot. I tried to wrangle more people for a Gold Record and Hall of Fame photo, but it turns out many of those folks are gluttons for punishment and were running the full marathon. Many of them met up at the Expo for the Hall of Fame ceremony, but I was trying to pick a time when those getting their Gold Record at San Antonio could also join the photo. So I only managed to snag one Hall of Famer.

In between champagne, Nuun-tinis, and orange juice, we got to meet the third place men’s overall finisher for the marathon, Jose Roberto Zavala Calderon. Race officials were trying to explain that they were going to go get his award, but they didn’t speak any Spanish and the message was getting mangled. By that time I’d had sufficient champagne to jump in with my espanola semi-gringa and fix the situation. Jose turned out to be a super nice guy who didn’t mind my mangled Spanglish.

Check out that overall award!
Check out that overall award!


Would I do San Antonio again? Well, if I play my calendar correctly, San Antonio could be half marathon #100 for me…stay tuned for more!


P.S. I’m definitely ordering a pizza sent to VIP post-race!


Imagine a building that is about the size of a medium-sized airport, with at least as many people as you’d find in a medium-sized airport. Spread out as far as you can see (and then some) inside are more than 6,000 exhibitors, some of whom have more than one booth space. The path to the front door is backed by a stage, flanked by sampling stands, and swarmed with perky teens and twenty-something offering samples–breakfast bars, gluten-free snacks, yogurt, ice cream, fizzy fruit drinks, and more. Everyone wants to hand you something!

If you can picture that, you might come somewhere near picturing Natural Products Expo West. It filled every big ballroom in the Anaheim convention center (including the lower level and third floor), plus two giant rooms in one of the adjoining hotels–and that’s just the product and ingredient exhibitors! There were also educational sessions, meet-ups, morning yoga, and various other activities filling the area. 2016 was my first year at ExpoWest, and it gave me enough food for thought (figuratively and literally) to blog about for weeks. Lucky for you, it also gave me more than enough snacks, samples, and coupons, so I’m going to share them with you! But first, a quick word on a very important topic:

What does “natural” mean?

Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days
Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days

First, “natural” does not mean “organic.” Organic has a very specific meaning, and there are loads of rules about what can be labeled organic, and who can certify that something is organic. (To read more about what organic means, check out Organic things are arguably natural, but things bearing the natural label are not necessarily organic.

Second, “natural” does not automatically mean “good for you to eat.” Many, many things that you and I would both agree are natural products are also things we would both agree we do NOT want to eat! Need a few examples? Here they are: arsenic, mercury, moose feces…oh wait? You want me to limit the list to plants and animals? How about hemlock, poison ivy leaves, cyanide, dart frogs, black widow spider venom…I could go on for quite a few pages. As several comics have noted, nature is always trying to kill you. (See also, lightning, earthquakes, sunburn, poisoning from naturally occurring radiation, and food allergies.)

Third, “natural” does not mean “unprocessed.” Let’s take a peanut butter made from only peanuts (zero other ingredients). Wouldn’t you agree that is natural? How about raspberries that are picked, washed, and frozen–aren’t those natural too? Is cider made from pressed apples (and nothing else) natural? What about flour made only from ground rice? ALL of these examples are processed food. Since the term “processed” has gotten a bad rap lately and many bloggers are quick to condemn anything that comes in a package (as all of my examples do), I’d be straying from my mission if I didn’t point this out.

So…wait, what does “natural” mean? As I write this, if you see the word “natural” on a package, it means anything the product manufacturer wants it to mean. You read that right. “Natural” currently has no legal definition. If I want to make a product using meat I grew in a petri dish seasoned with chemicals cooked up in the lab next door,and add some high-fructose corn syrup, I can legally label that product “natural.” (You might find this surprising, given the level of detail given to the Code of Federal Regulations–think of it as the federal food rules–gives to the definition of “cheese” versus “cheese product” versus “cheese food.” I am not making this up–go check out Part 133, Cheeses and Related Cheese Products.)

BUT WAIT! In response to confusion from the public, the FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) is currently considering new rules to limit the use of the term “natural” on food. You can read more about the proposed definition and limits and–much more important–provide YOUR input to the FDA, by clicking over to the “Natural” on Food Labeling page of the FDA. Seriously, this is your chance to help shape food policy in this country. Please, let your voice be heard!

So, on to Expo West!

Next, a little overview of things to come… Expo West is a trade show for the natural products industry, and covered everything from sourcing ingredients, manufacturing, and packaging through finished products to eat, wear, and use. The ingredients-focused section is known as Engredea. Since I’m not in the market for organic cane sugar syrup or hypoallergenic pouches, I took a fairly brisk walk up and down the aisles of this section without doing more than looking. I think you might be shocked at the variety of ingredients available to use in natural products. Anyway, my goal was to check out the natural foods exhibitors, and seek out the top trends in the natural food industry. Here’s what I observed:

Snackification. Holy cow, everything is a snack. New Hope Network natural media had been documenting this trend prior to the show, but I had NO idea. Whether you’re on a six mini-meals per day plan or just get hungry between meals, it turns out that Americans now get a significant number of daily calories from snacks. Apples and celery are not always at the ready, right? Expo West contained more snack bars—paleo, protein, meat-based, vegan…so many options there!—than I had ever dreamed of, plus other ways to snack: Mamma Chia squeeze pouches, cooked fruit in pouches, Cracked nut butters, Hope hummus dips in individual servings, Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods heat and eat soups, chips made from fruit or veggies or both or beans…

Who doesn't love popcorn?
Who doesn’t love popcorn?

