Taste test: Protein bars and snacks for runners

Epic Beef Habanero Cherry Protein Bar
Protein bars and snacks

Sweetwood Cattle Co.’s Fatty meat stick, two Bonk Breakers, an Epic beef bar and a Thunderbird energy bar. Burp.

Protein can be the step-child in discussions about what runners should eat while training. It’s there, but no one’s that focused on it (until someone says “chocolate milk”).

Protein’s best function is after a long run, for recovery. But I have to say: These new 14, 15, 18 mile runs lately have me positively craving protein about three-quarters of the way in, something fierce. When I satisfy the craving, my body responds with such gratitude, I can almost feel it crying. The Luke’s Locker ladies at the register say I must be craving salt and fat.

I picked up a selection of protein snacks and bars to try out. I haven’t tested them on the road yet — and you might want to keep protein as a post-run thing — but this is how they taste and feel.

Epic Bar

Beef Habanero + Cherry

Epic Beef Habanero Cherry Protein Bar

↓ Thumbs down

Taste: Like salted flesh
Texture: Like shredded, salted flesh, compacted back together into a mini-loaf shape
Notes: The texture was soft and almost powdery in my mouth.  That probably makes it more digestible on the go, but I expected more of a traditional beef jerky feel. I wanted to like this because Epic seems like such an environmentally conscious and animal-friendly company (as animal-friendly as you can be while still planning to kill and eat them). I could only get through two bites, so I never encountered a habanero or cherry taste. Just pulverized beef flesh.

Nutrition
Serving size: 1 bar
Calories: 190
Fat: 11 g (2 g saturated)
Protein: 13 g
Carbs: 10 g
Sugars: 9 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 240 mgs
Ingredients: Organic beef, walnuts, dried cherries, lactic acid (not from dairy), salt, celery powder, fine black pepper, crushed habanero

Sweetwood Cattle Co. Fatty

stick1Original Flavored Hickory Smoked Meat Stick

↑ Thumbs up

Taste: Like smoked sausage
Texture: Juicy and even. Still kind of a sausage feel, but it’s more even than the mystery ratatouille of meats you detect on that first snappy bite of most sausage or meat sticks.
Notes: Oh my gosh, I could eat this just for no reason at all. This is quality stuff, as far as meat sticks go, and it’s super tasty and juicy. It’s kind of long, so I’m not sure how I would stash-and-carry on a run. I would probably stash it in my FlipBelt, and just let it conform to she shape of my body. It’s bendy.

Nutrition
Serving size: 2
Calories: 140
Fat: 11 g (4 g saturated)
Protein: 9 g
Carbs: 1 g
Sugars: 1 g
Fiber: –
Sodium: 700 g
Ingredients: Really want to know? Actually it’s not that bad: Pork, beef, water, sea salt, dextrose, sugar, pepper, celery juice powder, garlic powder, encapsulated citric acid, in collagen casing.

Bonk Breaker Energy Bar

Peanut Butter & Jelly

Bonk Breaker Energy Bar for protein

↑  Thumbs up 

Taste: Like some serious PB&J action
Texture: Somewhere between a muffin and a soft cookie
Notes: This is crazy-tasty. I really felt like I was eating a square baked good instead of an energy bar. These Bonk Breakers are kind of big, though. I’d like to try it on a run, but it’s definitely not going to fit in my current carrying situation.

Nutrition
Serving size: 1 bar
Calories: 260
Fat: 10 g (saturated 1.5 g)
Protein: 8 g
Carbs: 36 g
Sugars: 17 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sodium: 130 g
Ingredients: Brown rice syrup, peanuts, gluten-free oats, honey, strawberry jam [sugar, water, strawberry puree, glucose syrup, citric acid, pectin, natural flavor, natural red radish pigment (for color)], rice flour, rice protein, rice crisps (rice flour, sugar, salt, calcium carbonate), flaxseed meal, sea salt.

Bonk Breaker Protein Bar

Peanut Butter & Jelly

Bonk Breaker Protein Bar

↑  Thumbs up 

Taste: Again — It didn’t disappoint on the PB&J front
Texture: Surprisingly, not much different from its Energy cousin
Notes: When a bar touts “protein” on the front, I immediately lower my expectations on taste. I tell myself, “It’s got a job to do. Just let it do its job.” While there was a slight texture difference, only a tad. It tasted and felt really good.

Nutrition
Serving size: 1 bar
Calories: 245
Fat: 9 g (saturated 1 g)
Carbs: 25 g
Sugars: 16 g
Fiber: 3 g
Protein: 15 g
Sodium: 170 g
Ingredients: B-Breaker TM (rice nectar, natural crunchy peanut butter [peanuts, salt], honey), gluten free organic oats, non-gmo brown rice protein isolate, strawberry jam (strawberries, fruit pectin, cane sugar), flaxseed meal, rice crisps (rice flour, rice nectar, salt), sea salt

Thunderbird Energetica

Hyper Hawaiian Crunch

Thunderbird Energetica for protein

Inside Thunderbird Energetica for protein

Fruity-tart goodness

↑  Thumbs up

Taste: I could shove the whole thing into my mouth in one bite.
Texture: Chewy and a little sticky
Notes: I know, I know. What is this doing in a roundup of protein solutions? I wanted a wide variety of protein levels, so this one has the lowest amount. It’s probably the most balanced bar on this list: plenty of carbs/sugar and some salt, with a touch of protein. And MAN is it tasty! Tart and sweet.

