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!

Disclosure: I was a member of the 2016, 2017, and 2018 Rock ‘n’ Blog teams. As a member of the team, I received complimentary entries to Rock ‘n’ Roll races, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle (and other perks). This post is not sponsored, edited, or written (in any way) by the Rock ‘n’ Roll series or Competitor Group (or its new owner, Ironman, or Ironman’s  former owner, Wanda Sports Company, or current owner Advance Publications, Inc.). All opinions are my own.

two runners running
I found Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame-rs and 100-time Rock ‘n’ Roll runners Ron and Kamika on course!

I started this post in 2018, long long long before COVID-19 decimated the 2020 racing season. No joke. I was unable to bring myself to finish it since I found the race pretty disappointing (based on what was promised v. what was delivered) and I felt guilty posting another not-so-glowing review of a series I was supposed to be representing. I tried to pick it up again after Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle 2019, but felt like a Negative Nellie. There’s nothing wrong with the race, it’s just…I’m feeling kinda meh about the whole thing. So I poked and prodded this review for quite some time, which is why you’re now reading a fall review of a spring race. Apologies in advance, but you know I’ve gotta keep it real.

Which Year Is It?

I’ve run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Half Marathon since 2015. (Check out my 2015 review!) That was the year I first met Mat Miles Medals (at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona) and I had only recently met (at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco) SmartWatermelon. I stayed at the nearby Hotel Pineapple, rented a car, and had dinner with the Seattle office of the firm I was working for at the time.

In 2016, after two nights of no sleep, I was wide awake and ready to take on Seattle! No, no, I was not. (I already reviewed that race!) Or was that 2017? 2018? This year? Every year. 2017 was the last year I flew from California to Washington for the race; it’s less expensive to take a Bolt Bus (2018) or drive (2019) from Portland (which makes it easier to pack every single thing you might want instead of obsessing about the weather). I was a little groggy and worried about whether I had packed the right clothes for the weather, which is a perpetual concern with spring races in the Pacific Northwest; I actually debated whether to try to use some of my post-race clothing as race clothing. After spending some time cursing races for starting so freakishly early on weekends, I pried myself out of bed and put on some clothes. (I saved the post-race clothes.) In 2018 I bought a last-minute stretchy zip-up hoodie at Ross, which I wore for the entire race and post-race.

Each of these years, per usual, I missed the pre-race groupie photos of various run clubs. Most of my running groups that want to snap pictures meet early, by which I mean EARLY, before the first corral starts, because there are actually fast runners who want to be in the pictures. That’s awesome, but at a race like Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle where there are a billion runners and I’m in corral 250, it’s already going to be an hour before I get to start. (I didn’t keep track this year, but my first year running Seattle I really did wait an entire hour before my corral started. I literally sat down in the parking lot and stretched and drank coffee. In 2018 I walked from my hotel to the start line, saw how long the line was to the start, and found a gas station where I could acquire coffee and a donut.) Maybe I will start a tradition of the “I slept in” photo…

runners at the expo
Take a look at those Pro Compression socks! (Yeah, expo groupies are the only ones I tend to make.)

A Most Mysterious Race

Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle is a bit of an enigma. I really want to like it, especially since it’s pretty clear Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t welcome in Portland. (RIP Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland. I will miss the airport carpeting finish line.) And actually maybe running downtown isn’t welcome in Portland, if we’re being honest. It’s a destination event for many runners (some of whom spend the day before the race doing the typical tourist things like the bubblegum wall, aquarium, and Pike Place Market), and just another run weekend for those trying to hit the 15-race-mark for Rock ‘n’ Roll’s “Hall of Fame.” (That has become more elusive as the number of races in the United States has dwindled. No idea what they will do about 2020.) The only thing that seems to stay the same each year is the location of the Expo–and even that has gotten disappointingly smaller.

