Monthly Archives: April 2011

I find your lack of nutrients disturbing.

I recently answered some questions for an interview regarding vegan athletes for Indyvegans.com, of which I will post the entire interview at the end of this. I always expect one standard line of questioning to come during these interactions, that is, “Where do you get your protein?” or “How do you get all the nutrients you need for your training?” I don’t think these questions are asked as if the interviewer doesn’t believe that getting sufficient nutrients on a vegan diet is possible, but rather because this is still the concern or confusion held by the non-vegan populace. As tired and expected as it is, I don’t ever wary of answering it because it’s the first wall, and a big one too, of perception that gets torn down in the steps to considering veganism.

Over time, I’ve also found my response to these questions morphing over time, whether for a specific audience or because I think one way offers a more convincing approach than another. For awhile, I would just rattle off the normal list of foods that are high protein – legumes, grains, leafy greens, etc. etc., while other times I would talk about eating predominately whole foods, and a “rainbow on my plate”. Then, after developing a number of successful race performances at a high level and a growing list of vegan athletes, I felt inclined to drop the specifics and science all together and just point to my personal bests or link others to a Robert Cheeke video. You just can’t argue with that.

Today, however, I came across another way of approaching the question while reading an article by my favorite vegan dietician Ginny Messina. In the introduction to her “Vegan 101” piece, Ginny says,

“Omnivores have to strive for food choices that reduce their intake of saturated fat and cholesterol and that maximize compounds that might fall short like fiber, folate, antioxidants, and potassium. Vegans need to give a little bit of extra attention to vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin A. And omnivore or vegan, everyone needs to identify good sources of vitamin D, and maybe omega-3 fats.”

I love that instead of responding to the normal wariness of something LACKING in the vegan diet, she turns the conversation around to simply imply that ALL diets lack something and ALL diets thrive in something. She frames it so that no diet, no matter how culturally fringe, isn’t “weird” or “extreme” or “isolated”, but rather contains the same successes and pitfalls of any other way of eating, no matter how culturally accepted it may be. I’ve often seen others struggle to find the magical dietary bullet, such as that ONE way of eating will fix everything (80-10-10, paleo, atkins, high fat vegan, low fat vegan, raw, gluten-free, etc.), and they always, ultimately, run into the same walls as every other magical dietary seeker. The bottom line is, there IS no PERFECT diet. We are adapting beings living in an ever-shifting environmental and cultural climate, that constantly has us considering and responding to our dietary needs, so to imply that veganism is somehow inadequate because it doesn’t contain every last nutrient known to man at optimal levels is biased and short-sighted. The key then, is not to focus so much on seeking the optimal diet, but rather the optimal way of EATING, making sure that whatever restrictions and/or liberations you put on your food choices, that you are seeking out ways to fuel yourself and not create harm to yourself.

Simply put, veganism is lacking in nutrients just as every other diet is lacking in nutrients, and veganism is thriving in nutrients just as every other diet is thriving in nutrients. The task then is to make sure you are eating the proper foods to get the best out of the choices you make. That response is a great way to approach the question of “how do you get your protein” or “how do you get your nutrients”, if only because once you look past the specifics of the questions, they often imply the diet is inherently problematic that takes effort to overcome.

I don’t see it that way.

And following upon that response, I don’t see it that way because I, as a high performing athlete, survive and thrive by my way of eating without bringing undue harm to fellow sentient beings on this earth. And I’m certainly not the only one. Veganism is not, on any equal terms, “lacking” or “restrictive” and although I could rattle off any number of foods that give me the nutrients I need to survive and thrive, I’d rather just point to my sufficient history of 6:30 pace 30 mile runs, my 2:25 marathon performance, my 100+ mile training weeks, my 2 x 3 mile intervals, my 6 x 1 mile repeats. Those are evidence and numbers you simply can’t argue with.

So if you are considering going vegan and have concerns about the effects it might have on your well-being, all I can say is “don’t” (have concerns). Transfer the attention and awareness (or broaden it) that you hold with your current way of eating and apply it to veganism. Then you’ll have nothing to worry about.