Nutrition
Serving size: 1 bar
Calories: 145
Fat: 0 g
Protein: 2.5 g
Carbs: 30 g
Sugars: 22 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sodium: 125 g
Ingredients: Organic prunes, organic buckwheat groats, papaya, organic raisins, organic mango, pineapple, Hawaiian black lava salt

Accel Gel
Accel gel with protein

Citrus Orange

↑  Thumbs up

Taste: I’d prefer if it was a little more mild. Very orangey.
Texture: It’s a gel, with about the same thickness of other, mainstream gels.
Notes: Bingo! This is not an protein bar! You guessed it. But it’s my first energy gel with protein, and I’ve been very pleased with it. I can feel the protein hitting me mere minutes after taking it. It’s not going to solve my monster protein/fat/salt craving, but it’s been a great late-run addition for me.

Nutrition
Serving size: 1 packet
Calories: 100
Fat: 0 g
Protein: 5 g
Carbs: 20 g
Sugars: 13 g
Fiber: –
Sodium: 110 g
Ingredients: Water, fructose, sucrose, whey protein isolate and hydrolysate, maltodextrin, glycerin, natural flavors, citric acid, malic acid, salt, ascorbic acid, vitamin E acetate, vegetable color, soy lecithin

5 first-time marathoner problems

Brooks PureConnect running shoes for the marathon first-timer: me

Five weeks out isn’t too close to the race for new shoes … right?

I’m training for the MetroPCS Dallas Marathon, my first-time full. I’ve run three half marathons, but can I say something? I’m starting to freak out about this full-business.

The race is Dec. 14, which means five weeks to go. Am I ready? Will I have enough phone battery? Am I going to be able to complete it without blowing a ligament? Why does my training plan only go to 20 miles before tapering?

Maybe you’re training for your first, too, or you remember these concerns way back when you were a noob wannabe like me.

5. Is my phone battery going to last for 26.2 miles?

During the race, I won’t be using Google Maps to check where I am like I do on many of my runs. That’s my fault, because I usually insist on running willy-nilly style — taking off into streets and neighborhoods where I have no clue where I am. Mapping my location sucks up the most battery of anything else I do with my phone, including streaming music.

I’ve done 18 miles while listening to music, running the Nike Run app but not checking Google Maps, and I’ve ended with a good 20 percent battery left. But I have yet to know what 26.2 miles will leave me with. I’ll likely leave the earbuds at home because I love experiencing the sights, sounds and energy of the day. So, not listening to NPR or music will help save battery. But I’ll be using my phone to locate friends before the race, and I’ll want to locate my husband easily among the throngs afterward.

I can only guess what my battery situation will be, so I’ll just have to see.

But hey. What did runners before smartphones do? They planned meeting spots and guessed as best they could at a meeting time.

4. What all am I going to carry on race day? How am I going to carry it?

I can’t believe I’m still futzing around with this juggling act.

This entire time, since April, I’ve had the carry thing down so pat that I can mindlessly “pack” in 30 seconds flat: Put ice in hand-held Nathan water bottle, then add water. Pop a gel or two in the pocket, along with a credit card. Dig my earphones out of my bag and grab my phone. Done.

But now that I’m reaching higher mileage, what I’ve been carrying this whole time isn’t quite adequate.

The amount of water is fine; cooler temperatures have me drinking a little less. But I not only need to consume more gels now, my body is dying for protein about halfway through, too. A few times lately, I’ve stopped at gas stations to grab beef jerky and Snickers or Butterfinger Bites to shove in my mouth. It’s a disgusting combo that I would normally never put together (or eat at all, at least not on a regular basis). But my body needs it. I can feel all sorts of magic happening on my insides when I eat it.

Does that mean I’m not intaking enough gels up to that point, causing my body to need it so badly at mile 14? That’s another first-timer mystery I have to work out.

Thing is, Dallas Marathon isn’t going to have beef jerky stations. They’ll have Clif Shot stations, but I have my own gels I want to bring. I’m new at this, I’m fussy with my gels, so I’ll have to tote my own. I won’t bring my water bottle on race day, so there goes the little zippered pocket I typically use. I’ve seen runners clip gels to their clothes with those office wing-clip things; I might do that. I’ll have to tote some protein with me as well. I guess I could have a beef stick flopping around, clipped to my waistband.

I bought a FlipBelt recently, and it holds a lot. But when I’m wearing shorts with slick fabric, the belt slips up toward my waist, which is no good. That’s another thing I have to get figured out before race day: make sure the tights I want to wear jibe with this new FlipBelt of mine, so I can carry all my Stuff.

