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If you have spent any time with me, you know how much I love my coffee. Good coffee. Coffee that people describe using the floofy fancy terms other people use to talk about wine or single malt scotch. Coffee from a variety of small-batch roasters, neighborhood shops, and hobbyists. Coffee from Central America, Indonesia, and Africa. I’m the woman who sees a sign for a coffee roastery that offers tours and immediately suspends The Plan to go see. (True story, this is how I discovered Mariposa Coffee which literally had just a Facebook page that no one maintained at the time.)

When I read The Counter’s article, “What if the only coffee shops left after Covid-19 are Starbucks?” I was horrified. Not because I hate Starbucks (I don’t, I’ve had a gold card since back in the day when you paid $20 to get wifi access) but because my life is SO MUCH BETTER with small batch, quirky, independent roasters in it. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has wisely determined that coffee is part of the “critical infrastructure industry” that hasn’t stopped independent coffee shops from shuttering their doors or running with a bare-basics crew to try to stay alive. Big chains like Peet’s and Starbucks are likely to survive because they have other revenue, including national distribution and big grocery store sales, and have a billion locations and have apps to pre-order. The place down the street? Not so much.

So here’s my attempt to inspire you to buy your beans from a small business. I’ve tried most of the options listed below, and the other recommendations come from trusted friends. If I missed your favorite, drop a comment and share the love!

I don’t know about you, but coffee fuels my work and my world. I swear #ButFirstCoffee was created with me in mind.
Photo (c) Styled Stock Society

Arizona

Cartel Coffee Lab. I first heard of Cartel through a subscription coffee box. Now that they have a cafe inside the Phoenix airport, I may sometimes book my travel with a connection there just so I can pick up a few bags… https://www.cartelcoffeelab.com/

California

Bear Coast Coffee. My friend Kate Durham: “Bear Coast Coffee in Orange County, CA, is a wonderful coffeeshop with a fresh atmosphere, happy regulars, super chill baristas, and damn good coffee…I really hope they survive. They have the original shop in San Clemente.and a shop they opened last year in Dana Point. I believe they’re open for local pickup and delivery.” Check them out at https://bearcoastcoffee.com/

Bella Rosa Coffee. Kelly Benson says, “I buy their coffee any chance I can. I can taste the flavor behind their roasts and I find them to be so much more aromatic.” Family-owned, organic, low-acid coffees. This is definitely the kind of place I want to see survive and thrive. What’s not to love? https://www.bellarosacoffeecompany.com/

Mariposa Coffee Company. I literally found them by the side of the road in Mariposa, CA because there was a small sign. At that point in time they had zero internet presence, and not a lot of traffic, so I got a personal tasting and tour (and saw the frankenroaster!) OMG. So good that I not only bought several bags for myself, but I also bought some to send to my brother (his Christmas gift that year was “I’ll mail you coffee from interesting places I visit”). I even bought a t-shirt. That was a half-dozen or more years ago, and now they have a lovely website and you can use it to buy their coffee, which I highly recommend you do. https://www.mariposacoffeecompany.com/

Colorado

Ampersand Coffee. This Boulder-based coffee roaster comes highly recommended by Kia Ru, due to their “mission for female empowerment benefiting growers who are primarily female. They just started selling in Patagonia Provisions as this all started. My fave is a bean out of Chiapas, Mexico which steadily procuring seems like a chore but women are amazing.” By the way, the only roasters on this list are those I know personally, or that came recommended by friends. (Because friends don’t let friends drink crappy coffee.) https://www.ampersand-coffee.com/

Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters. This is another recommendation from Kia Ru. She describes it as “run by a two-time US Brewers Cup Champion with a ton of accolades out of Lakewood, CO . Great cup, they keep their menu simple, but have a kitchen lab where customers can get a spot to play with variables of time, weight, and method. Solid beans. My fave is what they recommend that day as they like to play with offerings.” Until you can visit their coffee lab, you can order online fro https://sweetbloomcoffee.com/

Idaho

Evans Brothers Coffee. My friend Hope Buchan recommends this coffee–she’s ordered it and never even been there! Me? Turns out I was there when work sent me to Sandpoint, Idaho. It was DELICIOUS and I recommend it as well. If you ever find yourself in Sandpoint–a seemingly odd location for a vacation destination, but so beautiful!–check out the Talus Rock Retreat. Less expensive than a hotel, and much more serene, warm, and friendly. In the meanwhile, order up some coffee: https://www.evansbrotherscoffee.com/

Massachusetts

Battle Grounds Coffee. My friend and amazing marathoner Kacey Hill recommends this veteran-owned business. Founder Salvatore is a former Navy S.E.A.L. and his wife and co-founder Dana comes from a military family. They offer a monthly subscription. One of the things I love is that Battle Grounds Coffee uses their website to promote other small businesses. I also love a roaster with a good sense of humor. They named their decaf blend “Treason.” https://battlecoffee.com/

Dean’s Beans. Nomnom amazing coffee. I appreciate their support for coffee farmers, and work to make their lives better, which has been the cornerstone of their business since Dean Cycon started the company in 1993. The company has long-term partnerships with the coffee growing co-ops and communities where they buy beans. You can read about the specific communities that grew your beans (and the projects that Dean’s Beans supports there) on the website, which also has a wealth of information about coffee. You can even buy green coffee beans, in case you feel inspired to roast your own. https://deansbeans.com/

Michigan

The Proving Grounds. Recommended by a friend who doesn’t really like coffee, but has friends who do. Proving Grounds serves coffee and ice cream, so if you’re one of those weirdos who thinks there is such a thing as “too hot to drink coffee” they have you covered. The physical locations are in Milford and Royal Oak, but they ship beans (and honey, and toffee, and doggie treats!) nationwide. https://www.provinggroundscoffee.com/

Check out Freedom Hill’s gorgeous new packaging! (Photo by Freedom Hill Coffee)

Freedom Hill Coffee. Imagine that you decided to start a coffee roasting business that supports veterans. Imagine your best friend and veteran killed himself, and that your business supports Mission 22–with a goal to bring veteran suicide to zero. Now imagine you started it in February this year. That’s Freedom Hill. I personally recommend the Breakfast Blend, which is darker than medium but not a dark roast. The dark roast is also lovely. The only real “problem” with Freedom Hill Coffee is that I liked it so much that the beans disappeared quickly! Be sure to check their single origin coffee (which one is on offer changes regularly). When I made my first order, they were hand-stamping coffee bags. Their spiffy new resealable bags just arrived. Check them out! https://freedomhillcoffee.com/

New Jersey

Rook Coffee. I’ve already sung the praises of Rook Coffee in a prior post. They support runners, so I’m in. (Also as you can read from that review, nice coffee!) https://rookcoffee.com/

New York

The Spot. I wrote about The Spot in my review of the Buffalo Marathon weekend; so nice, I went there like three times http://www.spotcoffee.com/

The Death Wish “broke not busted” charity tee–all proceeds go to support COVID-19 relief for the service industry. (Photo by Death Wish Coffee.)

