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Fun Things to Do in Austin

Austin, Texas, in B&W glory.

View of Austin looking northeast from mid-river/lake. (Arty B&W effect thanks to Google+, which edited this photo for me without asking, like the world-dominating AI it is.)

Since crossing off Texas with the Houston Marathon this January, I have no plans to run the Austin Marathon anytime soon, so I can’t recap that here for you (besides repeating the rumor that it’s hilly).  But if you’re curious about things to do in Austin (besides the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail reviewed here), I’ve laid out what I did this week during my four-day visit.

DAY ONE

IMG_3181.JPG

Chuy’s on Barton Springs Road.

I arrived Monday afternoon, checked into my hotel (the W Austin downtown), then ate a very huge, very late lunch of beets and pizza at Due Forni, which was not the greatest decision since it was only ok and I had dinner plans about 2 hours after that at Chuy’s, pictured above.  Apparently Chuy’s is a chain but it doesn’t feel like a chain, and I had never seen one before.  They had an amazing happy hour special where they provided a FREE nacho bar with unlimited chips, different salsas, refried beans, nacho cheese, and seasoned ground beef.  I don’t know how they stay in business.  Anyway, it was great, even though I almost died of heatstroke walking there.  Note that about a week ago I was camping in the snow.  Moving on!

DAY TWO

bluebonnet in TX

The bluebonnet is Texas’s state flower, and despite common belief it is not illegal to cut (unless you’re trespassing or some such).

The next morning I took a 90-minute driving tour to get a sense of the city and the surrounding area (which is still technically the city).  My biggest takeaway from the tour was that the highways were covered in wildflowers (some pictured above, but really impossible to capture all the many kinds and colors).  It was very beautiful.  Also the house from Spy Kids is in the hills, and Andy Roddick plays tennis sometimes at a club up there.  Moving on!

Shopping haul from SoCongress

 

After the tour I walked from the Austin Visitor Center (really nice bathrooms there, BTW) to the South Congress shopping and eating district, where I had some great fish tacos at Guero’s Taco Bar and purchased the fun things pictured above at various shops.  I resisted buying any cowboy boots, but I did buy a lot of candy at Big Top Candy Shop, which as far as candy shops go was pretty excellent.

vegetable tasting menu at Qui

The vegetable tasting menu at Qui in April 2015.

I resisted getting a scoop of Amy’s Ice Cream on the walk back to the hotel only because I had 5:30 reservations at Qui, which is probably the best restaurant in Austin (according to people who know these kinds of things).  You might know it as the restaurant from that guy who won Top Chef recently.  I used to watch Top Chef, but I haven’t in several years, so I didn’t know who this guy was, but he put out a tasty menu, pictured above.  At $55 for the full tasting ($65 for meat, $100 or $110 with wine pairings) it was a relative bargain, as a similar meal in NYC would have easily been over $100 without beverages.  I recommend!  After dinner I strolled back along the infamous 6th Street, where I bought a pretzel at Easy Tiger (for my run the next morning) and stopped in at a bar that had some live music going (the Dirty Rooster).  It was still so early it was light outside and the crowds were sparse, so it was a good time to visit 6th Street without having to deal with the crazy drunkies.  I recommend!

DAY THREE

The next morning I did my long slow run around Town Lake, reviewed here.  I was so tired afterwards I barely managed to get a salad at Jo’s Coffee before falling into a deep, spiderweb filled sleep.  That night I had meatballs and brussels sprouts at Malaga Tapas a block from my hotel, which were ok but I think I should have waited for a spot at La Condesa to open up.

DAY FOUR

horse in Driftwood TX

Fastest walking horse I’ve been on, and he’s like 29 years old or something.

On Thursday I drove down MoPac Highway to Driftwood, where I rode a horse with Texas Trail Rides.  We saw three snakes during the ride, including one HUGE rattlesnake.  The guide kept talking about how there were a lot of water moccasins around, and how she hated them so much because they chased you.  Needless to say I never got off my horse until we were back in the parking lot.  I recommend!

bbq at Salt Lick

 

Since I was already down there, after my ride I went to The Salt Lick for their famous BBQ.  The turkey and brisket were my favorite, but overall this meal was only ok.  I preferred Chuy’s and Guero’s, so I think I just like Mexican more than I like BBQ.  I did appreciate that The Salt Lick offered free refills on soda.