About That 5k

I haven’t run the 5k for the Remix medal since Rock ‘n’ Roll discontinued the shuttle bus service. The 5k is staged at the Museum of Flight, which is right at the southern end of Seattle, out by the old Boeing Field. It’s waaaaay too far to walk from the central downtown area, which is why there was originally a shuttle bus. (The shuttle cost extra–it wasn’t included in the price of the race, even though entry was already at a premium and priced well above the locally produced 5k events, of which there are many.) While I haven’t personally looked into it, friends tell me that navigating the otherwise excellent Seattle bus system to get down to the Museum of Flight in time for the start is difficult. On the other hand, taking a cab, Uber, or Lyft is expensive. So unless you’re committed or have a car, it’s a little inaccessible. The 5k is a fun shake-out, basically an out-and-back loop around the area, which has some decent shade and some historic planes outside. The Museum was open pre-race, which meant access to snacks, decent coffee, and–perhaps most important–toilets that flush.

The Magical Shrinking Expo

Every year the race’s expo is at Centurylink Field, in the exhibitor area. This is convenient in that it’s easy to get there by transit and has plenty of parking. Each year, the expo appears to be shrinking. In 2015 the expo had a robust representation of local races, including the Blooms to Brews (which the city of Woodland, WA stupidly refused to grant a permit for 2020). There were also numerous smaller businesses exhibiting race-related or theoretically race-applicable items. (I distinctly remember a booth with costume jewelry and hair clips from 2015 or 2016.) In 2019, only a few of the largest Seattle races had a booth, and the expo was less than half the size it was in 2015. I arrived about two hours before the end of the expo on Saturday, and some of the booths were already closed. That’s fine for me, but I feel bad for those who are running their first Big Race since I see a vibrant expo as part of the experience. Registration was still open–the race did not sell out–though I’m not sure who would pay $189 for a marathon given local race prices. In 2019 the Rock ‘n’ Roll/Brooks shop’s credit card machines were down (they were very apologetic and said it was an internet problem with the building, which I thought was ironic in a place bearing the name Centurylink, but then I managed to buy from Pro Compression and Tailwind using a credit card without any problems, so…).

The Ever-Changing Course

Seattle must be a difficult place to stage a race. The past few years have seen massive construction, including replacement and (still only partial!) removal of the viaduct, which the past years’ courses ran atop. I know that Portland is impossibly stingy with what and where they will allow running events, so I can only assume Seattle is the same, and that this explains why Rock ‘n’ Roll has changed the course substantially every year I have run it. The race has started or ended at the University of Washington and beneath the Space Needle; as a point-to-point course it also ended at the Centurylink Field parking lot twice during the years I have participated. While I personally thought it was clever to stage multiple miles of the 2019 race on the HOV freeway lanes (closed during the early Sunday morning hours), other runners I talked to HATED it.

I don’t have many complaints, other than where the eff were all the port potties this year?!?  The lines at the first ones I passed had at least 40 people (yes, I counted), and the demand was so great that the individual port-potties set out for the bands to use also had a line of 30+. I get that it’s inconvenient to put porta-potties on the HOV lane of the freeway…but if they can do it for the bands–and set up stages besides–why not for the runners?? I waited until I could wait no longer, by which time I was off the freeway and into a neighborhood, and still ended up in a line of 20+ people and only 4-5 porta-potties. Even more annoying, there was NO SIGN or other indication that there were another 8-10 porta-potties just at the end of the block. Having stood still-ish for quite a long time (you know how sometimes nature calls and you can’t just send her to voice mail?) I was PISSED when I saw that line of porta-potties, with ZERO people waiting in line. I easily could have saved 10 minutes there. COME ON, for the love of all that is holy, surely an organization that puts on races knows better?!?

Flat Bain
Flat Bain (always take your Road ID!)

The 2019 course featured a gigantic climb up Queen Anne Hill towards the end. I did not appreciate this. (The climb was less challenging than the very steep uphill trudge of 2018, but still!) The views were lovely, but I’d much rather have had the super steep downhill at the very end as an uphill at the very beginning. One of the downsides of a constantly changing course is that the neighborhoods don’t develop any traditions. At the old Portland Marathon, for example, neighbors would picnic outside, with kids dressed up and banging drums or waving pompoms; at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego, several neighbors have “unofficial aid stations” with adult beverages and puppies. There were two girls with donuts along part of the course this year, but it’s not the same energy as I’ve experienced on courses that have been consistent for long enough for traditions to develop. While there were a few entertaining locals outside of the “Grey’s Anatomy” house, the race course will probably change again next year.

