Let me count the ways…

Confession: I Was a ClassPass Junkie.

When I first heard about ClassPass, it only existed in New York. (Or at least that was my impression in the first article I read.) The idea seemed pretty simple: members pay a flat fee for access to classes, studios (and gyms and boutique fitness places) listed only the classes they knew they would not fill with their own members. Each studio got to choose which class and time slot to list, and how many spaces they would offer. Since these were spaces that would otherwise go empty, having a ClassPass member there meant some income–not the full price of the class, but not $0 either. Since ClassPass members could only attend 2 classes at the same location per month, they would have to pay full price to the studio for a third class in the same month; maybe they even liked it so much that they decided to join the studio. I signed up for their email updates, followed them on social, and thought this system was a brilliant win-win-win: win for the studios (making money on what would otherwise be empty spots), win for the students (getting classes at a discount), and win for ClassPass (making money by connecting the two). It seemed easier than organizing a Groupon, with less work for the studio.

Like most tech and tech-related businesses, ClassPass was heavily subsidized by outside investors (venture capitalists, etc.) and did not make a profit for several years. That didn’t bother me, as lots of companies start out that way.

When ClassPass first started offering California options, I was living in Oakland and I jumped on it immediately. In a region where a single class might cost $30 and a monthly membership was $150 and up, the flat-fee, all-you-can-eat ClassPass was a dream! While I don’t remember the exact price, it was definitely under $100. Even if I only took 4 classes each month, I was totally scoring a deal. Plus ClassPass offered flexibility: I could go to Pilates on Monday, spin on Tuesday, yoga on Wednesday, HIIT on Thursday, all at different locations. I could take a class on one night when was able to get into San Francisco after work. I could use ClassPass when traveling in other cities (ideal and better for me than a single studio location because I was on the road for work A LOT). Also, I can’t lie, the $20 “flake fee” (for not showing up to a class you booked) kept me getting out and working out. I followed ClassPass on social, tagged them in my Insta photos, and was generally a gigantic fan.

From Unlimited to an Allowance–Both Ways.

I was still a member when ClassPass changed to a “credit” system. Basically instead of unlimited classes you now had a credit allowance to spend. More popular classes at better times cost more credits, and less popular classes at what I consider “awkward” times cost fewer credits. So the same class with the same teacher might be 2 credits at 3:00 p.m. and 9 credits at 6:30 p.m. I’m not sure exactly when this change took place, but I didn’t mind. They also introduced multiple

While putting members on a “credits allowance” (potentially fewer classes per month), ClassPass also removed “allowance” of only 2 classes per month at the same studio. I don’t remember exactly, but I think you had to pay a small premium to take a third (or fourth, or fifth) class at the same location. (I never did.) Since those additional classes still cost less than buying a membership to any single studio, plenty of people took advantage of this to pay ClassPass less than they would pay their local yoga studio, spin studio, etc. for a monthly membership–with none of the hassles of trying to cancel a studio membership.

Around this time (the switch to a credit system), I later learned that ClassPass changed how studios added class spots. ClassPass began to require studios to add spots, and then add more spots, and more spots in their “prime time” classes–the ones that the studios knew they could easily fill with their own members or students buying class packs or punch cards. This meant that instead of using ClassPass ONLY to fill slots that otherwise would go empty, ClassPass was pressuring studios to add slots that were normally full. In other words, ClassPass was asking studios to voluntarily take a loss on spots in their most popular classes. This seemed obnoxious, but maybe it was a reasonable price for the benefits of having so many new students come in through the door?

At some point near or after this, ClassPass also started adding gyms to the app. Instead of booking a single class at a studio, you could book an hour of time at their partner gyms. I’m not sure how this worked (did the front desk chase you out after an hour?) but it seemed like a good way for gyms to fill their extra space as well.

I just learned that in 2018 ClassPass had started to experiment with an algorithm called SmartRate to identify how much to pay studios for each spot. My understanding is that at first, this was optional, but eventually you’ve got to figure ClassPass could force studios to join (at the end of the current contract, for example). According to Vice (article linked below), the pay to a studio per class spot was as low as $7. They also started pushing something called SmartSpot, which would decide which classes (and how many spots) to allocate to ClassPass, supposedly also promising to NOT take spots from classes that studios were also filling. Now students aren’t idiots, and when you’re paying $20-30 for a class and the person next to you is paying $10 for the class, that doesn’t seem very fair, does it? It only makes economic sense that some students bailed out of their studio memberships and signed up with ClassPass, paying less to keep attending the same classes.

In December 2019 (see Vice article) studios were told that the SmartSport and SmartRate would become mandatory. In order to keep up with a new California law, ClassPass also issued a new policy that prevented studios from using ClassPass members’ contact information. This was a huge sea change, as when ClassPass started, studios could use a ClassPass visitor’s email and phone number to add them to their mailing list, offer a new member special, and otherwise try to “convert” a ClassPass attendee into a studio member (or a person paying the studio directly for classes). Now one of the major benefits of ClassPass–“lead generation,” or finding people who might become future customers–was gone.

And Then We Had A Pandemic.