—————————————————-

So you’ve been vegan for ~15 years now, correct? What led you to become vegan? I’ve been vegan for 16 1/2 years, making the transition back in ’94 during my first year of college when I finally found some personal freedom. I was heavily involved in the hardcore/punk music scene at the time and veganism was the most publicized issue at the time, so I was exposed to all sorts of information relating to the treatment of animals and what we can do about it. I went vegan for ethical reasons and that has always been the foundation for my decision, despite all the other benefits I’ve gained from it. The bottom line is that animals should never be captured, confined, tortured and used for our unnecessary purposes. It’s that simple.

After taking a break from running (the 13 yr. hiatus you mention in your bio.), what got you back into it?I moved down to Franklin Indiana in the middle of nowhere while I saved money to raise my son. I was heavily into cycling at the time, but with nowhere to commute to I needed a release and wanted to keep up my fitness, so I started running again. I entered a race a month later, won my age group and everything snowballed from there.

Have there been any challenges to being a competitive vegan athlete?Not a one. Some of the guys on the team I run with have made joking comments here and there, but my performances speak for themselves, so there is a respect we all hold between each other. They can see that my decision to live vegan is obviously not holding me back in anyway, nor is there reason to think it would.

Have you met other vegan athletes/could you tell the readers a little about them?I’ve met a lot of vegan athletes through veganfitness.net, from all over the world, but have only met a couple in person. Of the most respected in the running field is ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, but by far the most talented is Jeffrey Eggleston who currently has a shot to make the Olympic Marathon team. There are so many others at the elite/sub-elite level that it’s hard to keep track. Then there are the more well-known athletes such as Robert Cheeke (bodybuilder), Mac Danzig (MMA fighter) and so on.

What advice would you give to people trying to get more active, but are afraid that they can’t do it safely or as competitively with a vegan diet?I’d say there is no cause for concern just as long as you eat a smart diet, which is to say one consisting primarily of whole foods, a diversity of foods (a rainbow on your plate) and leave out excessive sugars and processed foods. This isn’t even advice I would give to vegans only, but to EVERYONE. In a nutshell though, there is no reason you can’t perform physically on a vegan diet…there are PLENTY of us out there proving the possibility of doing so. I run 100 miles a week with strenuous effort 3 times a week, depleting my energy stores, breaking down my muscles and so on, but am able to recover and progress over and over….all without taking the lives of animals or subjecting them to a horrendous existence.

What resources do you use around the Indianapolis area for your eating/training that you’d like to share? (i.e. supplements or superfoods at a health store, trails you enjoy, etc.)Indianapolis has a huge training resource with the Monon trail, if only because it is usually well marked with 800 and mile markers, so if you want dedicated distance training, you can really use that to gauge your progress. Then there are other beautiful areas such as the Canal Towpath, the Fall Creek trail, the downtown canal, the hills around Butler, Crown Hill Cemetary, etc. etc. Sometimes you have to do a little digging, but there are so many great pockets of areas to do difficult training. Other than the local area, I love getting down to the Hoosier National Forest for trail running…those trails and hills can’t be beat and are great for overall training of strength and cardio.

As far as supplements go, I don’t take them…in pill form anyways. I get all my nutrients from my food. Well, that’s not totally true, just to be safe I take a B12 supplement, because problems from B12 deficiency can really sneak up on you without you realizing it’s happening. Other than that, I’m supplement free.

In junction with the last question, what are your go-to foods/meals while training?Peanut Butter. Hah! No seriously, I love that stuff. Really, I don’t eat any different during dedicated training, compared to just going out and running around. I make sure to get carbs and protein in me soon after a hard workout and I rely heavily on fruits like Bananas and Medjool dates, but other than that I’m just making sure I’m getting greens, protein, carbs, and all the little nutrients that aren’t so readily available in most foods. But yeah, Peanut Butter whenever I can….just cause it goes well with almost everything. 🙂

Lastly, what’s your favorite event to partcipate in? (Type of event, distance, or specific race – or all of the above!)I love 1/2 marathons. Anything long and strenuous is great. Running a marathon fast is an insanely rewarding accomplishment, but sometimes the preparation and frustration really wears on the experience. 1/2 marathons are more enjoyable to me for both the accomplishment and ability to continue on once the race is over. Oh, and a brutal trail race through the woods makes me pretty happy too.

