Tag Archives: coffee

Thinking on Our Feet

One recent Wednesday morning I wrapped up a hot, long early run feeling like indulging myself. I walked to the nearby coffee shop and gazed with longing upon the chocolate pistachio croissant on display there.

But there was a problem. “Sorry,” the manager said. “Our system is down.”

She spent the next few minutes trying to wake it up while I waited and other customers came in. She gave up and looked at us in despair. “I can’t even take your orders. I’m calling the main office now.”

Part of me wanted to point out the prices were posted, the espresso machine was working, and she could take cash. The rest of me, in shameless sang-froid, wanted to see if she could figure this out herself. She did not. So I left, sans coffee and croissant, as did the customers behind me.

If you’re expecting a rant on how we’ve becomes slaves to technology, you’re only partly right. We have, of course. But the root cause here wasn’t a tech fail, it was a process fail. Is the purpose of the coffee shop to keep its ordering system up? No, it’s to sell coffee and food. The manager should have been trained in how to keep selling despite a failure. Something like this:

“Okay, Jane, the computer system has failed. We still need $300 per hour in revenue to stay in business. And customers are waiting. What do you do?” Very similar to what my father experienced in private pilot training, when his instructor shut off the engine mid-flight and said, “Now what?”

Technology is great. It saves time, reduces errors, and lets us do so much more than we could without it. At the cost of some of our independence. I don’t think that the growing interest in “off-the-grid” living, foraging skills, and the like is any coincidence. All of us ought to try at least one activity that requires us to think on our feet, and figure out how to survive when conditions aren’t easy. That’s what we’ve always been best at.

For me, that activity is ultrarunning. In a road race, there’s usually a crowd to follow, the running surface is smooth, and help is plentiful. In a trail ultra the footing is almost never certain, course markings can be missed, and I’m running by myself for most of the race. And the weather can vary a lot during one. So while I can get into a flow, and enjoy the scenery around me, I need to stay attentive to many things, and adjust “on the fly” at times. (*)

Okay, now what?

And yet, even with this awareness, I’m not immune to feeling stressed when I experience a process failure.

At the next Wednesday morning run, we’d just set off when I realized I’d forgotten to put on my Garmin watch. Yikes! No way to track my pace and distance. What to do? Fortunately, it is actually possible to run without a GPS watch, so I got through it, though I kept wanting to tap my wrist at stoplights. Backup plan? Ask someone with a watch how far we’d run.

Afterward, I returned to the coffee shop. Their system was back up, and I got my pastry. The manager even admitted she’d forgotten about their backup system. I tossed out the word, “cash” and she laughed. I wonder if she knows what it is.

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(*) The recent tragedy during an ultra in China has made the need for good preparation and attentiveness to conditions even more visible and important. I’ll express my thoughts on this in a future post.

Plan for 2018: Keep Moving, Keep Improving

It’s 2018, and as usual, I have no New Year’s resolutions. More accurately, I’m not changing anything I’m doing just because it’s a new year.

Yet while I’m not a fan of artificial “resolutions,” I am a strong believer in continually improving myself and the world around me. I try to live in that spirit every day, and I also set goals and then train and work to achieve them. Having a purpose, and something to look forward to, helps me focus on what’s important in my life and spend my time and energy there, as opposed to just ‘running in place,’ as it were.

And because I like to balance repeating favorite activities with trying out new things, 2018 will be similar to years past but with some twists and even leaps out of the ol’ comfort zone. And I look forward to sharing it all with you.

Here are some things I plan to keep right on doing:

Running. No surprise here, I hope. After ten years it’s become a part of how I define myself. In addition to keeping me healthy and fit, I use running to step away from the everyday noise and restore a sense of perspective. Whether it’s concentrating on a training assignment or easy coasting for a couple of hours, it’s a great way to clear the mind of mundane chatter. And I’ll continue to compete in races, too. In an upcoming post I’ll share what I have planned so far this year. (Hint: they’re not getting easier!)

Here’s a hint. (Photo courtesy of the Vote Charlie blog).

Supporting sustainability. I don’t talk much about my Zero Waste business on this blog, but Happy Planet Running had a terrific first year. In 2017 I worked 30 events and helped divert over seven tons of waste away from the landfill into more productive use as compost or recycled materials. And at every event I get thanks and compliments from the runners. It’s a passion of mine and a true labor of love.

