Review: Barnana Bites replace sticky gels, end stomach upset and calf cramps

barnanabitesOver the last 10 years of endurance events, GU and other energy gels appeared to be a necessary evil for energy and electrolytes.  Unfortunately I’ve found they get harder and harder to stomach the longer the race and the harder you are working. I was getting a lot of gastrointestinal (GI) upset and still getting debilitating calf cramps after about 2 hours of hard exercise. I’ve tried more or less water, salt tabs, magnesium, and potassium supplements all to no avail.

The longer and harder the run, the more likely the issues.  At Quicksilver 50 mile race in 2010 I clearly remember knowing I needed to eat, but just not being able to force down a GU, and reaching for PB&J sandwiches, bananas and salted potatoes instead at the aid stations.

I first tried these Barnana Banana Bites about 6 months ago and found it not only was easy and relatively pleasant to eat no matter how hard I was working, it also caused no GI distress and my cramps were gone. Barnana is literally just partially dehydrated banana (which is why it is chewy rather than like the banana chips we all know), so its packed with potassium, which seemed to be just what my body needed to avoid the dreaded calf cramps.

As you can see from the pic above, they do look a little odd (dare I say unappetizing?) as they are little brown lumps. For me, all the other advantages easily exceeded the issue of appearance.  You can also get a chocolate flavor, but I didn’t see any need to add that to the mix while running.  Amazon sells them in bulk if you want to save a few $, and some Whole Foods stores stock them if you want to try a single pack without paying shipping charges.

For me, a full bag is perfect for a marathon – 1 chew each mile from roughly mile 4 to mile 22. Using this strategy , I ran a personal best (almost 30 minutes faster) at California International Marathon in December using them. You can put them in a sandwich bag and there is no mess like you have with the sticky energy gel packets. Price wise its about the same as doing 4-5 gels in a marathon, so it was a no brainer to switch for me.

So if you’re tied of the gels, this might work for you.  Let me know what you think!

(Note: this is an authentic review.  I’ve had no contact with the owners or makers of Barnana Banana Bites and received no compensation or free product)

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The Icarus Deception: Seth Godin wants you to fly closer to the sun

icarusdeceptionIf you haven’t made your New Years resolutions yet (as Seth would say “NOW is the time to start”), maybe you should give yourself a prod by picking up a copy of The Icarus Deception and seeing if the prodigious Seth Godin can exhort you to go make some art.

Since writing Linchpin in 2010 (my review), Seth has been on a campaign to get us out of our comfort zones and creating the art that is within each and everyone of us, but we are just to scared to let it free.

Seth is on top of a major movement here – according to the Census Bureau about 3/4 of US firms have no payroll (21.4 million vs 5.9 million with a payroll).  If you add in small businesses with less than 10 employees (77% of 3.6 million of the 5.9 million) the segment is even bigger.  At 21.4 million the self-employed sector is nearly 2x the employment size of  largest industry segment (education at about 12 million).  The change appears to be accelerating too (as a proxy, those working from home grew 41% in the last decade to 13.5 million)

It’s a spin on the old follow your passion line – it’s better to love and lose than to never have loved at all. He argues passionately and persuasively that the people wrongly assume they are taking the low risk path in a “safe” corporate career that they don’t care about.

That’s the clever and unexpected component of the title of this book – the part no one ever talks about is that Daedalus told his son not to fly to low either – because being too close to sea there would be no lift.

There’s a lot of repetition, but there are also some handy ideas and lists and a few (albeit brief) case studies.  Seth works hard to make sure you get what art is and requires:  being vulnerable and honest, relentless persistency (grit), putting your best work out there, realizing those who value your art will find it, and learning to live with the inevitable trolls who won’t value what you do.

Like most of Seth’s books it’s a quick and easy read.  If you’re still procrastinating, this might get you moving.

The one critical flaw that turned my Nike+ SportWatch GPS into a non-functional piece of jewelry

I was so excited to get the Nike+ SportWatch GPS a couple of years ago for Christmas. It was stripped down to key functionality (distance and pace, time, backlight, upload results to cloud), offered some nice options (add a foot pod and a HR strap) and looks cool (one of the few watches I’ve ever owned to receive multiple compliments)

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All show, no go!

The watch has worked well, with one critical and debilitating flaw that has turned it into a piece of jewelry. In technical gear Nike has exhibited the “all show, no go” syndrome (for example, the Nike Running cloud software looks fantastic but has limited useful functionality when it comes to reporting) and this watch has ultimately suffered from this.

