Holiday Gift Guide for Athletes — 2017 Edition

Holiday Gift Guide for Athletes — 2017 Edition
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Every year, I put together a list of my favorite holiday gift ideas for runners and triathletes. To be honest, it’s terribly time-consuming and around the holidays, time is precious. But, I tell myself, if it helps at least one person come up with the perfect gift for the runner in their life, my time was worth it.

(Also, maybe my husband will see it, too. Hint hint wink wink.)

I also make it a point to highlight products from small businesses that I can personally vouch for and use or have used myself. You will see just a few Amazon links here as a result. You also will not see any Garmin watches or GoPro cameras. While both those are fabulous, generous gifts, my goal is to bring you ideas that you may not have thought of yourself. So let’s get to it.

High-quality gear from good folks:

1. Skirt Sports

Skirt Sports founder Nicole DeBoom has made it her life’s mission to empower women. But that is not the only reason why I will always remain true to the company’s products. I have been running in Skirt for more than 10 years and every piece I have used is high quality, fun, functional, and lasts for years. Your runner will appreciate you introducing them to the brand.

This season’s fave is the Reflective Safety Running Bolero. You can throw it on top of any shirt or tank, and if you find yourself running in the dark, you’ll shine bright like a diamond; like so:


A post shared by Aleks (@aleksruns) on

Bonus: through December 31, 2017, use code Fall20win for 20% off. (Code may not work when there is a Flash sale, or any large-scale site wide sale.)
 

2. Stomp the Pedal

This is a brand new company out of London (yes, the UK), founded after many years of research and with heaps of passion. Stomp the Pedal focuses on cycling kits and accessories (check out these cute KeepCups!), but founder Natarsha Tremayne has shared her plan to launch a Stomp the Trails line soon. Can’t wait!

Bonus: have you seen the exchange rate for the British Pound lately? Those cycling kits are a steal!

Check out a teaser for the fabulous Great Gatsby collection (coming in 2018), and make sure to follow the brand on Instagram for more updates.


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3.California Running Lab and BOCO Gear

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Shameless plug: I designed these hats with BOCO Gear and have a few left in my store. Grab yours before they’re gone, and you’ll get some GOOD vibes direct-shipped from California, by yours truly.

BOCO Gear makes the best trucker hats out there, and this one is a technical trucker, which means it’s lightweight, quick-dry and the back is all mesh (also, it looks totally as fun as the front… and just wait till you see the visor bottom, it’s the best part!).

Bonus: Use code EPIC2018 and you’ll get a high-quality print of CRL’s exclusive 2018 Race Planning sheet (read more about planning your best 2018 year yet here).

 
For planners and creative runners:

4. Passion Planner

I am such a sucker for the success stories from young female entrepreneurs that I couldn’t resist ordering a Passion Planner — just so I could support the company’s founder. Read her story here, and you’ll want to own one, too!

And let me tell you, the product did not disappoint. This is not your typical daily planner or journal. It gently guides you through thinking about your goals, going after them, and not least, reflecting about whether you’ve achieved them, how, and why. Take a peek at their Instagram account and you’ll be tempted order a few copies. (If you are my friend or family member… you might want to wait until after the holidays, in case there’s one for you under my tree!)


Our Staff Sunday this week is Bianca! Check out her top tips for practicing gratitude: – “I have been practicing a few gratitude habits that I would like to continue beyond the holiday season and into the new year. Here are some that I try to practice daily! – 1️⃣ Take 5 minutes each morning to mind map in your Passion Planner everything you appreciated about the day before. It can be something as simple as waking up before your alarm clock or savoring your favorite candy bar. Starting your day this way helps you to be receptive and grateful for everything your day will bring. – 2️⃣ Make a conscious effort to appreciate at least 3 people every day. By letting people know how much you appreciate them, you increase their own sense of self-appreciation and self-worth, and encourage them to pay this positive energy forward to other people. – 3️⃣ Express your gratitude. Be sure to let others know how grateful you are to have them in your life by remembering the big and small things they have done for you. Your gratitude can be small in your eyes, but it can have a huge impact on someone's day or week. – 3️⃣ Appreciate YOURSELF! ❤️ It may not feel natural at first to practice gratitude with yourself but don’t forget to appreciate your OWN positive qualities and accomplishments. – ‘Learn to be thankful for what you already have, while you pursue all that you want.’ -Jim Rohn – I’d love to hear what you think about these tips and share your favorite gratitude habits with me! Let’s keep the inspiration flowing! ” – #staffsunday #gratitude #motivation

A post shared by Passion Planner (@passionplanner) on


 

5. Freestyle Journaling with Scribbles That Matter

Bullet journaling is all the rage these days and, thanks to a few Runner’s World articles, runners can get ideas and inspiration on adding a personal touch – or a full-blown creative streak – to their training, too.