2017 Firecracker 5K – holding the total trash with two fingers.

Lifestyle makeover. Last year we got a serious start on long-overdue updates to the house, getting rid of stuff we don’t need, and re-evaluating our diet. A sustainable lifestyle isn’t just about recycling; it’s all about reducing our imprint on the environment while improving quality of life. Some of this I’ve posted here, and I’ll continue to do so.

Little indulgences. Coffee and chocolate in particular are two of life’s little pleasures that I will happily continue to cultivate. Any changes to diet are not going to include reduction in either. Moderation? Save that for other things. Life is for living, after all!

Enjoying the good life in Richmond visiting my daughter.

And in the spirit of balance, here are a few things, popular as they may be at present, that I firmly intend never to do:

Cold showers. Yeah, I get that they are stimulating, help the body recover, blah blah. You know what I hate worse than being cold? Being wet AND cold. When I’m done with a workout, even a race in the summer, when I get under the shower, I want it hot. I’ll happily stick my feet into a cold lake after an ultra, but the rest of me is just fine being warm and dry, thank you.

From one of my few triathlons. The swim part was as much fun as it looks.

Faddish foods for runners. Raw eggs? Nope. Green smoothies? Looks like something from a primeval swamp. And even coffee isn’t exempt from questionable shit being added to it. The latest? So-called “bulletproof coffee,” which is perfectly good coffee with butter and coconut oil dumped into it. If I want saturated fat with my coffee, I’ll dust some bacon with espresso powder. Hey, that actually sounds good. I could start a whole new trend.

Give up on humanity. Given our current political environment, it’s hard not to get cynical about our leaders and our society in general. Sure, I don’t like a lot of what’s going on. But to me that’s an incentive to me to get more active and work for a world I want to live in, and not stand by and let other people make those decisions. Maybe I can’t change the world, but I can change a little part of it and help it grow.

So I’m looking forward to a healthy and positive year, and while there are no guarantees, I’ll be doing my best to make it so. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go join my club for the Saturday long run. Happy New Year!

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Postscript: I finished this post before my club run, but am publishing it afterward. It was ten miles at 10 degrees. But with coffee and chocolate afterward, life is good. (It was good during the run, too, but you know.)

A V.I.P. What? You’re Sh**ting Me

IT ALL STARTED WHEN I broke one of my cardinal rules on race day. And now just look where it’s taken me. I suppose I should be honored to receive a V.I.P. of anything. But this? Well, read on and judge for yourself.

Scrumpy Bottle with Finishers MugThe Scrumpy Skeddadle is the final event of the Thirsty Three, a set of Running Fit Events races linked with certain beverages. “Scrumpy” is a Scottish term for hard cider, and Almar Orchards makes a brand of cider known as J. K. Scrumpy’s. The first-ever Skeddadle took place at the Almar Orchards cider mill in October, 2014, and there I took the fateful steps toward what is possibly a first-ever event in running.

The trigger was my decision to have a cup of coffee on race morning. I never do this because it has digestive consequences that would be very inconvenient during a run. But the Scrumpy began at 10:00 a.m. and I was up before 7:00, so I figured I was safe.

But as I drove to the orchard in Flushing (*) I began to feel the need, so to speak. By the time I parked, the need was becoming urgent. I went into the store and headed for the bathrooms. Locked. Due to the large crowds, I suppose, everyone had to use the porta-potties. And with over 2,200 people there, the lines were long.

This is from Hightail to Ale, but you get the idea.

This is from Hightail to Ale. Scrumpy’s lines were, shall we say, a bit longer.

You can read more about what happened here, in last year’s post on the subject. All I will say here is that I was not in my happy place, and I took it out on the poor longsuffering race staff. Turned out I was not the only one with this complaint (**) but perhaps I was the only one to hear about it later from the poor longsuffering race staff.

Determined to make amends, I delivered some flowers to them after the race with a vase of my own design:

Flowers in Porta Potty Vase

I wrote on the card, “The next time people give you sh**, you can put it in this.”

The RF Events folks had a good laugh and posted it on their Facebook page. I figured that was the end of it, so to speak, although someone made an off-the-cuff comment that they oughta create an official porta-potty for me at some future race.

Fast forward to Run Woodstock two weeks ago. I was standing around waiting for the 100K race to start when Mandy, one of the RF Events staff, came up to me.

“I have some exciting news for you,” she said. “Do you want to hear it now, or after the race?”