Critical Lesson: Design for partial failure conditions (aka, always provide a workaround)

The watch relies on what appeared to be a very clever USB connection hidden in the strap buckle (see photos).

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Now you see it

Now you don't

Now you don’t

This is the only way to recharge the device, and to upload runs, clear memory, update watch firmware and settings via the Nike Connect software on PC and Mac.

Unfortunately the wires between the USB plug and the watch itself are not robust and partially failed (of course about 3 months after the one year warranty) and despite numerous calls to the nice folks at Nike Support and multiple attempts the watch is no longer recognized as connected by the Nike Connect software. It can still be recharged however.

Doesn’t sound too bad right? Can still use it to record runs and manually record the distance and time, right? Well yes, until the memory fills up and one discovers there is no way to delete what is in memory, either through a simple erase capability on the watch (best) a device reset (ok), or running down the power (painful, but doable), and the watch will not record new runs once the memory is full.

Final injustice? Watch is not repairable or serviceable in any way.

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Where the band meets the watch is where the connection failure occurred

So I’m left with a chunky piece of jewelry that tells the time. Another failed piece of running technology (more reviews on more devices to come)

My plea to product designers: think about failure conditions and how your device will work (or not) once those occur and always provide a workaround! Even if that means just making it repairable.

Ever owned a piece of technology with the same flaw? I’d love to hear your stories.

It took Thomas Keller to teach me the secret of beautiful poached eggs

Keller cookbooksI’ve always loved poached eggs ever since my grandma used to make them for breakfast on top of toast and promite (a sweeter version of vegemite).  The splash of yellow as you cut into the yolk and the luscious unctuous sauce the yolk makes.

I never had much luck with making them.  Seemed like there was always strands of white all over the saucepan.

 

Enter Thomas Keller.  Sorry, not in person.  But through two beautiful cookbooks I received for Christmas – the very ambitious The French Laundry Cookbook and the more relaxed Ad Hoc at Home.

Time: 5 mins to boil the water, 2 mins to cook the egg

Start with a deep saucepan. Boil the water, and add 2 Tbsp vinegar.

Here’s the secret:  Create a whirlpool in the saucepan by stirring and break the egg into that gently.  Then drop the heat so it doesn’t hit the bottom and stick but spins beautifully in that little whirlpool.

poached egg whirlpoolRemove after 2 mins with a slotted spoon and you have poached egg perfection.

Repeat for how ever many eggs you want to do.  If you’re Thomas Keller presentation crazy you put them in an ice bath, dress them up by snipping off any straggly bits and reheat them later.  But they look pretty damn good after the whirlpool treatment and I say eat ’em while hot.

If you want to get healthy serve these over some wilted greens and some warmed cannellini beans with garlic, salt, pepper, lemon, chili pepper flakes (or Sriracha sauce).  Asparagus and bacon are great adds too.  Or follow my grandma’s lead and go Aussie-style with some nice thick toast with vegemite.  Below is a tasty Mexican inspired breakfast from the other day.

Egg with black bean and roasted poblano chile salad and avocado

Egg with black bean and roasted poblano chile salad and avocado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheers.

TSA Pre – The best gift of the holiday season

tsa_preIf you’re a frequent traveller, airport security is a constant pain if for no other reason than the uncertain duration.   Even with premier access lines for frequent fliers, at airports like SFO, EWR and ORD the premier access lines can take 15+ minutes.  For most of last year, I used to head up to the premier line at International to avoid the monster premier access security lines at United Domestic (and the United Club is better there too).

Life before TSA Pre

Along comes TSA Pre.  Suddenly the barcode on your boarding pass grants access to a lane with no one in it.  You leave everything on except bulky winter jackets (no need to take off shoes, belts and sweaters),  laptop and liquids stay in the bag, and no full-body scanner.  It’s just so civilized.   And so quick.

Life after TSA Pre

Flying out of SFO on New Year’s Day my morning looked grim with another monster queue, when all of a sudden I spy the TSA Pre lane, my hopes are raised, and the lady scans my boarding pass and waves me through.  And I’m through in barely a minute, without having to go through the whole uncomfortable undress and unpack business.  Leaving Chicago on Thursday, same fabulous experience. It really does feel like Christmas.  I guess I’ll be annoyed at any airports that don’t have it now…

Very easy to sign up.  Just Google TSA Pre + [Name of your airline] to find the sign up page.  For United, all I had to do was tick a box saying I wanted in and press submit.

