Friday, February 27, 2015

Racing 2015 - It Begins

Well, folks, this is it.

On Saturday, I begin race season 2015.

And although I keep saying every year "this is the earliest race I've raced in a season", yet again I find myself saying " this year I'm racing the earliest I've ever raced in a season".  I don't know how this keeps happening, but each year I start racing sooner and sooner.  Last year, I beat my all time record by racing Little Rock on March 2nd.  The year before that, I threw all caution to the wind and raced outside of my fair weather only comfort zone, running a very icy Get Lucky on March 14th.  Now I've broken the barrier into February.

At this rate, one of these days I might just end up never taking an off season, and find myself racing year round.  Or not ... considering the sub zero temps we're facing in my area as of the last few weeks.

Anyway, you may be wondering - Natalie, what race are you doing?

Well, I'm glad you asked because this year, it's a doozy!!  I'm finally doing my first ever triathlon, the Tri U Mah.  Yes, technically it's an indoor tri, which makes it a bit easier but ... it also makes it far less intimidating for a newbie like me.

Although, to be honest, I have a very odd sense of zen right now leading up to the race.  Maybe that will change on the day of, but I sure hope not.

I suppose a part of the reason why I'm feeling zen is because I've never raced a tri before, so I have no huge expectations set to achieve a certain finish time, or to bust up a previous PR, or anything like that.  I just plan to go, have fun, and try to do the best I can.

Oh, and I plan to do one other thing.

I plan to race MAN VERSUS MACHINE.

Yep, you got it.  Time for some InkNBurn love.

You may recall back in December, my friend from The Bacon Chase and I participated in a 24 hour charity run as team Skin & Bones:

For Tri U Mah, we decided to break up that alliance and pit ourselves mano e machine ... o.  So, while she'll still be all man (muscle), I'll be sporting this beast:

The race should prove to be interesting, since I'm honestly not sure who will win - man or machine.  While she's a stronger runner than me, I'm a stronger swimmer.  And we're somewhat evenly matched on the bike. 

My one advantage in this race is that I'm like a true machine, in that I don't mind working out on machines.  Whereas, my opponent can't stand machine workouts.  So, maybe via sheer mental determination on my behalf, I'll be able to beat her.  But, only time will tell ... so stay tuned for the official race recap on Wednesday!!

In the meantime, feel free to debate the winner below.  Man ... or ... machine?!

**(Oh, and of course, we'll be ranked against all other competitors in the Tri U Mah.  We're just doing the man versus machine part for some added fun.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What I Did on Valentines Weekend (AKA - Gettin' Drunk, Part Three)

Today's post is going to veer very far off the course of healthy lifestyle info.

Be forewarned.


To begin: this is a post about tap rooms.  If you didn't read my first or second post about the tap rooms I have visited, go there to get caught up ... since this is just a continuation of that story line, you'll want to start there. 

Taprooms included in those posts are:

Recap One
Enki - Victoria, MN
Waconia Brewing Company - Waconia, MN
Fulton - Minneapolis, MN
612 - Minneapolis, MN
Urban Growler - St. Paul, MN
Indeed - Minneapolis, MN
Boom Island - Minneapolis, MN
Surly - St. Paul, MN
Badger Hill - Shakopee, MN
Sisyphus - Minneapolis, MN
Tin Whiskers - St. Paul, MN

Recap Two
American Sky - Hudson, WI
Tin Whiskers (revisit) - St. Paul, MN
Burning Brothers - St. Paul, MN
Dangerous Man - Minneapolis, MN
Badger Hill (revisit) - Shakopee, MN
Sociable Cider Werks - Minneapolis, MN
LTD - Hopkins, MN

This post includes my third round of taproom visits, all within driving distance of Duluth, which we chose to visit over Valentine's Day weekend.  Amazingly, we were able to fit 6 breweries into less than 48 hours. 

Doing so took some careful planning, as follows:

(1) We arrived Friday night early enough to stop at Bent Paddle and share a flight.  We chose to stop at Bent Paddle as opposed to others because this is one of the breweries we would need to drive to from Downtown Duluth, and we wanted to be responsible with any drinking we were doing that preceded driving.  It was also conducive to our schedule, as it was open into the late evening.