Yes, I’m a needy newbie who needs her Stuff.

3. How close to race day can I buy that new pair of shoes/tights/bra?

I just bought a new pair of Brooks PureConnects, and I’m pretty certain that five weeks out is enough time to break them in. But I need a new pair of long tights, and I probably won’t get a chance to shop for any until a couple of weeks from now. If I get a good couple of runs in them, it will probably be fine. … Or will it? Do I need several long runs in a key article of clothing to know for sure that I’m not going to quit in agony because of Bloody Blister or Fire Crotch? That might be a little dramatic.

Speaking of buying new things close to race day, I also bought a slew of new protein energy goodies from Luke’s Locker to try — more than I have long runs left, actually. But they looked so tasty. I need to decide if one of these is my protein solution, but again — we’re getting close to race day. Bah.

The new shoes were something I needed. But honestly, everything else I’m tempted to buy this late in the game is really just a big spaz-out attempt at feeling like I have a little extra edge.

2. What is that pain about?

We runners know a thing or four about aches and pains. I wrote about my current ankle pain recently here. Unless pains are obviously serious, they’re usually no big deal. We’ve learned our bodies well enough to know when a body part is just protesting a bit and when it’s sending a warning signal. But new pain anywhere close to race date is scary. We don’t know if it’s just a protest pain or if it’s the beginning of an actual issue that could sabotage all our hard work.

1. Is my name going to end up at the bottom of my age group results?

Am I going to bonk? Blow? Embarrass myself? My training plan only goes to 20 miles, so I’ll be going into the race totally untested at 26.2.

Logic says that if I’ve put in the work, and no unlikely funky factors come into play, I’ll be fine and complete the marathon. But my nervousness about this is more fundamental than, how badly am I going to suck?

Like many first-timers, I know it’s smart to simply focus on completing the race and not on pushing through it like it’s my 400th and I’m getting paid. But still, deep down, I’m attached to this thing. I’ve put in so much time (so much time). I’ve pushed my body’s previously-known boundaries. That pushed the limits of my mind. Which shifted my self-perception.

We new marathoners have hated our training, uttered “I’m SO over this” countless times during long runs. We might have cried (no, not me — I’m just asking for a friend). Then we’ve loved it again, uttering thanks to God for the ability to move and breathe and feel. For some of us, this hard physical work has beat demons, given us answers, made us new.

We’re emotionally attached to the process that’s brought us to this point. If that process culminates in defeat, failure or disappointment, it will feel like my body has betrayed me. Like I’ve betrayed myself.

The stakes feel so high, not because anyone is betting on us, but because we’ve put in some really hard work.

So let’s do this: Remember when we got one season of half marathon training under our belt, then one race? After that, we totally knew what to expect and could relax for subsequent halves.

We just have to do the same with our first full. We’ll make mistakes, but we’ll learn.

Injury or just training pain? My least-favorite running mystery

A new pair of Brooks PureConnect: Hopefully, the fix to my pain

New Brooks PureConnect on top, old on bottom.

Back in the summer, the inside of my right knee got an attitude with me. I babied it with some ice. I stopped tucking it under me and sitting on it funky in my cubicle. I got better about warming up. I chest-bumped it, all “Get with the program, knee! This marathon is happening, like it or not!” It eventually stopped hurting, and I kept on a’runnin’.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. An old sesamoid injury in my left foot began flaring up. By flaring, I mean the bottom of my foot underneath my big toe felt shattered every time I took a step. But that injury is an old friend; familiar.

Then came inside ankle pain right above it. Not familiar.

Was I running in the wrong kind of shoes (the lightweight Brooks PureConnect)? Was this just part of getting my body ready to do something it’s never done before?

I didn’t care about my knee injury as badly because I had time. But when I had to take I-don’t-know-how-many ibuprofen during my 19-mile run that turned into an 18-mile run this past weekend because my foot was shot, with just five weeks to go, I knew I had to figure something out. This was an unknown that could flush all my training for the Dallas Marathon — my first full — down the crapper.

I researched shoes and paid Luke’s Locker in Dallas a visit with the intent to buy a more cushioned shoe. A helpful guy there straightened me out. He said that if I liked running in a light shoe and that it’s only been recently that the pain had begun, it wasn’t the lightness of the shoe. People run marathons and ultras barefoot, after all. And if I gave my body a heavier shoe now, it might be mad at me in a different way.

When I told him I’d been running in my Brooks PureConnects since April, that was it — the foam sole was packed down from use, and that pair was simply done. I walked around in the store in a new pair, and hello, huge difference.

I bought them. Hopefully, that will do the trick. My biggest concern is that I won’t be able run the race because of injury, or that I’ll injure myself on the day-of trying.

I’d gotten really familiar with what I need to run a good half: what clothes to wear in what temperature, what aches I know will go away and what should be minded, how much hydration to carry for what distance.

But, marathon training is a new frontier. That comes with working through a whole new set of unknowns.

How I learned to hydrate every day

Drinking fluids adequately and consistently has been a game-changer

Not experience. Not a new running bra. Not meth. The reason I’m running better now than I ever have is because I’ve finally learned to hydrate — and like it.