Anything else you’d like to add?Yeah, there is no reason NOT to live vegan and there is certainly no reason to think living vegan will inhibit you in anyway, mentally or physically. There are so many of us out there proving the possibility. Our performances speak for themselves, always with the intent to live in a world where everyone is free, human and non-human animals alike. See you on the streets!

Oh, and check out the following sites –

http://www.veganfitness.net
http://www.runvegan.wordpress.com
http://www.allezpancakecafe.wordpress.com
Twitter: dandiesracing

Advertisements

A debt unpaid – repost in honor of The Race For The Cure

I wrote this over a year and a half ago when my sister was struggling with Triple Negative breast cancer. She has since lost that battle, but so many others continue to fight. Today is the Indianapolis Race For The Cure and my sister was on my mind during most of my long run today, so I wanted to repost this in her memory.

I’ve also attached a link to a free downloadable book on Cancer and Diet. Please take the time to read it.

http://www.cancerproject.org/resources/guide.php

———————–

My sister is dying of cancer. I feel really awkward trying to come up with some way to lead you the readers into this story. There is no way of giving due respect to an issue of this brevity. There is no hiding from the very stark reality of this situation. That reality being that my sister is dying of cancer. It’s not pretty and
it’s not a scenario to capitalize on. It’s simply what it is.

To summarize the situation, my sister developed Triple Negative breast cancer over a year ago. Triple Negative breast cancer is a very aggressive, if not the most aggressive, form of breast cancer for women of a certain age. My sister, at 36, falls within that group. After discovering the cancer in her body she went through the typical treatments, resulting in the loss of her breast tissue in order to curb its potential comeback. That wasn’t enough. After we thought she was through the worst of it and on her way to recovery, a check up revealed that it had mestastized to her brain and then to her spine. This was not good. Upon this discovery she asked the doctor if they had seen any happy endings at this point. They bluntly told her no. They also told her that with treatment she had months to live, without she had weeks. Specifically they told her she had about 6 months to live with treatment, of which she began right away.

She has currently surpassed the six months of treatment, which is a victory in its own right, yet the situation remains quite dire as far as I can surmise.

My sister was a runner as well. My whole family, we all were. In fact, I think my sister still holds some of the distance records she set at our high school way back in the early 90′s. I remember both of my older sisters leading the way on the cross country teams, sometimes sparking a sibling rivalry between each other that at times played out back home as well. Being a few years younger, I never went out for the team when my sister was on it, but I do remember watching her run a few races, the most vivid being when she collapsed in the final stretch and hyperventalating to a worrisome degree. Turns out she had contracted mono and was running through it. I wish that wasn’t the most clarified memory I have from her running days, but it’s those sort of situations that inevitably stick out right?

Although I speak from the privileged position of NOT having cancer, I dare say that maybe the worst part of cancer isn’t when it runs its course to the end, but rather the process that gets one there. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about cancer prior to my sister developing the disease. I just knew that cancer killed people and apparently it was bad. I just figured people got sick and weak and died. I really didn’t know much more than that. I started to get a more intimate education about the terrible processes of dealing with cancer when I stumbled across the Fat Cyclist blog (www.fatcyclist.com) where Elden details his wife’s battle with cancer in great detail and even greater emotion. It was good to become aware of what cancer has the potential of doing to someone while it is being battled, but I won’t say it wasn’t downright scary too. Elden has a lot of courage bringing that process out into the open, but boy is it needed. Most people, who haven’t had an intimate experience with cancer, just really don’t know how bad it is, and I say this as someone who is also pretty far removed from the process as a whole.

I did have a fairly direct experience with cancer not too long ago when I called my sister one day to see how she was doing. Her husband answered the phone and just as he was about to give it to her she started howling in pain. Not just crying or complaining, but absolutely howling in excruciating pain. I didn’t know what to do and sat frozen with the phone to my ear. It took me a minute, but I hung up the phone after I couldn’t take any more. It was such a helpless feeling and almost worse when I hung up, knowing I could step away from that trauma, but she couldn’t. Apparently, either related to one of her treatments or the steroids she was taking to alleviate the pain, she developed shingles, which I’m told is a sensation in your extremities that isn’t too far removed from your legs being set on fire.