The Scribbles that Matter journals are made by a company that doesn’t have a website. I found them on Instagram and with that, discovered they only sell on Amazon. Their journals have a much funner selection of cover colors than the now-mainstream Bullet Journal grid notebook, which for some reason never “spoke” to me. Weird, I know. But let nerds be nerds and take a peek at how I like to start planning my months:


A post shared by Aleks (@aleksruns) on


 

6. You Can’t Go Wrong with the COMPETE Training Journal

It’s a classic. I included it in last year’s Holiday Gift Guide too, and I feel I can’t not include it now. (Next year I’ll be using my fourth one!)

Shalane Flanagan uses one, too. Enough said!



 

7. A “Strong Is the New Pretty” 2018 Wall Calendar

This is the most inspiring wall calendar you will ever own. I promise.

There is also a book. You will not regret buying and gifting that, either!

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Gifts that will keep on giving:

8. Coaching

Imagine giving your favorite runner the gift of a marathon PR, or simply the joy of becoming a stronger runner. Hiring a running coach for someone would be quite the investment, but that is what you would be giving them.

As a running coach, I’ll admit I’m biased — but then again, because I have actually gotten to work with runners who received my coaching as a holiday gift, I can honestly tell you, it is has been a gift to me, as well.
 

9. A bike fit

If your athlete rides a bike and you know they have not been professionally fitted, go ahead and with some research, pay for them to get fitted by a reputable bike fitter in your area. A fit will cost anywhere between $150 and $450, but believe me, it will pay dividends for as long as your athlete rides their bike.
 

10. Fab Fit Fun box subscription

I went back and forth a lot on including this — or any kind of subscription box, really. In the end, I decided to give it a shout-out, because:

a) Last year, I included Stitch Fix (which is still my life saver, wardrobe-wise…), and I want to continue the tradition of throwing in here something that seemingly has no connection to running or endurance sports.

b) The subscription box model is quite popular now, and if you’re a non-runner shopping for a runner friend or spouse, you may find yourself considering one of the now many subscription boxes targeting runners. And frankly, I’m not at all a fan of those, as they seem to all primarily include product samples and/ or single-count little items like gels, bars, or snacks. Honestly, if I’m going to go and try a bunch of different new gels, I’d rather pick out the ones I like at my local running store, after carefully inspecting flavors and nutrition labels.

c) The Fab Fit Fun box actually includes full-size products that an active person, or runner, is likely to use. Or, at least, I am. In the Winter 2017 box, for example, is an exercise ball. I’ve been meaning to get one for years! And not least,

d) Members get access to a library of videos, including yoga, cardio, meditation, hula hooping (!?), dance, and many more. If you need something fun to do in the offseason, those might come in handy?

To become a member, you subscribe to receive one box every three months, or four boxes a year. The cost is $49.99 per box, but don’t order your first one before they’ve emailed you a coupon for at least $10 off. The items are chosen for you based on a detailed profile of your likes and preferences in several categories, including fitness, beauty, and general questions about your lifestyle. You can personally pick at least two of the items in each box, too (you’re given a choice of two items each).

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So I’ll leave it at that for this year. An informal poll among my friends showed that the majority of runners and triathletes want things you can get easily: a new Garmin watch, wireless earbuds (those things are pricey, eh?), a trainer for their bike, a wetsuit. T-shirts with funny or ironic sayings are all the rage, and race registration fees are on everyone’s list (just make sure you ask which race first, or just hand over the cash for it so they can fill all the paperwork themselves). But in case you wanted to surprise them with something a bit off the beaten path, I hope my suggestions help.

Enjoy the Holiday Season!