I’ve changed my water-drinking ways, and I’m certain that is what’s fueling my newfound energy during runs. I don’t have numbers or intake formulas (or a clinical certification, FYI), but here’s my water story.

Tasty waters taught me to hydrate

Meet my new best friends.

Hydration hang-up

I have always haaaaaated drinking water. Hate it-hate it. Only when I was well over the line of thirst would I ever actually welcome any water into my mouth. Not just water; drinking anything has always been secondary for me. I could go an entire meal and not sip one drink of anything. If I ever needed to fall asleep, I would simply imagine a glass of water from the faucet. Instant zzz’s.

When training for races, or just willy-nilly running in the Dallas heat, you kind of have to drink water. For past training runs, I’d bring a hand-held bottle or Camelbak of iced tap water, sometimes with a Nuun tablet. I’d drink — during my runs. I passively declared hydrating during a run, and whatever incidental water from fruit, my morning coffee, etc., to be enough. I never gave a second thought to hydration IRL.

Fast forward to this bout of training, for my first marathon. When I started on April 8, I was starting back up after the longest break  that I’d taken in a long time (besides one-off quick runs here and there). More than a year. I really feeling like I was at a deficit, and hot weather was already rearing its head. I felt behind, like a newbie. Maybe it was desperation, but I was ready to reassess my approach and find any sort of edge to help me feel in control of my performance. I didn’t know what that edge was yet, but I was open.

My husband is working on his kinesiology degree, and one day he mentioned a class discussion that I had never thought much about: Hydration around the clock, especially in the preceding days, is one of the most important aspects to a successful run. It just clicked.

Figuring out a solution

I had finally ID’d a big, missing component in my running. But the solution couldn’t be simply “drink more water.” Knowing that I needed to hydrate all day didn’t mean I’d magically like it. But I had to find a way to give this new discipline a chance to take root. To succeed, I was going to have to find a way to like the thing I hated.

You gotta hydrate

This used to be my insides.


I started with asking myself why I disliked water so badly in the first place. It ended up that it was really the taste and feel of tap water that I hated. I like bottled water just fine. Why? The water inside is purified and distilled. It’s got nice mouthfeel. But I’m too cheap to spring for a big dispenser/cooler, and I’m not going to continuously buy a gob of, like, 16 ounce bottles every time I go to the store. I wanted the nice-mouthfeel water, but I didn’t want to pay for it.

It dawned on me that if I boiled a bunch of water on the stove in a pot or tea kettle and let it cool, that might be the same thing. Right? Wouldn’t you know it — it sure was. That basically gave me actual, you know, water. Regular old God-made water. No metal or chemical taste. It felt soft in my mouth, not “rough.” I felt kind of stupid for just then realizing that that’s what boiling water does, but it was a significant revelation for me.

I also have a weird thing about putting hot water (especially just-boiled) into plastic. It just makes me feel like ingesting hot liquid steeped in plastic might make me wake up with three arms one day. But I needed receptacles to hold all this boiled H2O. I went to Home Goods and bought two medium-sized glass pitcher-bottle hybrids. After the water cooled, I poured it into one one of the pitchers. That’s the sealed pitcher I keep on the counter; I don’t like cold water unless I’m hot. This gives me a pitcher of fresh, easily-visible and accessible, room-temperature water.

In the past I had seen on recipes on Pinterest for, say, sticking sprigs of mint in your water, or star anise, or every imaginable combination of fruit, herb and even vegetables. Surely there’s a parody account somewhere that shows how to jazz up your water with twigs, leaves, an entire ham, cocaine. Anyway, the pictures of infused and detox waters were intriguing enough to file away in my brain’s “good to know” section, and now I was in need of that inspiration. I normally dislike lemon in my water — sour water, how delicious — but the pins that suggested pairing lemon and cucumber together always seemed right on. I sliced up a handful of both, put them into the other glass pitcher, and filled it up with the rest of the cooled, boiled water over it.

I had found my personal formula. I actually wanted these waters. The pure, fresh, no-fuss water on the counter and the bottle of chilled, lightly-infused water were the solutions to my hydration problem.

Hydration reformation

I can’t get enough of these waters. Now I just grab a glass of whichever one I’m in the mood for every time I wander into the kitchen. It took finding a way to actually like hydrating well every day to actually do it.