The last time I saw my sister in good health was in Ocean City last year. We were both running at the time and she was training for an upcoming marathon as she had taken to running that distance, not competitively, but certainly repetitively. I was tired from a few late nights and early rises with my son August and she asked me to run with her one morning. She was getting up ungodly early and I declined due to fatigue. She prodded me at first then demanded I get up and run with her, leaving it at that. I didn’t get up. I regret that now. She is now unable to run anymore. As a matter of fact, I think she can’t even walk now and has to be pushed around in a wheelchair. Sometimes her arms don’t work. She has to wear adult diapers as she has no control over her bowels. She sleeps for hours at a time.

Some of this is cancer. Some of this is the process of fighting cancer. Both are horrible.

Who knows how cancer has become so rampant. When I gave my talk on veganism recently a student raised his hand and asked me, “What do you get out of being vegan?” I paused, trying to deliver the most impactful reason among the countless I have, and then I gave them this,

“I’m not saying you are going to bite into an apple and feel on top of the world, but there is certainly a sense of self-satisfaction I get from doing this. Look, my sister is dying from cancer. I don’t know how she developed cancer and no one really does. It could be diet, it could be trauma, it could be environmental, it could be none of these and it could be all of them combined. We simply don’t know. But what we do know is that there are factors that act to work against cancer, one of them being diet. I could contract cancer in the future, but I’ll tell you, there is a deep level of comfort in knowing that at least to some degree, I’m acting to prevent that. Cancer is a terrible, terrible process, and to know that I’m doing SOMETHING to keep myself out of that process is more reward than I could ever convey.” I only hope something out of my talk stuck with them.

I’m leaving Friday evening to go see my sister. I’m not entirely sure what state of awareness she is in, but from what has been relayed to me, it’s not that great. Considering how things have deteriorated since last time I saw her, it can’t be very good. The last time I saw her we would have a conversation and just an hour later she would ask me the exact same questions like it was the first time. It was very confusing and I wish I had been prepared for that. Again, it might have been the cancer and it might have been the drugs she was on to alleviate the treatments, but regardless it sucks.

She has now gone through about every procedure one can have. Radiation, chemotherapy, masectomy, “cyberknife”, blood brain barrier diffusion (a tube that drips chemo into her brain), etc. Her husband is a well-known doctor who has not only an endless supply of studies at his disposal, but also the phone numbers of the doctors who wrote the studies. I can’t imagine what else she could have to fight this. But cancer is cancer.

My sister is still fighting. I am going to see her this weekend and although she sleeps a lot I am hoping that I get to spend some time with her. Ultimately, I think I’m going to help my family take care of hers. She has three very rambunctious children who seem to be taking this process well, considering. One of them is also a burgeoning runner, once he gives up that football junk. It’s in our genes.

I believe my sister is still able to go out for walks around the block in a wheelchair. I only wish I could push her on a run, but I don’t think her body is equipped to handle that sort of jarring right now. I just want to make up for bailing on that run with her in Ocean City. I owe it to her.

Plant strong?

Something has happened to my body and I have no idea what it is. Oh, and I like it!

Ever since backing off (not retiring) from competitive running and high mileage, high intensity training I have continued my running based entirely on motivation and availability of time to do so. Sometimes this meant 25 miles a week, sometimes 70. Sometimes I would run for 5 days consistently and sometimes I would only get a day or two in. But just those small tastes had me craving more mileage and more speedwork and with this benefit run I have coming up on the 30th (www.herroncrosscountry.wordpress.com) I HAD to get in some decent training just to have a legitimate performance. I decided to focus on at LEAST getting my long run in on the weekends. Very quickly though, that long run turned into looooong runs, going from 20 miles to 24 to 26 to 30. I was frickin loving it and, even more, was dumbfounded at how my body was responding to and recovering from the runs. So all of a sudden, with a little help from a Y membership that afforded me the ability to do my runs before I went to work, I was hitting 75 mile and up weeks consistently….but I didn’t feel race ready. I had still to incorporate consistent and intense speed work. But at least I was getting runs in consistently without interfering with my family life and oddly enough I wasn’t completely wasted and exhausted after the mileage increase. I still had lots of energy, could get up at 5am to run no problem and my legs felt recovered by the time I had started my work day. It didn’t make sense.