Death Wish Coffee. “The World’s Strongest Coffee” since 2012, with a skull and crossbones and a bit of a punk rock attitude. Buy beans (OMG there is a five pound bag!!), instant coffee, cold brew, and merch on the website. Need a patch for your hoodie? Maybe a hockey jersey or a Krampus ugly sweater? A coffee-infused chocolate bar? They’ve got your back. You even have the option to have your Death Wish delivered every week. I have a few of the gorgeous mugs made by Deneen Pottery in my cabinet–some of them are sought-after collectors’ items. The coffee is delicious and as strong as promised–but if you find otherwise, they have a money-back guarantee. https://www.deathwishcoffee.com/

North Carolina

Bean Traders Coffee Roasters. Anna Louis Kallas recommends this roaster and cafe with multiple locations in and around Durham. They have a wide range of roasted beans from blends to single origins (Mexico, Guatemala, Tanzania, Burundi, and more) as well as flavored coffee beans. They have coffee subscriptions available too, your choice of 1 or 2 bags per month. https://beantraderscoffee.com/

Counter Culture. I was going to write an entry about my favorite Seattle coffee house, but they are no longer roasting their own–they serve Counter Culture. One of the fun things is that they sell coffee in various sizes–yup, you can get a five pound bag of some roasts. They also have a search function where you can see which coffee shops in your area are serving Counter Culture. Free shipping on individual orders. https://counterculturecoffee.com/

Oregon

Fillmore Coffee. est. 2015 Portland, Oregon. Fillmore is on NE 72nd and Glisan, and I had never heard of them until the coronavirus hit. Just before The Counter’s email hit my inbox, I saw a post by owner Tim Wilcox on Nextdoor. Turns out he lives in my neighborhood too. Fillmore’s pivot is to offer free Saturday delivery to Portland’s east side. They roast on Thursday and deliver on Saturday. Coffee is available in 12 oz ($14) or 2 pound ($28) bags. If you like good coffee, get the 2 pound bag–it’s like getting 8 oz of coffee free. Not a Portland resident? You can have it shipped, of course. Fillmore is one of the smaller roasters on my list, and it is Fillmore that prompted me to write this post. https://orderfillmorecoffee.com/

Happy Cup Coffee Company. I fell in love with the coffee before I read the story and I promise you will NOT be disappointed. Unlike most of the roasters on this list, Happy Cup has the benefit of being on grocery store shelves in Portland, such as Fred Meyer and New Seasons. Awesome, high-quality coffee is only one part of the Happy Cup mission: the other half is to provide employment, at a competitive wage, to adults with developmental disabilities. (In case you’re not aware, in most states a business can legally pay a person with a developmental disability lower than minimum wage based on a “time trial,” a high-pressure test that measures how “productive” an employee is compared to a non-disabled employee doing the same task.) In many companies, developmentally disabled individuals are only offered the menial labor jobs, but at Happy Cup they work in every part of the company’s operations. I recommend the Boom! Boom! Dark Roast, and The Buzz Medium Roast. Orders over $40 ship free in the continental U.S. https://www.happycup.com/

Rhode Island

Queen Bean Coffee Company/Mills Coffee Roasters. The Queen Bean is the online sales portal for Mills, a 5th generation, continuously family-owned and operated roaster. I first learned about Queen Bean through its support for the running community, specifically projects by Run Heifer Run and Ordinary Marathoner. I got the scoop from Nicole Mills: “My great great grandfather started the company in 1860 and we have many customers who have been with us for 50+ years. Our average employee tenure is 30+ years–it is really a family/community business. We all love coffee and love sharing our enthusiasm and dedication with our customers through our products.” I can personally vouch for the quality of the coffee (sold in FULL POUND bags!) which also comes attractively packaged. One of my packages included a hand-painted coffee-themed bookmark from Nicaragua; my latest order has a set of cards showing the coffee-growing regions of the world. I’ve tried both single varietals (nomnom) and blends (nomnom) and it would never hurt my feelings if you wanted to send me some https://www.thequeenbean.com/

Tennessee

Grounds & Hounds. “Every cup saves a pup.” Okay, who doesn’t love good coffee that supports saving dogs? This is coffee for a cause. 20% of all profits go to fund organizations that help Very Good Boys and Very Good Girls find their furever homes. The source their beans from Peru, Colombia, Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua so there is sure to be something that suits your palate. The blends have fun names like Alpha Blend (a dark roast, duh), Rescue Roast, Sit and Stay, and Belly Rub Blend. Order beans, subscriptions, and really cute merch. Coffee with warm fuzzies! https://groundsandhoundscoffee.com/

Texas

Check that out–FULL POUNDS of coffee!

Anderson’s Coffee Company. Austin, how I loved thee while I lived there. During “Stay At Home,” a friend recommended Anderson’s to me. I was shocked and refreshed to learn they sell ACTUAL POUNDS of coffee. Not 12 oz. bags. Naturally I bought three pounds, and I savored it! I personally chose the Guatemala Finca El Limonar, Guatemala Antigua, and Costa Rica (which was slightly darker than the two Guatemala varieties). It is really hard for me to choose a favorite–especially when there are so many more types of coffee that I haven’t tried yet. https://andersonscoffee.com/

What’s Brewing. Based in San Antonio, and recommended by a friend. Born in 1979, they’ve been roasting almost as long as I’ve been alive. Their roastery location features a collection of pinball machines! If you live in San Antonio, you can find them at the Pearl Farmer’s Market every weekend, serving up brewed coffee and selling beans. If you don’t live in San Antonio, they’ll ship your beans to your door. In addition to single origin beans and bean blends, What’s Brewing also sells coffee brewing equipment, flavored coffee, and teas. https://www.sacoffeeroasters.com/

Unknown Location

Sibino’s Coffee. This roaster reached out to me on Instagram and while I haven’t ordered yet (I had ordered five pounds of coffee the day before, so…) I’m intrigued. Each coffee on the site has a tasting profile, explaining the origin, roast, tasting profile, variety, region, grower, altitude, soil, and how the beans were processed. Basically more data on every coffee than you have on whatever you are drinking right now! Another business that started in 2020, Sibino’s seems to have developed a regular following. You can choose from single origin, blends, flavored coffee, and capsules. https://sibinoscoffee.com/

Who is your favorite coffee roaster? Do you know of an excellent coffee roaster that is small, locally-owned, family-owned, charitable, doing good works, or otherwise really worth knowing and saving?

Tell me all about them in the comments!

Disclosure: As a member of the official Blue Ridge Marathon blogger-ambassador team, I received a free entry to the Slow K. As always, all opinions are my own.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t go straight from being very active, or running long miles, to couch-potato-worthy zero. Yet that’s what most of us do the day after a race. Worse, for destination marathons that fall on a Sunday, many runners hop an airplane back home the same day. Yikes!

Another problem avid runners face is the non-running-significant-other. It’s fun to have your spouse or boyfriend or whatever come along on race weekend, but I’m not sure how much fun it is for them when the entire weekend revolves around an event they aren’t participating in.

This year, the Blue Ridge Marathon races brilliantly solved both problems with The Slow K: an untimed 5k-ish event. It was brilliant.

The Slow K started across the street from our hotel, so we thought we’d walk over. Minor issue, part of the path was shut-off by a chain-link fence, so we had a little pre-5K parkour event. Upon our arrival, we found a super chill pre-brunch scene.

We felt all the love!