On-Course Amenities Delivered, Mostly

In 2018, Rock ‘n’ Roll promised music every mile, and more aid stations on the course. The “music every mile” never delivered, and even some of the mile-marker speakers (independently streaming music from I don’t know where) malfunctioned, alternating between music, static, and silence. Similarly, I could have used more music in 2019. At least the aid stations were well-stocked and had supplies when I passed them, but since I’ve determined that I prefer fuel other than the series’ sponsor’s gels and hydration (I was packing Tailwind) it didn’t affect my race. Since it IS an improvement over past years–especially for the “back of the packers” that Rock ‘n’ Roll claims to support, I’ll call it a win.

Let’s Talk VIP and Finish Line

The year Kamika made Seattle his 100th Rock ‘n’ Roll race, I had access to VIP. (If you saw a bunch of people with smiley-face pineapples pinned to them, that’s what that was about–Kamika is from Hawai’i.) That year, the course started at UW and ended at CenturyLink. Pre-race VIP was rather miserably cold, with a cold wind blowing off the field and through the entrance to the VIP brunch area (the concourse between the upper and lower decks, inside the stadium). While there were a dozen strategically placed gas tower heaters–the kind you see outdoors at restaurants and bars–NONE of them were in use. Instead, a few measly electric heaters were irregularly spaced around the area, heating only the ankles of those in the immediate (like 2 feet) area. Apparently the good folks at Ironman had not bothered to clear the gas powered heaters with the UW stadium management, who put the kibosh on their use in the stadium. (Perhaps Iroman shouldn’t have axed most of the Competitor Group’s VIP staff? Maybe it’s just me?) I was also very annoyed that the lines for the women’s bathroom at the VIP area pre-race were crazy long, while the men’s line only had 1-2 people in it at any time. At the beginning of the day, women were told they could ONLY use the ONE bathroom, but eventually we mutinied–there’s no logically reason why we were banned from the bathroom that was literally right across the hall, especially when the UW stadium was built in the era where bathrooms were built one-to-one. (In modern architecture for places of mass accommodation, there are more women’s bathrooms–or more stalls within them–than men’s rooms.) Both lines got bad enough that the women eventually took over the men’s room as well.

Bain drinks chocolate milk
Chocolate milk at the finish line!

Post-race, at the same race, VIP at the Centurylink field was just okay. It had a good view of the band, but was (again) cold. I, pale runner who avoids the sun, was jockeying space to get some sunlight. The year I did not have VIP access (and the race ended at Centurylink field) was also really cold, and I remember seeing an ice cream booth and thinking it would be lovely and I’d buy some on any other day. (Turns out they only accepted cash anyway. Seriously.) That year, sponsor Alaska Airlines had a tweet-for-a-treat machine that was really fun–I still have the model plane with my race medals, and one of my friends who really needed it won a free round-trip airfare.

That said, I’m glad the finish line moved back to the Space Needle and surrounding park areas in 2018 and 2019. Overall, it is a much better area for bands, and it’s got much more welcoming room for dogs and families. Also critical, access to indoor potties pre-race! I did take the VIP route my very first year at Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle–which had a start and end at the Space Needle area–and pre-race it was pretty great: a separate VIP gear truck, and a decent brunch spread in advance. (I have no idea what the post-race food looked like, as it was all gone when I finished that year.)

Sad Swag (whomp whomp)

Like other races in the series, race swag has declined. Last year, Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle had one of the almost-generic guitar-pick medals. This year the design showed the Seattle skyline and a plane, but it was so generic as to inspire a “isn’t this the same medal as last year?” from a friend of mine for whom Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle was her first (and now third) half marathon. Literally she’d only done three races, and thought the medal was a clone. Like Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, the shirts are made of a cheap fabric that isn’t breathable; the actual graphic is decent, but the placement on the women’s shirts is awkward, and the graphic large enough to make the shirt stiff. I’m a bit surprised that series sponsor Brooks–a company that makes very nice, breathable athletic wear with quality fabrics–is okay with having their logo on the shirt. Like I said, the design is nice and I might use it in a shirt quilt or something, but there’s a zero chance I will wear it.

The Verdict?