Let’s fast forward now.  I’m 2 weeks out from doing my benefit run, I’ve got one race under my belt since backing off (low pressure, low competition trail race), and I’m now hitting marathon training mileage. Last week I ran 100 miles and I’m gearing up for another one this week. Here’s the thing….I feel awesome. And I don’t know why.

When I was training for Chicago last year I was uppping my mileage to 100 mile weeks and when I would do so, I felt completely trashed. I was sooooo tired all day and if I shut my eyes while sitting at my desk I would fall asleep within a minute. THAT’s how exhausted I was. Walking up the stairs at work was an effort in itself. At times my legs were sore, but most of the time they were just fatigued. At home I was incredibly moody and after doing my run for the day, I couldn’t fathom running again or even getting on my bike to ride into town. I assumed this was just how marathon training went.

But now, well, I don’t know what’s going on now. Maybe it’s the lessened level of intensity in my workouts or maybe it’s taking complete rest days here and there, while still holding mileage, but despite hitting 80, 90 and 100 mile weeks, I feel awesome.

For instance, last week I hit 100 miles from Saturday to Friday, including doing 30 miles on Saturday, followed by 20 miles of trails on Sunday. Normally, I would be completely destroyed, and bounding out of those trails on Sunday my legs felt “marathon pain”, but just hours later there was no lingering pain, just general weakness. The next day I was good to go again and so throughout the week I kept running and made it to 100 miles on Friday. I then took 2 full days off to “slang some ‘cakes” (www.allezpancakecafe.wordpress.com) and started back up Monday.  And this is how the week went.

Monday – Went out for a simple 10, not super fast, but not recovery either. Ran quickly to 5 1/2, tended to a car wreck I witnessed, then turned around to run home, now turning it up to all out effort, doing a few miles of speed work.

Tuesday – Ran 10 comfortable miles at 5 am.

Wednesday – Did an intense interval workout on the treadmill (16 x 2:00 on, 1:00 off – all under 5:27 pace, hitting 5:13 on a couple), totaling 10 miles. Then later in the day I felt so good and with the sun shining I went out for 10 more miles, and felt SO GOOD that I ran them progressively quicker and ended fast.

Thursday – Against all common sense, I ran 11 or 12 miles, throwing in a hill workout with 10 steep hill sprints in the middle before returning home. That was essentially 3 workouts in a row and I should have been exhausted and muscularly wasted….but I wasn’t.

Friday – Did 10 recovery miles in the morning and felt just fine throughout the day.

And here we are. I’ve got a long run tomorrow (30 miles) and if I feel good, plan to follow that up with 20 more, topping me out at 112 miles for the week. I’ve never run that many weekly miles before…and I feel great, though experience tells me I shouldn’t.

I don’t know what’s going on with my body right now, and although a lot of vegan athletes reference super quick recovery times based on their diet, I just never bought into that. I haven’t studied the science of it all and am not really concerned either way as I still perform to my expectations….however, whatever the reason, I feel like I could do double and triples every day without consequence. Maybe this is how people get injured, but right now I’m listening to my body and it has yet to give me cause for concern. Right now, all it’s telling me is to keep running and see what happens.

So yeah, I don’t know if it’s my diet. I don’t know if it’s the break I took after Chicago. I don’t know if it’s my full recovery days off from time to time. I don’t know what it is, but damn does it feel good and I’m really excited to see what I can do on this treadmill benefit run on the 30th and on the anchor leg of a Tri-relay I’ll be doing May 14th with Team Dandies. For now though, plant strong or not, I’m just enjoying the run.

Like father, like son..and vice versa

My dad asked me to help him buy a pair of running shoes. He knows I have connections with good stores in the Indianapolis area and, I guess, trusts my “expertise”, or at least experience, in this matter seeing as how I’ve gone through a new pair every 2 months or so. Naturally, I took him to Athletic Annex, the store my coach owns and who I still have some manner of sponsorship through. Like me, he didn’t want anything based merely on price, but shoes that will “work and last long”. He also didn’t want to grab the first pair brought out to him and so tried on about 4 or so brands, taking some pairs for a couple trots before finally deciding on some Brooks. He double checked with me to make sure he was getting a good pair of shoes and I had to convey that there are no bad shoes in a store like this, just different fits and purposes. He was satisfied and I was glad to play my part in that unique experience of life where the child aids the parent. It, rightfully, doesn’t happen often and I can’t deny the feeling of pride in having that moment. And the pride didn’t stop there.

