Keep fitness a priority with these healthy SXSW events

SXSW isn’t all about music or technology. Participants enjoyed yoga on the lawn outside the Four Seasons during last year’s festival. HANDOUT


Just because you’re probably going to stay up late, drink too much and ruin your feet standing around at bars next week, your South by Southwest festival experience doesn’t have to mean your fitness gets tossed out with the contents of the nearest ashtray.

For the first time, this year’s festival gets its own Wellness Expo at the Palmer Events Center, where fitness-centric people can watch demonstrations, attend workshops and listen to speakers.

To mark the SXSW World Premiere of “Walk With Me,” Thich Nhat Hanh’s monks and nuns featured in the movie held a series of walking meditations and mindfulness sessions. HANDOUT

The expo, open to badge holders and the general public, is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 10-11 at the center, 900 Barton Springs Road. Besides an array of folks eager to talk about supplements, fitness gear, clean eating, exercise and wellness retreats, it will include a bookstore area where authors will sign their works, plus a lounge where attendees can take a break or catch up on emails.

Wellness innovators will give talks and participate in panel discussions at the SXSW Wellness Expo Stage. Fitness and healthy living companies will showcase their brands and host demos and workshops on the expo floor. And outside at the Fitness Stage, attendees can join in all kinds of classes, from yoga to high intensity interval training, dance and strength training. (Look for Lauren Ash of Black Girl in Om, Derek Flanzraich of Greatist, former Longhorn football players Vince Young and Jeremy Hills, and Youtube influencer Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene.)

This year’s SXSW Festival includes a Fitness Expo at the Long Center. HANDOUT

The expo is free to the public, but you’ll need a guest pass to get in. Register for a free pass here or sign up for a newsletter here.

A few other South by Southwest tidbits of note to fitness junkies…

  • The Trail Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to maintain and enhance the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake, will receive all the proceeds from this year’s KUTX Live at The Four Seasons, 98 San Jacinto Boulevard. Entry to the early morning broadcasts are scheduled for 7-11 a.m. March 14-16 and 8 a.m.-noon March 17. Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12 and includes coffee and breakfast tacos. All donations will be used to beautify the portion of the trail in front of the Four Seasons hotel.
  • Cyclists and foodies Lentine Alexis, Kate Powlison, Alaina Sullivan and Tom Vanderbilt will talk about how motion impacts the way we crave what we crave, how it shapes our sense of taste, and how using a bike to get around or exercise impacts what we choose to eat at the “Pedaler’s Palate: Food, Cycling + How They Collide” session from 11 a.m. to noon March 13 at the JW Marriott, Salon C. Entry with music badge, platinum badge, film badge or interactive badge.
  • Head to the Clive Bar, 609 Davis Street, for plenty of workout options. On Friday, HEAT Bootcamp will lead sessions at noon and 2 p.m.; and Wanderlust yoga will lead a class at 3:30 p.m. On Saturday, Wanderlust will lead a yoga session at 8 a.m., Ro Fitness and ThriveOnLife will lead sessions at 9:30 and 10:30, 45 (POWA’d by Sphere) with ThriveOnLife will hold sessions at noon and 2 p.m. DJs will spin music both nights.

Austin girl aims to become youngest to climb Kilimanjaro

Montannah Kenney of Austin hopes to become the youngest girl to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this month. Photo by Georges Schemagin


An Austin 7-year-old is angling to become the youngest girl to summit Mount Kilimanjaro.

Montannah Kenney, a second-grader at River Ridge Elementary School, has been hiking up and down hills around Austin in preparation for her trek, which is set to begin March 10. If all goes as planned, she’ll reach the top of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world on March 17 or 18.

The two are heading to Tanzania in memory of Montannah’s dad, who died a week after Montannah’s third birthday in 2013.

Montannah will begin her trek on March 10 and hopes to summit on March 17 or 18. Photo by Georges Schemagin

“The higher I go, the closer I am to him in heaven,” Montannah says.