  • Now I like starting my day with a glass of water. In the past, drinking a glass of water in the morning would have been nauseating.
  • I sometimes take a lidded mason jar full of infused water to work. I keep it in the breakroom fridge until I’m ready to drink it.
  • I drink a full glass when I get home from work, then again with dinner, then later before bed.
  • I also splurge on bottles of Vitamin Water Zero (orange and lemonade are my favorite) at the store, especially when they’re 10 for $10. I take one to work almost every day, too.
  • At work, I now fill up my glass two-thirds of the way with cold water cooler water, then add a dash of hot dispenser water to bring it up to room temp.
  • With the infused water: No squeezing of the lemon; just gentle placing. Unless you like sour water; I do not. Sometimes, I’ll just do cucumber. Since that pitcher contains produce, it goes in the fridge. Even though I don’t care for chilled water, normally, my brain makes an exception since there’s actual food sitting in it.
  • I don’t count the number of ounces I intake. I’m tracking calorie intake, mileage — I have enough things to track right now. I just know that I’m drinking way more water during my non-running hours than I used to, especially the day before a run. I don’t worry about drinking too much because I’m confident my fluid intake hasn’t increased that much.
  • I’m a late bloomer. I realized the connection between pre-hydration and performance way back in 2010 — remember when you could write two sentences and call it a blog post? — but it’s just now hooking me.

Results

I only have my anecdotal experience to report. But I can guarantee you, now I only long-run bonk when I’ve hydrated poorly in the previous 24 to 48 hours. I’ve gotten lazy a few days here and there, and I can definitely tell a difference during runs that followed. I’ve gotten to where I can feel it deep in my skin and my muscles that my body isn’t hydrated. I never had anything to compare that feeling with before because I used to always live life in a constant state of lack. Parched was my body’s normal.

Nothing I discovered was earth-shattering. Drinking pure water, room temperature water, drinking infused water — the solutions were simple. But to arrive there, I first had to analyze why I hated doing this one thing that all runners really need to do. Finally beating my hate of water, even with just homemade workarounds, has felt like a minor breakthrough.

The mistakes of a failed North Dallas run

Last Thursday evening’s 12-mile run turned into a 10.73-mile bonk-fest, with my husband picking me up early in the Chip’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers parking lot on Lovers. I partly blame the city of Dallas, but I mostly blame my own amateur-hour mistakes.

I’d love for you to learn from my lack of planning that led up to last week’s super-bad marathon training long run. But first I’m going to rag on North Dallas urban planning first.

Thanks a lot, nice Dallas neighborhood with no sidewalks

Devonshire neighborhood in Dallas

The neighborhood in question.

I previously wrote about how evening runners like myself run into darkness issues as summer gets closer to fall. That happened last Thursday. As I ran through the Devonshire neighborhood off Inwood, I marveled at the beautiful homes and the generally rich milieu. I hadn’t encountered that particular ‘hood before, and I loved it. There was something different about it. I checked my Redfin app to get a gauge on home prices in the area (breaking: they’re slightly out of my price range).

I was enjoying myself. As it grew dark, I was even charmed by how dark as ink everything got. These people don’t believe in street lights. Then, like black magic, sidewalks began to disappear. No light, no sidewalk. Sometimes when it gets dark, I’ll turn my iPhone’s flashlight on to light my way, but I was almost out of battery (I started out with 100%, so battery life is something I need to figure out for the rest of my training).

At least the street was in great condition: level and smooth as butter. I can do this OH MY GOSH WAS THAT A POTHOLE THAT ALMOST SWALLOWED MY ANKLE? 

I approached Northwest Highway and turned east. It was going to be my last stretch. Northwest Highway is a major thoroughfare; since when does Northwest Highway not have sidewalks? If I turned around, I’d have to repeat at least 2 miles, and I was seriously almost out of battery. I had already texted Brian to meet me at a certain spot.

Doctor Who stumbling while running

Me.

While in the dark, jiggity-jogging and high-stepping on the grass and along guardrails, trying not to turn a foot or tear an ACL, that was it: I rammed my foot on a jacked-up bit of concrete sticking out of the ground, and I almost lost my life to eastbound Northwest Highway traffic. I walked until I reached a residential street with a sidewalk, and carefully at that.

Why are there major areas of a large “world class” city that simply don’t accommodate pedestrians? In 2014?

I wasn’t going to make the original destination point at the time I told Brian to pick me up. With the last phone juice I had, I texted him to meet me at Chip’s in 15 minutes. Not only was I in the dark and trying to Lewis-and-Clark my way alongside nighttime traffic, I was seriously, seriously drained.

So besides parts of North Dallas just being a sucky place to run …

My mistakes

Lots:

  • I had spent the night with my parents a couple of days prior. When I get around family, no matter the occasion, I treat it like it’s the holidays and eat like crap. We’re talking Wingstop and ice cream. Bad stuff.
  • I had been good about hydration, which I would name as the No. 1 factor in increased energy for my runs during this bout of training. I have a water “routine” (blog post on that later) that I put on pause last week. I simply didn’t hydrate very well at all. Even though on the run-proper I chugged water, then orange juice, and even though I consumed an adequate amount of energy gel, I could still feel my body not having the deep-down reserve that it needed. Seriously, the closest to hydration I got last week was the water inside the milk inside the ice cream I ate.
  • My husband always reminds me that it’s getting darker sooner. I always say “I know.” But I still started a 12-mile run at 6 p.m., which, for my pace, just isn’t enough time to finish before I’m literally running in pitch.Running adventure
  • I love to run in unfamiliar territory. But that need for adventure during a run can lead to serious inconvenience and, when it’s dark, safety issues. I have to plan the location of my runs better, where I know there will be adequate sidewalks. Soon I’ll have to save the long runs for weekend days, anyway, so that will help.