My dad was buying a pair of running shoes because he had committed to running the Mini-Marathon with a friend of his who was doing a mini in every state. On the drive home from the store my dad continued asking me some questions about certain nutrition bars and other subjects related to the upcoming mini and I was, again, proud to help out. The pride was more than that though.

My dad also informed me that he is almost done with work and will be retiring. I was secretly glad to hear this. My dad has an incredible work ethic, which has not fallen far from the tree, by nurture or nature, believe me. I learned later that his work ethic was to the extent that it, at times, strained my parents marriage. He can work long days and nights, staying focused on task while shutting everything else out. And so can I. I also know he could probably have used a little more free time in his life while providing for our family, so when he told me he was retiring, I was happy for him, knowing this was a sort of massive, endless reward for all the work he has put in up to this point. He can now golf until his hands fall off. This isn’t what I’m so proud of though.

I remember the image of my grandfather (on my dad’s side) very vividly. He was a balding, large bellied man whose hands were worn and calloused from sheet metal work as if they had been fashioned from sandpaper. And I never saw him without a cigarette smoldering somewhere. Never.  He would sit in his lazy boy, watching black and white war movies and hacking incessently. He contracted lung cancer, quit cold turkey and then died. It isn’t a pretty vision.

Then during a visit with my dad sometime in my 20’s, after not seeing him for a stretch of months, I was taken back when I saw the same thinning hair line, worn skin and protruding belly forming on my dad. He was beginning to mirror his own dad and that concerned me for a couple of reasons. For one, my dad doesn’t and has never smoked. He has always been relatively active and firmly grounded, so to see him start to age physically was a reality check regarding the seeming immortality we sometimes hold of our parents. More so though, I feared that my dad’s appearance was a mirror to my future. If HIS dad looked like he did and MY dad started to resemble that appearance, did this mean that I was genetically destined to deteriorate the same? I wanted to believe otherwise, but I had no evidence to the contrary.

Then after a few more years of sporadic visits I had another encounter between an extended lull and suddenly something was different. It took a second to realize, but my dad’s appearance was noticeably different, almost shockingly. He had lost weight, a lot. Enough to become apparent in his facial muscles. His belly was gone and he looked fit. I told him as such and asked what was going on.

It was simple really. He was training for a bike ride in memory of my sister who passed away from cancer just 1 year ago. He had rode the 75 mile leg before and cramped up considerably in the process, but we had him on a better bike this time and he had been putting in good training for the ride. It wasn’t just that though. He told me that he was at the neighborhood gym a few times a week and eating better. He was eating primarily fruits and vegetables and the meat in his diet was in considerably smaller portions. That was it. Just eating better and being physically active, and suddenly he was the physical dad that I knew from the past, as if growing younger. He did that 100 mile ride, didn’t cramp, and I was very proud of the accomplishment. And he didn’t stop there, but continued eating well and staying active.

Then he asked me to help him buy shoes for the mini, which took me by surprise because I knew he planned to walk it with my mom, but now he was going to run it (or run/walk?, no matter). I think then I realized what was going on. Like he said, he is retiring. And I think he is taking advantage of that.

Where some people look at retirement as their free ticket to the lazy boy, I think my dad recognizes the value of the free time he now has in front of him, allowing him unrestricted access to the golf course and anywhere else he chooses to go. And THIS is what I’m proud of. My dad is retiring from work, not life. I think my dad sees this retirement as a way to really ENJOY life and therefore wants to be ABLE to do it. I don’t think he wants to be relegated to the lazy boy during his retirement, but actually have the physical ability to LIVE life now that the opportunity is there more than ever. He recognizes the value in riding his bike 100 miles, running a mini-marathon, golfing 3 times a day and so on…because THAT is what is retirement is all about. Not just NOT working, but actually LIVING. You can’t do that when you are physically unable to do so.

And although it’s a rare moment that the child is proud of the parent, I can’t help but say that I am. My dad is doing something great for himself and his life and that makes me happy for him, but he’s also showing me that what I once thought was a mirror of my future self held up for me to accept, I now know is merely a decision of my own making.

That makes me proud and hopeful no matter where my life heads from here.