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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to try before you buy?

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

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

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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

Disclosure: I am a 2015 Nuunbassador. This post is not sponsored by Nuun in any way. The giveaway is not sponsored by Nuun. All opinions are my own. Many thanks to Briana of Mat, Miles, Medals for the image above.

December is more than half over, and the new calendar year is almost upon us. (I know, I know–I have to keep saying it to myself over and over, because I barely believe it!) I was fortunate enough to be selected to be a Nuunbassador in 2015, and it’s time to celebrate that adventure coming to a close.

By the way, I decided not to reapply for 2016. That decision had nothing to do with Nuun–which I still drink all the time and am just shy of obsessed with–or my experience (it was great!). So many of my friends were really excited to apply, and really deserved a chance to represent Nuun in 2016. They wanted it SO badly! Since I already had the chance to represent Nuun, and I have my fingers crossed that I’ll be chosen as an ambassador for the Detroit Marathon, I decided to step aside this year. (Hey Nuun, maybe let’s get together again in 2017?) No need to be greedy, and I want to continue to do an excellent job for BibRave in 2016.

So, let’s talk Nuun!

Nuun’s major innovation is to separate hydration from fueling. Most sports hydration drinks are designed to do both, which is why they are filled with sugar–simple sugar can be readily broken down for use as fuel. Unfortunately, many endurance athletes find that consuming too much sugar while hydrating leads to…let’s just call it unpleasant digestive side effects. Nuun decided to separate the hydration (and and accompanying electrolyte replacement) and fueling.

Nuun Active is the original, and comes in the widest variety of flavors. Nuun Active contains the optimal blend of electrolytes because you need more than sodium when running (this is why salt packets are not the best electrolyte replacement!). Nuun has sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Here’s the nutrition facts and ingredients for my favorite flavor, tropical.

Some advantages to choosing Nuun Active for hydration:

  • light flavor
  • highly portable tablet format
  • easy to change or mix flavors
  • thin, non-sticky consistency
  • add more/less water to adjust taste and consistency
Nuun fizzes a bit as it mixes itself. Only add a half tab to champagne.) Image courtesy of Mat, Miles, Medals.
Nuun fizzes a bit as it mixes itself. Only add a half tab to champagne.) Image courtesy of Mat, Miles, Medals.

Since Nuun ships as tablets in a recyclable tube, I suspect it also has less of an environmental impact, at least on the consumer side–no water is shipped so you can move more Nuun with less fuel, and using your own bottle means no disposable plastics. Finally, while the tube is recyclable, many people wash and re-purpose the tubes.

Repurposed Nuun tube. Photo courtesy of @cratina. Follow her at http://fabulosi-t.blogspot.com/
Repurposed Nuun tube. Photo courtesy of @cratina. Follow her at http://fabulosi-t.blogspot.com/

They are just the right size to carry Energy Bits, or store change for parking meters. If you travel as much as I do, you might also use the tubes to pack cotton swabs, part of a Lush bubble bath bar, or earrings.

2015 #TeamNuun kit
2015 #TeamNuun kit

Nuun Active is what I used all year for running. (Nuunbassadors do get a product discount, but frankly the expo special is a better price so I rarely used it.) In addition to my regularly scheduled events, this year was also the first virtual run co-sponsored by Nuun (with Motigo and the website now known as FitFam). Only Nuunbassadors and Team Nuun members could participate, and the run included a cute fitted shirt and medal. Athletes representing Nuun also had the opportunity to purchase specialty Nuun apparel twice during the year. Pactimo prints the Nuun team gear, which is quality technical gear. Most of Pactimo’s styles are for cycling, not running. So, for example, there weren’t running tights, or singlets. I opted for a pair of cycle shorts (encouragement to go to FlyWheel more often!) and a cycling jersey. (It’s got pockets on the back, so I know it wasn’t made for running.)

