April 1, 2015

Balance Bar Giveaway!

You wake up in the morning, rush the kids off to school one by one, like dominoes stacked for a long, spotted fall. Except with hundreds of other cars that sometimes don't know, or pretend not to know, the carpool rules, your smoothly orchestrated plan hits some bumps. Carpool rage is a thing. But what's worse than morning carpool? Hangry morning carpool!

When I got this box of Balance Bar samples, my favorite thing to do with them was to stash them in all the places that I might need an emergency snack. To prevent the hangries.


Hangry snack hiding places:

  • In the driver's side door pocket of the car. 
  • In the passenger's side door pocket of the car. 
  • The gym bag!
  • Any and all purses.
  • At the bottom of the grocery bag.
  • In your plastic race bin (used for ultra runs). 
  • Under the church pew. 
  • By your long-run water stop.
  • In your kid's backpack. Kids get hangry too.

The Dark Chocolate Crunch and the Caramel Nut Blast were my favorite hanger-fighting flavors. 


So The Balance Project is Balance Bar's way of saying, hey kids, get your life skraight. And quit having road rage.


And if you seek balance, hopefully you'll realize this.


And here's your chance to get balanced. One reader will win a Balance Bar tote bag, notepad, iPhone card holder and a box of (15) Balance Bars!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


This post is sponsored by Balance Bar and their balance loving ways. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

March 16, 2015

What's for dinner? Potato bombs!

Tonight's dinner idea is brought to you by my husband, who is by far (like galaxy MACS0647-JD from earth far) the best cook in this house. 

Potato bombs! 

Have you tried them? Well, if not, it's time to start. 

Potato bombs on the assembly line. Jar from Mt Cheaha 50K (my fave race swag ever). 

And they are so simple. Like this blog post. 

How to make a potato bomb:

  • Grab a corer.
  • Core your potatoes. 
  • Cut off the ends of the core to use as plugs to keep the stuffings in place.
  • Plug one end.
  • Stuff in delicious ingredients (butter, salt, cheese, onions, goat cheese) through the open end. 
  • Use the other core end to plug the open side. 
  • Wrap in tinfoil.
  • Bake at 375° for 1 hour to 1½ hours (depending on the size of your potato).


Some other tips:

  • Add extra ingredients to the outside of the potato when you wrap it in tinfoil. This works great with salt, onions, and butter. Sometimes you just can't fit all the goodness in the middle.
  • Use a sweet potato with honey, salt and cinnamon and oh freak. That is the stuff. 
  • My standard favorite is onion, salt and goat cheese. The onions really permeate the whole potato when you cook it this way. 
  • Kids can make their own. Anything our kids can do independently is a win, and these are simple enough that our kiddos have got it down (minus the coring, which you have to strong arm). 
  • Experiment with spices. These are so fun because with just a tiny variation you get a whole new flavor, and so many flavor families work because of the bland potato backdrop.
  • We actually usually cook them on the grill, after the coals have settled, at 375° for about an hour, rotating halfway through. 

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What's for dinner tonight at your house? 

Your favorite way to eat potatoes? I'm still a huge fan of mashed. If I'm trying to make them healthy(ish) style, I'll add coconut oil, kefir, and salt, and my whole family agrees that they turn out delicious. Oh, and I can't leave out the other fave, the opposite-of-healthy curly fries from Arby's drive-through. 

March 14, 2015

Salomon S-Lab hydration pack mini-review & lessons from Josh Cox

Waking up this morning and getting out of bed was a thing. A hard thing because I had that first touch of am I sick? going down and wasn't sure if I should really be sticking to the 13 miles on my schedule today. But it seemed to be above the neck. You know the above-the-neck rule, right? Sick above the neck = run, sick below the neck = don't run.

After talking to Josh Cox at the Kids Connection fundraiser dinner last night (thanks, Resolute Running for hosting!), I'm even more aware that one of the get-your-run-done motivating factors he mentioned (have a run buddy!) was pretty much the only thing that pushed me out of bed this morning. What if my friend Sally was the only one to show up? What if a pack of wild bears attacked and left her bones with that other ominous pile of bones that we pass every time we take the power line trail at Red Mountain? Things you think about right before you press snooze for the third time. 