Popcorn. It’s everywhere. There are snacks based on popcorn, like PopCorners. There are bagged popcorn snacks, like Gaslamp Popcorn in flavors from white cheddar to birthday cake, and Beer Kissed popcorn; Boulder Canyon, POP! Gourmet, Kettle Foods, and Angie’s Boomchickapop. I was happy to see Halfpops, a snack for those of us that dig the not-quite-popped kernals from the bottom of the bag—I know them from many race expos. New to me was Black Jewell Popcorn, a popcorn with almost no hull (outer shell); if you shy away from popcorn because it gets stuck in your teeth, THIS is your solution. (I tasted it myself—no joke, there is almost nothing to stick in your teeth.) Popcorn is gluten-free, FODMAPS friendly, and one of my personal favorites. Several companies were also popping popcorn in coconut oil, which reminds me how the thought on this has come full circle: first we ate popcorn at the movies popped in a butter that was mostly solid at room temperature, then we decided those fats solid at room temperature were bad so all the cinemas switched to oil, and then we discovered that hm, maybe those medium-chain triglycerides were okay after all and here we are back at popping in coconut oil. It made the expo smell delicious, and the popcorn popped in coconut oil rich in MCT (medium chain triglycerides) tasted amazing with just a tiny bit of salt. I’ll be trying this at home…

This is my jam
This is my jam

Nut butters. As a kid I was a picky eater, so I ate A LOT of peanut butter and jelly. I thought I was in heaven when I discovered macadamia nut butter as an adult (at like $12/jar!) but I have since been blown away by the amazing, nutritious, tasty goodness in today’s nut butters. I finally got to meet two of my heroines (and Shark Tank favorites), the Wild Friends nut butter founders (try the cinnamon raisin peanut butter, and you’ll understand why jam is optional). My friends from Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter were there with their simple-ingredient, super tasty, family-owned peanut butters. Expo West gave me the opportunity to meet Bliss Nut-Butters (cinnamon chia seed peanut butter for the win!), and Cracked Nut Butter (the pouched chocolate chip cookie dough is SO going with me on my next run!) Peanut Butter & Co., Justin’s, and Once Again were also there with their tasty nut butters. Allergic to peanuts? How about a creation from San Diego-based Nuttzo, which has non-peanut options. Many of these delicious nut butters also come in individual-serving-sized pouches, perfect for hitting the trail or the road.

Tastes like butter!
Tastes like butter!

Vegan food that does not suck. If you’ve ever met me in person and talked food, you know I always say maybe I could be vegan, but I’d miss the butter and cheese. I can’t say that anymore! Expo West introduced me to Miyoko’s Kitchen, which is just up the peninsula from my home in Alameda. Miyoko’s makes a vegan butter that tastes buttery! I don’t mean “tastes like butter flavored margarine” I mean tastes just like butter! (What’s in it? Organic coconut oil, water, organic safflower oil or organic sunflower oil organic cashews, soy lechitin, sea salt, and cultures. Nothing weird.) I also tried Miyoko’s Fresh VeganMozz, Aged English Sharp Farmhouse, and a vegan pizza featuring their products. HEAVEN! I also tried some frozen pizza from Oh Yes! (vegan and non-vegan, gluten-free and non-gluten free varieties), which as a bonus also “hides” a serving of vegetables. Those were just two of the brands of vegan food you could easily slip to a meat-eater to change their opinion of vegan food.

Honestly, made from vegetables!
Honestly, made from vegetables!

Non-dairy milk. Speaking of vegan, the world of milk has gotten so much better since you first tried soy milk. While I was thrilled to meet the family behind Califia Farms—the almost milk I “discovered” at my corner grocery the week before Expo West—there are now so many more options than you imagined in the non-dairy milk section. Want a coffee creamer that tastes creamy? Califia makes that too—and a whole line of packaged coffee drinks. Milkadamia is made from macadamia nuts. Rebel Kitchen makes Mylk, a coconut milk with no refined sugar. My favorite discovery is, sadly, not-quite-yet available in the United States: Veggemo is a milk made from actual vegetables, yet it has the consistency and texture of 2% dairy milk. It even tastes milky, not vegetable-y. Trust me, you want this as soon as the nice folks in Canada let us have some!

Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee
Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee

Coffee. Oh #coffeeyescoffee and #butfirstcoffee because there were some amazing coffees at Expo West! I got to see and handle the recyclable k-cup style coffee pods by Marley Coffee (and more important, drink the coffee!). I met the folks behind Steamm, which I’ve stalked during its crowd-funding phase. Café Kreyol introduced me to the boots-on-the-ground work they are doing in Haiti and how coffee can be a force for economic growth in developing nations while still being amazing (I didn’t even put cream in that coffee). Intelligensia Coffee, another staple from my corner store, was there, along with innovative and amazing non-dairy creamers and milk-based creamers, and creamers with functional benefits. Trust me, I’m going to be writing about coffee…

But this is getting long.

So how about a giveaway? I was only able to hit Expo West for two days—the beloved day job expects me to attend—but I still want to share the love and the swag! On Saturday as I was driving to parking, a guy at the intersection gave me two sealed packs of Expo West-related goodness, and I’m giving one to you! This prize pack consists of Naturally Healthy, a special issue of Gourmet News issued just for Expo West, so you can read about innovations in the natural food space; Modern Oats 5 berry all natural oatmeal; Fig Bar in raspberry; Cosmos Creations Coconut Crunch premium puffed corn; fruit bliss organic Turkish mini figs; and a few surprises! You’ve got two weeks to enter, so don’t delay!

Some of the goodies in this giveaway
Some of the goodies in this giveaway


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Disclosure: I received five Luvo meals to review because I am a BibRave Pro. (I had previously encountered Luvo as a sponsor of the Shape magazine Meet and Tweet event.) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review find and write race reviews. As always, the opinions in this post are 100% mine–read my integrity statement!