(2) We booked a hotel in the downtown area of Duluth so that we could walk to Fitger's and Canal Park.  For reference only, since the hotel wasn't anything good or bad to comment about, we chose to stay at the Holiday Inn & Suites.  We chose that location simply because it was still available the weekend prior to Valentine's Day when many others were not.  Yes, we waited that long and luckily still found a room - don't judge.

(3) On Saturday morning we got up bright and early - 9am, hahahaha - and drove up to see the Split Rock Lighthouse in subzero temps.  (Notice that I said "see" and not "visit".  Essentially we took the below photo, enjoyed the view from the car, and then split.  Too cold!!)  The drive took about 1 hour, one way.  Side note: be careful on that drive!!  We saw someone hit a deer in the oncoming traffic lane, and it was mere yards from taking us out as well.  Sad.  At least the view helped me feel better.

(4)  On the way back from Split Rock, we stopped at the tourist attraction that is Betty's Pies.  It was just ok.  I don't know that I would recommend it.  But, at least they had this:

(5)  When we finished lunch, the timing was perfect to hit Castle Danger Brewing in Two Harbors right as they opened at noon.  Again, to help with the drinking/driving issue, my husband and I SHARED a flight only there, and then headed back to Duluth to hit up Lake Superior Brewing for another SHARED flight only there. 

(6) To avoid any questionable driving situations, later in the afternoon we hit up Fitger's for an afternoon snack, and closed the evening at Canal Park - Valentine's Day dinner included.

(7)  On Sunday we enjoyed a lazy morning at the hotel and headed towards Superior, WI to visit the Thirsty Pagan for an early lunch.  They opened at 11am.  There, we shared one last flight, enjoyed lunch, and then hit the road for home.

SO!  That summarizes how we hit all the breweries.  Now it's time for the recap - let's go!


Bent Paddle Brewing
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 9 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Not while we were there, but I heard they may host food trucks on occasion
Ambiance: Bent Paddle, like many of the breweries in the twin cities metro area, is nestled in an industrial park on the outskirts of downtown Duluth.  The inside is very well furnished and feels somewhat like what I'd imagine someone who's into Eddie Bauer or REI would like.  Brewery operations are visable through glass garage doors, just to the left of the bar area.  Oh, and FYI - I was slightly jealous that I did not go there on a yoga night.

Thoughts: This place was pretty busy, probably due to the fact that we were there at essentially "bar time".  Unfortunately that meant very little education about the beer, and a bunch of lingering staff (from the brewery) who were loitering in front of the brewery area and shelves where they sold product - which I legitimately wanted to see and could not.  While it was worth the stop since we won't likely hit Duluth again for some time, I wasn't impressed enough to want to rush back and see it again.

Castle Danger Brewery
Two Harbors, MN
On Tap: 7 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: They were selling chips and salsa, the salsa appeared to be locally made
Ambiance: This tap room is smack dab in the middle of one of the most beautiful areas of Minnesota, and they really use that to their advantage.  All the windows of the tap room emphasize the beauty of the area by looking out towards the lake, and they even utilize their scenic views in their logo.  The feel of the taproom is very similar to Bent Paddle (color pallet, metal wainscot, etc), but that could simply be due to the fact that anyone near Lake Superior would want to capitalize on an outdoorsy theme.  I don't recall being able to see the brewing operation anywhere in the taproom, my guess is that it was concealed behind closed doors.
Thoughts: Despite getting there right when the brewery opened at noon, this place was hoppin'!  In the time that we sampled our flight, at least 20 people had amassed in the tap room area for samples and growler fills.  I loved the bohemian woman who served us and her collection of stone necklaces and silver bracelets.  I hated that they only had 2 printed tap lists to service a tap room that could easily fit 100+, and couldn't understand why they didn't print more on their computer in the hour that I was there ... ?  Anyway, if you've got time for a scenic drive in Duluth, this brewery is fun to stop in and see.  But if you're limited to staying in the city, don't feel too bad that you missed it.  Either way, it definitely is worth the trip - even if it's just for the views. 