Santa Cruz Triathlon

Santa Cruz Triathlon
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At the risk of sounding self-centered, I must tell you that Santa Cruz is my favorite place to race. Forget about surfer’s heaven. It’s triathlon paradise. Perfect, salty ocean to swim in just past sunrise. The most beautiful rugged coastal views as you ride your bike on California’s famed Highway 1. An amazing run with the ocean on one side and beautiful beachfront homes on the other.

The Santa Cruz Triathlon has been around for 35 years, and is a non-profit race. I like that! Even if I don’t get the most high-quality t-shirt, race swag or post-race food, I’m OK with it because I know all the money that doesn’t cover race expenses, goes back to Santa Cruz community organizations.

This race was actually my second-ever olympic distance triathlon, back in 2013. I fell in love with that course right there, but with scheduling conflicts, did not get an opportunity to do it again until now.

So here I was, four years after my first Santa Cruz Triathlon and one year after I first came up with the concept of a BOGO race, about to do again.

A reminder:

    A BOGO race
    noun

    1. A race that you can pull off of the fitness you built training for your key race of the season, which was of similar or longer distance, duration or level of difficulty, and took place four to six weeks earlier. A “train for one, get one free” race, if you will:

    Having done Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz only two weeks prior, the Santa Cruz Triathlon was my BOGO race.

Santa Cruz Triathlon

Race morning

Parking in Santa Cruz is a pain in the butt, so I made sure to arrive at Depot Park a good two hours before the race start. I found a parking spot right next to the Santa Cruz Police Department, which I thought was most excellent – could there be a safer spot to park? Nope. Should I have read the parking signs? Yup. (Spoiler: got a parking ticket. Oh well. More funds for the Santa Cruz community!)

My friend Lisa had just parked a few spots ahead of me and after we spent some time in our cars with the heat full on, we braved the chilly dark morning and rolled our bikes into transition.

With an 8 a.m. race start (8:05 for my wave, but as late as 8:30 for others), we had lots of time to get bodymarked, set up our bikes, goof around a little and take photos with the crew.

Kicking ass at any age! From left, you have the following age groups: 35-39, 45-49, 60-65, 65-69, 50-55.
Kicking ass at any age! From left, you have the following age groups: 35-39, 45-49, 60-65, 65-69, 50-55.

As you can see, we are all very tri-couture in wetsuits and jackets. It was still cold and, as many other times before, I was having a difficult time imagining myself jumping into the ocean. Brrr!

It had to happen, though, didn’t it? We headed to the beach around 7:40, I left some shoes by swim-out for the transition run, then walked over to the swim start. I didn’t have time for a “warm-up” swim, and to be honest, I don’t see how it would have warmed me up in any way. I was still feeling all stiff and shivery inside my wetsuit. At least, the air could not have been more different from two weeks prior – not a hint of fog. Perfect visibility. We could see all the way to the pier and beyond.

Swim

A beach start is a good thing for this race – it gets your heart rate up a bit, so the cold water doesn’t feel all that cold. Eh… OK, it still does. I wore a neoprene cap under my race swim cap, no neoprene socks and no gloves (lesson learned at Half Moon Bay), so those first steps in the water were quite a shock.

This swim start was a mess. I had lined up near the middle of my wave (I know my swim abilities; do not belong in the front), but I guess I outran some women to the water and dived right into the thick of it. Wow, that was some aggressive swimming? I should be more like that!

I let the first (fast!) pack of women go ahead and settled into my pace. Though, settled isn’t quite the term for it. More like, I settled into feeling unsettled in the cold water. There were no waves – it was perfectly flat, in fact – but I just couldn’t make myself “go”… I felt slow, sluggish and stiff. I kept trying, though, and refused to look at my watch. I sighted often and had to constantly adjust my course because after every few strokes, I felt like I ended up much further to the left than I should have been. The swim course basically starts on the left of the Municipal Wharf, you swim diagonally towards it, around it, and then back to the beach:

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It wasn’t until I swam around the wharf that I felt like I got into the groove. Maybe there was a current that made the second part of the swim easier, I don’t know. But I definitely felt stronger and faster (passed a few people, even) coming back.

Swim time: 29:11
(This includes the short run across the beach; my swim-only time was 28:20, according to Strava. Considering I did this same swim in 35 minutes four years ago… progress.)

T2

Long as usual. Run from the beach to the parking lot that was our transition area. I wasted at least a minute putting on running shoes, only to maybe save this much actually running it, rather than the barefoot jog I had done two weeks ago. From now on, I am only doing this transition run barefoot.