Upon checking in each not-runner received their number on a flower lei (not a bib), and a coffee mug. Pre-“race” there was plenty of coffee and hot cocoa, as well as some donuts to snack on. (Don’t judge. Most of us had just done a mountainous race!) The event was fairly small–this was the first year–and there was plenty of space to mill around, chat, and meet other runners.

It was fun to see runners just as stiff and sore as I was hobbling around and trying to get the juices flowing again, while non-runner husbands and girlfriends who were not walking like zombies filled coffee mugs. There were a few strollers and plenty of walking kiddos as well. That’s the great thing about a “Slow K,” it is literally for everyone. Exactly zero people were there to race, or even run!

You had me at “mimosa”

Off to one side was a mimosa bar where, for a small donation, you could DIY your own combo with sparkling wine, juice, and fresh fruit. I’m pretty sure the idea was to grab one after the Slow K, but the mimosa cups fit inside the coffee mugs so perfectly that some of us just couldn’t help ourselves!  They also had fancier coffee (in case the more pedestrian coffee that came with the donuts wasn’t up to your standards). Through the magic of square, I made my donation (I should have taken notes, I want to say this was for an arts or music program), selected some pineapple juice, made a little more room in the cup, and added fresh strawberries. Not a bad way to start a “run” (quotes intentional, as no one was running).

The added bonus of a slow event where you’re trying to get people to move but not run, and where you hand out coffee mugs instead of medals: it’s really, really hard to run with a coffee mug in your hand and not spill all over the place. At least as the event started, most of us still had full or semi-full mugs in our hands.

The weather was slightly soggy, but not really rainy–sort of a continuation of the weekend’s theme. The loop course wound along the river, through some park areas, and back to the start. There were a bunch of cute signs close to the start/finish to cheer on the “runners” too.

Slow K instructions

The Slow K was so much fun that I’m a bit confused as to how every race isn’t doing this. It’s a brilliant way to end a weekend and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments.

Disclosure: I was able to attend Natural Products Expo West 2018 as Media Support because I am part of the New Hope Blogger Co-op. I paid the going press rate for my conference badge, and received absolutely no compensation (I paid for my hotel, meals, etc.) from New Hope 360, or any other company, in exchange for my attendance or coverage of Expo West. (I only had access to the press room for the blogger happy hour, too.) While I did receive product samples and swag from various exhibitors and companies, ALL opinions are my own. Per my integrity policy, all sponsored content or affiliate links will be clearly disclosed.

100% vegan mochi “ice cream” (and these guys supply restaurants!)

Natural Products Expo West—or Expo West as the insiders call it—is the biggest business to business trade show for consumer products in the “natural” and “organic” markets. (“Natural” is in quotes because it has no legal meaning when used to describe a product, or on a product label, in the Untied States. I opted to put “organic” in quotes because there are several organic standards including the USDA organic label and the Oregon Tilth organic certification, and I’m not necessarily referring to any specific organic protocol. Since too many quotation marks are annoying, just assume I put both in quotes from here on out.)

Attendees include grocers and retail outlets seeking the newest innovative products, marketing firms, businesses with products to sell, businesses still in the development stages, and all manner of business support services from importers and exporters to label makers to packaging companies to product formulators to third party testing laboratories and much more. At the same time, and in the same space, there is a big show called Engredea, where businesses and product manufacturers can learn and do business with the companies that make and process ingredients—literally everything that goes into a product from maple syrup to every kind of oil to stabilizers and emulsifiers and sugars and lentil flour and anything else you can imagine (as well as a bunch of stuff you only know about if you work in food production).

Excited to see this–a blend of apple juice and Gerolsteiner sparking mineral water.

The companies that attend cover the entire range of consumer packaged goods brands. There are nationally-known names like General Mills, Kashi, Bob’s Red Mill, Clif Bar, and Now Foods. There are companies you’ve likely seen on Shark Tank, including Chapul (the cricket protein people), Ice Breakers candy, Jackson’s Honest (potato chips and other chip made with coconut oil), and Brazi Bites (Brazilian cheese bread). There are companies you may not have heard of yet, such as The Nutty Gourmet (they make the very best walnut butters ever—in my least humble opinion), Petchup (nutrition supplements for pets in the form of gourmet sauces), and Frill (a creamy and delicious frozen vegan dessert). There are kombuchas, colas, and coffee; food wraps, no-FODMAPs, and maple saps; pastas, pretzels, and probiotics. The products are vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, and carnivore; fresh, frozen, shelf-stable and every other possible form. As a result, you see attendees wearing attire that ranges from full-on lawyerly suits to shorts and Birkenstocks, polyester to organic cotton, tye-die to spandex.

Pet products are an increasing aspect of ExpoWest. Pets are a $61 billion industry.

The show currently takes up all of the available convention hall, meeting room, and hotel space at the Anaheim Convention Center and surrounding hotels. There are so many attendees that on Friday night Expo West crashed the Uber app, making hundreds and maybe thousands of people late to business dinners, public relations pitches, and social events. This is despite a sophisticated network of (free) busses to transport attendees from the Convention Center to Angel Stadium (there is nowhere near enough parking at the Convention Center, so many attendees park at Angel Stadium) or to dozens of hotels in the surrounding area. Hotel space near the

Birdie is a spray hand sanitizer with wipes hiding in the bottom. Cute enough to put on your desk!

Convention Center sells out within minutes—more than 80,000 people attend the show, and companies often reserve blocks of rooms for those working the show on their behalf—and I met people staying as far away as Newport Beach because they couldn’t find any hotel or even an Air BnB that was closer (and not $1,000/night).

Expo West is broken down into several distinct sub-spaces. This year, Hot Products (meaning new or hot on the market, and not meaning “foods that you eat while they are hot” as I mistakenly believed during my first Expo West!) occupied the North Halls. The Arena, Convention Center Halls A through E, and the third floor had exhibitors, including Engredea. Thursday’s Fresh Ideas Marketplace (meaning innovative products, not salad bars and fresh produce as I thought my first year) is housed in a giant white tent near the Marriott. The main plaza between the Hilton and the Marriott had food trucks, multiple exhibitor booths, a stage with live music, and roaming promoters, while the smaller plaza near the North Halls had a few food trucks and additional seating. Finally, a section of the parking lot between the Hilton and Morton’s restaurant had food-truck style Expo exhibitors as well as a few food trucks, and more tables for lunching.

Outside of those spaces, there are also several other things going on in the Convention Center spaces. There is a pitch-slam where new products can pitch to established brands and companies (think Shark Tank, but without the made-for-reality-TV aspects). One of the medium-sized hotel ballrooms hosts a variety of speakers, including the designated keynote speakers. (This year’s speakers included Jennifer Garner.) The smaller conference rooms host educational sessions on topics from the most recent FDA regulations to the exploding market for CBD-based products, new studies regarding sleep and nutrition, and more. Some of these are sponsored by exhibitors, while others are not. In addition to these session, which are open to all attendees, there are also specialized tracks that serve as a business school crash course for entrepreneurs, and more. There is a sort of job fair too. Other on-site events include sponsored breakfasts, daily early morning yoga, private business meetings, and after-hours parties. I have no idea how much of the rest of Anaheim hosts additional, private/invitation-only events (which cover the range from happy hours to multi-course meals, and even branch out into a 5k race!).