Lake Superior Brewing
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 6 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing offered
Ambiance: Don't drive too fast by the Subway out this way, or you'll miss the brewery entirely.  With no sign out on the main street, we almost bailed ... but found it at the last second, on the third time around the block.  Maximizing on their lake name, the tap room has an old timey sea captain feel (despite having no lake views anywhere nearby).  Turn your back on the wall where the paintings are hung and you're basically right in the center of the action in the brewery, which you walk through to get your beer.
Thoughts: The more tap rooms I go to, the more I realize that it's important to not just ... well ... plop some tables into a corner of your brewing warehouse and call it good.  I guess I'm starting to get picky after 20+ stops, heh.  Lake Superior, to be fair, has been around since the 90's and is likely just trying to make room for a tap offering as opposed to having built their brewery around a tap room like others have done.  They did OK with what they have, and the d├ęcor is quite cute for what they put in ... I just wished it didn't feel like you were spilling out into their warehouse, and that it was actually heated (I was frozen the whole time I was there).  At least they had information about their beers to hand us with our flight ... though I questioned if the staff serving could speak to it.

Fitger's Brewhouse
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 8 beers
Flights: No
Food: Brew pub fare - full menu in restaurant, limited offering in tap room
Ambiance: Finding the Fitger's complex is not a problem, since it's an icon in Downtown Duluth.  Finding the Fitger's tap room once you get in to the complex, however, is another story.  Don't be shy to ask for directions.  You'll likely walk past the multiple brewing areas as you wander to find your end game.  Fair warning: don't expect to enjoy the lake view from the tap room, it's in a dark cave as you can see below.  I did enjoy their cask shaped DJ booth, though.

Thoughts: Feeling a bit dubious about this place for selling themselves as a brewery and then seeing they were a brew pub, I was shocked to find out their beers were legit.  After some lack luster showings at the previous stops of the day, I really enjoyed Fitger's Apricot Wheat (which wasn't too sweet), and when I stole a few sips of my husband's ESB, I found it was very good too.  Since we didn't want to rack up too huge a bill at the bar buying full pints, we opted to stop at the gift shop and bring a growler of their IPA back to the hotel.  Guess what?!  It was very good as well.  If you're in Duluth and limited on time, I would actually recommend this as one of the must stop tap rooms on your list.

Canal Park Brewing
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 10 beers
Flights: Yes, and if you sample them all via the "around the world" flight, it is HUGE!
Food: Brew pub fare - full menu in restaurant, and don't forget to buy pints in the gift shop while you wait for a table
Ambiance: Canal Park Brewing is very likely the easiest brewery to find and get to on this list, assuming you hotel in downtown Duluth or in the Canal Park area.  It is located right on a main street, is very visible as you approach, and is well signed.  For us, it was a 10 minute walk or less from the hotel.  Inside it has a modern warehouse vibe, and is what you'd expect for a brewery / restaurant on the lake.  If you're lucky to be seated by the windows, you can also enjoy a view of their bon fire outside, and the lake horizon as well.

Thoughts: Call this a brew pub all you want... if anyone has their name on a keg, and their beers taste this good, I consider them legit.  Not to mention, the food and service was good too.  I wasn't sorry we picked this as our Valentine's Day dinner.  And really - how can you go wrong with a meal that includes cheese curds, anyway?

Thirsty Pagan Brewing
Superior, WI
On Tap: 8 house beers, more from other brewers in the area
Flights: Yes, with the 9th being a featured cider from a sister brewery
Food: this place is known for its pan pizza, and it is good!!
Ambiance: The Thirsty Pagan is in Superior, WI in the middle of town.  The location is neither industrial or residential really... but they're right across from a Toyota dealer if you're trying to get a feel for things...?  Anyway, the inside reminds me of a college town bar - but in a good way; the entire place is brightly colored, funky and fun.  The walls are covered in an eclectic mix of artwork from Jeredt Runions, vintage brewer memorabilia, news paper clippings and random old timey mementos from when the brewery used to be a creamery. 

Thoughts: If you know my style at all, you clearly understand why I loved this place.  Too bad it's not closer to home ... or maybe good thing it isn't ... because I'd be here all the time.  Need I say more?


Since these locations are too far away to be a part of my standard "favorites of the cities" recap, I'll add a few last foot notes relevant to Duluth only here.

If you're in the city with limited transportation/time and you're debating where to go...
     I'd recommend you for sure hit Bent Paddle (for a true tap room experience),
     and then pick either Fitger's or Canal Park.

If you want to spend some time enjoying a scenic drive along the North Shore...
     Castle Danger is worth the stop.