T2 time: 4:09

Bike

I know this bike course so well by now, I feel I could ride it blindfolded. Except, the part along West Cliff Dr – which proportionally is a much larger section of the course than it was of the 56-mile IM70.3 route – is way too technical for my comfort. No sharp turns, but constant turns nonetheless. They make me nervous. Especially considering how some people throw themselves into those with reckless abandon.

No surprises, except at the very beginning: there is a little hill that starts right as you exit bike out, and we were told this time the mount line was on top of it! Yes, faced with this short but steep climb right as you mount your bike puts you in danger of toppling over if you’re not in the right gear (I’ve seen it happen). But must we be treated like kids who don’t know how to handle themselves with a bit of a challenge? As you can tell, I was quite annoyed by this little detail, as running up (and down!) a hill in bike shoes is as far as it gets from my idea of fast or fun.

Other than that, I had an ok bike leg. Not as fast as it should have been, given the perfect conditions. I maintained an average speed equal to my average at the half-iron distance two weeks ago… So that was disappointing. I think I was too cautious on West Cliff Dr and I certainly could have pushed myself harder everywhere else.

Since I started in one of the early waves, the bike course was not crowded, so I had no excuse.

Next time: less smiling for the photographer and more suffering!
Next time: less smiling for the photographer and more suffering!

Bike time: 1:14:29
Avg speed: 20.06 mph

(It’s not terrible, for a course with 1650 ft of gain over 25 miles, but still. I was hoping to go under 1:10. Goals for next time!)

T2

One thing I love about olympic and sprint-distance races is you don’t have to pee by the time you reach T2 (or before!). Just a change of shoes, take helmet off, put hat on and go.

T2 time: 1:22

Run

This run starts with a bit of a climb, but once that first bump is behind you, it’s all very gentle rollers along the beach. As usual, I started too fast off the bike, but this time I went with it. My strategy was to hold a tight pace for as long as I can, preferably until the finish line. What’s the worst that could happen – blow up and walk a mile? Worth the risk.

Within the first mile or two, a woman breezed past me like I was standing still. She ended up winning the women’s race. 43 years old. Ran a 43-minute 10K, 6:53 average pace. Goals! (Also, bad news for me, as I join her age group next year. Ha.)

Peter Kain, who won the race overall, passed me too – a 39:50 10K at 54 years old. How do they do it? Amazing.

Back to my run, though, the first three miles felt hard, but under control. I dipped the pace to under 7 briefly, but that felt unsustainable, so I backed off. I guess 7:15-ish is my “comfort” race zone these days. It’s a suffering I can tolerate.

Santa Cruz Triathlon 2017

By the turnaround at mile 3.2, however, I was starting to feel less tolerant of running, racing, and life in general. To put it mildly. In other words, time to eat some carbs!

I had a bit of a nutrition hiccup for this race, since on the bike I’d only had half of a bottle with Gatorade Endurance, and occasional sips of Gatorade on the run course. Good thing I had grabbed a Honey Stinger gel out of T2, so down that went. Viva la sugar! The effect was pretty quick and my head cleared up, but my legs were of another opinion. They decided they’ve had enough of this and would like to slow down now. (Probably should have had more water, too…)

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 11.39.59 AM

The last 100 or so yards before the finish are a solid downhill, and my watch was telling me that I would finish this run in under 45 minutes, so I booked it… Well, later I found out that my official time was 45:05 — but I also found that I won my age group, so I was pretty happy with my run, and with my race overall.

Santa Cruz Triathlon 2017

Run time: 45:05

Back in transition, I ran into Lisa, who had done the Aquabike — and soon other friends started arriving as well. We waited around until the awards ceremony. It turned out a whole bunch of us placed in our age groups — sweet!

Last podium in the 35-39 age group! And, last race on Betty Squad this year. What a year, full of memories, laughs, new friendships, and so much more. See you at the races in 2018!
Last podium in the 35-39 age group! And, last race on Betty Squad 2017. What a year, full of memories, laughs, new friendships, and so much more. See you at the races in 2018!

To toast the end of tri season 2017, our little group had lunch at Riva Fish House on the pier. Great food – huge! portions – and local beers on tap. Winning!