To be fair, ClassPass did not cause the pandemic. It seems a little unfair though, that ClassPass has survived just fine (and was just acquired, the dream of every tech start-up) while many of their studio partners (and other similarly-situated fitness businesses) have not not.

During the pandemic, when many studios were forced to close, ClassPass froze memberships (no charges for members and no new credits). They also made the ClassPass streaming classes free for everyone. (I don’t remember when those started, or whether you could buy a streaming-only membership pre-pandemic.) While this seemed like a pretty awesome thing to do, it was also very practical: no one likes to be charged for a service they cannot use, and while everything was closed it wasn’t possible to spend credits.

This kindness shown to ClassPass subscribers, however, was not extended to ClassPass member studios, all of whom are now stuck with the “Smart” tools controlling their income and available slots.

But before I go there, let’s take stock of what happened to fitness facilities while we were all busy with “stay at home.” While things were shut down I’m sure you watched many small businesses panic. One of my own yoga teachers was extremely frustrated about the closure of her physical studio, wanting to teach her classes to her students in-person–hey, we all want that, right? Unfortunately workout spaces are pretty perfect for spreading an airborne virus: most have fans or vents that blow directly on people which is a huge no-no and HVAC systems they do not own/manage/maintain so they cannot adjust air exchanges per hour or up the MERV rating on the filtration–two things that are actually effective in preventing spread. (All that wiping and sanitizing? Well that’s LONG overdue in a sweaty environment where dude-bros don’t wipe down the equipment, but COVID isn’t spread by fomites; primary transmission is through the air.) Confirmed spread of COVID happened at yoga studios and cycling studios (though none of them local to me). In Portland I watched as multiple yoga studios closed their doors. For some, the pandemic was their landlord’s last tool to push them out of unprofitable leases in now-gentrified neighborhoods. A few are now “studio-free” yoga studios, holding classes here and there and in public spaces and temporary homes. Others just shut their doors. The pain wasn’t limited to yoga studios, of course. CityRow Portland opened in 2019 and did not survive the pandemic. There are empty storefronts where I used to see personal training gyms. You get the picture.

When ClassPass “unfroze” memberships, members still had the option to “press pause,” I did that (and I have 44 credits banked for when the risks of indoor exercise are lower than they are right now with the Delta variant still circulating). Eventually I

How Will Studios “Bounce Back” After COVID?

Frankly, many of them won’t.

I’m a certified personal trainer (NASM), group ex instructor (ACE plus specialties), and yoga teacher (RYT 200 with many more hours of teacher-specific training). I have friends who teach, and who own studios and gyms; they are struggling. Even those that received some COVID-related small business aid may not survive in the current reality (public health and the economy). Many of us are not ready to go sweat it out indoors in a group, especially when mask compliance is spotty (lots of chin diapers and nose-dicking going on) and I haven’t found any place that either requires all attendees to be fully-vaccinated OR has overhauled their HVAC system to meet the CDC and ASHRAE recommendations, so I’ll be working out at home and outside.

My insurance (through work) offers discounted ClassPass credits and free livestream ClassPass classes, but I’m not buying any ClassPass credits until I start to see studios consistently benefitting from ClassPass by earning more dollars per student. ClassPass will be just fine without me–studio scheduling software behemoth MindBody just bought ClassPass (valued at a billion dollars, billion-with-a-b, in October 2021 according to TechCrunch).

To paraphrase the NYT (link below) We need to support small businesses if we want to see them thrive, instead of relying on an app to subsidize the lifestyle we want to have. When I return to indoor exercise, I’ll be paying studios directly. Will you?

Further Reading

The holidays are coming, in case your email inbox isn’t jammed full of pre-Black Friday offers or you otherwise somehow missed it. Wondering what to get the runners in your life to show them you care? Let’s start with essential safety gear. Bonus: all of these suggestions work for cyclists and others who might be outdoors at night. Many of these brands are offering the same or similar deals at your local running and cycling shops, so shop local if you can.

Be Safe, Be Seen

NoxGear Tracer 360 vest

NoxGear. My favorite way to be seen, hands down. Their best-known product is the Tracer360 vest, and personally I think everyone who runs at night should own one. Essentially it is a lightweight, minimal “vest” that you wear over your regular running clothes. (More of a belt that has loops that go over your shoulders–doesn’t add bulk.) The shoulder straps light up, and there are both solid color and flashing pattern options. When it’s dark outside, there’s no way you’ll be missed. Save 35% on all NoxGear with code BRIANARUNS (courtesy of @matmilesmedals). https://www.noxgear.com/tracer360

ProViz. A few years ago I won one of these jackets in an online contest, and I still cannot believe my luck. The fabric seems like a grey/silver until light shines on it and then BOOM! it lights up like someone plugged it into a socket. (sturdy and long-lasting too, so think of this as an investment in your night wardrobe forever.) No photo I take will do it justice, so I highly recommend you go look at their website. ProViz makes sport-specific safety clothing for runners and cyclists, and also has a line of general activewear including fleece lined visibility gear for less sweaty endeavours. The 2020 Black Friday deal is 20% off everything. https://www.provizsports.com/en-us/