If you love pizza and have a sober cab (or limit your own consumption)...
     I highly recommend a stop at the Thirsty Pagan, a 10+ min drive from downtown Duluth.

If you have time to spare when you're by Bent Paddle...
     Lake Superior isn't too far away, but I would have been OK skipping it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

ClassPass Recap - Two+ Weeks In

By now, I'm guessing you're sick of hearing me talk about ClassPass.  Don't worry, I'll keep this post short and get back to other topics after today (although, I will try to review any other new studios I go to on occasion).

That being said - I wanted to take a moment today, before I move away from the ClassPass extravaganza that was last week's blog posts, to step back and review my thoughts on the program.  Which, aside from the random off studio that I recapped at the end of last week, has been an amazingly positive experience!!

So, in a nut shell, where am I at in this whole grand experiment?

Well, I have been using ClassPass for a little over two weeks now, and I'm really loving it.  I can say this fairly, as I am NOT being endorsed by ClassPass and didn't even do a free trial period before I jumped on the bandwagon.

In the course of two weeks, having a ClassPass membership encouraged me to try out 6 new studios (two of which I have or will have repeat visited by the time this publishes - Studio TimeOut and CycleQuest), add 8 additional workouts to my schedule, and helped me find my joy in working out again.  Which made me realize ... sometimes all you need to do to get yourself out of a rut is try something new.

The overall impact on my workout regime via ClassPass has been amazing.  I've doubled my volume, improved my outlook on why I work out, and have actually had a really great time trying all these new things. 

The beauty in ClassPass is the ease of finding studios, registering and simply knowing what classes are available at any given time of day.  I can't tell you how many times in the last two weeks I thought "meh, I have nothing going on over lunch/tomorrow AM/after work ... I wonder if there's some workout available that sounds fun to try...?" 

Plus, as an added bonus, just last week ClassPass loosened their cancellation policy to a 12 hour window (rather than 24), and changed it so that if you have to emergency cancel last second your fee is only $15 (with the $20 fee staying in place only if you don't cancel AND don't show up).  So, when I found out roughly 18 hours ahead of time that I had a last second conflict come up and couldn't make a class, I was still able to cancel without a penalty.  Sweet!

And of course, the added benefit to all of this easily accessible exercise is ...

Yeah, the scale is moving even further in the right direction these days.  Finally.

Which means, I can justify the recap that is coming to this blog on Wednesday. 

Because you can't have a beer without a food truck.


Friday, February 20, 2015

ClassPass Review #4 - The Shed

ClassPass Review #4 - The Shed
2800 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis/Uptown, MN 55408
(612) 720-2121,

As you already know, early February I signed up for a ClassPass account.  You can read about that here.  Below is a recap of my fourth class using the "pass".  If you'd like to read other studio recaps, use the search bar above and the search term: ClassPass.


My husband was supposed to go on a business trip to Nashville starting this past Monday night.  No big deal; as he was flying down I was going to be at my normal cycle class, etc., ect.  Life goes on.

Or not. 

Imagine my surprise when I got a call from him Monday at about 4:50pm saying that there was a huge ice storm down there, and it basically shut down the city, so his trip was cancelled.  Translation: impromptu dinner out together on his way home from the airport, and no cycle class for me.  What a trade off ... burning calories versus putting a bunch MORE calories in my stomach.  *sigh*

Since I'm still trying to tick off the Lazyman miles, and I had a quiet day at work the next morning, I decided to make up for my loss and find a lunch cycle class again. 

Boo - CycleQuest didn't have one on Tuesday, but The Shed did. 

Off I go!





Unfortunately, I got to the studio well before it opened.  Soap box unrelated to this studio: I'm really starting to get annoyed by the ClassPass policy of arriving at a studio 15 minutes before class starts.  Why get there so early?  Half the time no one is even there yet to greet me!!  GRR!

Anyway, on top of being early, I apparently went to The Shed's unofficial back door.  Yeah, that was nice.  I ended up waiting on a second floor wood patio in sub zero wind. 


If you can't tell, I'm pouting.  Yes, I'm being a baby.  Whatever.

