The only thing not wet in Dallas is … just kidding. Everything’s wet.

Wet in DallasYou might have heard about the freak amount of rain we’re getting in Dallas, along with the rest of Texas and Oklahoma. Lives have been lost, roads flooded. So I feel a little guilty for being concerned with how wet the air is, now that I’m running regularly again and trying to re-acclimatize.

I ran my first marathon in December. Had knee issues afterward. Took some time off. I’ve just now taken up an intermediate 5K plan. And all I can focus on is, wow, it’s really, really hard to breathe in this soup.

Average humidity in Dallas is over 70-ish%. I’m pretty sure it was more than that yesterday evening. While running at Lake Cliff Park, I was so thrilled to spot a disgusting water fountain with a mysterious scent.  I didn’t care. If the little bowl part had been big enough, I would have crawled right up in it and bathed.

I walked, then tried to run again. I bargained with myself. Just run from here to that street sign, then you can walk again. I flummoxed over to another sketchy fountain and rubbed palmfuls of water over my already-wet ears, face and neck.

The air was so heavy. My breathing was so heavy. It felt like I’d never done this before. The word “waterboarding” came to my mind … then I felt guilty, again (I know I know — as I should have).

Hyperbolic whining was setting in. I was losing perspective. It was beginning to feel like my body felt like overpacked luggage I was having to haul from one end of the airport to the other.

The softball field was flooded. Kids were kicking up wet, red dirt-water and having the time of their lives.

The wet air — and wet everything else — in Dallas is real.

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 of smashed flesh.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.