Also, much less important than my friends getting eaten by bears that may or may not even exist in Birmingham, I had my new Salomon pack to try out. Going from the most basic Camelbak on earth to the most complex Salomon pack in existence is going to take a few runs to get used to.

Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin3 12 Hydration Pack

Things I immediately liked:
  • Collapsible bottles in the front
  • Don't have to get the bottles out to drink -- chin to chest, bite bottle, drink
  • Emergency whistle
  • There are some straps that you can pull to shorten the pack, did not know that before today
  • Perfect phone pocket on the side -- and it did not bounce
  • One billion easily accessible pockets
  • So that last one was an exaggeration
  • But really there are a ton of pockets with and without zippers
  • Lightweight
  • Fits well, no bounce

Things I didn't like:
  • Needs an owners manual to explain what all the different straps and hooks are for
  • Emerging hot spot on my front left, from the strap
  • Collapsible bottles sink into their pocket when not completely full
  • Very chemical tasting water from my bottles, even though I washed them before first use
  • The two straps that hang down and can shorten the pack -- so where do those go exactly when you aren't using them? I shoved them into pockets, but otherwise, they just hang loosely and hit you in the face hole a lot. 

So far the hydration pack likes outweigh the dislikes. I ran 13 miles and didn't experience any chafing on the hot spot, but it felt like it might eventually. Maybe I just need to toughen up my collarbone skin. Lash it with some birch leaves like I'm at the Russian banya. Wait, do they do that to toughen things up or to relax?

No hair was brushed in the making of this photo.

Also, in case you are reading this and I never write another full review, if you are a small-framed human, you can now order this hydration pack in XXS. That's a men's size XXS, so it does not come to you as a size appropriate for your third grader. It fits chest measurement 29-31". And now for more possibly unnecessary details that one of you cares about. My bra size is 32B, but my actual chest measurement (measuring right under the boob-line) is 30. So I was really nervous that for some reason having girl chestiness, albeit minimal, added to the mix would make this pack too small even though I officially measure in the right spot. Nope, it fits perfectly. This is a new size that they are just now offering, so take advantage of it. Other petite people of the world have told me that this pack was too huge for them, and I wonder if this new size would have helped. 

Back to Josh Cox. He just happened to name drop that he is buddies with the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie, you know no big deal. AND besides coming out with a new album and going on tour, their lead singer is an ultra runner prepping for a 12-hour race.

One of my favorite trail running songs just happens to be a Death Cab song, Soul Meets Body.

I want to live where soul meets body
And let the sun wrap its arms around me 
And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing 
And feel, feel what its like to be new

I love when my music people turn out to be running people. Music makes running happy. Also running makes running happy. 

Back to Josh, who did more than just talk about his cool musician friends. But he did establish some serious street cred with that.

Picture taken after the fundraiser dinner with Josh Cox, US 50K record holder. 

Some things I learned from Josh Cox 
(maybe things he said, or maybe 100% inferred)
  • Bad races are not a waste. You still had a great workout, and your body doesn't know the difference between a good workout and a race. So take it and grow from it.
  • Sign up for your dream race now! And there's your incentive to get started training.
  • It's not your goal that's important. The important part is all the steps you take to the goal. In running life that equals your everyday runs. You put all the pieces of the puzzle together before race day begins.
  • When you aren't feeling like putting one of the pieces in your goal's puzzle (i.e. going for a run), just start to put your shoes on. Putting on your running shoes will lead to stepping outside. Stepping outside will lead to walking down your driveway. Walking down your driveway will lead to running a mile. Running a mile will lead to finishing your planned mileage. If You Give a Runner a Pair of Mizunos, ya know. 
  • Even though goals are important and motivating, the most important thing we have is our relationships. Family, friends -- that's the stuff. Don't let your goals get in the way of the stuff.
  • Missing a world 50K record by seven seconds equals .22 seconds per mile. No, he hasn't really thought about it. Oh, and it's ok to sometimes wish you had done something differently. Like seven seconds differently. 
  • Record-setting road runners wish they were running trails all the time. Wait, maybe that was one of those inferences I referenced above. 