I’m really busy, and don’t enjoy cooking for one, or preparing dinner at the end of a long day. But I’m also trying hard to keep my eating habits away from food that comes in through my car window or is so processed that I don’t recognize what it is. Last fall, I was lucky enough to score an invite to Shape Magazine’s “Meet and Tweet” event, where I first heard about Luvo. Most of the samples Luvo brought to the event contained meat, but I did get to try one of the vegetarian burritos–tasty!  Luvo also sponsored the hydration stations, and gave each attendee a well-designed, super cute infuser bottle that is currently my favorite water bottle. When BibRave provided the opportunity for the Pro team to try Luvo meals, I signed up as fast as my mouse could click.

But let’s step back for a moment.

Once upon a time not that long ago, a “frozen meal” was a Swanson’s TV dinner, heated and served in the Pan Am Airlines-inspired aluminum tray. Not only did they save 1950s and 1960s housewives countless hours so they could focus on other tasks (you know, ironing the bed sheets, busting out the hot rollers to primp before the man of the house returns from his long day at work), but surely they were a sign that we were living in the future. I remember the beefed-up “Hungry Man” dinners introduced in the 1970s (can’t have those hungry manly-men going without dinner just because they hadn’t married yet or because the little lady got herself a job), and the 1980s’ “Kid Cuisine” (though I’m still not sure why kids need their own special food—can’t they just eat regular food?). For at least the last decade or two, the phrase “frozen meal” has conjured up images of overly processed, boxed food with more polysyllabic mystery ingredients than recognizable ones, the glossy packages featuring professionally styled “serving suggestions” that surely must be photos of something other than the contents of the box.

Frozen food’s reputation has taken a hit, especially among the younger, savvier generations who don’t trust “big food” to have their best interests at heart. Industry insiders have commented that consumers are increasingly skeptical (just like this BibRave Pro) of any food that comes in packages, and want products with ingredients they recognize. (Check out this article from Fortune.)

That pretty much describes me. I recognize that modern food technology enables me to have cooked food that is safe to eat directly out of my grocery store—and I like visually appealing, cootie-free food—but I don’t want to have to guess at what’s in my food, and I don’t want to have to pay restaurant prices for frozen meals. Luvo is a great compromise: I recognize the ingredients, it heats perfectly in the microwave due to the proprietary pouch, AND it tastes delicious.

This is the frittata I made--not a press shot. Doesn't it look just like the box?
This is the frittata I made–not a press shot. Doesn’t it look just like the box?

Let’s take a look at the Farmer’s Market Frittata, which was one of my favorite dishes.  It is intended as a breakfast dish, but I ate it for lunch, along with an apple and a beverage. At 250 calories and 12 grams of protein (10 grams fat, zero trans-fats; 29 grams of carbs—in case you care about the macros), the frittata plus a medium apple was enough for me to feel satisfied.

First question: What’s inside?

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Mango
  • Egg Whites
  • Apple Juice From Concentrate
  • Tomatoes (Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid)
  • Mushrooms (Mushrooms, Water, Salt, Citric Acid)
  • Water
  • Poblano Chiles
  • Red Bell Peppers
  • Tomatillo
  • Milk
  • Parmesan Cheese (Cultured Milk, Enzymes, Salt)
  • Onions
  • Ricotta Cheese (Whey, Milk, Cream, Vinegar, Salt, Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum)
  • Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese (Pasteurized Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes)
  • Goat Cheese (Pasteurized Goat’s Milk, Salt, Cheese Culture, Vegetal Rennet)
  • Green Bell Peppers
  • Contains Less Than 2% Of:
    • Balsamic Vinegar
    • Citric Acid
    • Dehydrated Onion
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    • Garlic
    • Garlic Powder
    • Green Chili Pepper
    • Green Onion
    • Guar Gum
    • Jalapeno Peppers
    • Lime Juice Concentrate
    • Natural Flavor
    • Oat Fiber
    • Rice Starch
    • Roasted Tomatoes In Oil (Tomatoes, Sunflower Oil, Garlic, Salt, Oregano)
    • Seasoning (Natural Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Yeast)
    • Seasoning (Sea Salt, Potassium Chloride)
    • Spices
    • Turmeric And Annatto For Color
    • Whole Eggs
    • Xanthan Gum

Now there are probably a few things in the list you’ve heard mocked in the national TV campaign the dairy industry is waging against non-dairy milks, or targeted as evil “chemicals” by a certain food blogger who shall remain nameless. So before you get yourself tied up in knots, here’s the REAL scoop:

  • Calcium chloride is a salt, similar to sodium chloride (you know, white table salt). Similarly, potassium chloride is a salt—maybe you’ve purchased it as a commercially available salt-substitute.
  • Those “gum” ingredients… Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum…these are all polysaccharides (a carbohydrate  with more than one monosaccharide bonded togther; monosaccharides are simple sugars like glucose). Guar gum (aka guaran) is made from ground up guar beans; the beans are dehusked, milled, and screened to obtain the guar gum. Locust bean gum does not have any insects in it, but is basically guar gum made from locust beans (carob beans) instead of guar beans. Xanthan gum is made by fermenting simple sugars (glucose, sucrose, lactose), then drying the product and grinding it into a powder. (But wait, you may ask, aren’t these “weird chemicals”? You can buy they all from Bob’s Red Mill, a trusted brand in natural foods for more than three decades. As thickening and stabilizing agents, they are commonly used in gluten-free baking.)

Second question: is this idiot-proof?

Instructions printed ON THE POUCH, not just the box.
Instructions printed ON THE POUCH, not just the box.

Um, sort of. Both the box and the pouch tell you to microwave it seam-side up. I missed that, and made a little bit of a mess with my first ravioli meal. Oops.