Andrew--find him on twitter @smartwatermelon--uses Nuun Plus in tri training
Andrew–find him on twitter @smartwatermelon–uses Nuun Plus in tri training

Nuun Plus is the newest Nuun invention. It contains electrolytes and sugar (dextrose and sucrose). Basically, it’s a way to add the fuel into your Nuun. You can easily adjust how frequently you fuel by adding Plus to some bottles, but not to others. I haven’t tried it yet, but my friends who have tried it do like it.

Nuun Energy is my favorite product, especially the cherry limeade. Like Nuun Active, it contains an optimal blend of electrolytes. Unlike Nuun Active, it also contains a B vitamin blend and caffeine. I keep a tube of the cherry limeade on my desk at work, so I have a low-calorie, less junky, option when I need an afternoon boost. (My non-Nuun choices are coffee drinks and sodas.)

Nuun All Day is a multi-vitamin disguised as Nuun! My favorite flavor is the blueberry pomegranate. The flavors are a little different, in part because the vitamin/mineral content is different. I’m not a huge fan of all of them, and as a friend of mine observed, it tastes a little “vitaminy.” I like the blueberry pomegranate all by itself, but you can easily mix it with another flavor (say half tab of each) or mix it into a beverage other than water (such as iced tea).

Finally, there’s U Natural. I’ve never tried it. U Natural is intended for use as hydration in less intense physical activities. (This is not the marathon runner blend.)

You can buy Nuun online, but buying it at your local sports or running store helps them to keep the doors open. The best price for Nuun right now is always at a race expo, where the expo special is two tubes for $10 plus a free refillable bottle.

Speaking of those bottles, I’m a bit of a water bottle junky. I came across an impressive photo of a Nuun bottle collection that essentially took up an entire kitchen cabinet. While I don’t have that many Nuun bottles, I do have quite the collection of other bottles too. When I started this year, I had two Nuun bottles: one Rock ‘n’ Roll, and one Active. I seemed to have crummy luck, and missed all the specialty bottles–the Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas, the Kara Goucher…but really, how many do I need??

The Nuun Vegas bottle, courtesy of @crantina
The Nuun Vegas bottle, courtesy of @crantina

Throughout the course of the year it became clear I was going to end up with MANY more bottles, so I made a rule: I can only keep one in each design. I haven’t used any of the rest of them–that’s where the giveaway comes in!

I’m giving away my extra, brand-new, un-used Nuun bottles! I’ll also put some Nuun samples inside for the lucky winners! Important Note: the samples are not the Nuun-factory-sealed samples. They will be untouched Nuun tablets, poured directly from the Nuun tube into a fresh snack-sized Ziploc bag. (Remember, this isn’t sponsored by Nuun! Cut me some slack, since I’m paying for the product and the shipping; I’d hate to send you a tube and it turns out you hate that flavor.)

Nuun bottles! There will be at least 3 prizes!
Nuun bottles!
There will be at least 3 prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A few weeks ago, just before getting my Thanksgiving feast on, one of the local racing companies sent me an email about their upcoming races, and included the following invitation:

An invitation

Since I was intrigued by FlyWheel already–I’d heard about it, but never tried it–and the price was right, I decided to RSVP. Now I’m not a cyclist of any kind (unless toodling around Alameda on my no-speed red cruiser bike with the built-in baskets counts), despite being a proudly certified Real Ryder instructor.  Cycling is way the heck out of my wheelhouse (har har har). But I keep going back, in equal parts because (1)  I know some day I’m going to get talked into a triathlon, (2) everyone keeps telling me that cross-training in another discipline is a good idea, and (3) as a teacher I recognize the importance of doing things I suck at so that I can empathize with my students. Still, I don’t like it. I don’t even Facebook-like it.

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From the minute I walked in, I knew that I was in for a completely different fitness experience. First, it took exactly zero minutes for one of the Flywheel staff to welcome me and get me started with the check-in process. Assuming you made a reservation before class–a good idea, because there are a finite number of bikes–you check in on a tablet. (See the schedule up there? You can make another reservation too!) It tells you your bike number (yup, assigned seats!) and you collect your cycle shoes from the appropriately numbered slot below. While you can bring your own, every Flywheel class comes with free use of the shoes and towel service, plus all the filtered water you can guzzle. During check-in you can also confirm whether you want to be on the “Torq Board,” an electronic display system that lets you compete against other riders (if you want). The front desk has hair elastics too, in case you forgot to bind up your locks. After a quick studio tour, I went to the locker area to store my stuff. Flywheel has those modern electronic lockers, the kind where you choose your own PIN to lock and unlock it each time.