Keeping yourself safe from both injury and night-cloaked crime is no joke when running the streets as summer gives way to shorter days. Take care out there, and plan well.

Dallas bodies have to re-learn how to run in the heat

Dallas temperature

Dallas’ temperature right now …

I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, except for a four-year span in the Philippines as a small child. So I haven’t run in many other places except Texas. When traveling, I do so much walking and hiking that I always feel fine taking a break from whatever running routine I’m on.

That means I really only know what it’s like to take a summer run while having to take purposeful precautions and dialing down performance expectations. That’s just the way it is here.

But Dallas isn’t hot year-round, so our bodies have to reacclimatize each summer. After so many years of having to do so, we Dallas runners know what we have to do, even if our bodies have forgotten and need time to catch up.

The accessories of a summer run

San Francisco temperature

… compared with San Fransisco’s temperature …

Unless you’re running where you know there will be water fountains and, if you’re lucky, water misters, you have to carry hydration. Maybe not for a run of, say, 2 miles or less. But even if you run in the early morning or late-at-night hours, and especially if you run in the middle of the day, you’re suicidal if you don’t haul water.

My current water bottle is the Nathan QuickDraw Plus Insulated hydrator. It keeps fluid colder longer, and it’s the best handheld I’ve ever had. The attached zippered pocket is roomy, too; enough room for a house key, credit card, energy gel and, if you don’t like carrying your phone, an iPhone (take off the bulky OtterBox, though). I fill up that bad boy with ice and water for sipping and — this is important — drizzling over my head and face along the way.

If I’m doing a longer run in the heat — for me, “longer” means anything over 5ish miles — my hydration plan needs either a Plan B or Part B, because I’m going to run out of water before the run is done.

New York City temperature

… compared with New York City’s …

Part B is:
• pausing my RunKeeper
• popping into a gas station
• filling up my handheld with ice at the fountain drink station
• stinking up the place as I wait in line to pay for a Gatorade G2, Vitaminwater Zero or a plain bottle of water
• standing outside next to the trashcan as I pour what will fit into my handheld and quickly drink the rest
• endure stares from gas-pumpers who apparently have never seen a sweaty runner at a gas station before
• restart my RunKeeper and start back out on my run.

It’s a huge break from running that my body isn’t supposed to get, but what do you do.

Plan B is to strap on my Camelbak instead of taking my handheld. It’s the same Camelbak I’ve had for years and works great. It holds lots and lots of fluid. But hauling that much weight is a commitment and a total bog-down. And if the run is going to be especially long and it’s going to be especially hot out, I’ll want the ability to drizzle water over my head. Can’t do that with the Camelback. So I end up taking the Camelbak and the handheld. Plan B is cumbersome, but it’s the best option if I think my route won’t produce a gas station at a point when I’d need it.

The “when” dilemma

Salt Lake City, Utah temperature

… compared with Salt Lake City’s …

Most Dallas runners I know do their summer runs (most of their runs, actually) in the early morning, before work and sometimes even before that mean ol’ sun comes up. So for perky, motivated types, “when” isn’t a dilemma.

I’m not one of those types, and from the number of runners I see out in the evenings, maybe plenty of other Dallasites aren’t, either. We would rather endure a day that’s been baking for six hours and catch the sun as it’s going down. But on long-run days that collide with busy work days, this can pose a problem.

I’ll tell myself, Hey Christy; you have an 8-miler this evening. Make sure you get off of work in time so you’re not running in the dark. But then my workday LOLs at me and I get off at 7, still need to drive back home to change, then try to outrun the sun.

If it’s on an evening when my husband is at work, I’ll run to his workplace (6.5 miles away, but I can stretch out the mileage by curving my route outward however far I need) and catch a ride back.

The other evening when I ran to Brian’s work, I was hit with all the factors of my typical summer-running “when” dilemma. I got such a late start on my 8-mile run, and I knew he got off work at 9:15 p.m. So not only was I trying not to run in sketchy areas at pitch-night, I was trying to make sure he didn’t have to wait on me in his workplace parking lot any later than he had to.

Birmingham, Alabama temperature

… compared with Birmingham, Alabama’s …

I was feeling guilty (even though my husband always really supportive), so I ran way faster than I normally would for that distance and it was hotter and more humid than a son of a gun and I was hyper-focusing on what streets I was turning on after the sun went down.

I committed the act of texting-while-running to let him know I’d be a bit late. I gunned it. Experience had taught me better than hauling rear in the heat, but I told myself that approaching darkness is always good on a run. Running faster is good, right? Plus, I had cut short other longish runs in the past few weeks because of one excuse or another, and I wasn’t going to do that this time.

I made it in decent time, Brian drove me home, I showered, and we cooked spelt spaghetti.

While we finished cooking, a wave of weakness and sickness struck me in the kitchen. I felt nauseated. A little confused.