Side by side: the box, my meal
Side by side: the box, my meal

The food still tasted just fine, but when you heat them up, the pouches expand in the microwave. If you are like me and didn’t bother to read the actual instructions carefully, and put the seam down, you just end up with some minor leakage from the pouch at times. (When you cook them seam-side up, there might be a little steam, but the seam doesn’t always burst.)

Obligatory action shot!
Obligatory action shot!

As you can see, the pouch poofs. My kale ricotta ravioli slid right out. At first it seemed like a small amount of food (like 6 ravioli), but it gave me some much-needed perspective on portion size! The ravioli made a great light lunch or, when paired with a salad, a substantive one. One thing I liked about Luvo at the Meet ‘n’ Tweet was the handout about customizing Luvo meals, which included recipes using Luvo–like how to use the Luvo Orange Mango Chicken to make lettuce wraps.

If you haven’t figured it out, I found all of the meals I tried quite tasty. The surprise stand-out for me was the Roasted Vegetable Lasagna. Look, I grew up in a midwest “steak and potatoes” kind of family that all think it is bizarre that I no longer eat animals. We ate canned and frozen produce for most of the winter. The most adventurous options available to use were a Chinese restaurant and a Chi-Chi’s. I grew up as a bit of a picky eater, and I didn’t have a sweet potato or kale until I was over 30. So “with butternut squash, whole wheat noodles and kale” was almost a taunt about how yucky this would be.

The contents of this box won my heart. If you can cook like this and are single, call me.
The contents of this box won my heart. If you can cook like this and are single, call me.

Except it wasn’t. It was completely delicious, and I wanted a second serving. (Not because I was hungry, but because I loved the taste.)

A few more pointers about the Luvo brand:

  • Luvo has a woman CEO! Christine Day, former CEO of lululemon, is a sort of rock star. Even Fortune thinks so.
  • If you do eat animals, at least Luvo meals don’t use meat raised with hormones or antibiotics. (NOT using antibiotics is super important—read why here.)
  • Dairy products are sourced to be rBST-free.
  • Concerned about the effect of GMO crops and Monsanto on international agriculture? Luvo is committed to non-GMO soy, corn, and canola.
  • Each Luvo meal or burrito has fewer than 500 calories. Paired with a salad or a piece of fruit, it’s enough to satisfy.
  • Luvo uses organic ingridients whenever possible.
  • Frozen meals have a reputation for being high in sodium—but Luvo defies that, with fewer than 500mg sodium per serving. (No, they didn’t mess with the number of servings per package—each of the pictured meals is one serving.)
  • Protein, fiber, and nutrients come from real food.

Overall, I’m really happy with Luvo, and intend to head to the Whole Foods near my office to stock up. For other reviews on Luvo, try an omnivore’s opinion, or a meal-by-meal review.

I’m pleased that Luvo has stepped up to my plate, and can’t wait to taste more of their vegetarian dishes. (Did you see they have a quinoa and vegetables enchilada?? How about the vegetable coconut curry pilaf?)

Disclosure: I received a free entry to the Sedona Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at! 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.

The Sedona Marathon taught me this: if you live on an island that is 6’ above sea level, running a marathon at 4500+’ just might not be the best idea.

I worked Friday, and missed the expo. Sedona offered race-day pickup with almost no lines, so it took about five minutes to get my bib. My friend Jackie had come along to be my race crew, so I put what would have been my checked bag, as well as my race shirt, in her Jeep. (The shirt is great—a royal blue Greenlayer brand tech shirt—a classic run shirt design with a line drawing of the scenery, sunrise, and some runners. During the pre-race, there were also various vendors of running gear, natural foods, and Sedona-themed merchandise. Race staff announced interesting facts about the race, including that there were 47 states represented (note to South Dakota: time to represent!) and 80 runners from Japan!

After posing for a quick selfie with Emily (running the 10k), I hopped into the corral for the final announcements, a few dynamic movement warmups, and the national anthem. (Does anyone else want to yell “Play Ball!” at the end?) Then we were off!

BibRave Pro Emily pre-race
BibRave Pro Emily pre-race (thanks to Emily for the pic!)

I spent the week before the race waffling about whether to drop back to the half marathon. This was in large part due to my late realization at the elevation of the race (hey, I’d never been to Sedona!) and the fact that a hectic work schedule to got in the way of training. After weighing the merits of both options, and of course taking a poll on facebook, I decided to stick to the marathon. First, I’d accepted a bib to the race on the premise that I’d run the marathon. Second, I’ve only ever technically DNF’d one other race (The New Year’s Double marathon on New Year’s Day) and I still finished, which is more important to me than pretty much anything else. Finally, I figured if I got swept it would just give me more to blog about, right?

So I took off with the marathon start, with very good intentions and the knowledge that I was probably about to get my butt handed to me. The first little piece was downhill and I tried to pace myself. I once ran the fastest mile of my life at the beginning of a race—caught up in the excitement!—and regretted it about eight miles later. The course turned a few times, spent a block on the main road through Sedona, and then turned towards the hills. Uphill, naturally.

The starting line (see the lady dressed like a cactus)
The starting line (see the lady dressed like a cactus)

I am not a fan of running uphill. I am REALLY not a fan of running uphill at elevation. It quickly became apparent that sticking to a 1 minute run/1 minute walk interval was not happening, so I adjusted to a terrain-based interval: run downhill, walk uphill, do intervals on the flat pieces. By the first aid station, I was almost the last marathoner.

We passed the 10k turnaround, and I wondered if Emily wasn’t the smartest person I knew running this race. The half marathon runners caught up with me around mile 3 or 4 or so and I got another burst of energy from being in a crowd again. Jeremy came up from behind me, and then snapped an epic selfie.