Speaking of electronic, why yes, that IS an outlet to charge your phone inside the locker while you are getting your sweat on!
Speaking of electronic, why yes, that IS an outlet to charge your phone inside the locker while you are getting your sweat on!

To the right of the lockers there is a white board where you can jot down which locker you chose, since it is likely to vary each time. I tell you, they did NOT miss a beat!

While waiting for class to start, I checked out the retail area, populated with cute Fly-gear. Or is that fly Fly-gear? Dunno, I’m not cool enough to wear most of it yet.  Anyway, there is also a map outside the studio door so you can figure out where your bike is.  The bikes do have little sticker numbers on the front stem–which I understand the cool kids refer to as a “head badge”–but it is nice to know where you are going before you get there. I also talked with some of the other newbies (that was all of us except for one or two people who I think were Stanford students from back East) and we were all nervous.  “Just don’t point and laugh when I fall off the bike, okay?” I asked them. The doors opened, students left, the doors shut.  We waited some more. The doors opened and a crew with wet mops and cleaning supplies emerged.  I thought, Holy crap, what I have I voluntarily agreed to do? How carefully did I read that waiver??  But it was too late to turn back, and in we went.

Once inside, I took a quick look around. The room was set up like a tiny auditorium, with a little elevated stage in the middle with the instructor and the sound system. There was a center aisle leading to the exit. On either side the room had three rows of bikes. The room was mostly black, with a huge flat-panel TV/screen hanging from the ceiling on either side (the “Torq board”). I’m one of those people who will always choose the aisle seat/spot in class, but I didn’t mind being in the middle at Flywheel.  It was plenty spacious.

For my first ride, I got help setting up my bike. Since they are custom made for Flywheel, I wanted to make sure everything was properly adjusted. Frankly I also needed help figuring out how to put my shoes into the pedals and get them back out again. The Flywheel staff was really helpful, and took all my newbie questions in stride. The bikes resemble other stationary bikes in the Spinning style, except for two features.  One, there is a little rectangular dashboard on the left side, above the wheel and below the handlebars. This is the “tech pack” (I thought it was the “tech deck,” but the website just corrected me!).  It displays the torq (basically how much resistance you’ve added to the bike) and your power output, both current and what you’ve done in class so far.  If you are participating in the Torq Board you can see your total power output up on the board, but even if you aren’t, you can view your class performance online in your private account after class. Your account includes specific data for your last few rides, including an estimated calorie burn, as well as aggregate data over your last ten rides.  (There are prizes for hitting the 3000 mark in a single calendar month, in case you need an incentive. For me, that would take like 20 classes. Maybe I’ll try that next summer.)

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This bike was greeting all of us at the studio grand opening.

Two, there are two blue-tipped bars in special slots on either side of the wheel.  If you’ve ever worked with a Body Bar in a gym class, this is the same idea (only a little shorter).  While waiting for everyone else to set up I put my water bottle in the handlebar-mounted cage, draped my towel over it, and played with the knob to adjust the torque and with various positions on the bike.  Oh, almost forgot to mention, you can also borrow a nice padded saddle cover (in case you’re like me and have a butt that is firmly opposed to a hard seat).

A better shot of the "tech pack" and bars
A better shot of the “tech pack” and bars

Then class started, and away we rode! Our instructor, Aina Williams, was a total top-notch rock star! From what I understand, Flywheel expects EVERY instructor to deliver the same type of performance. After introducing herself, she explained that during the ride, she would recommend a number for torq and a number for power output; the torq number was optional, but the power output number was non-negotiable. A Flywheel instructor is part DJ (music literally drives the class), part cheerleader (let’s face it, this is NOT a class for sissies), and part happy drill instructor. Aina is also in incredible shape.