That was just a nugget of the learn-iness we learned from Josh, who adds engaging and funny to his well of running talents. Since I know for sure [shakes head and mouths, no I don't] that Josh is reading this right now, I want you to know that it's ok if you name drop us Alabamians to your CA friends. They will be impressed. 

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What do you use to hydrate on your long runs? I went from going from fountain to fountain, to a belt, to a handheld, to my Camelbak, to the new Salomon. 

If your friend was in a running slump, what advice would you give her/him? I would try and talk them into running a race together. Or trying trail running if they haven't!

March 9, 2015

Tuscaloosa Half: running with Ainsley's Angels

In the olden days (you know, 2013), I loved powering through a road race, but with trails becoming more and more comfortable, for my feet and mind, there aren't as many pulls to road races as there used to be for me. Of course there are the massive cities with their tall buildings and people lining the streets that I want to run in like Chicago, New York, Tokyo, and Los Angeles, but overall, I would just rather hide out in the woods for 100 hours than pound out a couple of hours of road running.

But every once in a while in your life, you find something good. Something that takes an old worn out thing and makes it new and fresh again. Ainsley's Angels did that for me this weekend at the Tuscaloosa Half.

What is Ainsley's Angels? This group matches rider athletes of all ages and runner athletes to make a journey together through races of all distances. Our team's rider athlete, Kylie (below), finished her sixth half marathon with us on Saturday, and she's done triathlons too!

Mid-race selfie!

The thing that you need to know about running with Ainsley's is that you will need to take the amount of fun you would normally have at a race and multiply it by a bazillion. First, you have the joy of helping someone experience the flying feeling of running, and second, focusing on your rider athlete and their wellbeing is so much cooler than staring at your watch every five seconds to worry about pace. It also turns out that everyone in Tuscaloosa knows Kylie, my rider athlete, so the entire run, people were shouting her name from the sidelines. And even people who didn't know her cheered her on enthusiastically.

Our team in the zone. Source: al.com.

So how exactly do you run while pushing a rider? Both Monk (my run partner) and I had never volunteered with Ainsley's before, so we used the first part of the race to figure out a system. Some things we learned are that it is awesome to push with one hand for a while, letting one arm swing freely, and then switch sides so that both arms got equally worked. In the pic above, you can see the system we settled into, which was each of us pushing simultaneously before switching and doing the same thing on opposite sides. But up hills, it helped to use two hands to garner a little more power to get up the steepness, so usually one of us at a time would take the hills.

How does Ainsley's recruit runners? I heard about the group from my friend Amy (below, middle), and she sent me the link to sign up. Once I signed up, I registered for the race that was coming up, and the Alabama leader (Vera, who is the happiest person on earth) matched me with a runner and sent out updates and race-day instructions. So if you know someone who might be interested in this, send them the link -- spread the word. They have groups across the country, but if you don't see them in your state, you can bring them there by volunteering as an ambassador.

Some of the Birmingham angels post-race with Vera, who wins best race outfit!

How many rider athletes participate with Ainsley's? It depends on the number of volunteers. At the Tuscaloosa Half, we had five rider athletes and twelve runner athletes. Last year, they had two riders, so they more than doubled their numbers in one year. Just think about the coolness that would happen if they did that every year. The more volunteers they have, the more riders they can have. Simple as that. Oh, and simple as the area ambassador working their butt off to coordinate everything! Big thanks to our area coordinator, Vera, for doing a great job helping get us all to the start line and ready to go.

All five rider athletes and their runners at the start line. 

On the run with our crews, a few minutes before the official race start.