 

I drove back into Austin, making a quick stop at The Whole Foods grocery store downtown, because while I’m not a fan of Whole Foods per se, the tour guide had told us it was the “second largest Whole Foods in the world” and that Whole Foods actually started in Austin.  (The internet indicates that the largest Whole Foods in the world is in London, but that the largest grocery store in NYC is in fact the Whole Foods on Bowery.  I’m not 100% sure any of that is correct.)  It was a pretty standard Whole Foods, but I splurged on a cup of mixed berries that I ate that night and they were the best berries I’ve ever had in my life.  So, there ya go.

Inside capital at Austin

Some impressive room at the Texas State Capitol. House of Representatives, I think? I was not a good tour guide for myself.

 

Finally, after dropping off my car at the hotel, I walked down to the capitol building, where I enjoyed the A/C and felt awkward watching the people in business suits going about their work while groups of sweaty, t-shirt wearing tourists gawked around them.  Or, rather, I felt awesome that I was not one of those people in business suits, because I bet a lot of them were lawyers and would rather be on a horse, eating BBQ, or buying berries at Whole Foods than wearing a black poly suit on a beautiful spring day in Austin, Texas.

 

While I was in Austin I really wanted to walk around the UT campus, tour the Bullock Museum, and maybe stop at the Blanton Museum of Art, too, but I was just too wiped out from the heat and the touring and the running on the days before.  So I wandered back to my hotel to swim, except the pool was like ice water, so I just sat next to it reading some John Scalzi.  The next morning I packed up and went home!

 

Have you ever toured Austin?  Did you manage to visit Hula Hut, swim in Barton Springs, eat breakfast tacos, or climb up the stairs to Mount Bonnell?  What do you like to do when you travel?  Share in the comments!

Blerch costume 2014

Race Recap – Beat the Blerch Half Marathon, Sept 21, 2014

Beat the Blerch 2014 Washington

I am The Blerch while I beat The Blerch.

Before my recap, I want to send my condolences to the friends and family of Evan Sebenius, the young man who passed away during the Beat the Blerch half marathon.  I stopped and left candy with the runners with him, but without medical training I couldn’t do anything else.  I never thought he would pass away, and it’s truly sad.  If you want know more and how you can help, read the Seattle Times article or visit Evan’s Memorial Race’s Go Fund Me page.

 

The inaugural Beat the Blerch race had just about everything it promised.  It had cake, it had Nutella sandwiches, it had couches at the water stops, and it had nice medals (and a surprisingly nice long-sleeved 1/4 zip tech shirt).  We lucked out on the weather (sunny and in the 60s to low 70s), and overall it was a beautiful day in Washington state.  Yes, there could have (should have?) been more water stops (they were about 3 miles apart), but for an inaugural race I thought it was very well-done.

 

Me and Ben at Beat the Blerch 2014

This is my friend Ben. This was his costume for the race. Ladies, I think he’s single right now…

For those who don’t know, The Blerch is a fat little winged character created by the comic artist known as The Oatmeal (aka Matthew Inman).  It essentially represents the fat little beast inside all of us who tell us to eat more snacks and to skip that run.  My Blerch is particularly large, particularly loud, and particularly convincing (as a lawyer’s Blerch should be), so the concept immediately resonated with me, and when my friend Ben told me about the race, I set my alarm for the registration time and was one of the few (approx 1,700) lucky runners to snag a spot before the race sold out in 30 minutes (they ended up adding the exact same event on Saturday so twice as many people could partake, plus they had a virtual option where you got a goodie bag and medal and were supposed to Beat the Blerch on your own time and without the travel).

 

I planned the trip months ago (mostly to visit my parents), so when I realized my injuries weren’t going to let me run the full marathon, I was disappointed but dropped down to the half instead of canceling the whole thing.  I was impressed and glad that the option was available (you could also transfer/sell your spot, which very few races allow).  There was is a very active Facebook group for the race, too, so even though I typically never Facebook, I was checking it frequently for info about the race, weather, costumes, etc.