Knuckle Lights. Useful for all situations where you might run in the dark, from casual night jogs to ultrarunning events. Knuckle lights strap to your hands, just like the name indicates, and increase your visibility in two ways: (1) your literal visibility to others (traffic, cyclists, other runners, etc.) and (2) your visibility in the sense that you can better see the path in front of you. There’s a money-back satisfaction guarantee, and a five-year warranty, so you’ve pretty much got nothing to lose. I’m proud to share the love, since Knuckle Lights is based in Oregon. https://knucklelights.com/

Brilliant Reflective by 3M. If the runner in your life is picky about gear, or likes maximum options, you can help them make the gear they already own and love reflective. Brilliant Reflective Strips come in both stick on (temporary, pull back off) and iron on (more of a permanent solution) options. This is one of the least expensive ways to up your visibility, and you can add it to your clothing, bike helmet, or even your bike! There are multiple varieties and colors too. https://brilliantreflective.com/

Safety Skin. We all know that one guy who runs in shorts and a tank top, year round, regardless of weather or temperature. If that’s you or the runner in your life, Safety Skin is for you. Safety Skin is basically a deodorant-like stick with a wax base that you put directly onto your skin. This makes it easy to put a reflective strip anywhere on your body, regardless of whether you’ve got clothing there. There’s a sunblock option too. https://www.safetyskinproducts.com/

Other Options. When looking at winter running or cycling gear, keep an eye out for gear with reflective properties. Most major brands have at least one line of tights, pants, shorts, etc. that has a reflective strip or pattern on it. Gear can also have reflective properties, for example on a SPI belt or an Amphipod hand-held bottle. Staying seen is one of the top ways to avoid getting hit!

Be Safe, Carry ID

I’ve looked around, and there is really no substitute at all for a Road ID. It’s superior to carrying just your phone since most phones screen lock, and even better than a drivers license since the Road ID can get crucial medical or allergy information to responders that your state-issued ID cannot. I’m so in love with the Road ID that I personally own three or four (I have one that was specific to the original FitBit, obviously I’m not using that one anymore…). No one likes to think about it, but what happens if you are out on a run, by yourself, and something awful happens–you get hit by a car, you have a heart attack or a stroke? Road ID helps make sure first responders and emergency personnel can help you appropriately. I’m a wrist ID person, though I’ve used the velcro on the bands to connect my Road ID to my running vest. I bought one for my Dad, I bought one for the family dog. If your arm party is already strong, you can get a Road ID to attach to your running watch, your Apple watch, or your shoe. My favorite part of Road ID is the connectivity part: in the event I am unable to assist first responders, there is a code on the ID they can use to access my essential medical details (which I keep updated) and my emergency contact list. The cost for this is minimal, even for the low mileage I run each year. Peace of mind for all of my family, too. Did I mention the engraving is guaranteed for life? Road ID also has an app that allows people YOU select to follow you in real time, which is super useful if you have an accident and can’t tell your family which hospital you are headed to. Current sale is 20% off, and up to 80% off of the clearance items. https://www.roadid.com/

Be Safe, Stay Connected

Wearsafe Tag. If you find yourself in an unsafe situation or suddenly needing help, the Wearsafe Tag is your best friend. When you get the tag, you download an app and set up your contacts list. If you find yourself needing help, you just push the button on the tag. The app alerts your contacts that something is wrong and sends them a live audio feed. Your contacts can use the app’s group chat feature to coordinate a response–which might mean going to you directly, or might mean calling 911. The tag vibrates to let you know someone has seen your alert, and you can press the button again to let them know you’re okay–the app will turn blue to alert them you’re okay. It’s easy to strap or clip the tag to your running gear. If you have a friend who runs alone and you worry, this is the perfect gift. https://wearsafe.com/

Be Safe, Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Aftershokz. Regardless of whether you’re running at night or during the day, the number one thing you can do to promote your own safety is to stay aware of your surroundings. Unfortunately, many runners go out wearing noise-canceling headphones that impede their ability to hear what is going on around them, from other runners to approaching cyclists to cars. (Really, it just takes one bicycle-runner collision to really mess up your body.) I’ve been a huge fan of Aftershokz for a long time. Instead of buds that sit in your ears and block out other sound, Aftershokz sit outside of your ears and use bone-conduction technology. This means you can hear everything going on around you. Fun fact: there are also Aftershokz for swimmers! https://us.aftershokz.com/ BUT WAIT! If you want to save up to $35 off (discount depends on what you order) all bone conduction headphones, use this link from @MatMilesMedals: https://glnk.io/4w4/sharp  (On December 6, the link returns to a 15% discount)

Be Helpful: What’s Your Go-to Gift for Runner (and Athlete) Safety?

Drop me your favorites! What’s the best gadget, piece of clothing, or product that helps keep you safe while you’re out? What do you secretly hope to find under the tree, in your stocking, or waiting for you wherever your presents appear?

Sure, it’s August, so I totally missed the boat on posting about #PlasticFreeJuly while it was, you know, July. But in a pandemic where the months all look alike-ish, who cares? Plus prAna just launched #ReshapePackaging and vowed to remove ALL plastic from their packaging stream by 2021–that’s next year! (Much better than The MLM That Will Go Unnamed who has set the goal at 50% reduction of plastic by 2025.) If you want to learn more, check out the Responsible Packaging Movement page and learn how consumers can help make change–even during the pandemic.