Faux-to Bomb!
Faux-to Bomb! (thanks to Jeremy for the pic)

Despite my newly-made terrain-based plan, my lungs were really unhappy with me. My legs were fresh and eager to run, but my lungs were on fire. I shortened my flat intervals from 1/1 to “until my lungs start to smokle”/the remainder of that 1 + 1. I attempted to distract my lungs by looking at the gorgeous scene unfolding before me. Scenically, you could not ask for a prettier desert-mountain course. The “urban” portion was less than a mile of the course, and even then it was set against the majestic backdrop that is Sedona. I’d never been to Sedona before, so I spent a lot of time gawking at the red and white striations in the rock formations. The greenery was pretty much all foreign-to-me desert-y stuff, so also fun to look at.

Scenery and runners
Scenery and runners

As I approached the half marathon turnaround, I looked for Jackie. The plan had been for her to camp out near that aid station. I didn’t see her, which turned out to be a good thing—I had planned to shed my long-sleeved base later at that point (the sun had come out and unlike the Arizona natives I was no longer cold). Later on as the chilly breezes came through I was glad to have the sleeves!

At half marathon turnaround the course shifted from paved to dirt roads. The paved section was the nicest pot-hole-free blacktop I’ve run on in quite some time. The dirt road entrance was flanked by U.S. Park Service (or was it U.S. Forest Service?) signs warning “primitive road” that is “not regularly maintained.” They totally overstated it—I’ve run on paved roads in California that aren’t as nice. The road was open to traffic, and multiple ATVs, Jeeps, and other vehicles passed while I was running. (Jeep tours are A Thing in Sedona.) For the most part this was no big deal, as most drivers were courteous and went rather slow. I was glad I had a Buff with me, as I used it over my nose/mouth when drivers kicked up a little too much dust.

The crowd had thinned out completely by mile 7. I had two runners in sight ahead of me, and one close behind. As I ran-walked-woggled I heard the sound of ice cracking where the sun hit the frozen water drainage at the side of the road. Sedona rocked my concept of Arizona; first it was “cold” (the Arizona runners all had on winter gear!), and then I saw cactus surrounded by snow!

Believe it: snow on the cactus!
Believe it: snow on the cactus!

As I passed the spotter at mile 8, I overheard his radio: the lead marathoner had just passed mile 17! We exchanged pleasantries and he clapped and said, “I’m proud of you!” as I passed. That reminded me of Mom, and I powered on to the next aid station. The aid stations were the best! All of them were staffed by themed-groups, including “run from the zombies” and a group with big flowers on their heads.

The majority of the marathoners passed me on their way back as I hit miles 10 and 11. Everyone with breath to spare told me to keep it up and encouraged me onward. One of the last inbound marathoners passed me at mile 12.5—in a particularly hilly section of the course—and I’d bet she was old enough to be my grandmother. Inspired, I ran down the hill to the marathon turnaround and did a funny little dance as I went around the cone. There was a runner there awaiting transport back to the start, which I wished I’d noticed before I danced around the cone. Then it was back uphill towards the start.

A few miles in, I found Jackie! Or rather she found me. If you’re running a marathon and suspect you’re doing to DNF or otherwise come in close to the end, I cannot recommend this highly enough: bring a chaser! First, it was great to see a friend encouraging you on. Second, Jackie had gone absolutely nuts and brought enough snacks, drinks, and treats for pretty much the entire field of runners. She said the Japanese runners were confused by red vines (I guess those don’t exist there) and she had to explain that they were food. “Sugar?” one asked. Anyway, from that point forward, Jackie met me every mile or two. In addition to providing moral support, she also refilled my water bottles, mixed Nuun for me, and had every snack imaginable on hand. While I had put snacks in my Orange Mud vest, knowing I’d be out on the course all day, the Honey Stinger gingerbread waffle was the perfect treat when she offered.

"sedrona"? Completely blue skies made for good photo drone weather at the start
“sedrona”? Completely blue skies made for good photo drone weather at the start

By that time there were only two runners behind me. The famous Pink Jeeps that I’d recently seen on an episode of the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” drove up and down the course checking on us back-of-the-packers. At several points the Pink Jeep crew or their leader pulled up and offered me bottled water or Clif Shots. Around mile 22 or so, the crew leader tol me the crew was starting to close down the course. I said if course policy was to sag-wagon/sweep the last runners, I would completely understand, but I did have my own race crew to watch over me (and sweep me if necessary) and would prefer to finish. The Pink Jeep crew leader obtained the “a-okay” to carry on, once all were assured that I knew what I was doing and would be safe. The U-Hauls taking down the course also offered me water and provisions. Part of their job was also to sweep any trash that had landed on the side of the road. (Aid stations had garbage bags, but some runners forgot that when running through a National Park, you don’t drop your snack wrappers on the ground.) I let them know I had talked to the Pink Jeep crew leader and that I had my own crew, and was going to carry on.

Which I did, meeting Jackie every mile or so for more water, Nuun, and at times a snack. My pace was somewhat erratic, with little bursts of run until my lungs got fiery again. The Pink Jeep leader vacillated between thinking I’d hit the finish line before it closed at 4:00 and assuming I wouldn’t. At mile 24 I must have been looking somewhat pathetic. Jackie asked, “do you want to go another mile?” I said OH HELL NO, I’m going to finish this race.