 

Blerch goodie bag and shirt

The race shirt, magnet, & sticker from the goodie bag. Really nice shirt but not a lot of “goodies.”

On Saturday my parents and I drove up from the Portland area straight to the packet pickup location in Seattle.  At least, the address was technically Seattle, but it felt like the suburbs to me.  The pickup was quick and easy, and the shirt is really nice (some people mentioned it runs a bit small, which maybe it does, but these days womens’ XL t-shirts are tight on me, so I almost expect it by now).  The author wasn’t at pickup on Saturday to sign his books since he was running the race, but he did sign after the race on Sunday (I didn’t stay because of the enormous line and my weary legs), and he signed at packet pickup on Friday (at the end of another enormous line, or so I heard).

 

We stayed at Hyatt House in Redmond, next to a ton of “mushroom” apartments (apartments that look like they sprang up overnight) and enough chain restaurants to satisfy any car-less New Yorker (we ate at Red Robin and Claim Jumper, my first time at either of those establishments, and they were both delightful).  Because of the late race start time (9:00 AM for the Marathon, 9:30 for the half, and 10 for the 10k), I was able to grab some yogurt and a banana from the free hotel breakfast (which had a lot of other food, too, and was nicer than most free hotel breakfasts).

 

Blerch costume 2014

Getting my costume ready for the next day. I ate all of that candy and more over the weekend.

I haven’t travelled for a non-full marathon in a long time, and while I did spend an absurdly long amount of time getting my costume together and laying out my stuff for the next morning, I noticed I was much less than half as nervous for the race than I would have been for a full.  A half marathon I can finish without much worry and know that I’ll be able to walk and drive and shower and go out again without a problem.  For a full marathon I’m never 100% sure I’ll be able to finish, let alone do anything afterwards besides lie on a hotel bed flipping through bad TV.  The relative ease of half marathons makes me both want and not want to change my 50 states goal – running half marathons would be a relatively simple task, but maybe too simple.  But it would allow me to run in more complicated costumes, so there’s that, too…

 

Porta potties at Blerch

Some of the porta potties at Beat the Blerch. Only some.

After breakfast, it was an easy 20-25 minute drive to the race in Tolt MacDonald Park in Carnation, Washington.  There was ample parking with many helpful parking attendants directing the cars.  The start/finish line area had lots of Blerchandise for sale, a photo backdrop with giant Nutella jar props, a foam rolling area, plus lots of porta potties.  One runner saw The Oatmeal taking a picture of the long line of porta potties and saying to himself “I created an event that requires 40 porta potties.”

 

Matthew Inman and WTFinish at Beat the Blerch

Two Blerches about to run a race.  Yes, he wore that the entire 13.1 miles, and ran much, much faster than I did.

Matthew (we’re on a first-name basis) wore a giant inflatable green Blerch costume for the race and posed with fans before it started.  I was able to get a picture with him and he commented on the Grape Hi-Chews pinned to my shirt.  I told him it was my magical grapey beverage substitute.  Then I ran away because I was afraid of seeming like a crazy fan, because even though I was wearing fairy wings made for infants, duct tape nipples and fat rolls, and candy pinned all over my shirt, I thought I would seem not crazy if I quickly ran away from our brief interaction.

 

The course started on asphalt but quickly turned into a mostly flat trail that featured only a few larger, sharp rocks, but those few rocks had an excellent ability to find their way under runners’ feet.  One woman said “if I step on another sharp rock I’m gonna…!”  Unfortunately that was all she said and she was faster than me, so I never found out what she was going to do nor if she ever stepped on another sharp rock again.

 

Cake and Nutella at Beat the Blerch race

They never ran out of either.

I ate four pieces of cake during the race and one more large piece plus three Nutella sandwiches after the race.  I drank two small cups of magical grapey beverage (which I think was purple Gatorade) and lots and lots of water at each water stop.  Even though it goes down easy and was surprisingly tasty and desirable during the run, cake makes you thirsty.  I did not eat any of the many proffered gels, and one of the gel distributors bemoaned “I can’t give these things away!”  No sir, no sir you cannot, not as long as there is cake and Nutella as the other options.