Speaking of the pandemic… The pandemic response has me feeling grumpy about the amount of plastic I “have to” use. The grocery store is my grumpy zone. Stores where I live stopped allowing reusable bags–a few won’t even let them into the store!–and switched to paper bags. Then there was a shortage of paper bags due to supply-chain issues, and so all the stores had reusable plastic bags made from thicker plastic…but were still not allowing customers to re-use them. (BTW, I’ve found a way around this: insist on bagging your own groceries. I’ve asked the cashiers to just scan like normal, and then send items down the belt to the bagging area, where I bag my own. My local Fred Meyer has a scan-as-you-go option as well, where you carry a scanner around the store with you, scan each item, then bag it. When you hit check-out, you scan the bar code on the stand and it uploads your order.) Oh and let me be clear: I fully support all efforts to protect grocery workers, including when stores will not allow them to touch my reusable bags. I just don’t need more plastic in my life.

It’s not just the big grocery bags though. Corn on the cob is usually a bulk item you pick out of a gigantic stack, peel a little to make sure the ear isn’t a dud, and then take with you. This year, it’s all pre-wrapped on foam trays. You can’t use your own containers for bulk items at many stores. You can’t use the mesh and reusable produce bags. Even my attempts to support local restaurants have increased my plastic usage as some have switched to all-plastic disposable utensils, and many of the take-out containers have plastic (and pandemic rules won’t allow them to fill my reusable containers). I get that it’s all about safety and reducing potential virus transmission, but it frustrates the part of me that has worked to minimize my single-use plastic consumption.

So I’m doubling-down on avoiding single-use plastic in other areas of my life. As prAna says, “progress, not perfection.”

NEWS FLASH: Something is Better Than Nothing

I’m sure you’ve seen the multitude of websites about the “plastic-free lifestyle.” There’s even an entire book, Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and You Can Too by Beth Terry (Skyhorse, 2012). (If you haven’t, just run a quick Google search.) Websites like the Plastic Pollution Coalition and My Plastic Free Life even have helpful tips on how to start cutting plastic out of your life. While I think that the “plastic-free lifestyle” is admirable–every bit as much as the “zero waste lifestyle”–I know it’s not a realistic goal for everyone. It’s not for me, either–I wear contact lenses (plastic) that must be cleaned daily (solutions only available in plastic bottles); I take medication (packaging/bottles are plastic). Before you suggest it no, I’m not a candidate for laser eye surgery (I need the lenses to correct my severe astigmatism). Good luck getting the FDA to approve refillable prescription containers.

“Perfect is the enemy of good,” wrote Voltaire, centuries ago. More recently, the New York Times reported that “Life Without Plastic Is Possible. It’s Just Very Hard.” I don’t have to be 100% plastic-free to make a difference, and neither do you. Think about an item of single-use plastic and how much waste it generates. Now imagine that 9 out of 10 times, you choose a re-usable item over a single-use plastic. How much waste is left? What if everyone made similar choices–how much smaller would the pile be?

Target Plastic Bottles for Elimination: THREE Solutions

A ridiculous percentage of the plastic bottles you put into your recycling bin are never recycled. This assumes you live in an area where recycling services are available–plenty of the country still has no recycling. It also assumes that the plastic bottle was theoretically recyclable in the first place–not all plastic is. I’ve read articles that claim up to 50% of what goes into the recycling bin doesn’t get recycled. Check out the “The Violent Afterlife of a Recycled Plastic Bottle,” from The Atlantic–I bet you’ll find it eye-opening. I’m sure you’ve also heard that even more US plastic ends up in the landfill since China started to reject American recycling. (It’s unclear if this is related to the trade wars, but there was definitely a problem with contamination, or non-recyclable items ending up mixed in with the recyclable plastic.) In any case, I’ve targeted plastic bottles for reduction. Here are three easy ways to cut out plastic bottles.

Dropps works as well as any laundry soap should: clean clothes, no weird detergent scent. This is exactly what I wanted. If you prefer a scented laundry detergent, Dropps makes a “fresh scent,” “clean scent,” and a lavender-eucalyptus scent. There are also pods for small loads, and a “baby sensitive skin” (which is somehow different from the “sensitive skin” that I get). If this sounds good to you, head HERE to try Dropps. (That’s an affiliate link, and it gives you $15 off your first order. Savings for you, rewards for me.)

A box of Dropps on the washing machine

ONE: Laundry Detergent–Get Dropps

The biggest plastic bottles I was bringing into the house? Laundry soap. My theory had been that if I bought the biggest possible bottle, I’d end up using less plastic than if I bought a bunch of smaller bottles. Probably true, but still gigantic plastic bottles. With the anti-dribble spouts I never felt like I was getting all of the detergent out, either. Of course there were all the usual problems too–they’re heavy, they take up space, blah blah blah. Freeing my life from plastic bottles of laundry soap was the easiest thing I did. Even though I only want unscented laundry soap, without any added colors or scents.