We started with a warm-up that had me dripping on the floor, and then progressed to a ride with hills, sprint intervals, and a HUGE amount of energy. I dripped all over everything despite making frequent use of my towel. Since I’d driven all the way to Sunnyvale for class (and note to self: check the 49ers schedule before choosing a class) I did my very best NOT to wimp out. I couldn’t keep up 100%.  The hardest part for me was breathing; I literally ran out of breath and had to spend a lot of time focusing on breathing properly (inhale, belly poof out; exhale, belly suck in), which is more challenging than I expected it to be due to being in a cycling position, half bent at the waist. My diaphragm hurt the next day. (Also the day after.) Still, I had the feeling we were all “in it together” and I took little breaks but kept on pedaling.

After the hard-core part of the ride we continued to pedal with a lower resistance while using the mini Body Bars for upper body work. I picked up the four pound bar and tried to do the whole workout with that, expecting it to be kind of a cake walk compared to the ride itself, but ended up doing about 2/3 of it. This surprised me, because I hadn’t worked out my upper body that day and I don’t believe I’m that much of a wimp. (Maybe every bit of energy had leaked out of my body through my legs?) Meanwhile the guy next to me was doing the workout with BOTH of the Body Bars. He definitely deserved the post-ride high-fives more than I did!

Class ended with a surprisingly decent off-the-bike stretch. Admittedly I am a bit of a snob when it comes to the post-class stretch (I blame it on my yoga teacher training, which also has me try very hard not to be a judgmental-rhymes-with-witch during that part of class). It felt SO SO good. After the stretch I slowly hobbled out of class, put my shoes in the already waiting shoe bin, and refilled my water bottle from the designated taps (filtered water in cold or room temp). Then I asked Aina to indulge in a post-ride selfie.  She’s so nice, she said yes. Even though I was a hot sweaty mess, and had a hard time getting my phone to put both of us in the frame.

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Then it was off to a well-deserved shower. I earned it. Flywheel Sunnyvale has four showers, separate from the bathrooms. Since many of the riders left without a shower (I assume most live much closer than I do), that was plenty. Each is a self-contained and locking unit, complete with fluffy towels and fully stocked with Bliss spa body care. So really all I need to take to future rides is a shower scrubby poof.

After a sweaty ride, this is heaven!
After a sweaty ride, this is heaven!

In addition to the shower products, the showers also have Bliss body butter, spray-on deodorant, cotton swabs, and a laundry hamper. Other than the moment where I forgot there was a bench in the shower and kicked it (hard) with my left big toe, I think that was the best shower I’ve had in my life.

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See that thing on the left? That’s a plastic bag dispenser. (I told you, they didn’t miss a trick.) Good thing too, as my workouts clothes were thoroughly drenched, so much so that I could wring sweat out of them.  Icky.  Anyway, on to more pleasant things…outside the shower area is a vanity with hairdryers, hair spray, and other stuff for those more stylish than me.

To celebrate the grand opening the studio had some nice swag giveaways for all class attendees. I scored a tote bag and a ball cap (handy for covering up my mop of wet hair). Then I grabbed a quick snack and finished coming back to reality.

Fresh fruit for a post-ride snack
Fresh fruit for a post-ride snack

Again, I’m NOT a cyclist and this is pretty far out of my comfort zone.  BUT…I had a great time. Even feeling awkward, wimpy, uncoordinated, and sweaty. Flywheel comes with a great post-workout euphoria, and I plan to go back again. It doesn’t hurt that the parts of me that were sore (other than my diaphragm) are the parts I know I most need to work: glutes, hamstrings, and that elusive glute-hammie tie-in.

Have you tried Flywheel?

If you are in the Sunnyvale area, or northern California in general, give it a try. Click here to create an account and sign up for your first ride: http://flywhl.me/cfm- (Note: this is an affiliate referral link. You’ll get the same or better deals you’d get from going through Google, and have the satisfaction of supporting your friendly neighborhood blogger.)