 

When the race started I was still a little bummed I wasn’t doing the full, but at mile 10 I was about ready to be done with running for the day, and by mile 12 I was very ready to be done and could not imagine having to run another 14 miles.  It definitely made me nervous about Chicago, because I don’t know how long it would have taken me to cover another 13 miles that day, and it wouldn’t have been pretty.  Plus, they would have run out of cake.  But I managed to finish, and spotted both my mom and dad at the finish, and overall it was a great day to Beat the Blerch.

 

 

Thinking of Running Beat the Blerch?

Back of shirt and medal for Beat the Blerch Half Marathon

The back of the shirt and the medal (for the half marathon, obviously).

If this race continues (there are rumors they might bring it to other states), I’d recommend trying it out.  Obviously if the race is in a different location it might be a very different experience, but it’s clear that Matthew Inman knows his races and knows what makes for good ones, so I’d imagine any Blerch race would be worthwhile.  They are doing a free 4 mile fun run in Central Park on October 8th, and I will be there (but will there be enough cake??).

 

All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 5/10 – I flew into Portland’s PDX, but most would fly into Seattle.  Either way, you’ll have to rent a car to get around, and Carnation is as much in the middle of nowhere as you can get only 45 minutes outside of Seattle.  Being near Seattle also means a lot of traffic, which we seemed to hit no matter what time of day.
  • Staying There – 6/10 – There aren’t a lot of hotels in Carnation, so you’ll probably have to stay in a neighboring town like we did in Redmond, and while I love chain restaurants and such, if you’re looking for something unique you’d be better off exploring Seattle (which will involve traffic).
  • Cost & Registration – 5/10 – Registration was probably the most stressful part.  The site kept freezing and crashing and it was pure luck that I got through and was able to register before it sold out.  They did add Saturday for people on the wait list, and besides a lottery (which I hate), I don’t know how else they could have done it, so it is what it is.  It was $100 for the full marathon, plus $5 for a parking pass and another $15 in taxes and fees (so about $120 total), plus $12 to transfer from the full to the half.  The shirt and medal, as I mentioned, were both excellent, and the cake and Nutella were really tasty.  Oh, and all the race photos were free!  Huzzah!!
  • Organization – 8/10 – All the necessary info was online, packet pickup was simple, parking was great, and the aid stations were well-run (even though they were packed with runners eating cake and taking pictures).
  • Course – 8/10 – Beautiful course and the easiest “trail” race ever.  Crowding was surprisingly not a problem (there were 208 full finishers, 816 half finishers, and 636 10k finishers – and they started the larger races in waves).  The race was chip timed so it didn’t matter when you started.
  • Crowd – 1/10 – I think I saw two people along the entire course (not counting volunteers).  It was as expected for a trail race.
  • Other Factors – 8/10 – If you are a fan of The Oatmeal, you’ll want to do this race.
  • Overall Rating – 8/10 – It was a great race with a lot of little touches that I’d want to include if I ever create a race (e.g. free race photos, race transfers available, multiple distances, chip timed, mostly shady, costumes, nice personalized shirts and medals, cake) and I’d do it again.

 

What sort of foods have you eaten while running?  When is the last time you had Nutella?  Did you know they have a Nutella-esque Pinkberry flavor and that I ate some tonight?  See the site for more photos & share in the comments!

Pizza Run 2014 costumes tattoo start

Race Recap – NYC Pizza Run, Sept 13, 2014

Pizza Run 2014 costumes tattoo start

Some of the costumes from the Pizza Run, plus a view of the start of the race and the free tattoos they distributed. Circle pizza guy was a very fast eater. Cool Hand Luke pizza shirt guy was one of the final four with me.

It’s a simple concept – run 4 laps around a park and after each lap eat a slice of pizza, for a total of 2 miles and 3 slices of pizza.  Most of you reading this blog have run more than 2 miles, let alone 2 miles with a lot of breaks.  And we’ve all eaten pizza, probably even more than 3 slices at a time, with great ease.  But you really can’t know what the Pizza Run is like without doing the Pizza Run, because once they blow the whistle for the start, you get swept up into a race frenzy, and for the first time in your life you try to eat thick, doughy, bready pizza as fast as you possibly can, and you realize you had such hubris about your ability to eat, and you are ultimately taken down several pegs by pizza and several dozen runners dressed as such.