When I first tried Dropps, I figured if I didn’t like the way it worked, no big deal. One of those internet ads found me and offered a deal, so I think I paid $5 for my first shipment. When they arrived I was impressed with the packaging: cardboard only, completely recyclable. The detergent itself is in a little plastic-like (but actually plastic-free!) pod. You throw one into the washing machine with the clothing, and that’s it. When all the pods are gone, recycle the box. There’s no other packaging (like the pods are not in a plastic bag inside the box). I’ve been using Dropps almost exclusively since fall 2017, and I’ve only had one shipment with a leaky pod; it was such a non-issue that I didn’t even contact Dropps about it (I just threw out that single pod).

While you can place a single order, you get a better price if you sign up for a subscription. Initially I didn’t think I’d like having a subscription for laundry detergent, but now I love it. Dropps is pretty awesome. You can log in to your account and reschedule to earlier if you’re running low. Dropps sends an email to confirm each shipment, so if you don’t need any laundry detergent you can kick it out a month or two or more. And if you forgot to tell them you moved, you have plenty of time to do so before they ship.(Not that I know from personal experience…) You also get to decide how frequently you want to receive products–it’s not a one-size-fits-all.

Dropps also makes pods that are a scent booster, a fabric softener, oxi booster, and now dishwasher pods (unscented and lemon). I still have a bottle of liquid fabric softener, but I added the unscented fabric softener pods to my next subscription. I’m switching over to Dropps dishwasher pods too (currently finishing up a gigantic bucket of dishwasher packs from Target).

Ethique St. Clements in the shower

TWO: Shampoo: try LUSH or Ethique solid shampoo bars

Shampoo bars can be a little weird if you’ve never used them before. I’d say it takes 2-3 shampoos to figure out your best shampoo bar routine. The two biggest things to know: (1) limit rubbing back and forth, and (2) anticipate fewer suds.

I say “limit rubbing” because the tendency for most people using a bar product is to rub it. Rubbing a shampoo bar on your hair–at least if you have baby-fine straight hair like mine–is a bad idea. Just like rubbing a towel on your wet hair to dry it is a bad idea. Tangles! Ugh! Instead, rub the shampoo bar in your hands to suds it up, and then transfer the suds from your hands to your hair. I also rub the bar on my hair from the top of the scalp straight down (so no “rubbing” more like one pass) It takes me 2-3 rounds of this to work up enough lather to thoroughly coat my hair and be able to run my fingers through to reach my scalp.

As for suds, at some point in law school I learned that Americans expect their shampoos and soap products to produce a LOT of suds. (Apparently we equate sudsiness with effectiveness.) One dish soap company, for example, had a problem when bottles of a familiar brand of “washing up liquid” (the British term, I guess?) destined for the UK wound up being sold on the American market. There wasn’t anything wrong with the dish soap. British customers do not expect the quantity of suds Americans do, so the product was formulated to produce fewer suds. Americans who bought it were unhappy, because the soap–which was just as soapy, and just as effective at cleaning–did not produce copious suds.

The first shampoo bar I used was from LUSH, a round green thing in a scent called “Karma.” (I later bought various other colors but have no idea what the scents were called.) If you buy it at the store, it has no packaging (though they will typically put it in a little paper bag); if you buy online, it comes packed in a paper bag, in a cardboard box with starch dissolvable packing peanuts. I loved the scent and the way it washed my hair. LUSH sells shampoo bar tins, and I made the mistake of trying to store my shampoo bar in the shower in the tin. Terrible idea–the wet bar sticks to the bottom of the tin and becomes nearly impossible to pull out. The tin is good for storage, and for travel, but let that bar dry before you put it inside! For in-shower storage, your best option is a soap dish with a soap-saver (the little oval thing with the spines that keep your soap from sitting in water), or a wire rack (like on a shower caddy). Ideally, you want to let it dry when not in use so it doesn’t get mushy. LUSH shampoo bars and solid shampoos come in a dozen varieties, and LUSH also makes conditioner bars, but my picky hair did not respond as well. One out of two ain’t bad, right? LUSH also makes solid conditioners, bar soaps, and massage/lotion bars (which I really like!).

The next one I tried was from a company called Ethique that is based in New Zealand. They make square shampoo bars and smaller travel or trial sizes shaped like little hearts. I picked St. Clements as it is made for oily hair. Ethique bars come in paperboard boxes which are, of course, recyclable. As a company, they are committed to zero plastic, including in their shipping materials, and encourage you to #giveupthebottle. They are also committed to ingredient transparency, vegan products, and direct trade. I prefer the square shape of the Ethique bar as it seems easier to hold onto when it is wet and slippery. It’s currently in my shower, so I’m going to count this relationship as a success. Ethique’s shampoo bar box is made from bamboo and sugar cane; the bottom acts as a soap dish with drainage. They also have some cool tips on their website for what to do with itty-bitty pieces, since every product they make is in bar form. Ethique is available from their New Zealand based website, at many Target locations, from Target.com, and from other online retailers. In addition to shampoo, they also make bar conditioners, face cleansers, body soaps, and lotion/massage bars.

Shampoo bars may seem expensive when you’re pricing them. (At LUSH they run approx. $12-15 each for a 1.9 ounce bar, though a few are 3.5 ounce bars; a full-sized Ethique is $16 for a 110 gram bar which is approx. 3.9 ounces, a sample is $4.) They typically last at least as long as 3 bottles of shampoo, provided you don’t let them get soggy. Depending on how you use them and care for them, shampoo bars can last much longer. So whether they are expensive depends on how much you are paying per bottle of shampoo. There are plenty of other choices out there, but these are the two I have tried and can personally recommend.