Carson City, Nevada, temperature

… even compared with Carson City, Nevada’s. See? It’s hot here.

I shoved some spelt pretzels in my mouth (it was a spelt kind of night), thinking that my body just needed something now. It helped, but the weakness and wooziness didn’t subside for hours.

I knew I had done my day all wrong: a) long run b) on a hot night c) while trying to gun it faster than was smart d) after a day of not eating very smartly. For the rest of the evening I dealt with what I’m pretty sure was some sort of delayed onset heat exhaustion.

The morning hours are more forgiving. But I hate mornings. So I run in the hotter evenings. But that leaves me with smaller margins of error on safety and health.

These summer-in-Dallas curveballs are not a surprise every year. But Dallas is where I live, so I just try to catch those hot pitches the best I can.

Who supports you? That’s your running team

Back in 2000 I watched the movie The Contender, about a female senator being blocked from the vice presidency because of personal attacks based on potential sexual indiscretions in college. The Oscar-nominated performances of Joan Allen as Sen. Laine Billings Hanson and Jeff Bridges as President Jackson Evans were great. But it was a scene at the end, during a stirring speech by President Evans, that made me realize what kind of husband I wanted to have one day. Not President Evans, but a lesser character: Sen. Hanson’s husband.

The Contender with Joan Allen, with support from her husbandThe speech scene is interspersed with frames of Sen. Hanson on a run in a cemetery with a car slowly driving alongside her. Her husband is using the car to help her keep pace. During her run, she’s listening to the president’s powerful speech, which he’s delivering to Congress lauding her character, her choices, and her service to the country. Her husband had rolled down the window of the car so she could listen to the speech on the radio while she ran.

My husband and support, Brian

Brian, on a roadtrip to Fredericksburg, Texas, earlier this year

I thought to myself, What a man. One day, I want a husband like that.

Fast-forward several years later, while dating my now-husband, Brian. I hounded him incessantly to run with me. Not just run with me, but to transform into the exact kind of runner I was. He’d go on runs with me occasionally, yes, but I wanted him to like it, crave it. Like I did.

It took me a few years, but I finally realized that my need was borderline co-dependent, so I began focusing on me as an individual runner instead of trying to force us to be some intense version of a couple who runs together: attached at the hip during our first marathon, traveling to races together, sharing dirty, trail-y running adventures.

By letting go of that vision for us, I was able to realize I had the kind of husband I whispered to myself about back in 2000:

My husband and support, Brian

Brian, in the gym

    • I hate out-and-backs. For instance, I’m about to take off from my apartment in North Oak Cliff for a 10-mile run in a few minutes. I am literally able to take off in any direction and Brian will drive to wherever I land to pick me up when I call. As he drives me home, he’ll ask me what I saw on my run. Ask me how it went, if I had to stop, how many times and where. He’ll ask if I remembered to stop my RunKeeper.
    • When he knows I’m headed out on a run, he’ll make my water bottle for me. He’ll ask if he should tuck energy chews or a Nuun tablet in the bottle’s zipper pouch for this particular run.
    • When I’m disappointed at the number of runs I’ve skipped or cut short lately, he tells me how strong I am. He’ll encourage me to get back on schedule.
My husband and support, Brian

Me with my No. 1 pillar and cheerleader, spring 2013

  • He reminds me to blog, retweets my Dallas Runaround tweets. When I double-post my Runkeeper activities to Facebook or Twitter (yes, I’m one of those), I can always count on a favorite or a “My wife’s a beast!” comment.
  • For each and every race, I can count on Brian seeing me off at the start and being at the finish line.

It ends up sports bras aren’t the only support this woman needs to be a successful runner. I always viewed running as an individual, solitary act. Now I see that, for runners who are blessed, it’s a team sport.

Thank you for being my William Hanson, Brian.

Celebrate a more runnable Dallas at Trinity River Revel

Trinity River basin in Dallas, Texas

This part of the basin is south of where the events will take place. But still, isn’t she pretty?

In downtown Dallas, discussion of the Trinity River is the thing. You’re either for the city’s Corridor Project or hate the tollroad or love running the levee. Lots of focus, both fun and political.

I didn’t think I could love that basin any more, then I heard about the Trinity River Revel on June 15. It’s going to be a big ol’ day-long party and rolling ribbon cutting for four — four — new amenities to the area that make my runner’s bone tingle: the Continental Avenue Pedestrian Bridge, the Trinity Skyline Trail, the West Dallas Gateway Plaza, and the Sylvan Avenue Bridge.

The shindig will include a 5K (register here), a bunch of creative stuff for the kids, a gospel brunch, beer garden, a market, car show, food trucks, a driving range, and my personal favorite, a 1930s dance-off (with pros to teach you!). I also love this event because I learned something new just by visiting its website: there will also be a pachanga, which Trinity folks say is a “is a Tejano tradition, a festive party at which citizens socialize with politicians in a casual setting.”