 

It was a cool, overcast morning with threats of showers (that luckily held off until the afternoon).  There were about 100 runners and a decent amount of volunteers plus friends and family there to watch the debacle.  More than half of the runners had pizza-themed shirts or costumes, but there were a surprising number wearing race shirts (including the Brooklyn Half, Ragnar, and Ironman, to name a few).  One guy I spoke with came from Pennsylvania, but most seemed local.  Local news channel Pix 11 was there interviewing runners and many people were taking pics for fun.

 

The race started a few minutes after 11:00 am, and the most uncomfortable part about the race, besides the choking down of pizza, was that the course around the park wasn’t closed and happened to have a food distribution line down half of it.   The race director told us to please respect the homeless and a lady yelled out that she wasn’t homeless, she had keys-to-an-apartment-thank-you-very-much, and it was uncomfortable and strange and then we started running.  (A portion of the proceeds from the race go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and I’m not sure if there was leftover pizza that got passed out or not.)

 

The running portion was easy, despite having to weave and dodge on the open course.  I heard some people say this would be the most they’ve ever run in their life, and one person admonish her friend that they “had to run at least one lap.”  The eating part, however, was tough.  Very tough.  Pizza crust tough.

 

Pizza Run NYC 2014 shirt bag pizza slice

Me eating my second slice and showing you just how thick the slice got near the end. Also shots of the shirt, bag, and back of the shirt (cropped due to formatting).

Why did I have such a hard time?  Mostly because of my mouth injury.  Taking the first bite of delicious pizza gave me a quick, painful reminder to only chew on the left side of my mouth and to never fully close my teeth, which led to swallowing a lot of partially chewed pizza.   I was also a slow eater because I was attempting to enjoy the pizza and the experience, which involved laughing at those who were cramming pizza into their mouths as fast as possible, chatting with other runners, and even posing for a few pictures so I could show you just how bready this pizza was (it was delicious but involved a lot of bread, especially around the edges).  Finally, I was a slow eater because I did not cheat.  If there is no honor in a Pizza Run, there is no honor in this world.  (Spoiler alert:  There is no honor in this world.)

 

The rule was you didn’t have to finish eating the slice before starting the next lap, but the entire slice had to be inside your mouth.  There were many cheaters, from people who simply walked off with their slices, to those who threw away parts of their slices, to those who even spit out pizza along the route.  I always made sure all of my pizza was inside my mouth before starting the lap, which meant I had a dough ball in my cheek for most of the race.  On my final lap around the park, I stopped by one of the volunteers and wailed, “There’s never a time I’m not eating!”  I was also sweating a lot despite the cool temps, and was never sure if it was from the running or the eating.

 

Pizza Run Where's the Finish 2014 NYC

Little confusing finish area where you stood in line to get your bag, shirt, & beer coupon.  Special thanks to Danilo for the pics, race support, and post-race company!

The Pizza Run was more of a workout for my jaw than I ever anticipated, and my recent injury truly hampered me.  I was one of the last four people still eating pizza (!) which was just astonishing since I felt like I was eating as fast as I could.  If I were in pizza-eating shape, I think I would do a lot better, but I’m also not sure if I want to do this race again.  I enjoyed the race itself and the beer at the afterparty, but mostly because my friend Danilo delightfully showed up to cheer me on (and/or watch me upchuck).  If friends or family wanted to join me for the race next year, I would definitely do it again, but I wouldn’t want to run it alone.  I had limited desire to do the Cupcake Run until I realized cupcakes would be a lot easier to chew than pizza, and now I’m kinda interested (but will have to wait until 2015 since I’m out of town that weekend).  Basically, after this dismal showing, I’m even more interested in eating-and-running races to improve my technique and to try to develop unhealthy food aversions (the thought of eating pizza now makes my jaw ache, and I’d love to be adverse to chocolate and ice cream, if anyone has that race…).