Unboxing Blue Land soap: no plastic

THREE: Hand Soap Swap: Blueland

Hand soap seems like an easy thing to swap out–just use bar soap right? If you’ve got a pedestal sink with a sculpted-in “soap dish” like I do, not so much. (That “soap dish”? First it gets slippery and the soap just slides into the sink constantly. Then as soap builds up it get gooey and keeps the soap wet. Messy!) Or maybe you’ve got kids who can’t be trusted to put the soap back, or who leave it covered in sandbox dirt or blue Kool-Aid mix or something. There are a million reasons why someone might choose liquid soap, but it comes with those plastic bottles.

Enter Blue Land. When I ordered this, I just decided to go all-in: I ordered one for the kitchen, and one for the first floor bathroom, and enough refillls to last for a year. Fingers crossed, right? When the package came, I was pleasantly surprised to find zero plastic (other than the pump in the bottle). No plastic tape, no plastic wrap, no plastic padding, nada.

It’s pretty easy after you unbox: fill the glass bottle with water, drop a tablet in, watch it fizz. Once it’s done, add the pump top.

One thing though, you do have to re-set your expectations, and maybe your hand-washing routine. If you’re like me, you’re used to pumping the soap onto your hands, running them under water, and then rubbing them together to later. STOP.

New plan: pump this foaming soap onto your hands, rub them together to soap them up with the foam, and THEN run them under the water. This soap isn’t super thick–it comes out of the pump as foam!–so you don’t need water to make it spreadable. It took me a little while to adopt this new habit, but once I did, I loved this hand soap It smells nice (I got a variety of replacement tablets). A single tablet lasts a long time, so I’m pretty sure I won’t need to re-order until 2021.

One reason manufacturers use plastic bottles for their products is the cost of the bottle (plastic is cheap, glass is more expensive). In addition, the transportation costs for glass are higher, because glass weighs more than plastic (freight charges are based on weight). Glass bottles for many products now packaged in plastic need to be thicker to make them less prone to shatter or break, especially since most are used in the bathroom or kitchen. So if a manufacturer switches a product to glass packaging, it makes sense to also make the glass reusable, so it only gets shipped once. That leads logically to shipping refills, and if you’re trying to avoid plastic that means finding a way to take the water out of the product.

What are you doing to reduce single-use plastic packaging? Got a hot tip? A product you love? Drop a comment and share your ideas and finds!

Most of us are looking at another month or more of “Stay At Home”–I’m in through July 6, at a minimum–and races throughout Oregon and SW Washington (and the rest of Washington, for that matter) are cancelled. California races are cancelled. Pretty much all the races are cancelled. That’s okay because running is NOT cancelled, camaraderie among runners is NOT cancelled, and swag and bragging rights are NOT cancelled. If you’ve never connected to the running community on social media, now is the perfect time to join a virtual challenge. Motivate to run/walk/wog/whatever those miles by connecting with a challenge or a virtual run club. Unlike a virtual race (which happens once, you probably do it by yourself, and maybe you forget?) a challenge or a virtual rub club is ongoing support and a reminder to get off the couch!

The Original Edition

Run the Year 2020 medal

Run The Year. “Virtual” since the start! You can choose to literally “run the year” (2020 miles or kilometers), alone or as part of a team, or you can choose your own goal. For the Basic fee of $25, you get access to an easy-to-use mileage tracker (it lets you separate out walking and running and “other” miles), a private facebook group (plus a regional facebook group–once the virus ends, we can meet new runners at local meetups!), and a mileage guide. Upgrade to the Deluxe package for $39 to score a medal, legacy coin, and mileage tracking poster (it’s color-by-number-of-miles!). If you want to Get It All, spend $59 for all that and a bag of chips I mean a sublimated Run the Year tech shirt. See all of your options at https://shop.runtheedge.com/pages/run-the-year-2020 and don’t forget to join the Uncanceled Project (it’s free!)–your race on your day–to get those sweet custom photo bibs I know you’ve seen on Insta.

I’ve been a member of Run The Year since it started. My favorite aspect of this group is that ALL runners are welcome. This isn’t a club about being speedy–though there are speedy members. There are walkers, too. There are people brand new to any kind of exercise, and people who regularly take home trophies. It’s an encouraging space. Last year I volunteered to lead the Portland-area Facebook group, and I met some great people. Plus I’m apparently still a child and I love coloring in my poster.

The Ridiculous Edition

This is the photograph from the GVRAT 1000k Facebook group. Yes, those appear to be buzzards looking for roadkill.