One of my best finds: PORTLAND-based kombucha that tastes delicious! (I find 99% of kombucha tastes like old socks.)

Despite the app, website, and printed brochure, it can be overwhelming to navigate Expo West. It isn’t always obvious which hall a given booth is located in, and travel from Hall D to Hall A can take 30 minutes due to pedestrian traffic—even though they are attached to each other. The scale of this event is so enormous that even if you did nothing but walk the show floors’ spaces—something few people do, due to meals, meetings, appointments, lectures, speakers, and other events—you still couldn’t see everything in the show’s four days. This was my third year at Expo West, and I finally feel like I figured out the best way for me to cover the show as a blogger. (Which included: make appointment with brands I wanted to spend time with, make a list of priorities for booth visits, stick to my top product categories, and get to the Fresh Ideas tent BEFORE it opens.) Over the course of several posts, I’m going to share what I saw, tasted, and learned, with the goal to help YOU live YOUR best life now.

Curious about a particular type of product, a brand, or a trend? Drop a comment or shoot me a tweet, and I’ll make sure to cover it in an upcoming post.

Inspired by Jenna Blumenfeld’s article, 5 food trends that should end in 2018, I offer you Six Food Trends That Need To Die Immediately. (For the record, I’m on board with all of Jenna’s recommendations–erythritol [I would expand this to “overuse of sugar alcohols”], bottled water, protein overload, natural flavoring [at least where the flavoring ingredients can be described legally and accurately], and “pixie-dusting,” which is throwing in a dash of some ingredient like turmeric or reishi and then splashing claims about the ingredient on the packaging even though there isn’t even a single serving of the ingredient in there.)

Six Food Trends That Need To Die Immediately

“Clean Eating.” I love the idea behind clean eating–eat more produce, more whole food, fewer things that fall into the category of over-processed junk food. It pre-dates the zany blogger-amplified contemporary “clean eating” by years. See, for example, Tosca Reno’s series of books (influencer link) which started in 2007 and focus on healthy and nutritious eating, not a ton of restrictive rules. (BTW, there is LOTS of processed food that is not over-processed. A few examples: fruit that is washed, sliced, and frozen; shredded and bagged salad; simple pico de gallo in a tub.) More apples, more carrots, fewer Twinkies, fewer Fruit Loops. I really loathe the actual term, “clean eating.” It implies that anything that doesn’t fall into the approved definition is dirty or contaminated. It’s a way of letting disgust define your eating (or It’s just one step from “clean eating” to dietary snobbery and an attitude of superiority. The term is readily accepted in most circles, but it’s easy to take it too far and twist a basically fine idea into an obsession or an eating disorder such as orthorexia. In my own experience, I have a friend who became so particular about the food she was eating that when she went to visit her parents there was “nothing to eat.” That might sound normal if you grew up in a meat-and-potatoes Midwest suburb, but her parents own and operate a produce farm and orchards. I’m not the only critic of “clean eating;” check out the evaluations by Vice, Vogue UK, a variety of other publications (you can use Google to find more), and the Daily Mail UKs piece on how clean eating hurts women. There’s even a film on the subject, Clean Eating–The Dirty Truth. Let’s continue to believe in, and advocate for, healthy eating and access to nutritionally dense food like fresh produce for ALL people, but let’s quit using judge-y language to do it, eh?

All “Natural”?

“Natural.” The word natural conjures up all sorts of wholesome images, and the people marketing to you know this. The problem is that the word “natural” is susceptible to all sorts of interpretations. I don’t care if you use the word with your own definition. What I take issue with? Using the word “natural” on consumer products and food. Why? Unlike many of the words on your food and household products–words like juice, cheese, and organic–the term “natural” has no legal meaning. It’s not defined by the FDA. This means anyone can put it on any package with any intended meaning. Almost worse, it means a small group of lawyers are wasting limited judicial resources on lawsuits. There have been lawsuits challenging the use of the word natural on products that contain GMO corn, high-fructose corn syrup, types of vanilla, xanthan gum, and for products such as green tea that when tested had “trace levels” of glyphosphate, juice made from concentrate, cheese and yogurt made from milk from cows that ate GMO grains, and pita chips with B vitamins created synthetically but identical in every way to those found in nature. You can read more and find links on this Washington Post article. There are two easy solutions to this problem. One, ban the use of the word “natural” on all consumer products. (No one is going to like that solution.) Two, require any product using the word “natural” to include a footnote that states “the term natural has no legal meaning, and is not a guarantee of the quality or origin of this product.” There are other ways to resolve the “natural” dilemma, of course, but if we wait for the FDA to step in my great-great-great granddaughter will be president.

P.S. I’d like to remind you that “natural” does not have the same meaning as “healthy” or “good for you.” A few 100% natural items to consider: cyanide, crocidolite asbestos, white oleander, poison dart frogs, black widows, volcano, cobras, certain bright red mushrooms, hemlock, ticks, manure, MRSA, listeria, malaria, salmonella…and the list goes on.

It might taste good, but it’s not removing toxins or cleansing anything

Detox, tea-tox, pre-tox, cleanse. Everything marketed in this category makes me want to vomit because it is so grossly misleading that it is unconscionable. Worse, many of the recommended practices can cause health problems in healthy people. But let’s start from the top: The term “detox” is used in the medical realm to refer to medical interventions for a person who is physically dependent on a drug and treatment of the associated withdrawal symptoms. “Detox” may also used in the case of an accidental poisoning. For an actual, real detox, there is science to explain exactly what toxic substance is being removed from the body, and how it is being removed. For example in many case of poisoning, activated charcoal is used to absorb the poison (“activated” means it has been treated to make it more absorbent, allowing it to soak up more) and generate a laxative effect to help it exit the body. (There is chemistry to explain how this works, and you can go look it up.) Commercially marketed “detox” and “cleanse” products claim there are mysterious “toxins” built up in your body and if you release them from your body by taking the magic pill or drinking the special smoothie, you will improve your health. Even if they specify a scary-sounding “toxin” (heavy metals!) none of these products will explain to you which toxin(s) they allegedly remove, nor will they explain the chemical and biological means by which they allegedly remove these toxins. (Because they don’t.) There’s not a single, credible, peer-reviewed study showing any detoxes achieve the results they claim–all detox claims are 100% hype. For the amount of money going into this market, that’s beyond suspicious. Worse, some allegedly detoxing things can be dangerous. Colonic irrigation has no proven benefits, for example, and most “tea tox” products either contain ingredients that sound nice but do nothing or known laxatives (such as senna)–and of course they are marketed as “100% natural.” Ugh.

As for the term cleanse, if your kidneys and liver are functioning properly, you are “cleansing” right now. Go look at a basic human anatomy text and read about the circulatory and urinary systems. (BTW, if your kidneys and liver are NOT functioning properly, you should be under medical care–poorly functioning kidneys may require dialysis to keep waste products out of your bloodstream, for example.) If you are afraid your body has bad stuff in it that needs to get out, start by “cleansing” your kitchen of all the things containing stuff you don’t want in your body.