The last 1/4 of the course returned to pavement
The last 1/4 of the course returned to pavement

Less than a mile before the finish line, I hit the intersection of the highway that is the main road through town. I sent Jackie a text to try to figure out whether to turn right or go straight and then realized that DUH I had the course map on my phone. As I turned, a woman in a Sedona Marathon shirt came running up. “Finish line is this way!” Sadly, I have forgotten her name, but she is definitely The Spirit of Running embodied. Having finished the half marathon, she had showered, changed clothes, and come back to first cheer, and then help the last marathoners find their way to the finish line! As we walked/ran small spurts toward the finish line I learned that she had flown in earlier in the week (a smart thing to do, as it gave her time to adjust to the elevation). Jackie met us a few hundred feet from the finish line.

Just before the finish line there is a little hill, and most runners take off from the top and run to the finish. I gave it a shot, my legs willingly and my lungs grudgingly, and crossed under the finish line truss as the race director and his crew were removing the signage. Everyone cheered, which was pretty cool. Even though the timing mat was gone—as were all the non-race-personnel, the finish line festival, and pretty much any other trace of evidence that a race had happened—The Spirit of Running made sure to present me with a finisher’s medal and some cookies.

Post-race margarita and hard-earned bling
Post-race margarita and hard-earned bling

As I pointed out in my review, in addition to having no reason to complain, I have extra reasons to be thrilled with race management. First, after assuring themselves that I would be safe, they allowed me to finish even after the course officially closed. Second, as I turned the last corner off the main out-and-back portion, The Spirit of Running made sure I found my way and got me to the finish line. While I didn’t get an official time (the timing system was shut down after 7 hours, well beyond the 6.5 hour limit advertised) I was presented with a medal and allowed to raid the snacks. Finally, the race staff taking down the finish line and packing things up thanked me for coming out to run the race and were sincerely interested in what I thought of the race. It felt like pretty amazing hospitality for one of the very slowest runners out there.

I’ve been a huge fan of keeping a food and exercise log/journal since I first started to dip my toes into the health and fitness arena. I call it “tracking,” largely because that’s how my Weight Watchers peeps refer to it. Yes, it’s kind of a pain in the butt sometimes, and I’m not 100% compliant with my own goal of tracking every day, but in my experience it’s been a huge help. When I write it down, I stick to my plans. I tend to eat healthier (because who wants to write down, “Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby, 1 pint”??). I tend to workout more because I can see lots of blank space when I haven’t been exercising.

There are many electronic options to track, including free and paid apps and websites where you can track both exercise and food (e.g. My Fitness Pal, Livestrong, FitBit) but I do best when I write things down. For one, I spend so much time on my phone and computer that I don’t really need to find another reason to do that. For two, when I’m using pen and paper it’s easy to track what I had planned versus what I actually did. Or doodle in the margins. Or reward myself with a cool gel pen with funky ink. Finally, I’m more like to review my data if I can thumb through the pages and compare multiple pages at once.

So you might wonder, why bother with tracking? Trust me, it’s not just my personal obsession.

Three reasons you might track

1. Lose Weight

My first experience with tracking was actually when my office started a Weight Watchers group. As part of the program, we kept track of what we ate each day, working to stay within our “points” allowance. Tracking to lose weight is a proven method for adherence to a weight loss program.A study called Long Term Weight Loss Maintenance indicates tracking is also useful for maintenance, noting that some of the factors for long-term success (taken from the National Weight Loss Registry data) include “self-monitoring weight, and maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends.” (You can read the rest of the abstract for more.)

Mileage Data (Believe Journal)
Mileage Data (Believe Journal)

2. Collect Data

If you’re tracking food intake, you probably know to write down what you ate. Don’t forget to write down how much! You might also write down how you felt afterwards. (I know people who have discovered food sensitivities this way.) Food is really tied up in emotions, and you might discover you’re eating because you are upset or bored!

If you’re tracking workout data, what you track probably depends on what you’re doing. In the P90X programs, Tony Horton recommends writing down how many reps you got through of each exercise (in addition to how much weight you used). If you’re running, you probably want to track time and distance, but you might also want to track weather, road conditions, and other factors that could affect your run.

Tracking both food and exercise allows you to see whether there are correlations (I always run better after a half cup of coffee, I’m miserable if I had champagne the night before), or if you’ve fallen into a habit you’d like to keep up or break up with. Right now I’m also tracking my water intake and hours of sleep.

If you’re really into the idea of collecting up data, you might want to check out the Quantified Self movement and see if there is a meet-up or conference near you.

The big picture page (FitBook)
The big picture page (FitBook)

3. Plan Ahead

If you are training for an event, you probably have some kind of training plan. Runners often plan a certain number of miles or minutes per training day. But planning isn’t just for “those people” (if you’re not one of them!). Maybe you need to plan out your workouts because you’ve got a busy schedule and a full plate, and planning it out ensures it will happen. You could put the workout in your regular calendar like an appointment, then write out the details in your tracker. If you’re following a training plan from a book or magazine, you can pre-write your workout in your tracker. I find carrying my small FitBook much more convenient than bringing the magazine, and I can always note where I made changes or did more reps. Another example, you can use a tracker to plan meals for you or your family (and from that, create your grocery list!). It can save you a bunch of time and money if you plan your meals that way.

Trackers I have known and loved

First, true confession, I’m actually tracking different things in different places. I have a FitBook for food and workouts. I have the Believe Journal for running, where I also write about how the run felt, what I got right and wrong, and my general thoughts about events, etc. I track my weight in the FitBit app. It might seem horribly inefficient to have all this data in different places, but it works for me–I want the graph the FitBit app makes, but I want space to write about my runs. I use the food section of FitBook to track container equivalents from the 21-Day Fix eating plan, but formerly used it to track points.

While you can just grab any notebook and start your own tracker, I’ve not have great success with this. The main issue for me is that since the pages are not organized into days and weeks, it is just too easy to skip a day, and “just for today” turns into “I don’t track anymore.” When I first started tracking I wasn’t sure what I wanted to track, and I tried to do too much, which also made the blank notebooks less than effective. I enjoy the graphic elements of the published trackers as well.