Don’t worry, she’s pretty tough. A triathlete, swimmer and runner who plays basketball and soccer, she’s always followed the lead of her mother, Hollie Kenney, 45, a former professional triathlete who now runs a swim coaching business and leads the volunteer program for Team Beef. Together, they have been hiking the Hill of Life and Riverplace to strengthen their legs for their adventure.

Montannah describes her training as “really long.”

“Sometimes my friends come with us and sometimes my mom makes me do math problems when we see signs of how far we have gone, and how far we have to go,” Montannah says.

Montannah Kenney

An estimated 25,000 people set out to climb the 19,341-foot mountain each year; about two-thirds make it to the top. Park rules require that climbers be 10 years old, but officials also issue special permits for younger climbers, which Montannah has obtained.

Currently, Roxy Getter of Florida, who was 8 when she made the climb, holds the record for the youngest female; Keats Boyd of Los Angeles was 7 when he climbed. The oldest climber to date was 88 when he slogged his way up. (You can check all the records, including records for the fastest ascent and descent, here.)

Conditions vary along the route, but the Kenneys will probably face temperature extremes from 90 degrees down to well below freezing – and winds like freight trains. They say they are prepared for very non-Texas conditions of snow or sleet.

“I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro because it would be a fun adventure with my mom, and because it would be really cool to try to break the world record, but I would want to climb it anyway because I don’t care if I break it,” Montannah says.

If she is successful, it will mark her first world record.

It will also mark the first time she’s ever camped.

Best way to get to Austin’s new Central Library? By bike, of course!

Cyclists park their bikes in racks in the bike corral at Austin’s new Central Library. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

UPDATES to add that city will hire vendor to run bike concierge service at library.


Have you visited the new Central Library in downtown Austin yet?

Go. And travel by bicycle, if possible.

I pedaled down to the new library at 710 West Cesar Chavez Street yesterday, and parked my steel steed in the special bike “corral” on the lower east side of the building. The garage-like space is outfitted to store about 200 bikes, many of them on staggered metal racks, says John W. Gillum, facilities process manager at the library.

The bike garage at the new library features about 100 metal racks for bike storage. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

Right now, it’s free to use your own lock and park on a rack in the bike corral. That will probably change sometime next year, after the library partners with a vendor to offer a bike concierge service.

In the next few weeks, the city will put out a request for proposals to find a vendor to operate a bike valet service, offer light bicycle maintenance to library patrons and possibly rent bicycles. Crews will also install eight or 10 more bike racks around the outside of the building.

Want to get to the library? Ride a bike. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

“We’re going to be able to keep a lot of people’s bikes secure for them,” Gillum says.

The bike barn is just one fitness-friendly aspect of the new building, which opened Saturday.

RELATED: An early tour of Austin’s new Central Library

The Shoal Creek hike and bike trail abuts the east side of the structure, so you can easily access the library by foot or on two wheels from the Butler Trail on Lady Bird Lake. The Shoal Creek trail is still closed a block north of the library, but when it opens you’ll be able to avoid even more car traffic. As it is now, you can bike down West Avenue, turn east just north of the library and hop onto the trail to get to the library. The bike garage is marked with a larger-than-life logo of a bike.

RELATED: Austin’s new library opens to rave reviews

Chris LeBlanc tests out some tools at the bike station adjacent to the new Central Library in downtown Austin. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

Need to adjust your handlebars or raise or lower your seat? A bike repair station, with an array of tools anyone can use for free, has been installed on the trail beneath the yellow-arched bridge just to the northeast of the library. Since it’s covered, you can fix a flat or do whatever you need to do while sheltered from rain or searing sunshine.

Even the library’s interior, with its suspended stairways, encourages people to walk rather than take the elevator. Who wants to get closed up in a box while they’re whisked up a few flights when they could stroll the stairs, looking down on the action below?

The suspended staircases encourage people to take the stairs instead of the elevator. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

“That’s by design,” Gillum says. “We’re building the most sustainable building that Austin has ever built and we didn’t want to use escalators, because they’re costly and a maintenance intensive. And, we thought, ‘Let’s give people a place to walk.'”


