January 16, 2012

Trail Races Need Better Coffee

There are a bevy of ways in which the local trail running community's collective psyche is a good fit for mine. Or at least, it's a good fit for what I want to do, if not what I ought to do.

An example, from last Friday night: My plan, going in to the fat ass event (a rather long explanation, but think of it as a massive group run, in which you can notch all the mileage you like), was to run for 5 hours. I would take it easy, and probably end up averaging about a 9 minute mile.

In short, while my legs thought this was a great idea, my stomach did not. In between loops, I stepped in to, shall we say, attempt to appease the gurgling and cramping via expulsion of the antagonistic material. Most people - quite reasonably - would tell you to stop running at this point. But these are not most people. Rather, they offer up a salt cap, advice on what to consume (I opted for nothing, and was grateful for it), and tell you get back out there. And so I did. Paces hit, la di da.

But I've just written three paragraphs about a rather slow training run - sorry about that - without ever approaching what was to be the topic of this post. While the trail running community and I have much in common, there is one (unfortunate) discrepancy: The need for good, rather than merely present, coffee.

The coffee at the fat ass run was instant, and about the color of a weak iced tea. A few people commented that, given the volume of creamer (gotta love corn syrup solids and hydrogenated oils in your coffee) they were going to put in it, the taste of the original product didn't much matter. I didn't say anything, because I was too busy feeling nauseous, and because it was free anyway.

This was Friday night. Sunday morning, I decided to race a 5K. I justified the decision with the fact that it was on the 50K race course, but mostly, I just felt like it. I ran the uphills like I needed a walker, and the downhills like I wanted that to be the case. I looked at my shadow, and pictured the disparity between that shuffle, and the visual of actual fast people on a track. I decided, after a moment's glance, that I was not Galen Rupp. A look up at the three people in front of me revealed that they were not either. But on this morning, they were closer than I was.

Still, you find your satisfaction and consolation at the finish line. The guy who won - marked by me at the start as some old dude who had no business toeing the line - just ran in the USATF Master's Cross Country Championships, a month after polishing off a "slow" 2:40 marathon. Second and third were high school kids, decked out in their school singlets and flats, both of whom had placed high at state this year. And then there was me, 4th place and 20-something age group winner, distinguished mostly by my ability to pour pretty milk designs in espresso.

So I felt pretty good then, but would have been better with coffee. I saw a table offering some, and thought that it might go nicely with the mug I had just won (a much better prize than a medal). But as I approached, the color of the liquid became clear. It was a tree sap shade of brown, and oh god, it was being scooped from a bag and right in to the cup. Instant. Again. Only this time, there was a difference: They wanted 2 dollars for a cup of it.


This brings me, finally, to the title of this post. Trail races need better coffee. Notice I do not say excellent coffee, or even good. I understand that my standards are too high, and that to meet them would cost an inordinate sum of money. I also understand the challenges inherent to outdoor brewing. But there are solutions - oh so many. Most easily, a cold press concentrate could be mixed with hot water, on the spot. Failing that, larger pots could be brought from nearby indoor facilities, or purchased from local shops.

Whether these are solutions on a grand scale, I don't know. But I do know that, for my local races, they will be solutions I implement. The best way to insure that I have better coffee to drink is to bring it myself. Something tells me no one will mind.


  1. Oh god. At the Vermont 50 I made sure to bring pre-ground goodness for a decently sized backpacking french press doo hickey. It did the trick at like 4 in the morning and the other runners in the parking lot were kinda ecstatic when I offered to share. Still, at the starting tent they had some offered for free, and although I feel dirty drinking coffee in styrofoam cups, it was hard for me to resist....until I tried it. In all seriousness I don't know if I've ever had worse. One sip and it was thrown away. If I hadn't brought my own, I would have considered my race doomed (more than it turned out to be). In short....I'm with you man. I'm with you.

    1. I'll be perfectly honest, coffee prep has factored in to my ultra selection thus far. Heartland (my botched 50) started at 6pm, so no problems there. And the 50K I've got in a few weeks is an 8am start, and only 40 minutes from home.

      And it's funny you mention the styrofoam cups. Most of the races around here don't even have cups at the aid stations; you're required to carry a bottle, if only to fill it there. This is to prevent littering on the trail - a good thing. However, no one balks at the mountain of dixie cups at the start/finish.