So that’s a wrap for this year of triathlon, folks. Don’t park by the Santa Cruz Police Department for more than two hours at a time, OK?

See you in 2018!


Santa Cruz Triathlon results

Swim: 29:11
T1: 4:09
Bike: 1:14:29 (20.06 mph)
T2: 1:22
Run: 45:05 (7:16/mi)
Total: 2:34:18

Gender place: 6 of 186
Division place: 1 of 24
Overall: 78 of 632

Stress-Free Fundraising for Girls on the Run

Stress-Free Fundraising for Girls on the Run
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I don’t talk about it much online and on social media, but one of my favorite commitments in the past two years has been coaching for Girls on the Run. I’m the Head Coach for the team at my son’s school, and to the surprise of many parents and other coaches, I do not have a daughter in the program. I do it because I love it, and I love the idea of instilling in young girls a love of running, and the confidence, happiness, and healthy habits it brings.

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What is Girls on the Run?

Girls on the Run is a wonderful program for girls in third through fifth grade. It operates as a non-profit organization, running after-school programs in elementary schools across the United States. At our school, the program is 10 weeks long, from March through mid-May. Twice a week after school, the girls play games that keep them active, engaged, and get them to think about and discuss topics that, frankly, I wish I could have been able to talk about when I was their age. We talk about ways to deal with bullying, gossip, and other negative behaviors at school, and how to turn negative thoughts into positive ones, gain confidence and love ourselves for who we are.

Oh, and we run, of course! The program culminates with the Girls on the Run 5K. In our area, more than 5,000 girls and their families participate each year!

Fundraising

As a non-profit organization, Girls on the Run redirects all registration fees towards covering program costs – putting up a 5K for thousands of participants is not cheap! – and providing scholarships to families who would not be able to participate otherwise. The organization has very few full time employees in each area. Here in Silicon Valley, I believe there are four or five GOTR employees altogether, and I won’t be surprised if most or some of them are part-time. GOTR relies exclusively on the efforts of volunteer coaches and race volunteers. And, it counts heavily on its sponsors and fundraising efforts.

Each GOTR chapter partners with different organizations and has its own fundraising initiatives, and all participants and coaches are encouraged (but not obliged!) to fundraise. Which is where it gets tricky for me personally: I love GOTR and would love to fundraise. But I hate asking people for money! I feel that I already bug my friends and neighbors enough with so many other fundraising efforts, our school’s annual Walkathon, Jump Rope for Heart, Fall Harvest, the this and the that – how many times can you ask people for money before they block you on Facebook?

So I was really excited to learn about a program that allows us to fundraise – without asking people to donate.

Shop with Scrip

I learned about Shop with Scrip through a Fit Approach campaign – and it was like a breath of fresh air to my weary self.

What is Shop with Scrip: it’s a platform that enables organization to run fundraising campaigns by facilitating families to buy gift cards to places where they already shop. Amazon, Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Bath & Body Works, Starbucks, Kohls, did I say Amazon? Literally, every big retailer I can think of is on their list.

As a fundraiser, you simply ask people to order the gift cards they think they might need for their shopping needs (and who doesn’t shop on Amazon these days?) — and a percentage of all card values goes to the organization for which you are fundraising. The average is about 4%, but some gift cards kick back as much as 9%.

Fit Approach registered a fundraising campaign for Girls on the Run, and as a participant, I could order a $200 Amazon gift card — and 2.5% of that would go to GOTR. It’s not much, but imagine hundreds of people contributing – who otherwise would not have donated to the organization directly.

Every little bit counts, and now that I know I can contribute to GOTR by ordering all those gift cards (for teacher gifts, birthday gifts, and my own shopping needs) — I’m looking forward to kicking off our 2018 GOTR season even more!

You can use Shop with Scrip to fundraise for any nonprofit organization, school, church, sports club, music and band program, and many others. If fundraising is as big a pain in your butt as it has been in mind, it’s definitely worth checking it out!

Disclaimer: This campaign is sponsored by ShopWithScrip. Through my affiliation with the Sweat Pink Ambassador community, I’m fundraising for Girls on the Run, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young girls through running. All monies fundraised are donated to Girls On the Run at the conclusion of the campaign. Thank you for your readership and interest in forwarding Girls On the Run’s mission of: inspiring girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.