It looks like organizers are encouraging everyone to take Uber, DART and bikes to get there (here’s the event’s map, parking, directions, bike rental info etc.). Parking is just … well, downtown Dallas is no downtown Fort Worth when it comes to parking. But there will be some. Maybe one day we’ll throw a party called Free Parking Palooza when that perennial problem is fixed.

The bad thing about the Revel? It’s on Father’s Day, so I won’t be able to make it. I’ll be following the fun on Instagram and Twitter, however (#trinityriverrevel, perhaps?).

Also interesting is this recent Dallas Morning News guest column about the city’s Trinity project. The writer, architect and former project supporter Larry Good, cites all the reasons I love the managed roughness the basin has grown into:
After 10 years, I’ve dropped my support of the Trinity Tollway

Places to Run in Dallas: White Rock Lake

• This is the first installment in my Places to Run roundup, which will be a resource for the best spots to run in Dallas, what those spots offer, how to get there, where to park, what to watch out for, and where to grab a Gatorade or emergency donut nearby.

Map

Info

A former Dallas Morning News editor once told me that his wife woke up one Saturday morning and declared, “I want us to run around White Rock Lake.” He replied, “Why would we want to do that?” She won, and that day they became runners and, eventually, marathoners. White Rock is where many Dallasites work out their dream of running their first half, and it’s where seasoned runners stay that way by conquering the loop again and again.

Location: About 6-ish miles northeast of downtown Dallas in Lakewood

Distance: Depending on which forks and particular meanderings you take, the loop can total up to 10 miles.

White Rock Lake

White Rock Lake at dusk

Where to park: Lots of spots, but here are my 4 favorites —

1. South side of the lake: The lot on Winsted off Garland Road, next to the spillway
2. South side: If you turn onto East Lawther Drive from Garland Road, just south of the Dallas Arboretum, you can park all along the lake’s edge or at various lots further north up Lawther.
3. Southeast side: Turn onto Emerald Isle Drive off Garland Road, just north of the Dallas Arboretum. That will lead you to a variety of parking spots, including Winfrey Point (and one of the most spectacular views in the city).
4. North side: I don’t park on the north side of the lake very often, but when I do, it’s at East Mockingbird Lane and West Lawther Road.

Terrain: There is plenty of green space, but you’ll be running almost exclusively on pavement. Few inclines. You could make use of isolated hills, like Winfrey Point‘s, if you need that.

Look for:

  • The Free Advice guys, who regularly chill out on the northwest side of the lake, near the fishing pier
  • Lots and lots and lots of cyclists and lethally-long dog leashes

Useful spots around the lake:

  • Hypnotic Donuts. If weird donuts are your thing. Southeast of the lake.
  • Barbec’s. One of the best diners in Dallas, and they won’t even mind you coming in all sweaty. Southeast, next to Hypnotic Donuts.
  • Richardson Bike Mart. Get gels and other specialized fuel that you forgot here. Kind of across the street from Barbec’s and Hypnotic.
  • QuickTrip. QT to those of us who love this gas station/convenience store chain. Southern tip of the lake.
  • White Rock Coffee. Adorable place north of the lake with great java. Northeast of the lake.
  • White Rock Dog Park. I see so many dogs and their people having a good time here. FYI: There’s a swimming area for the dogs, so bring a towel. Northern tip of the lake. *UPDATE: The dog park is closed through 2014.

Related info:

Photos on Instagram

That Carrot fitness app sure has a smart mouth


Carrot Fit app
While walking to my Jefferson Viaduct launch spot a couple of weeks ago, my phone dinged its familiar notification ding. I looked down, and it was from the Carrot app I had downloaded recently — giving me major attitude: “You’re going to step on that scale, and you’re going to like it.”

Carrot isn’t a running app, but it will shame you into running just a bit harder. And by “shame” I really mean that it will keep you aware of your fitness goals while giving you a severe amount of lip.

The judgy Carrot universe is growing fast, apparently; what I downloaded not long ago was just the “Carrot” app: I tap in my weight goal, then log my regular weigh-ins at the behest of rude iPhone notification reminders like “Time to get on the scale, meatbag.” Now what’s on my iPhone is Carrot Fit. There’s a separate app for purchase called Carrot To-Do (along with something called Carrot Alarm), which also helps you stay on top of your goals while cracking you up.

Carrot appCarrot Fit now offers workout plans and even a workout costume for your fat lil’ avatar ($0.99) through in-app purchases. You get a few workouts for free, and you can purchase a booster pack for $1.99. If you quit on a workout, get ready to be judged.

My favorite part? If you tap your fat lil’ avatar, it sends a bolt of electricity to smoke her to death. Unexpected and hilariously grisly. You can do it over and over again, and the app will judge you with increasing indignation.

Usefulness? At first I downloaded it as a simple weight tracker that gave me giggles. Now I’ll have to try out a couple of the workouts and see if Carrot Fit is just funny or funny-serious.

Update: A few days after I wrote this, I ran across a DailyDot tweet that made me a) think of Carrot Fit and b) roll my eyes. Maybe the jokey-faux-shaming is rough on folks with eating disorders? I don’t get it. It seems like fat-embracing, not fat-shaming.