Finally, not even 10 minutes before class was going to start, the instructor came, and luckily she came to the back entrance, so she could let me in there.  Thank goodness, since my fingers were so cold at that point that they wouldn't bend anymore!  Once inside, she gave me a mini-tour as we walked towards the front desk, and she showed me the proper entrance so I wouldn't have to wait in the cold again:


At first glance, things looked fairly nice.  Not fancy, just basic, but ... ok.  There was a separate room for cycle versus TRX, and a third very large studio for other classes.  But by this point I was more concerned about getting changed and onto my bike, so I didn't look that close at anything.  I just shoved off to the changing area and geared up as quick as I could.



Feeling rushed, I hustled out of the changing room, threw my things into the cubby in the back of the bike studio, and grabbed the nearest bike.  But when I hopped on, it felt ... well, it felt just weird.  I'll call it grindy, almost like there was sand in the wheel track.  Even adjusting the tension up or down didn't resolve the issue.  I knew it was definitely not right, since I've done cycle in a handful of studios, and the only time I'd felt a bike do that was when it needed repair.  Dumb luck, I figured.  So I hopped to a second bike. 

But, the second bike did it as well.  So, I started listening to others who were already pedaling.  It sounded like their bikes were doing it, too.  Yikes!!  I'm way too OCD for this kind of stuff.  If the bikes were in this rough of shape (and yes, I had other issues like wobbly handles despite being at full tension, loose pedal clips that I felt shift when I did speed intervals, etc.), I knew I was going to be in for a rough class.  Trying to snap myself out of it, I just decided to focus and get to pedaling. 

But ... that's when I saw it.  The Band-Aid. 

Yes, Band-Aid.  As in peel and stick bandage to cover a wound.

There was a fricking used Band-Aid in the front of the studio, just off to the side of the instructor's station, chillin' with it's underside staring up at the ceiling.

I almost lost it.  But since I was already there, and I needed those damn bike miles, I sucked up the puke feeling, forced my brain to shut off, and just committed myself to the 45 minute session.


Now, this is the part of the review where I start to feel bad.  I'm not trying to rip this place apart, and the instructor teaching when I was there seemed very nice, but this is the honest to god truth:  this class was not good.

First, when the instructor started teaching, she immediately dimmed the lights to almost black out conditions.  I figured - well, makes sense, she needs to distract us from the fact that there's used Band-Aids floating around the studio and our bikes don't work right... right? 

I mean, what the hell!!  How are we supposed to see what the instructor is doing to get the moves right, and how the hell is she supposed to see us to make sure we're exercising safely?

But, Natalie ... the disco lights, though!!

Yeah, I'm not kidding.  The bike studio needed a fresh coat of paint, the window near me had a hap-hazard shade starting to fall off, the bikes needed maintenance and there was a used Band-Aid sitting right out in the open ... but we.  Had.  Disco.  Lights.  Or rather, three 3-4' long LED light bars that were tied into the sound system so that the instructor could change the colors and light intensity as we pedaled.

Because - shiny things.  And we are raccoons.  Or something.

Add in some unsafe bike moves (like super speed intervals out of the saddle while letting go of the handles at various points), and I was set.  Good thing the music was so loud that I couldn't understand the instructor's directions, and the lights were so dark that she couldn't tell what I was doing, because I basically said to myself "yeah, I'd rather NOT throw my back out or dislocate my hip today" and made up my own intervals by just cranking the resistance and pedaling as fast as I could.

At the end when the instructor lead stretches that had us clipped in to a pedal and doing a figure four stretch with the other leg up on top of the handle bars, I promptly unclipped, safely did the exact same stretch from a much more stable position on the floor (and got a deeper stretch than I ever would have on the bike, btw), and just shook my head.

As soon as I could politely do so, I hauled ass out of there to shower, and tried to leave as fast as I could.


If the above wasn't obvious enough as to my thoughts on this class ... well ...

Cycle classes are what YOU make it. Since I figured out how to set my own resistance and modify the intervals into safe drills, I was sweating just fine.
DIFFICULTY - medium/high

That being said, I would never recommend half the moves we did in this class, and certainly would not teach a class in the dark.
SKILL - not recommended for anyone who wants to exercise safely

In regards to staff and environment...

Again, I want to emphasize that the instructor was VERY NICE, but I just really have to question the safety of the format in which this class was taught.

And I just couldn't get over the fact that the cycle studio was in the condition it was in, especially since the other open floor studio looked so beautiful and well maintained.


And of course - the most important part: would I do it again?
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? Definitely not. 


So now, what class is next?!