Overall, I’d say Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle is worth your while in a number of discrete circumstances:

  1. You are aiming for Hall of Fame and therefore need to hit every US race. (Buy the TourPass Unlimited.)
  2. You live nearby and won’t pay a ton of travel expenses, and have purchased the race during the pre-sale, the December sale, or the Running Day Sale.
  3. You know a bunch of your friends will be there, and you’re in for social events and shenanigans in addition to the race. (That’s why I run.)

If you’re going to run it don’t pay full price. (If you don’t have a TourPass, buy early, or at one of the sales. This is NOT a $189 race.) If you’re just looking for a race in Washington state, you’ve got plenty of other options–there’s a reason the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics were founded here. If you want a race in Seattle, the Mercer Island Half is nice, and I’ve heard good things about the Seattle Marathon and races in nearby Tacoma.

Since I live in Portland, have a close friend who did Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle as her first race (and remembers to make massage appointments at The Dream Clinic post-race), and have free crash space, I’ll likely be back in 2020. True confession: I was going to buy at the pre-sale in December…and then I was going to buy a three-pack…and then the virus started to shut down races…and so I still haven’t registered.

Have you ever run Rock ‘n ‘ Roll Seattle? What did you think?

Take a few minutes to stop and care for your mental health, too. (c) Styled Stock Society

As you’ve probably noticed, the situation with COVID-19, our novel coronavirus, is very fluid. That’s unsettling in and of itself. People generally like stable situations, not constant flux. People generally don’t like change. Some people (like me) don’t like not having control. All of these can leave you feeling a bit lost and adrift, especially in the sea of misinformation that is the internet. (That’s before we even think about turning on a news broadcast!)

Plus it’s not a “fun” flux. We’re not getting happy news or pleasant surprises. Waiting for more shoes to drop is enough to make anyone anxious. On top of that we are supposed to practice social distancing, which largely means “stay home.” For those of us who get our social needs met at work and other activities, this can lead to loneliness or depression on top of anxiety. Even for dyed-in-the-wool introverts.

Please note that I am not a licensed counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or any other flavor of qualified mental health practitioner. PLEASE seek professional help immediately if you are in crisis!

Resources for Crisis and Immediate Need

Feelings of scarcity around money and food can be eating disorder triggers. Some resources:

These are definitely not the only resources available–a quick Google search may help you locate something more appropriate. (I welcome comments below with the equivalent services in your country or location.)

Even a short pause during the day to clear your mind can help. (c) Styled Stock Society

Stressed, Depressed, Anxious?

Many Americans are feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious due to the current situation with COVID-19. I’m writing this to provide a collection of potential resources to those feeling stressed or anxious. General mental hygiene advice is good, but it is easy to dismiss as out-of-touch with the current reality. Here are some people and organizations to keep an eye on during this time, following by a list of articles you might find helpful.

VirusAnxiety.com is the very first resource I found that attempts to address mental health and well-being specifically related to COVID-19. Because it is easy to remember, I’ve been splattering it everywhere. I find the simple layout of the site soothing.

Grokker (the fitness app/streaming service) has put together a free course on COVID-19 Coronavirus Prpeparedness. It is a sane guide to fact-based knowledge, no hype at all. One of the videos is dedicated to reducing stress and anxiety. It’s free, and you don’t need a grokker account to watch.

Xen Strength. Founder Danielle Diamond is offering a free guided meditation with full-body relaxation. You can access it online here.

Marie Forleo is a force of nature, and a woman I admire greatly. How many people do you know who have been Reebok dance professional and go on to run a business empire?? Her collection of resources is called “Coronavirus Support Guide: How to Stay Strong & Navigate This Time Together.” It has a curated collection for several topics, including stress and anxiety, “feel good” stuff, how to work from home, how to educate and entertain your kids, and how to serve your community. The comments section is also worth a read. Something for everyone.

Brendan Burchard is also a force of nature (and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him on video talking to Marie!). He recently did a live stream focused on leadership and keeping focus while the COVID-19 situation develops. These are specifically geared towards people who are coaches, or in leadership positions, but I think anyone would find them valuable. “Coronavirus Response: Fear, Focus and Forecasting.” This is more of a tough-love approach.