The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1000k. If you’re really into running, like to the point where you read about other people running, look up stuff online about running, or like to hear “war stories” from really crazy serious runners, you’ve probably heard of the Barkley Marathons, aka “the race that eats its young” according to the documentary subtitle. (Trailer on YouTube, film on a variety of platforms.) Despite the fact that few people enter and almost no one finishes, making it almost automatic social distancing, the race is off this year. So race director Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell came up with something else: The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee. It’s a mere $60 and you have from May 1 to August 31 to run 1000k BUT the miles only count if you cover them AFTER you sign up (and that’s run, walk, treadmill miles) https://runsignup.com/Race/TN/Memphis/TheGreatVirtualRaceAcrossTennessee1000K

Now why on earth would I, a banana slug of a “runner,” who hasn’t done 50 miles to date this year, sign up for #GVRAT1000? I think back to my earlier running days, when I lived in California, and some of my friends were telling me about The Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World: run a half marathon Saturday, and a full marathon on Sunday. My reaction? “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of!” So when The Dopey Challenge premiered a few years later, I signed right up. Maybe this time I hope to learn some geography? Call it the Go Big Or Go Home principle, if you will, but there’s some magic in publicly declaring that you are going to do an insane thing. Also, it’s find of fun to do the impossible. Take it from Bib #14066. 18,000+ runners in 68 countries can’t be wrong!

P.S. if that’s not enough, perhaps your pooch can motivate you? There’s a separate division for doggos! The cost is half of the human registration (Laz says it is half as hard to run that far on four legs) and 100% of proceeds will go to animal shelters in Tennessee. So grab your pupper and go!

The Local (As I Define It) Edition

At the outset of this section, if you have the resources to support your local running club, local running store, and local race directors, PLEASE DO IT. I know many of you have lost your jobs or lost some income that makes this impossible; to you, I say go forth and shamelessly apply for every running “scholarship” there is for your local runs: then get to doing it, talking about it, and wearing the local swag. I recently read an article about coffee that mused after all this is over, Starbucks might be the last roaster standing. (Blog post forthcoming.) PLEASE DO NOT LET THAT HAPPEN TO RUNNING. While big, national “road show” type races are fun, local races give back more to your community. The money almost all stays close to home (to pay vendors, suppliers, and for security, etc.), and almost every race gives some amount of the entry fees to a local charity. A smaller local race can happen in a town that can’t support a marathon of 20,000 which means more runs in more places.

Marathon Matt’s SF Run Club is going virtual too.

SF Virtual Run Club. California is where I really started running, and Run Club was my first stab at running with people on a somewhat regular basis outside of races. Usually it’s an in-person thing, with a short run and a cross-training workout during the week, and a long run on the weekend, plus plenty of social time. Runners are often training for, or “targeting” the same SF Bay Area race. This year? We’re going the distance, at a distance. The virtual summer season starts May 16 but you can join late if you’d like. http://www.sanfranciscorunningclub.com/

Oregon Brewery Running Series May Virtual Challenge. What’s a local race director to do when all the breweries close and we’re under a Stay At Home order? Go Virtual! In addition to prizes for hitting certain targets, there are weekly Zoom happy hours (you run your miles, then it’s BYOB) with “door” prizes. I wrote about how much I love this series. You should join us. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/oregon-may-virtual-challenge-tickets-102838915966?

The Do-Gooder Edition

Reigning Roses Walk. This annual event is the main fundraiser for Rose Haven, a women’s day center in Portland that receives no federal funding. Rose Haven provides services to women, children, and gender-nonconforming individuals to achieve self-sustainability, with dignity and respect. The programs include medical, access to showers, mail service, and classes. Reigning Roses was never a run. Instead it was a sort of parade, with participants carrying jaunty umbrellas and live music. While social distancing and anti-gathering rules currently in place make it unsafe to hold the event this year, and there is a virtual version, I’m betting participation will be down. That would suck, because Rose Haven does great work and it’s likely even more women will need help in the wake of COVID-19. https://www.makeitreign.org/event/reigning-roses-2020/e275129

The Environmentally Friendly Edition

It’s A Re-Run! No, not like on TV.

Griffith Park Virtual Re-Run. What happens to all those race shirts and medals when the race is over? I know some races will sell them next year as “vintage.” The Race for Warmth uses the shirts for people who late register the next year (so if your size is unavailable, you get last year’s shirt). The people that direct the Griffith Park Run had a better idea: let’s make a new race to use them up! You sign up for 6k, 8k, or 12k and run by May 24th. You get a random shirt, medal, and bib from a prior run, a Gu product, and a Re-Run sticker. $5 of your entry fee goes to the L.A. Emergency COVID-19 Crisis Fund, organized by The Mayor’s Fund of Los Angeles. At only $22.50 (which includes your swag mailed to you), it’s a bargain that also does good (both by repurposing ace swag, and supporting the LA community). Register: https://runsignup.com/Race/CA/LosAngeles/GriffithParkVirtualReRun

One of my favorite California race companies!

Brazen Racing Retro Remote. I learned about this one right after I hit “go” on the original post. Brazen Racing is a much-loved trail race group in California; die-hards who run each of the 20+ events in a year become “Streakers” and receive official numbers at the end of the season. Brazen has pulled ONE medal from each of their prior events to make this happen. As the website explains, “Those participating will have the opportunity to choose which one of those medals they want to get mailed for their virtual race package. Every medal sent out as part of this event will be unique and the medals are available on a first-come/first-serve basis. If you want to know what each medal looks like, you’ll have to do some searching around as even we’re not sure where/if pictures exist for every single one! Or you can just pick an event medal from a certain year and be surprised.” Distances include 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon, 30K and 50K (the normal Brazen distances) and you can run solo or with a team. “The goal is to at least start your run by May 16th, but there are no strict rules here. We’re just trying to celebrate the good times we’ve had and the good times to come!” https://brazenracing.com/retroremote/

The National Edition

Even though I’d strongly encourage you to run local and support your local race directors and charities first, I have to give a nod to the national series races which are also not happening.