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Alkaline everything. Let’s go back to basics. Your body works very hard to maintain a state of equilibrium called homeostasis. Basically, your genes are pre-programmed to know what is best for your body on any given scale. Think about your body temperature; your body naturally regulates to keep you from getting too hot or too cold (you sweat in the heat, and your body sends more blood to your core in the cold, among other adaptations). In chemistry, everything has a pH based on how acidic it is. At one end of the 0 to 14 scale is 100% acid  (pH 0) and on the other end is 100% not-acid, also called alkaline (pH 14). Just like your body adapts to keep your temperature at the right place, it also adjusts to keep your pH at the right place. Different parts of your body have different needs in terms of pH, for example your stomach creates an acidic environment to help you digest food while your blood is slightly alkaline. Your body (and specifically your kidneys) works really hard to keep your blood at the right pH because allowing it to get even a little bit too acidic OR a little bit too alkaline means you will die. While I love the idea of getting Americans to eat more green vegetables, you’re never going to “alkalinize” your body by eating them. If you did, you’d die. Oh, and in case someone tries to argue that a change in urinary pH is proof in support of this unscientific nonsense, remember that urine is a waste product kept in a holding tank (the bladder) so the body can get rid of it.

Hype and confusing messaging about products is designed to keep you spending.

Profiteering via ignorance and disinformation. This is so rampant in the consumer marketplace, in every category of product. This is a sugary kid cereal advertising it is made with whole grains–even if true, that just makes it slightly better than the non-whole-grain alternative, it doesn’t turn Cap’n Crunch into health food. This is products touting that they are non-GMO when there isn’t even a GMO version of that product or its ingredients available (e.g. salt, popcorn, and EVERY product that doesn’t contain squash, cotton, soybeans, field corn, papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola/rapeseed, potato, and one type of apple which are the only available GMO crops) and failing to mention that no one has so much as gotten a tummyache from a GMO. This is any product that relies on consumer ignorance or fear to help sell itself. We are better than this. Consumers deserve to be educated and know the facts, and companies should be working to make this knowledge easier to obtain, not harder.

Nutritional Imperialism. As Americans, we live in one of the richest nations on Earth, one that wields a considerable amount of political and economic power. Unfortunately, we collectively end up pillaging other nations to support our needs and wants. All of those exotically sourced ingredients? Many have a negative impact on the environment and the economy in their nations of origin. Take palm oil, for example. As demand increases, we’re threatening the orangutan population and rapidly increasing deforestation. (Details at Rainforest Action Network, Say No To Palm Oil, World Wildlife Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists.) Companies are responsive to consumer demand, so why not demand the companies that make the products you buy use sustainable palm oil or an alternative? (There’s a debate on whether palm oil can be truly sustainable, but I’ll leave you and Google to that.)  Palm oil isn’t the only bad guy, it’s just an example.

One of the alternatives to nutritional imperialism is trade that helps build and sustain the local economy while respecting the environment. This isn’t necessarily the same as Fair Trade, which is a specific third-party certification that can be cost-prohibitive for small companies. A few companies doing this type of work are Kuli Kuli, which has helped women farmers in Ghana, Haiti, and Nicaragua earn an income and support their families, and Dean’s Beans, which has relationships with each of the farmers that grow their coffee beans and actively supports the farmers and communities that grow them.

Which food trends would you like to vanish?

Disclosure: The fine folks at Click sent me a canister of CLICK All-In-One Coffee and Protein Drink Mix (caramel, nomnom!), a canister of CLICK Active All-In-One Coffee and Protein Drink Mix, two sample packets of other flavors, and a CLICK logo Blender Bottle. They are also generously providing a giveaway prize! As always, this review is my work, and contains my opinions. I wrote this–there is no ghost-written or “sponsored” content in this post.

Ice, shaker, CLICK, water, GO!

#CoffeeYesCoffee #ButFirstCoffee

Coffee is one of the greatest things on Earth. (If you disagree, you might be reading the wrong blog.) I love, love, love coffee. The best part of my Saturday (after sleeping in!) is grinding whole beans and making a fresh pot, then settling in for a mini-staycation. Coffee, however, is not breakfast. Even with milk and “fixin’s” coffee just doesn’t have the staying power I wish it did, and it definitely doesn’t have the nutrition to be a meal–if you’re drinking a coffeehouse coffee in the morning, it’s basically a sugar-bomb; if you’re drinking it non-fat to “save calories” you’re removing part of what could help your tummy feel satisfied even if I do get that you don’t need your mocha to have 450 calories (that’s a venti Starbucks mocha with 2% milk and whipped cream).

Right before I moved from Oakland to Portland, a friend told me about CLICK, a new drink mix that is real coffee with protein. Not coffee-flavored protein, but coffee with protein. Actual coffee, not faux-coffee. Protein is an important part of breakfast because it helps you feel full. Intrigued, I dashed off an email to the founders to learn more. Naturally the box with the goodies arrived right as I was moving and everything was in chaos, so I set it aside instead of tearing into it immediately. (This was not easy. I love opening boxes!)  I decided to wait until the road trip part of the move, for two reasons. One, taking CLICK with me meant I would have an easy breakfast every day. (Important when you are driving hundreds of miles with a cat and his many accessories.) Two, there is some data that starting a new habit while away from home will help you carry that habit over when you get home. (If you’ve read any books about habits and willpower, I’m sure you already know a few things about habit change. If you haven’t, I highly recommend Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonical, and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. They tread some of the same ground, but approach the topic from different angles.)

With traffic at a dead-stop for the visible mile ahead, so glad I had breakfast with me!

As an adult, I’ve become a serial breakfast skipper. (Or should that be cereal? I snap, crackle, pop myself up!) I know my body pretty well, and I can definitely feel my work and workouts suffer when I skip breakfast or just have coffee. When I skip breakfast, I am generally super ravenous by the time lunch rolls around, ready to stuff All The Foods into my face. As annoying as moving is–don’t ever move, ever–I decided to leverage the move as a life re-set. In “my new life” I have enough breakfast to make my body happy until lunch. While I doubted the CLICK literature asking if my coffee pot felt neglected (because no way am I giving up coffee!), I was game to try it.

Wait, what’s in CLICK? CLICK is an instant drink mix made from real coffee. (I promise, it tastes NOTHING like that bland “instant coffee” or “freeze dried coffee” stuff your parents had in the 1970s.) CLICK is intended to be a breakfast (or other meal or snack) replacement, though you can drink it in place of any regular coffee drink (saving calories and adding nutrition). In addition to two shots of espresso, CLICK has protein and 23 essential vitamins and minerals. Yes, it has sugar, but not much (5g per serving). If you make it with water, a serving is 110 or 120 calories, depending on which flavor you choose and how much you use. (If two scoops is too much flavor for you, try using just one scoop. My sweet spot is around one and a half scoops.) To make CLICK, you put CLICK in water and shake/stir. You can make it with milk or a milk substitute. You can make it hot or cold. You can make it fancier in a blender. You can make it in a box, you can make it with a fox! Oh, wait. Wrong story. Carrying on… CLICK is NOT for you if: One, you are vegan. CLICK contains milk. (If you’re interested and enough other people pester them too, I bet a vegan CLICK could be in the works.) Two, you are allergic to soy. CLICK contains soy-based ingredients. Three, you hate coffee. CLICK is coffee. If you hate coffee, can we even be friends?!?