An example of my inspiration collages
An example of my inspiration collages

Weight Watchers

There is a WeWa app now, and some of my friends love it. I’ve never tried it, in part because I found the website quite buggy when I tried to use it to track. Instead, I used the spiral-bound purse-sized trackers. Note that there is a free downloadable tracker, and those attending meetings can pick up single-week trackers (or used to be able to do so–I’ve not checking up on it lately). The link leads to the current journal, which is a 12-week hardcover, because I couldn’t find the spiral-bound one online. Pros: highly portable, used the covers for inspiration collages. Cons: not much room to track exercise, frequently ran out of room to write.

Red for 2015; Lavender for 2016!
Red for 2015; Lavender for 2016!

Believe Journal

This is a running-specific journal, with information, inspiration, and worksheet-like activities between the regular weekly tracking pages. It was created by professional runners Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas. You don’t have to be a runner to use it though–you could use the weekly pages for any activity, the yearly overview for planning, and the worksheets apply to almost every sport. There are some runner-specific information sections that don’t cross-apply though, including a variety of speed workouts, pace charts, and training plans.  Pros: plenty of room to write, spaces are customizable, textured cover, knowledge bombs/content. Cons: too large to carry around in a purse, not designed to track both exercise and food.

Workouts on the left, foods on the right
FitBook: Workouts on the left, foods on the right


I first met FitBook at IDEA World in…wow, 2010. FitBook had a table at the expo, and I was so excited at how much better the format would be for my purposes. FitBook has a place to record stats other than weight, a weekly planning page, and a weekly summary page with space to journal, reflect on the week and how to move forward. There are two daily pages; the left side is for exercise and the right side is for food. The FitBook website and email newsletter deliver some great content for free, including inspiration, receipts, and printable calendars and goals worksheets. Pros: lots of space to track both food and exercise, largely blank areas are highly customizable, spiral binding lays flat for easy use. Cons: some might find it too big to carry daily.

A giveaway!

FitBook and FitBook Lite
FitBook and FitBook Lite

I’ve got ONE brand new FitBook Lite! The “lite” version of FitBook is a six week version of it’s big sister, FitBook. Once you’ve got FitBook Lite in your hands, you can downdload a free kickstart ebook with a meal plan, recipes, tips, and a workout plan guide. Please note: this giveaway is not sponsored by FitBook (or anyone else) in any way.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received complimentary 2XU Hyoptik tights to review 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! 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.

The Hyoptik tights are made of material that is substantially thicker than the Elite MCS Compression Tights I previously reviewed (and have been wearing to every possible race). While the material feels like a single layer, 2XU describes the material as two (fused) layers: “A soft brushed thermal inner layer helps retain warmth in cold climates.” Not that the San Francisco Bay Area qualifies as a cold climate, usually, but I did scrape hard frost off my car before my January runs AND see actual hard ice on my run.

See how misleadingly tiny they look? And this is AFTER washing them!
See how misleadingly tiny they look? And this is AFTER washing them!

Anyway. I ordered a size large, because that’s the size I have in every other 2XU product. When I first took the Hyoptik tights out of the box, I was afraid I’d made a mistake. They looked like they might be 3/4 length, and made for a pixie. I held them up to my waist, and the bottoms barely touched my knee! I was seriously worried. Fortunately, there was nothing wrong. I did order the right size. There must be something about the fabric that just makes them look itty-bitty when fresh out of the box. Whew.

After my initial worry about the size, I played with the tights a little bit, even before I first put them on. The thicker fabric definitely seemed appropriate for cold weather, and I love it when my winter gear has a little bit of fuzzy-wuzzy on the inside. It’s also soft on the inside, which I liked.

Then I put them on. The thicker fabric of the Hyoptik was both easier and more difficult to stretch over my legs when compared to the MCS and other, thinner compression tights. On the one hand, it was easier because I could get a better grip on the fabric as I worked the tights onto my leg. I also found I was much less likely to snag a nail on the Hyoptik fabric (for whatever reason, I have a problem with this and thinner compression tights/shorts). On the other hand, this thicker fabric tends to want to snap back to the original shape a tiny bit more, so I have to work harder to adjust and keep the upper portion appropriately on my body. (Ladies, you know all about how bad a “drop crotch” is with pantyhose, right?) I went so far as to apply a small amount of Body Glide, just in case, the first few times I wore them. (It wasn’t necessary, but a runner can’t be too careful about chafing.)

2XU in my kitchen
2XU in my kitchen

Since I grew up in Michigan, I joke that California doesn’t have a real winter, at least not in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Jenzenator knows what I mean–she chose the 3/4 length because it isn’t cold where she lives either.) We have calendar months they call “win-ter” but not actual winter weather. A few days each year there is some frost on my car and I can see my breath, but that’s about it. So as far as a field test wearing these in  the snow and icy hey-the-wind-chill-is-double-digits-below-zero of my childhood, I would have needed a field trip to a cold place.  If that’s your situation, you want to check out reviews by the other BibRave Pro team members who live in colder climates. If you read Daddy Did You Win? you know the tights are cut out for Northern Indiana winters. (While you’re at it, Cass Gunderson has tips on winter running too.)