How do you navigate through the crowd of runners? In Tuscaloosa, they let our crews start a few minutes before the official race start time so that we could spread out and fall into a rhythm before the crowd hit the streets. The only part of the Tuscaloosa course that was hard to navigate at all was the narrow out-and-back, where they took one lane of traffic and divided it into two lanes of runners using cones. Unfortunately for Kylie, I managed to hit a few of those cones, but the second half of the course really spread out onto wide streets in some quaint neighborhoods, which were perfect for not feeling like we were pinballs getting shuffled around the race machine.


What will you see along the Tuscaloosa Half course? This is the third year of this race and the third course, so either they are perfecting it each year or trying to keep all you runners on your toes. Not literally, because you all know midfoot is best.

There were some spectators but not a ton. College town, too early? At least one group of potentially-drunk and definitely rowdy college kids was out, so phew. I expected more from T-town, especially after seeing how massively huge their frat houses are. They should all be out there causing a scene (i.e. making it fun) at this race.


We ran behind and in front of the football stadium, for you Roll Tiders out there. 


But my favorite part of the course was the quaint neighborhoods that we ran to after passing through campus and the downhill finish to the riverwalk that led to the start/finish line. It was a nice way to finish a course that started with some mild hills that didn't feel so mild at times. 

My crew: I need to give one more shoutout to my crew for the day. Our rider athlete, Kylie, was the perfect partner for the day with her sweetness and excitement for racing. She loved when people shouted out her name and when songs with a good beat rotated through the playlist. She even provided her own speaker for the day for motivational race jams. And my run partner Monk was just as awesome as our rider. Considering that we met two seconds before the race and were now going to be running together for 2-3 hours together, I was so relieved that he was super cool and easy to talk to. I feel like I really lucked out with this team. 

Vera (Kylie's mom and AL Ainsley's Angels ambassador), me, Monk, and Kylie.

My favorite team pic of the day. Post-race glow all around!

If you are like me and have reached a burnout on trying to PR out on the streets, please consider signing up to join an Ainsley's Angels team. At the finish, you will wonder why you haven't been doing this all along. I've had some tears at finish lines before, but I don't remember one where I just felt so much pure joy. Thank you, Kylie and Monk!

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Now on to the nitty gritty, sometimes boring details. Don't fall asleep!

My race nutrition: So before the race, I had this combo to start my morning, plus a glass of water. They worked well for getting me started and begin easy to grab and go so that I could eat them on the drive there. Negatives: not being sure if I had chia seeds in my teeth the entire day. #chiasqueezeproblems


See my last post to see the PocketFuel that I was going to test. Both types I tested were pretty thick, but the Chia Goji Honey version seemed more fluid. If you squeeze the packet a ton before opening and try and push as much up to the top as possible, it will be easier to scrape it out, using your teeth on either side of the package to scrap from the bottom to the top. They seemed to work as far as keeping me feeling steady, but they were harder to use than I hoped. But I liked that one pack had about 350 calories (calories vary by flavor), and I think I wouldn't mind as much trying to eat them on a trail, where I could use a hike break to eat a pack and immediately down it with water from my pack. If you have tried Justin's Nut Butters and liked using them, you'll like these. They have a very similar consistency. 

On the course, they offered water and Powerade at every station, and they had the GU (pic below) at a station during the second half. We weren't expecting them to have any GU because we had heard that they didn't in years past. 

The swag: They give out a race shirt and a swag bag with your packet pick-up. Our Ainsley's ambassador picked up our packets for us on Friday, which she collected copies of our driver's licenses to do. Not sure if that is a requirement when picking up for a friend or if she collected them just in case. The race encourages participants to pick up their packets on Friday, although they offer Saturday morning pickup as well. 


I have no clue what the medals looked like in previous years, but word on the street is that these ones are much cooler. 


There were tons of flyers in the swag bag, but for this pic, I narrowed it down to ones that you could trade in for a product. Plus the bar, nail file, and a car magnet. The GU was from the course, and the Core Power was from the post-race party. 