The first taste test: cold-ish. It sounds silly now, but the first time I mixed CLICK I panicked. What if I don’t like it? What if it tastes weird? It sounds silly for many reasons, but at that moment I was on a very tight budget and this is what I had planned for breakfast. (Plus I had agreed to write an honest review, and no one likes to have to tell someone “hey I tried your product and it was icky.”) To me, a yucky breakfast is almost worse than no breakfast at all. The number one thing I fear in a drink mix is grittiness, and most drinks mix better in warmer rather than colder water, so I started with cold-ish water. I was particularly worried  because I was using water as a base, which would make any grit even grittier. If you’ve ever had protein powder, I’m sure you know what I mean–there’s nothing like drinking a glass of sand. Cautiously, I put the shaker ball into the Blender Bottle, added CLICK, added water, closed the lid (very important step!), and gave it a few shakes. It quickly dissolved. I took a deep breath, followed by an itty-bitty baby sip and…

IT WAS DELICIOUS!

First, the flavor was delicious. The caramel tasted like a fancy cold coffee drink treat. Second, CLICK dissolved completely. The resulting drink had a 100% smooth, completely liquid consistency without any lumps. There was NO grittiness at all, not even a little bit, and no weird crunchy bits left at the bottom (you know, those weird protein powder dregs). I quickly hoovered the remainder. Afterwards I felt like I’d had a coffee drink, and a little breakfast. My tummy was happy until lunch.

Icy cold coffee! The next day, I decided to try iced CLICK. The container said I could ice it, but I wasn’t sure I believed (yet). Also, some drinks are much better if you make them hot and ice them later. Since this was a test, I put the mixer ball in the Blender Bottle, filled the cup with ice, added CLICK, and then filled the cup with water (as cold as the tap would allow). After putting on the lid and shaking, I was shocked that CLICK dissolved completely! Even though it dissolved well at room temperature, I honestly thought it would be a little sandy-tasting when iced. Nope! I really like CLICK icy cold, so this is how I have been making it ever since. I’m still amazed that a powdered drink mix with protein dissolves this well without using an electric blender.

How much do I love CLICK?

Portability is key for breakfast on the go

For starters, I’ve continued to start every work day with iced CLICK (except the days I have been out of town–I need to get some little containers to put single servings in so I’m not relying on single-serve packets or plastic bags). I had planned to try making a hot CLICK, but Portland has been pretty warm since I moved and the thought of commuting on MAX with a hot beverage is not appealing. (That will change, I know!) When I reached the bottom of the canister, I hustled over to the website for more. As a result, I’m happy to report the vanilla latte flavor is also very yummy. (I haven’t opened the chocolate yet, as it seems overly decadent to have three canisters open at once.) Not only did I spend my own money on this–no special discount code or anything–I opted to buy the four-pack of canisters (and it comes with a cute hot drink mug). This is not a fling, my friends, this is a long-term relationship. I might need to go change my Facebook status. (My coffee pot is super jealous. I haven’t purchased a single bag of coffee beans since I moved.)

CLICK Active is another super yummy coffee-based drink mix with protein. CLICK Active is designed to take advantage of that magical post-workout “window of opportunity” when your (now worked-out and tired) muscles are extra-ready to suck in the nutrition to help repair and build muscle. You can read more about post-workout nutrition in general on my favorite nutrition site, Precision Nutrition. In a a nutshell, in a post-workout situation, nutrition helps the body to replenish glycogen, decrease protein breakdown, and increase protein synthesis. That’s what CLICK Active aims to do–and it’s still a better plan nutritionally than a venti mocha. CLICK Active has protein plus branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are the building blocks of protein, and therefore also of muscles. BCAAs are more easily digested than protein (which your body has to work to break down into amino acids before your body can use them).

The difference between CLICK and CLICK Active is basically the difference between a meal replacement drink and a recovery drink. No, the two are NOT the same thing! Think of CLICK as a low calorie breakfast or snack to help keep you on track nutritionally, and CLICK Active as a post-workout drink that helps your muscles recover. You can read more about the difference on the CLICK website’s blog. The CLICK website has all sorts of useful information, including a weight-loss plan (focused on portion sizes, making good choices, and exercise!) and recipes for shakes and snacks (coffee protein CLICK pop, anyone?).

My cat observed, “She haz a sad.”

How much do YOU love CLICK?

You won’t know until you try it, right? So you should enter to win it!

My new friends at CLICK are offering one prize: your choice of a canister of CLICK or CLICK Active, in the flavor of your choice (assuming availability) and a snazzy purple CLICK branded Blender Bottle to go with it.

Since I practice law and all, here are the rules: (1) this contest is not sponsored or endorsed or in any way affiliated with any social media outlet (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, Tumblr, Pinterest, mySpace, Livejournal, or anything else you can name); (2) there is no purchase necessary to enter; (3) entrants must be 18 or older because I don’t want to violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and because in the U.S. minors can’t enter into a binding contract, and because teenagers don’t need to start the day with two shots of espresso; (4) there is one prize and will be one winner, who will be required to submit their shipping address for prize delivery purposes; (5) the winning entrant will be contacted by email, and must respond to that email within three days or a new winner will be selected; (6) this contest is void where prohibited (I’m pretty sure that still includes Quebec, sorry!); (7) if I missed any major legal points I reserve the right to add them here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: this post is not in any way sponsored, endorsed, or otherwise connected with Monthly Java. I paid for my own subscription. I chose to write about the Arizona Monthly Java because I love coffee, not because Monthly Java paid me. (Though if they wanted to pay me to write for them, I wouldn’t be opposed!) If you check out Monthly Java, would you let them know you found them through my review? They might not notice, but it can’t hurt to let them know, right?

Don't be afraid to climb out of bed--coffee is waiting!
Don’t be afraid to climb out of bed–coffee is waiting!

Have you heard the good news about coffee?

While procrastinating–wait, I mean researching!–on social media, I happened to run into Monthly Java. It’s a subscription coffee box and like other subscription coffee boxes, it sends you coffee each month. Unlike other boxes, a Monthly Java box contains coffee from local roasters (not big, well-known ones), and each box has two bags from different roasters in the same state. The roasters package the coffee, so it comes to your house in the same packaging as if you’d bought it directly from them (not in some Monthly Java branded package). That means you might get a pound (16 oz) or you might get 12 oz (which seems to be the most common package size on shelves right now), depending on how the roaster packages their beans.

Monthly Java, revealed
Monthly Java, revealed

My first box had two coffees from Arizona roasters. Also included were two bookmark-sized brief dossiers on the roasters, some supplemental material from one roaster, and a handwritten thank you note. I liked the low-key, no-fuss packaging. (Hey, I subscribed for the coffee. I don’t need or want ridiculous packaging–I want my money going into the coffee.)