The bike garage is marked wtih a larger-than-life logo of a bicycle. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman


Coors family member has opened a craft brewery at an Austin surf park

Right now, the brewery is pouring five beers. Five more are coming soon. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

First things first. No, the beer at NLand Brewing Company doesn’t taste like Coors Light, even though the owner’s last name is Coors, and yes, he’s part of that family.


And no, Doug Coors doesn’t have much to do with the actual brewing at the new brewery, located inside the gates of the massive surf park on Highway 71 east of Austin. He’s handed that responsibility over to Todd Henry, a local brewer who honed his beer-making chops at places like Lovejoys Tap Room & Brewery and Independence Brewing Company.

Head brewer Todd Henry is focusing on lagers and ales at the new brewery. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

“Coors is a macro brewery, and we’re still doing it craft,” says Henry, who took an hour from manning the big shiny vats of lagers and ales yesterday to explain the concept behind his beer. “They’re going to spill more beer this year than I’m going to make.”

RELATED: At NLand Surf Park, catch a perfect wave every time.

A brewery has opened inside NLand Surf Park east of Austin on Highway 71. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

NLand unveiled its brewery last month. Right now, the venue is pouring five different beers at the surf-themed patio bar overlooking a 14-acre lagoon, where beginners and experts alike cut across a man-made wave that rolls across the surface every 2 minutes. He’ll add another five in the next few weeks.

On Thursday, I sampled Off Leash IPA, NLand Pale Ale, Peach Party Wheat, Fun Beer, American lager. My fave? The pale ale. I was pleasantly surprised by the Peach Party, too. It didn’t pack the hit-me-in-the-face wallop of peachiness that I feared, but rather a subtle hint of fruit.

Also, the guacamole from the adjacent restaurant, Blue Prairie, is quite good.

For now, NLand Brewing Company is only selling beer on tap – no bottles or cans. And the focus is on beers that go down easily on an afternoon spent surfing.

“They’re all light in body,” Henry says. “They’re mashed to be light and crisp, not full bodied.”

The IPA uses Citra and El Dorado hops for a tropical profile. The pale ale features Cascade and Centennial hops for a citrus/grapefruit profile. (Pro tip: Surf first, drink beer later.)

The brewery is offering specials this weekend. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

RELATED: Is Austin the land-locked surf capitol of the world?

This weekend, the NLand brewery and two other breweries along the Highway 71 corridor are offering specials.

NLand Surf Park is offering a two-for-one surf special for morning sessions through Sunday, and pints of NLand’s American Pilsner for $2 at the brewery. (Other pints are $6.) At Live Oak Brewery down the road, smoke lagers are on special for $1 off on Saturday and Sunday. And St. Elmo Brewing Company is offering $2 Kolsch beers today, plus a free live show by Cowboy Diplomacy at 8 p.m. It’s hosting an Octoberfest event from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

For more information about NLand Surf Park go here.

Pam LeBlanc spent an hour surfing before testing out the new beers at the brewery. Photo by Weston Carls

Are McAllen, San Antonio and El Paso really better at exercising than Austin?

A runner uses the Boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake to exercise at dawn.

Apparently, we’re not as fit as we think here in Austin, despite those crowded trails and bustling gyms.

The Austin-Round Rock area comes in a disappointing 70th out of 189 U.S. communities in the “Rates of Regular Exercise” report, part of the Gallup-Sharecare State of American Well-Being series.

The study focuses on a single question: “In the last seven days, on how many days did you exercise for 30 or more minutes?” Those who reported exercising for 30 minutes or more, on three or more days in the previous week, were categorized as exercising “regularly.”

In the Austin area, 56.7 percent of those surveyed were categorized as regular exercisers. That’s slightly above the national average of 53.4 percent, the highest since Gallup and Sharecare began measuring in 2008.

That means more than half of respondents claimed they exercised for 30 minutes or more at least three days a week. Which seems a little optimistic, come to think of it.

Even more baffling, the Austin area finished behind three Texas communities usually more associated with high obesity rates than fitness – El Paso, 39th, McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, 40th, and San Antonio-New Braunfels, 65th. We did beat Dallas-Fort Worth, 77th, Corpus Christi, 93rd, Lubbuck, 126th, and Beaumont-Port Arthur, 150th.