Post-race party: They had a small area sectioned off, where you could grab food and drinks. With a ticket from your bib, you could get a beer and a plate of food from Jim 'N Nick's BBQ. They also had chocolate milk, bananas, oranges, water bottles, some type of granola bar, and Chick-fil-A chocolate chip cookies. But the quick-grab-your-food area was pretty small, and once you left it to see the live band and roam the other tents, you could not go back in. The volunteers made sure to warn you, which was good of them. With all of the finishers, it got a little crowded in there, but overall, the flow worked fine. 

Outside of the racer area, there were lots of vendor tents set up. That's where I found Core Power (see pic above) hanging out. 

Plus a huge bonus, I saw one of my friends from high school and his awesome tea truck, Tea Town. Follow that link to find them on Facebook and see where they're headed next. For you Birmingham folks, look for them at Pepper Place Farmers Market this summer. I ordered the Mint Chocolate (yerba mate and peppermint with cocoa nibs), and it was perfect post-race hydration on a cold day with a 4 a.m. wakeup. A little toasty and a little zing (translation: caffeine) to wake me up for the drive home. 


Post-post-race party: After the race, I had to speed home to join my family for another awesome event. If you live in Birmingham and weren't at the Exceptional Foundations Chili Cookoff on Saturday, then you might have been the only one. That place was jam packed with people supporting one of my favorite non-profits in town. Thank you to everyone who makes this such a fun, massive, successful event year after year. 

The triplets, i.e. the twins and their cousin.

Chili Cookoff pano. Packed in every direction. 

March 6, 2015

Ainsley's Angels, Newtons, and Pocketfuel

Before this day turns into a snooze zone, I need (like I need Nutella) to share a few things.

1. Tomorrow I'm running with Ainsley's Angels at the Tuscaloosa Half Marathon. For those of you (I'm assuming most of you) who haven't heard of this group, they're inspired by Team Hoyt. Ainsley's Angels pairs rider athletes who aren't able to run on their own with runners who are privileged to catch the contagious joy of their riders.

And if you are ok with crying, go ahead and watch this video. And I might as well put the sign-up link here too because I know you'll want it: sign up here


So tomorrow, I'm running with Kylie, who will be carrying music and has already requested dance moves from me. Um, I think I got the perfect match! The only thing that could have been more perfect is if she asked me to wear orange and watch the latest episode of Survivor while eating Joe-Joes in pajamas. 

2. If you've been wondering about Newtons, here's a video that gives you some insight on their technology. Bonus: I make a cameo at the end, where I talk about my own Newton love. I've actually had mine for a couple of years, and they are still going! So they're long lasting, and they're my lightest shoes. To quote my own self, "They feel like I'm wearing air" -- or something cool like that. Any shoe that I'm still wearing after two years has got something awesome going on just to be able to last that long.


The backstory of this video is that I stopped by Resolute Running that morning while they were setting up for this and had worn my Newtons that day, not knowing that this Newton vid was going down. My thoroughly-worn-in Newtons looked ancient compared to the rows of sparkling new shoes Hunter the Newton Rep brought in for the shoot. But again, my Newtons are seriously still kicking after a bum-load of miles, so holla. And I of course was 100% willing to jump in and talk about my light-as-air-trampoline-on-hill-repeats shoes. 

3. Just that I need this. 


4. The Auburn rec center has the coolest indoor track I've ever seen. It covers two floors and inclines and declines. We need one of these in our house to wear our kids out. 



5. Running with gumballs is uncomfortable. Can I get an amen?


6. I'll be testing some Pocketful tomorrow. Anyone tried these already? 


7. Last random thought of the day. Can we talk the Girl Scouts into creating a variety pack of Girl Scout cookies, so that you can get all the flavors in one and not have to eat an entire box of each flavor? If anyone important in the GS world out there hears my plea, ignore that last part. I promise to buy eight boxes of the assorted. But I will feel bad for the shortbread cookies, because they'll always be the last ones that we choose from the assortment. It's nothing personal, shortbread.

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And with that random assortment, I bid you good night, as I roll over to set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. and know that about 78.65% of you are doing something similar. Ainsley's Angels is making me feel better about the insane wake-up time. In my ideal world, runners would like to sleep in until 9. Pleaseandthankyou.