Cartel's beans
Cartel’s beans

Cartel Coffee Lab

The Roaster. Funny thing, I was already familiar with Cartel, a roaster based in Tempe, AZ, because they have a cafe in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. (Thank god they do. The first time I flew through Phoenix there was literally NO coffee in the nearby terminals. While there’s a Starbucks in the airport now, I prefer the Austin/Portland model of putting local businesses in the airport.) Cartel included the “Cartel Coffee Lab Brew Guide” which lays out the optimal amounts of coffee and water, as well as the process, for making coffee in the Aeropress, Hario V60, Clever, or Chemex. (I have a no-frills $10 4 cup and an Aeropress, but didn’t get around to trying it in the Aeropress.) The website contains all sorts of information about Cartel and coffee in general. Cartel also included a decal, because they think I’m cool enough to have something to put decals on.

The Cartel Package
The Cartel Package

The Facts. The bookmark dossier indicated this Cartel coffee came from Coban, Guatemala from a farm at an elevation of 1400-1600 meters. (It’s not in the online store right now, but other beans are.) The beans were processed using the “washed” process. Since I had no clue what that meant, I visited the Cartel site for an explanation: “Washed coffees are popular where there is an abundance of fresh water. The cherries have an outer layer mechanically stripped off and the inner pulp is allowed to ferment for a prescribed time. The fermented pulp layer is then removed with fresh flowing water.” During my time in Guatemala, I’m pretty sure I saw the residents of El Durazno using this method on their small family plots; they had received clean water only a few months before I was there, and had previously used water carried by hand from a river.

Appearance. Cartel’s beans came in a lined brown bag with a card of coffee info held to the front of the package with a rubber bracelet type thingy (which, it turns out, was just a bit too big to be a bracelet–but it worked great for holding the info card to the mason jar I stored the coffee in.)

When I opened the package and took out the beans, the first thing I noticed is that the beans were a lighter shade of brown than most beans I buy. In addition, the beans had a dry, not oily, appearance and feel. When I put them in my coffee grinder, a few pulses revealed an even lighter interior bean color.

Taste. The bookmark’s tasting notes said “dark chocolate & cranberry.” I’m not sure I got the cranberry, but the aroma was definitely chocolate. I used my usual five scoops per pot (four cup pot, so 1 scoop per cup + “one for the pot”) method. Unadultered, the coffee had a medium level of intensity, and low-to-no feel of acidity. If you are a coffee purist you could drink this straight and be happy. If you are a coffee snob (like me) but like to mess with your coffee (say, by adding milk and a smidge of high-quality hot cocoa mix), that works out very well too.

 

Peixoto's beans and coffee
Peixoto’s beans and the coffee package

Peixoto Coffee

The Roaster. I had never heard of Peixoto Coffee before, and the bookmark only told me that they source beans from a family farm and are the fourth generation in their coffee-growing family. (How cool is that?) So I went to the website, which has gorgeous pictures of the coffee fruit, and the story of the Peixoto family legacy. (Side note, ye gods do I love the internet. I can get a DIY PhD in coffee right in my living room.) One of the benefits of buying from a family operation like Peixoto Coffee is that the supply chain is short–they grow, roast it, and sell it. That means all of your dollar is paying for the coffee (and the work it took to produce it), instead of intermediate distributors, warehousing, etc. Any coffee Peixoto roasts that doesn’t come from their own farm–such as their Ethiopian beans–is Direct Trade (which is sort of like Fair Trade but with higher standards). Like Cartel, Peix0to also has retail locations, and you can buy online.

The Facts. This particular Peixoto coffee is the yellow catucai, from the Peixoto family’s coffee farm, Fazenda Sao José da Boa Vista, in Alta Mogiana, Brazil. The website has some pictures to give you an idea of what the farm l0oks like, and one of the sliding header photos on the main page shows yellow catucai–the coffee fruit is actually yellow!  The beans were processed using the “natural” process. Since I had no idea what that meant, I relied on the Cartel site’s description: “Natural coffees do not use any water and are therefore associated primarily with producing regions that tend to be dryer. With naturals, the fruit is left to shrivel like a raisin before being removed through milling.” Hm, maybe this is the process I observed in Guatemala?

Peixoto peeking out of the box
Peixoto peeking out of the box

Appearance. Most notable to me, the beans are irregular sizes. You know when you open a typical bag of coffee, all the beans are basically identical? These beans are a mix of the size you expect to see plus all sorts of smaller sizes. I didn’t even need to put them through the grinder to see they had a lighter interior than many beans I use. They had a medium brown external appearance, mostly dry but with a little bit of oiliness. (The oiliness is evident in the empty bag.)

Taste. The bookmark’s tasting notes say “chocolate, mandarin, hazelnut” (the package says “sweet, milk chocolate, hazelnut”). I can definitely understand the milk chocolate–both from the color and the scent of the beans–and the nuttiness. I’m not sure I get “mandarin,” as I didn’t detect the tart citrus taste I expect to go with that word. To the extent “mandarin” is supposed to mean a very slightly sweet, “bright” note, that I do get. Unadultered, this coffee was medium in terms of color (using the exact same process I have described above). It wasn’t 100% acidity-free, as it did have a little citrus-like aspect to it, but the brew also wasn’t so acidic that you could feel it in your teeth. (Monthly Java does advertise that it chooses light to medium roasts, so if you fear the dark, you can still enjoy Monthly Java.) If you’re a purist, this is a fine choice all by itself. It also made a great base for my preferred coffee drink.

The beans, side by side; can you tell which is which?
The beans, side by side; can you tell which is which?

What do you think?

Have you tried Monthly Java or another coffee subscription service? (If not, would you?)

I’ll be the first to admit that a Monthly Java subscription isn’t cheap. Pricing for a single month is $48, paying three months at once brings the cost to $46.56 per month, and the six month plan works out to $45.60 per month. Yet even on the most expensive plan, I would save money–$48 would maybe cover a venti Starbucks mocha for ten days, yet Monthly Java brings me two bags of beans for that cost. Even adding in the most decadent cocoa mix I might use (approx. $10, lasts a month) and the cost of milk, making my drink at home still puts me ahead.

 

Coffee is love
Coffee is love

Disclosure: I am a member of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Blog team. As a member of the team, I receive entry to Rock ‘n’ Roll races and other perks. This post is not sponsored, edited, or written (in any way) by the Rock ‘n’ Roll series or Competitor Group. All opinions are my own.

Most of the Rock ‘n’ Roll races are on Sundays. When there is a race on Saturday, ordinarily it is a 5k or 10k as part of a “Remix Challenge” weekend. Seattle is a different story: the main races are on Saturday. There is NO RACE ON SUNDAY. Since this is my third year running RnR Seattle, you might think I would have that figured out in advance. Or have, you know, looked at the date on the website or something. Big bowl of NOPE. (I even wrote it into my calendar as taking place on Sunday. #fail)

Who cannot remember which day the race is? This runner!
Who cannot remember which day the race is? This runner!

Most of the time when I travel for a Rock ‘n’ Roll race, I will stay all weekend, Friday to Sunday (or to Monday, as is my plan for Vancouver this year). Due to the amount of travel I’ve had lately both for work and for personal, the fact that my 19-year-old kittyboy now turns into Angry Kitty when I leave, and my general desire to have a day before the end of the month to do laundry and clean the house, this time I decided to just stay overnight, run, and go home. “When are you flying into Seattle?” Briana asked me. “Probably Saturday afternoon,” I wrote back, “I’m super busy and I think one night is better for me.” “Really?” Briana replied, “Um, you know you’ll miss the race if you do that, right?” DOH. Briana then reminded me that I made the same mistake last year (thinking the race was on Sunday). (She got it right, per usual. Check out her event review on Mat Miles Medals.)