Alissa Podber lifts weights at Hyde Park Gym Monday September 12, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Studies are odd. Depending on the focus, they show different results.

A study released earlier this year by WalletHub, which used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listed the McAllen-Edinburg area as the fourth fattest city in the country (it also had the highest percentage of obese adults in the country.) San Antonio-New Braunfels came in 14th; El Paso was 22nd. Austin was 71st on that list.

What gives?

Maybe respondents aren’t answering truthfully. The Gallup-Sharecare study is based on more than 350,000 telephone interviews.

The Gallup-Sharecare study also looked at exercise rates by gender, age, income and race/ethnicity. It found that more males than females are regular exercisers, rates of regular exercisers fall as people age, Hispanics have higher rates of regular exercisers than Asians, whites or blacks, and rates of regular exercisers increase as income rises.

The city with the most regular exercisers? Boulder, Colorado. The city with the fewest? Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, North Carolina with 41.8 percent.

To see the full report, go here.

Five tips to help you keep your cool while hiking on a hot summer day

Hikers explore St. Edward’s Park in May 2016. Photo by Pam LeBlanc May 9 2016


Hiking in Central Texas lately feels like walking across a hot griddle with a blow torch aimed at your face.

That’s why Texas park rangers, who encounter lots of park visitors suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, want to share some tips to keep hikers safe during the hot summer months.

Number one? Drink plenty of water. Hydration makes it easier to tolerate heat. Carry extra water and drink periodically, even if you don’t feel thirsty. And if you’re bringing your dog, make sure it has water, too. A good rule of thumb is to turn around and head back once you’ve consumed half of your water supply, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say.

RELATED: Tired of the usual trails? Check out these less-known hiking gems.

Second, make sure you know how long the trail is before heading out. Hikers sometimes underestimate how long it will take them to hike a trail, especially when they’re tackling rugged terrain. Trail maps are available at the visitors center of all Texas State Parks, and online at the department’s website.

Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing when you hike during the summer. Photo by Pam LeBlanc


Third, plan hikes for early in the morning or in the evening, when it’s cooler and the sun isn’t as strong. Take frequent breaks and know your limit. Rest under shade when you can.

RELATED: Beautiful hiking trails, no crowds at Doeskin Ranch.

Fourth, wear appropriate clothing – light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothing works best. A hat keeps your face shaded, and a bandana can be dipped in water and worn around the neck to keep you cool.

Finally, park rangers say, check the weather before you start your hike so you’re prepared for conditions on the trail.

If you start to experience a heat related emergency, call the park headquarters or 911.

Participants in the Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series explore Pedernales Falls State Park. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

New bike and pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek opens

It just got a whole lot easier to commute by bike from southwest Austin to downtown.

The bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Loop 360 and Barton Creek opened this week, and I took an 8-mile detour just so I roll along the new, ultra smooth stretch of concrete.

The verdict? Fantastic.

The new bike and pedestrian path across Loop 360 and Barton Creek has opened. Photo by Pam LeBlanc


I pedaled from Barton Springs west to the access road of MoPac, then rode the sidewalk south all the way to the new path, which crosses Loop 360 with two short spans, then leaps over the Barton Creek gorge with a 1,100-foot bridge.

A lane line divides the northbound from southbound traffic on the path, which curves and climbs and swoops and rolls for more than a mile. It towers 70 feet above Barton Creek at one spot.

It’s been a long wait. Construction on the 14-foot wide path, first suggested in 2005, began in early 2014. Crews encountered problems along the way, including deeper bedrock than expected. They had to redesign footings.

Last July, Statesman reporter Ben Wear reported that the bridges would open in stages by the end of the year. That didn’t happen, but today’s cruise triggered a smile that wrapped all the way across my face.

Proponents of the $14.1 million project say the route will encourage people who wouldn’t brave the access roads of MoPac on their bicycles to pedal into the city center. The trail provides easy access to Barton Springs, Zilker Park, the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird lake and more. It’s now possible to bike, off street, from U.S. 290 all the way to the river.

The city of Austin and Texas Department of Transportation split the cost of the project.