Zooma Run Club. Zooma specializes in women’s destination races, and this is a women’s run club. Sorry gents! Set your own mileage goal for the year (250 to 2500) and get swagged when you bag it. Zooma will also have giveaways, in addition to a private Facebook group, a Strava club, and more. If you join now, you get inaugural member status (which makes it sound like this club is here to stay, even past the Stay At Home era). Price: free option, swag packages at $65 (before June 1) or $75 (after June 1). You have the option to add-on more swag (hats, jackets, etc.) and the summer challenge for an additional fee. What can I say? The hoodie was really cute… https://zoomarun.com/zooma-run-club?

Rock ‘n’ Roll Virtual Run Club. Price: free, though completing a challenge gives you the option to buy finisher swag, and there’s some sort of points system (no idea what the points are for yet). Personally I have given up on this one, as the recording platform that Rock ‘n’ Roll chose to use cannot connect to Strava, and they do not connect to Coros. NO STRAVA? What the what? True story. Sport Heroes, the platform Rock ‘n’ Roll chose to use, can only connect to the following apps: Garmin, Polar, Suunto, FitBit, Nike+, Runtastic, Map My Run, Runkeeper, Health Mate, Rouvy, Decathlon Coach, TomTom, and Movescout. The only one of these apps I use is FitBit. (I also use Strava, Coros, and Charity Miles. I do NOT need to use another app just so I can do a Rock ‘n’ Roll virtual.) While the FitBit app recognizes “activities,” and Sport Heroes can import all the data, the RnR VRC will only recognize an activity if you set your FitBit to “run” before you go run. Sadly, this is not stated anywhere in the RnR VRC materials, so I missed out on the first VR 5k–I signed up and ran 5k, but didn’t push the special button on the FitBit, so it did not count. BTW no explanation from Rock ‘n’ Roll even after I filled out the feedback form, mystified that I’d run 5k but RnR VRC showed zero miles–I had to find this out from a savvier friend! So for the second week I pushed the button to start and end a run. You might think this fixed the problem, but you’d be wrong. Turns out my FitBit and my Coros had slightly different data, so FitBit said I did 9.82k and not 10k. As a result, RnR did not recognize my finish (so no badge, etc.) though I did get 99 points (whatever that is?) for the week. The Sport Heroes explanation for why they don’t connect to Strava is lame, and frankly sounds like it was written by a whiny, overprivileged, teenager who is used to getting away with whatever they want. It also contradicts Strava’s statement, and I’ve got a solid, multi-year relationship with Strava, and trust them. Strava’s explanation is short and sweet: Sport Heroes aggregates Strava data with no transparency about it, in violation of Strava’s rules. So if YOU are interested in attempting a Rock ‘n’ Roll Virtual Run Club event, you can give it a whirl. I’m out.

The Sponsored Edition

Run 50 miles, score a free pack! Image from Honeystinger.com

Honey Stinger 50 Mile Challenge. This is a challenge you sign up for directly on the Strava app. (Why couldn’t Rock ‘n’ Roll just use Strava? So easy, free for everyone.) If you’re not familiar with Strava, it’s a great place to connect with other runners, and with running brands. Honey Stinger is one of the companies that encourages runners on Strava by hosting a run club, and sponsoring various challenges. Head to the Strava challenge page to sign up. Finish 50 miles in the month of May and score a badge for your Strava profile plus a pack of the brand new Honey Stinger Plus Chews. Fifty lucky participants will also score a race kit (though there are 189,000+ people signed up so it’s a bit like the lottery).

If you’re not familiar with Honey Stinger, OMG go check them out! My favorite products are the caramel waffles (they also have gluten-free options) and the caffeinated cherry cola chews. Pro tip: to avoid crushing your waffles, use medical tape to affix 1-2 waffles to the back of your race bib. (Medical tape is cheap, will hold the waffle in place flat, and is easy to rip off the bib without any damage.)

The UnderDog Edition

While you’re at it, join Team Ordinary.

The Ordinary Marathon. Scott Rieke, aka the Ordinary Marathoner, started this ten-day event three years ago. This year, it runs (pun!) from May 8 to May 17. Every year, runners from all over run their miles (maybe a marathon, maybe not!) during the course (pun!) of the race and connect on social media. The photos later become part of the #OrdinaryMarathon slide show video. There are daily prizes, too. Entry fees also support a charitable donation to help pets ind a “furever” home. This year the optional in-person 5k isn’t happening, but that’s not stopping the event. It’s an Ordinary Marathon because anyone can do 26.2 over the course of 10 days–even you! $30 to register, includes a medal and treats, shirt is optional extra. http://www.ordinarymarathon.com/

What are you running in May?

Know a great race that had to go virtual due to the virus? Got a run club that’s “meeting” online? Drop a link to the registration page with your comment!