This year I also made a brand-new mistake: I bought two sets of plane tickets for the same trip. After Briana reminded me I’d better make my trip Friday-Saturday (and not Saturday-Sunday) I hopped over to Southwest to make a reservation. It wasn’t until I went to the website to check in for my flight that I discovered I had apparently already purchased a Friday-Sunday ticket. Oops. Thankfully, Southwest has an awesome policy where they will hold funds for you from nonrefundable tickets, and I know I’ll be flying again, so no harm, no foul.

Thursday night I stayed up later than planned for a variety of reasons, but also managed to not pack for the adventure because I was pacifying Angry Kitty (who does not like it when I move things in and out of The Ominous Things On Wheels). Hey, he’s 19 years old and has put up with a lot throughout our 15 years together, so the least I can do is let him snuggle into my lap and snore, right?

Shoe game--on point--packed in Eagle Creek gear
Shoe game–on point–packed in Eagle Creek gear

Up at 4 a.m. to put things into the weekender. One of my top travel tricks is that I have a TSA-friendly ziploc bag filled with the overnight essentials (e.g. shampoo, toothpaste, lotion) that I never unpack. I also have a toothbrush in a travel case, a detangling comb, a pair of old prescription bottles (the orange-ish see-through kind) with the labels removed that are now filled with cotton swabs and cotton balls, and a travel-designated bath pouf that live inside the suitcase. When it’s time to pack, I just have to check that the essentials are all there (and not empty) instead of repacking. Eagle Creek was nice enough to give each of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team members a few bags that make my racing travel easier–a shoe locker for the shoes and small things, a gear locker for my clean clothes, and a fold-over for the dirty clothes–and I’ve got packing the things down to a science. (For the curious, this is the Pack-It Sport line.) Off to the 6: 30 a.m. flight at 5:30, and I was the last person to board the plane.

How tired was I? I was very excited to find a mini-sunblock spray to pack. For a race in Seattle.
How tired was I? I was very excited to find a mini-sunblock spray to pack. For a race in Seattle.

Two hours is barely enough time to catch a nap. I tried.

One thing I love about Seattle is there is pretty much no need to rent a car for the race. LINK light rail goes right to the airport, and downtown is criss-crossed by a variety of bus lines. I bought a reloadable Orca card (the better to not have to worry about keeping cash on hand for bus fares) and stuck $20 on it. It was a short LINK ride to Pioneer Square, which is exactly one block away from the Courtyard Marriott on Second Avenue (aka my Seattle home away from home). This is the second year I’ve stayed there, and I really love the x02 rooms (702, 802, etc.) because they are quiet and have a ton of space. Of course when you show up at 9:15 they don’t have your room ready, but they will store your luggage.

I hopped a north-going bus to meet up with Lillie Goker, a running buddy of mine who lives in Seattle. (We conquered Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco together in 2014.) She and I had brunch at this great breakfast place called Roxy’s Diner. I tried to find it on Google Maps, but it isn’t there. (Instead, look for Norm’s Eatery & Ale House, which is right next door.) After a night of really no sleep, it was great to relax over an eggy scramble with tater tots and a bottomless cup of coffee. We don’t get to hang out nearly enough, either.

Big race, big expo
Big race, big expo

Lillie lives nearby, and after a quick tour of her new digs, and a brief stop to hack some Ingress portals, she drove me over to the race expo. If you park in the parking structure, you end up entering the expo from the back, as opposed to entering where bib pickup is like you do in other cities. So we wandered through a little of the expo before we got to registration. The patterned totes from the Edmonton marathon were super cute, so I accepted one even though I’m unlikely to run it this year. (The race calendar is full. Maybe in 2017?)

The booth featured the same graphics as the tote
The booth featured the same graphics as the tote

Then Lillie helped me take a selfie (which I guess makes it not-quite-a-selfie?) with Elba Benzler, race director for Blooms to Brews (and a guest on Runner of A Certain Age, the podcast I now co-host, for a pre-race interview).

In case you missed it, I ran Blooms to Brews this year and LOVED it!
In case you missed it, I ran Blooms to Brews this year and LOVED it!

He’s also got a new event cooking, the North County Wine Run (first running: September 24, 2016). The medal is gorgeous, epic, and functional–so naturally I asked for a demonstration!

Have you ever seen a race medal that does THIS??
Have you ever seen a race medal that does THIS??

After picking up bibs and shirts, Lillie decided to call it a day and headed off to whatever it is that people do when they are not fixated on running. I stayed behind to wander the expo a bit before teh 3:00 #werunsocial meetup. (Actually, first I cased the joint to find an outlet to charge my phone.) Because I had decided that I was NOT going to buy anything at the expo, Nuun had to go and have a Seattle-specific water bottle. Guess who bought some more Nuun? I know, I know, way to stick to my resolve, but it’s something I use regularly, and it isn’t like it will spoil quickly. Besides, I was running low on cherry limeade. Then I came across the CEP booth, which tempted me with a good sale (I resisted) and a $10 copy of Meb for Mortals (I caved).

Seaplane, Space Needle, Guitar, Skyline...and green! How could I resist?
Seaplane, Space Needle, Guitar, Skyline…and green! How could I resist?

The #werunsocial meetup was a great time, as always. I am always glad to see Briana, Carleeh, Sarah, Carlee, Brian, Linzie…you get the idea. I remember I was so nervous at my first meetup that I forced myself to go talk to everyone about Run 10 Feed 10, and i was so nervous doing it that I accidentally gave the same spiel to one group of people twice! D’oh! Since then I’ve figured out that the cool kids are really nice, and I’ve made a bunch of friends. It makes travel to races even better, because I can always look forward to “running” into at least one of them. Pro Compression sponsored the meetup and donated some prizes, and after we took all the selfies there was barely enough time for me to hit my hotel for an all-too-brief nap.

Post-race, rocking my Pro Compression socks in BibRave Orange with A Major Award!
Post-race, rocking my Pro Compression socks in BibRave Orange with A Major Award!

I capped off the evening with dinner at Buca di Beppo, a pretty standard pre-race carb-fest for sure. This time the dinner planning landed in my lap, and I kept changing the number of seats on the reservation. In the end we had more seats than people (though in San Francisco it was the other way around, so I never know how it will shake out). I was quite happy the bus landed just a few blocks from the restaurant, as it started to drizzle as I was leaving the restaurant. Once I hit the hotel, I’d love to say I slept like a log for the few hours I had left to sleep. I didn’t. I’d love to say I love it when I’m sleepless for two nights in a row before a race…

Flat Bain, pre-Seattle
Flat Bain, pre-Seattle

All good Seattle stories end with coffee…and in the second half of this race review, you can enter to win some of your very own!

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

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

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

 

 

 

Spot's welcome chalkboard
Spot’s welcome chalkboard

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

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

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

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

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

Chandelier and purple wall!
Chandelier and purple wall!

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

Win this coffee!
Win this coffee!

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

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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.

IMG_3169

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

#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!