Ramit Sethi the author and speaker, is hosting “Fireside Chats” every night at 8:30 pm eastern in IG live https://www.instagram.com/ramit He has a list of topics posted on his Instagram, with more to come.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have some resources. They are largely aimed at specific populations. I found them a bit dry, but I didn’t click through to the children’s activities.

5 Ways to Manage Your Anxiety During the Coronavirus Outbreak.”  https://www.shape.com/syndication/coronavirus-anxiety? Valuable advice includes limiting your media diet and realizing that it is actually okay to be worried. (Everyone is worried a little bit, even if they are not anxious!). A quick read.

“How to Cope with Anxiety—Now, in 60 Minutes, and Long Term.”https://greatist.com/health/how-to-cope-with-anxiety This is more of a how to do it article, with a list of suggestions, but also instructions on how to execute them. It doesn’t just advise you to “breathe deeply” but instead offers a specific step-by-step. There are linked resources for apps, articles, and citations (backing claims with sources).

Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a website with a specific page dedicated to COVID-19. There are links to a bunch of different essays, news articles where members are quoted, and links to resources on PTSD. A number of resources specifically address talking to teens and children.

American Psychological Association has a podcast episode specific to COVID-19. The guest is “Baruch Fischhoff, PhD, is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert on public perception of risk and human judgment and decision-making. He explains why we worry about new risks more than familiar ones, how to calm our anxiety and what are the psychological effects of being quarantined.”

AHA Voices for Healthy Kids. https://voicesforhealthykids.org/internal/coronavirus-covid-19-resources-you-can-use They describe this collection as a “list of coronavirus resources from our partners and grantees on the frontlines of helping families in underrepresented communities:”

“49 things to do if you’re staying at home due to Coronavirus.”https://medium.com/@neilpasricha/49-things-to-do-if-youre-staying-home-due-to-coronavirus-19b9e47a3cfe This list includes both adult thinks (like reading a long but worthwhile book) and kid-friendly ones, like making a pillow fort. There are links to online resources (the most popular TED talks of 2019, anyone?).  Many of these ideas are about establishing new habits, which seems like a good idea when your entire daily routine has been shot to hell.

“21 Productive Things to Do Today” https://www.urbandaddy.com/articles/43291/21-productive-things-to-do-today The subtitle promises that each one is “social distancing approved.” Some of these are humorous, but all are things you can actually do. Some are short (donate to your favorite charity) others are longer-term projects like learning a foreign language. This is a short, quick read.

“COVID-19: Tips for Working Remotely And Combating Stress.”https://www.lizandmollie.com/blog/2020/3/12/covid-19-tips-for-working-remotely-and-combating-stress Yes, in 2020 it is much more common for people to “telecommute” than it was back when I was growing up in the 1980s. That doesn’t mean all of us know how to do it. Personally, I thought it would be much easier than it has turned out to be. This article has 7 suggestions to help those of us who are new to this way of working. (Heck, I don’t even have an office! I’m working from the sofa and dining table!)

“11 Tips for Staying Calm During the Time of the Coronavirus.” https://gretchenrubin.com/2020/03/10-tips-for-staying-calm-during-coronavirus Gretchen Rubin’s article goes well with a mug of warm tea or a mocha, in my mind. Some of the tips are standard fare (connect with friends and family, reach out to others to help you feel less isolated) but are, of course, sincere. My favorite tip is to tidy up, because even though it makes no actual sense, that has always made me less anxious. (Also since I just moved in November, and have a few projects going on, my house is in a shambles and needs it!)

“9 Ways to Make Working From Home More Joyful”https://www.aestheticsofjoy.com/2020/03/9-ways-to-make-working-from-home-more-joyful/ Whether you love working from home or resent being pushed out of your office, here are a few ways to make your working day better. Getting some sunshine has really helped me out.

“4 Tips for Not Touching Your Face, Since It’s So Hard To Stop.”https://www.shape.com/syndication/how-to-stop-touching-your-face? Why do we touch our own faces? I don’t know, but I know I do it too. It’s one of those things they tell you NOT to do as a kid, again again when you’re a tween or teen and your face breaks out. But it sems like we do it all the time without even noticing!

Can you find a few minutes in your day to unplug and unwind? (c) Styled Stock Society

How are you caring for your mental health?

What are your go-to practices and resources?