[Ed – I finished this race in 31:48 – the top male finisher was 14:26 and top female was 15:42, times I couldn’t achieve even if I didn’t have to eat pizza.]

 

What do you like on your pizza?  Did you notice my panda-eating-pizza shirt!?!  Are you ready to start training for Pizza Run 2015?  Share in the comments!

Where's the finish reviews Bonk Breaker bars

Snack Review – Bonk Breaker bars

Where's the finish reviews Bonk Breaker bars

Assorted Bonk Breaker Bars = delightful.

I just recently learned of these little gems but it seems like I’m late to the party, as I spot them everywhere now.  I first tried an assorted box of the “bite-sized” bars so I could sample several flavors, but I’ve already ordered large full-size boxes of the PB&J and the peanut butter & banana flavors.  The peanut butter & banana flavor is my good buddy now, and I take him on walks and trips and soon he’ll meet my family.

 

In a nutshell, Bonk Breakers are like Clif Bars, except softer, moister, tastier, and expensive-er (for comparison, one White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clif Bar has 250 cals, 7 g fat, 21 g sugar, and 9 g protein, with box of 12 about $12 with shipping, while one full-size Bonk Breaker PB&J has 250 cals, 9 g fat, 16 g sugar, 8 g protein, with a box of 12 about $31 with shipping).  Turns out you can put a price on taste, and it’s $1.60 premium per bar.  Bonk Breakers are shaped almost like perfect rectangles, instead of the oval-pod shaped Clif Bars, so they appeal to the architecturally inclined, too.  They’re also gluten and dairy free, if that’s important to you.

 

Pictured above are the following flavors, left to right, top to bottom:

  1. Peanut Butter & Jelly – This garners the most raves online, but that’s probably because they haven’t tried the PB&B flavor.  Two rectangles sandwich a visible line of jelly, which is fun.  What’s also fun is eating this bar without the hassle of actually making yourself a sandwich.
  2. Peanut Butter & Banana – I took a risk and ordered an entire full-sized box of this flavor without even trying it first!  It was a gamble that paid off in spades, though.  Spades and spades of delicious peanut buttery oaty bananay goodness.
  3. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip – No ampersand necessary in this name, it was my favorite until I tried the PB&B, and now I just don’t know where I stand on anything anymore.
  4. Apple Pie – The chia seeds are the real surprise here.  They look like miniature apple seeds left in the mix, but instead of arsenic they provide a satisfying seedy-ness much like a mustache on a pornographer.
  5. Blueberry Oat – A solid flavor, but nothing remarkable or strong or special about it.  I suppose if you’re allergic to peanut butter this could be one of those sad-but-brave-in-the-face-of-the-many-disappointing life choices you could make.

 

There are other flavors, too, like Espresso Chip and Fig, that I’d like to try, but I have a lot of eating to do in the meantime.

 

Have you tried Bonk Breaker bars?  Have you dreamt about them (while sleeping or awake)?  Share in the comments!

Snack Review – Titan High Protein Cookies & QuestBar Chocolate Peanut Butter flavor

Titan Cookies & Questbar wrapped

Titan Cookies & Questbar, in their wrappers

Instead of buying cucumbers as I promised myself yesterday, I visited the local Vitamin Shoppe (which can only be pronounced “shop-ee”) for more Fit n Crisp bars.  While there, I picked up a couple of new protein treats so I could review them for you, loyal reader.  Not so I could eat cookies in the name of science, I swear.

First up is Titan’s High Protein Cookie, Oatmeal Raisin flavor.  The package promised “20g Protein” and 2 “Soft ‘n Chewy Cookies” with “Fresh Baked Taste” that’s “fresh from your oven!”  Nutritional info on the back tells me that a serving size of ONE (1) cookie is 150 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 10 grams of protein.  Half the protein I thought I was getting!  (That big “20g Protein” on the front of the package is followed by very tiny “per pack” text.)  Ah, well.  For a fresh baked soft ‘n chewy fresh oatmeal raisin fresh cookie, that still sounds good, right?