“Oh, tell me now,” I said, not knowing what condition I’d be in fourteen hours later.

And she told me. And here it is:

The RunBikeThrow VIP Porta-Potty

Yes, the off-the-cuff remark actually came to pass. And my lucky readers can be a part of it!

Anyone reading this post who’s going to the 2015 Scrumpy on October 4 can share with me the exclusive right to use my V.I.P. facility. Just sign up for the race (5K or 10K), then email me at jeff(at)runbikethrow.net and ask for a pass. I have a limited number, so it’s first come, first serve.

I ask nothing in return. However, if you do get a pass, I would love it if you would consider making a donation to any Humane Society.

Here are some other good reasons to run the Scrumpy Skeddadle:

Scrumpy Skeddale Bottle Opener Finishers Medal* You get a finisher’s mug and it will be filled with hard cider on draft. And if you buy some of their bottled cider, you can use your finisher’s medal to open it!

* You get a pancake breakfast catered by Chris Cakes of Michigan. They’re known for flipping the pancakes onto your plate from several feet away. Worth it for the entertainment alone!

* The energy and excitement of a morning at the cider mill.

* Fresh air and exercise, and a fun run through their orchard. You can run the 5K, 10K, or, if you’re feeling up to it, run both and get a “Cider Slam” award.

Hope to see you there! If not, fear not – I will take plenty of photos. (From the outside.)

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(*) No, the irony was not lost on me.

(**) Pun intended, of course. They always are.

Green Swamp, Red Can, Black Goodness

DWD Green Swamp - Start-Finish Line with Deer

I’m in not-so-sunny Florida today, resting up for my first ultra of the year – Saturday’s Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50K in Dade City. This morning I was out at Withlacoochee Park to help set up. I love volunteering at Running Fit races; the events crew is laid back and the pace is unhurried, yet everything comes together on schedule. And after an intense week of being audited and traveling (Costa Rica – yes, it was rough), it was great to hang out with fellow runners and decompress.

It was cloudy and chilly all day, and the Michigan contingent wasn’t too pleased. But race day promises to be sunny and warmer, starting in the 40s and warming up to the low 70s. Excellent for running an ultra. Can’t wait to hit that trail. I will have to watch my step, however, and not just for roots.

Watch your step! Fire ant nests are everywhere - including the starting chute.

Fire ant nests everywhere, even the starting chute.

More about Costa Rica with my race recap next time. For now I will address a subject as dear as running to my heart, and equally important to civilization and the future of humanity. I’m speaking, of course, about coffee.

Cafe Britt - Dark Roast 2

Grocery-store stuff in Costa Rica, but good.

Costa Rica has a deserved reputation for excellent coffee; the Doka Estate’s French Roast remains my favorite. Trouble is, there’s also a lot of cheap, poorer stuff and/or bad preparation; the outstanding hotel I stayed at unfortunately served coffee I found undrinkable. So I went to their gift shop and got a dark roast to make in my room. Their only size bag was much more than I needed, but it was quite good, and I packed the rest for my trip home.

So today, as I helped set up the registration and awards area, I was asked to wash the coffee maker – a vital piece of equipment at 4:30 a.m. Saturday as the crew begins race day activities (such as sending off the 50-milers at 5:30). And in the box of coffee supplies I came across the dreaded RCOD (*).

Does anyone else see the irony here?

Does anyone else see the irony here?

Now runners love coffee as much or more than anyone else, and with all the attention serious runners pay to what else goes into their bodies, you’d think they’d be just as discriminating about their choice of coffee. Apparently not. “We’re on a budget,” I was told. “And at 4:30 we just need something hot.”

Clearly, an intervention was needed. These folks would never try to save money buying $40.00 sneakers to run their marathons in. They needed to see that drinking nasty coffee to save a few bucks per pound was just as nutty.

Synchronicity! I had the Costa Rica coffee in my running bag in the car. I retrieved it and donated it to their cause. I’ll let you know what happens, but if at least one more person awakens to what real coffee is, it’ll be more than worth it to me.

READ MORE: How to drink better coffee, and support those who care about quality, without busting your budget

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(*) RCOD = Red Can of Death. Refers to a certain distinctive red can which contains a bad-smelling, worse-tasting substance marketed as coffee. I don’t know if it actually contains floor sweepings, but many cheap brands do, according to the BBC.