Go on, give yourself the gift that will keep on giving.

Safe travels, all!

Simple tricks for improving your success with New Year’s Resolutions

resolutionRecent research suggests you are ten times more likelihood of succeeding with New Year’s resolutions if you explicitly commit to them (such as by writing) vs. just thinking about them – it’s the difference between intention and commitment.

How incredible is it that 46% of those explicitly making resolutions are maintaining them after 6 months vs. 4% of those who don’t? That seems like pretty good odds to me – you have nearly a one in two chance of long term success with a resolution if you write it down!

If you want to increase your chances of success further, make resolutions some or all of these:

  • Specific (how many, where, what, by when)
  • Realistic (lose 10 or 20 pounds not 100 pounds in weight),
  • Public (fear of embarrassment if fail), Shared (who’d let a friend down – share a goal to run weekly or train for a specific race)
  • Competitive (challenge a friend to beat you in achieving the resolution)

So to increase my own chances of success, related to this blog,  in 2013, I will:

  1. Enter and train specifically for 4 marathons or ultras, at least one international, in locations on my list of places to travel to.
  2. Post on training, racing, eating, travelling, and hopefully useful “life hacks” like this once a week.
  3. Have folks over for a dinner I will cook using at least one new recipe once a month.

So far, (if I can count New Year’s Eve!) I’m off to a good start.

  1. Entered the Napa Valley marathon for 3/1, the Gorges Waterfalls 50k on 3/31 on the Columbia River, and the Swissalpine K78 in Davos, Switzerland.  I’m hoping to get into the UROC 100k on 9/28 from Breckenridge to Vail.  That’ll take me to Colorado destinations like Vail, and Oregon destinations like Bend and Ashford (I’m planning an awesome running and craft brewery road trip around Oregon after the 50k) and a chance to visit Switzerland and see the alpine stages of the Tour de France.
  2. Resurrected this blog with this post and a list of topics.
  3. Cooked for 4 last night from a bevy of new cookbooks that I received for Christmas 🙂 Zuni Cafe’s cookbook Roast Chicken with Bread Salad  along with Roasted Root Vegetables and a Squash, Farro and Black Rice salad from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.

Ok. I’m committed. What are you committing to?

Here’s to succeeding at our resolutions in 2013 🙂

An unlikely idea for improving airline boarding – help us!

(Inspired by recent experiences and an Economist Gulliver blog post )

I’ve regularly experienced Southwest boarding passengers in 10-15 minutes with no assigned seating. And I’ve regularly experienced large carriers like United that board by rows taking 30-45 minutes. Why? Bags travel free on Southwest so there’s less demand for overhead space. And as others have noted, unassigned is faster and surprisingly better than assigned seating. I’ve never had a bad seat on Southwest with no status, whereas unless I’m Gold status (50K miles/year) or above on a large carrier, getting a good seat is a source of stress, which is only multiplied if you’re travelling with a family – on 5 of 5 recent trips our booking has been split by the airline despite our requests to keep them combined.

On airlines like United, first class and then all the myriad tiers of frequent fliers board, often filling all the overhead space and then having to swim upstream back to front of plane as the remaining non-frequent fliers try to get to back of plane, and discover there is no space for their bags and then they have to swim upstream to check their bags. The last minute upgrades to First Class and serving of drinks and hanging of jackets add additional delays to the boarding process (although the latter two are not an issue on 757s and larger where the “lower classes” don’t have to walk through First to get to their seats).

On deplaning, the problem is reversed as frequent fliers now have to go towards the back of the plane to retrieve their bags against the stream of the deplaning passengers. If you’re a frequent flier, you’re only getting on the plane early to make sure you can get your bag in the overhead near where you are sitting. The whole process is inefficient and unpleasant for everyone.

Idea: (If they don’t want to follow the superior Southwest model, or won’t make the overhead storage bigger and/or enforce a smaller overhead bag) Could baggage handlers load the carry on bag into the overheads near the assigned seats and gate check the bags if they don’t fit? Then board from the back to the front, and from the windows to the aisles. Not a solution for late arriving aircraft and will add tangible costs of extra labor vs. intangibles of delays. But would be a nice service improvement.