Out of the package, the cookies somewhat resembled the photo on the package, and certainly looked like real cookies.  They smelled pretty good too, and felt like soft cookies.  But upon biting into them, the resemblance to a real cookie ended.  They were definitely soft ‘n chewy – way too chewy.  They had the consistency of a dense protein bar, and the cookie smell somehow did not translate into cookie taste.  They weren’t repellant, but this will definitely not satisfy any cookie craving I might have.

On to Titan’s Peanut Butter cookie flavor!  They looked good, felt a bit sticky, but smelled wonderful.  “This is it!” I thought to myself.  “This is going to be my new go-to peanut butter cookie!”  It had about the same nutritional profile as the oatmeal raisin flavor and the same let-down once I actually tasted them.  Actually, it was a much bigger let-down.  Not only did the smell not translate into flavor, but the texture was so dense and chewy, if you squished it up you could form the brick of a standard protein bar (not even exaggerating here – I tried it).  That’s not to say I’m not going to finish them off later.  Because, hey, “cookies.”

Titan Cookies & Questbar unwrapped

Titan Cookies & Questbar unwrapped

Finally, for a bonus, I picked up a Questbar Natural Protein Bar, Chocolate Peanut Butter flavor.  The packaging really sold it to me.  While you might think it was the inexplicable photo of a flan/yellow cake with jimmies splashing into a puddle of hot chocolate, what actually got me was the nutritional facts on the back – 1 bar (the whole package, thank you very much) was only 160 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 20 grams of protein.  Ah yes, the 20 I was looking for!  It also has 17 grams of fiber, which I’m just now noticing.  Maybe good to notice that before I down the whole thing in a sitting.

Out of the package, the Questbar looks like a log with occasional flecks of what I assume are peanuts.  It has a faint chocolatey smell and very little flavor.  If I closed my eyes and you told me the flavor was raspberry, I might believe you.  The texture is very dense but not as sticky/chewy as the cookies, but it goes down fairly easily and doesn’t stick to your teeth.  To give you more of an idea on the texture, propping it up for the photo like that did not take much effort, just as propping up blocks of clay would not take much effort.  However, for 20 grams of portable protein in only 160 calories, I’d give it a thumbs up.  While you probably won’t be craving it as a snack (which is maybe another good thing, actually), this product allows you to eat something called a “Questbar” which makes you sound like a dragon-slaying princess in a computer game.

 

What highly processed, artificially created snacks do you recommend?  Have you noticed a trend of including “n” in snack names instead of “and” or “&”?  How fresh is fresh baked fresh fresh oven fresh?  Let me know in the comments!

Gear Review – Camelbak HydroBak Hydration Pack

Camelbak HydroBak (with water bottle for scale only)

Camelbak HydroBak (with water bottle for scale only)

I’ve been struggling to find a hydration solution since I first started running.  I trained for and ran my first marathon with a FuelBelt water belt, but it bounced unless I only kept 2 bottles in the front (which almost defeats the purpose).  I’ve tried the handheld bottle holders, but I found them uncomfortable and I felt unbalanced (and I didn’t want to run with bottles on both hands like Edward Waterhands).  I’ve even tucked a FuelBelt water bottle into a SPI belt, but I hated fumbling with the zipper when thirsty, and one little bottle is never enough.  Plus, for all of those tactics, the water sloshes in the bottles, reminding me of every step I take.

 

Now, I simply run without water, effectively tethering me to the Central Park water fountains (which are turned off for half the year, anyway).  I’m going to need water for my upcoming Ragnar Relay, plus I’d like to explore more routes and trails locally, but as a copious sweater I need to have a decent source of water at hand.  So when Camelbaks went on sale on Gilt a couple of weeks ago, I jumped on two of them (excessive, I know, but they were a relative steal at $25 for the HydroBak and $29 for the Classic).

 

Today I went on my first run with the HydroBak 50 oz pack (pictured above).  It’s a fairly small pack even for my 5’6″ frame and only holds the hydration bladder plus one small pocket that is JUST big enough to hold an iPhone 5 without a thick case and almost nothing else (it’s about 2.5″ x 5″, big enough to hold some money/credit cards and keys).  You could fit a Gu or two in the pocket, but you’d have to take off the pack to get to them.  You can see in the photo that there’s a clip on the front right strap that keeps the hose out-of-the-way but accessible for drinking.  The clip has a split at the back so you can switch it to the left side if preferred, and the hose itself can be snaked through the pack to come out on either the left or right side.