First test race, Brazen Racing New Year’s Day, was one of those frost on the windshield days. While I was running I actually saw frosted patches of grass along the trail! This is as close as I was going to get to a cold snap, so I took Hypotik out for a run. (The Fun Size Athlete and Heather Runs 13.1 also took Hyoptik to the trails.) Now despite being a native Midwest girl from two long lines of white, pasty people from far northern climates, I’m not big on being cold. I really dislike running with cold legs. When the weather drops below a certain temperature–and it’s not that low since I’ve moved to the West Coast and gone soft–it’s like my thighs and butt freeze into solid blocks of ice and just don’t un-freeze. (I don’t know if Sweet Blonde’s Fit Life has the same problem.) It’s hard to run when your biggest muscles, which should be warm and pliable, more closely resemble a side of beef in the deep freeze! 2XU Hyoptik kept me just the right amount of warm. Sure, I was a little cold at the start, but once I started moving I was fine. The fabric kept all of it’s promises: compression, sweat-wicking, and warmth.  By the time I finished, the sun had come out but it wasn’t actually warm outside. My legs cooled off a little bit after I stopped running, but didn’t hit the point of being actually cold. Since I spent part of that time sitting at a picnic table and eating an It’s-It, I’m attributing the lack of chill on my legs to the tights. Not that it gets as cold as, say, Colorado where Miles of Abbie lives, but hey.

Once I’d confirmed the 2XU Hyoptik worked well in cold weather that stayed cold, I wondered what it would be like in weather that started cold, and then warmed up significantly. I packed the tights and headed off to Disney World! (Okay, so I had planned this trip months in advance…but I did take the Hyoptik with me.)  If you ran during marathon weekend last year, or have any friends who did, you know it was ridiculously cold last year. So much so that I bought all new running clothes off the clearance rack at a local sporting goods store, plus a hat and gloves from Target! This year I wanted to be better prepared for cold. While my pre-trip weather check said it would be warm for all the races, it wasn’t. It even rained. But back to the Hyoptik tights. I decided to wear them for the half marathon, because I expected the sun to be out in full force by the time I finished the full marathon. (I did wear the 2XU MCS compression tights for the full.) When I pulled them on at 3:45 a.m., it was quite chilly. (I even took an old heat sheet to the corrals with me.) As before, the 2XU Hyoptik kept me warm once I started running, wicked away sweat, and didn’t leave me freezing when I stopped running–which was important, as I had to stand in line for a little bit to wait for the bus back to my hotel.

By the way, these tights are not “just a chick thing.” Running For the Average Joe declared his love for them, and Confessions of an Amateur Athlete also gave them some blog love.

A dynamic duo from the BibRave Pro team!
A dynamic duo from the BibRave Pro team!

The last appropriate opportunity I had to run in the 2XU Hyoptik before my deadline for this post was for the Inaugural Sin City Run. It didn’t seem cold at the hotel or standing waiting for my cab, but I was fooled: Las Vegas is a desert climate, and it gets COLD when the sun isn’t out! When I stepped out at the park in my Hyoptik tights and short-sleeved t-shirt, I thought I was going to freeze. I wondered if I had made a serious error in failing to pack a long sleeved shirt for running. I pulled my Buff up over my head to cover my ears and line my hat. BibRave Pro Laurel ran these races too, and she had also worn her 2XU Hyoptik tights, so we were twinsies! When the 5k started, my legs were chilled. After a few intervals–Laurel and I ran 2/1–my legs were warm and toasty but my upper body was still quite cold. (Hm. Hyoptik top layer for cold days? I’m going to go check out the 2XU website.) My legs felt good and stayed warm through the end of the 5k, and through the pause between the 5k and 10k. While it wasn’t a super-long break, it was sufficiently long enough that my arms were cold and I was a little chilly from the sweat on my head. Then the 10k kicked off, and my still-warm-and-happy legs took off and banged out a 10k. During the course of the 10k, the sun came out and the day warmed up substantially. The volunteers who had been wearing warm coats, hats, and mittens started to take off layers. I took the Buff off my head. By the time I finished, my upper body was also warm, and the sun felt really good. I spent the rest of the day in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, but I could have gotten away with short sleeves. (I was afraid I’d be cold inside the hotels and casinos.)

BibRave: #OrangeIsTheNewFast
BibRave: #OrangeIsTheNewFast

After multiple washes, they still look brand new (only slightly less tiny). I didn’t even read the care directions (oops) but have been washing them in cold water, mild detergent, no fabric softener, hang to dry (except that one time I wanted to pack them in a suitcase and they were still damp). The only aspect of the 2XU Hyoptik that I didn’t really field test is the reflection factor on the print. (Okay so technically I didn’t have a good way to test the SPF or the antibacterial properties either…but I’m not sunburned or itchy, and they don’t stink, so there you go.) Fortunately, Run Gina Run has some great pictures showing off the reflective qualities of the logo on the Hyoptik tights. During this time of year the days are still pretty short, and even where I live a lot of running takes place in the dark before work or the dark after work. I’m a big fan of taking safety precautions when running in the dark. Here are just a few:

  • Run in well-lit areas whenever possible.
  • Avoid running on the road if you can, especially if it is icy. If you must run on the road, dress as visibly as possible.
  • To increase visibility, at a minimum wear a reflective vest, jacket, and other clothing, like the 2xu Hyoptik tights.
  • Other ideas to increase visibility: wear light colors on top, add reflective tape (it’s temporary, you can remove it), use/wear lights or gear that lights up
  • Stick to headphones that are NOT noise-cancelling, and leave the volume low enough that you can clearly hear what is going on around you.
  • Carry your phone (the iPhone has a flashlight mode, in case you get somewhere crazy dark).
  • Wear or carry ID

Of course, you don’t have to wear them only for running. Run Jen Run sported hers for runs, housework, expo attendance, and the flight home!

Have you tried anything from 2XU? Have you worn the Hyoptik compression gear?

No? Yes?

Either way, here’s your chance to score a discount! Code RUN20 will save you 20% off gear from 2XU, but only until February 29th. Run right over to the website and pick your new compression gear.