 

I kept the pack cinched almost all the way down so it rode high on my back.  There is no sternum strap on the HydroBak (unlike the 70 oz Classic) but I didn’t have a problem with it bouncing on my run.  I only filled it about half-way and noticed a little sloshing because I didn’t do a good enough job getting the air out (if there’s no air there’s no sloshing – one person recommended turning it upside-down to suck out the air but I forgot).  By the end of the run, when it was almost empty, I noticed the pack moved a little bit more on my shoulders – not bouncing exactly, but shifting around because there wasn’t any weight inside anymore.

 

It was a little warmer wearing the pack against my back, and I occasionally noticed the buckles bumping into my arms that could potentially cause chafing on a long run, but this first foray into hydration packs was relatively successful.  It’s not as free and easy as going without anything, but I’d feel comfortable using it when I don’t have easy access to water fountains.  It also saved me some time because I didn’t have to stop or go off path for a fountain, but I’m not supposed to care about those things on my slow easy runs…

 

Update August 20, 2013 – I’ve been wearing the HydroBak on almost every run now.  I like not having to stop for water and it hasn’t been irritating me (even on my 13 miler).  I still wish I could magically have cold water without having to carry anything, but until then, I like the HydroBak.  Also, the tip about filling the bag, closing it tightly, then flipping it upsidedown and sucking out the air is spot-on.  No air, no sloshing.

Snack Review – Promax Fit n Crisp Bar and Body 360 BodyCrunch Whey Protein Crunchies

Whey Protein Crunchies & Fit n Crisp bars

Whey Protein Crunchies & Fit n Crisp bars

The only thing I love more than thinking about running is thinking about food.  Unfortunately, I enjoy eating a lot more than running and I have the pantry to prove it (“pantry” here meaning “extra weight”).  I also have a ginormous sweet tooth and a tusk of a carb tooth, so I love to find snacks that provide protein (especially in a sweet disguise).  [Note: I didn’t get either of these products for free, nor are the manufacturers compensating me for these reviews, but the links do send you to my Amazon through my Associates Account, where I might get some pennies if you buy stuff.]

 

My new favorite snack bar is the Promax Fit n Crisp bar in Vanilla Marshmallow flavor.  It’s 140 calories, has 3 grams of fat and 13 grams of protein.  Those are pretty good specs for a snack bar, but it also delivers on the taste.  It’s not quite as good as a real rice krispie treat (c’mon), but it is surprisingly delicious and addictive.  It’s sweet but not too sweet (at least to me), and doesn’t have a bad aftertaste.  It’s a revelation compared to all those dense, chalky, high-protein bars out there.  Downside is price and availability – a box of 12 on Amazon is $17.78 with $6.85 shipping (via Happy Vitamin) but you can probably find it cheaper elsewhere (Google tells me there’s limited availability at the local Vitamin Shoppe stores in NYC).  There’s also a Cinnamon Crisp version I haven’t tried.

 

After tearing open the BodyCrunch Whey Protein Crunchies (Natural Flavor) and dropping a handful into my mouth (fairly flavorless, crunchy, slightly dry, very little aftertaste), the bag suggested I add the crunchies to yogurt, so I did.  They added a nice crunch without any off-putting flavor, plus they provide a nice pack of protein without a lot of fat or calories (1/2 cup is 125 calories, 1 gram fat, 24 grams protein).  The biggest downside to the crunchies is price – currently a whopping $17.49 on Amazon for the 7.6 oz bag pictured.  Since they’re quite bland and not innately delicious (maybe the cocoa flavored crunchies are better?), and I am not that desperate for protein, I will probably not buy them again unless the price drops considerably.

 

[Update on the Whey Protein Crunchies – It’s been about 7 months and I’ve only eaten them once since my review – they are just unappealing and flavorless with a pasty, chalky aftertaste that is mild but makes eating yogurt an even more unpleasant experience.  Pass on these and just mix protein powder into whatever you’re eating if you really need to.]