Plant Based Diet – I’m Converted!

I am not someone who will follow ‘fad’ diets, for a long period of my life I was too picky with my food choices to be able to do so anyway!

Over the last four months now I have been ‘experimenting’ with a Plant Based Diet. This, for me, has basically been following a vegan diet with none of the ethical reasons for doing so. Anyone who knows me realizes how big a shift in my eating habits this has entailed. My previous diet was heavily protein based, mainly meat based but supplemented with Whey Isolate.

I have always been ‘one of those people’ hated by others! By this I mean I have always been able to eat what I want, when I want and in whatever quantities I wanted without the risk of gaining weight. My weight did however fluctuate up and down by 10lbs over the course of a week, but no conscious effort was needed to lose / gain this weight.

When this was my diet I always found that I was sore after races. Stiff joints after a half marathon, having to walk backwards downstairs to protect my legs after marathons, curled up in a fetal position the day after a 50 mile run. But this is surely to be expected after putting the body through a certain amount of stress, just something that had to be accepted if I was going to be a runner!

NO!

DEFINITELY NOT!

IT IS POSSIBLE TO RUN FAR AND LIVE A PAIN FREE LIFE!

I started having smoothies for breakfast and lunch and continued with my usual diet for the rest of the day. By ‘usual diet’ I mean whatever was quick and easy to cook based on family activities for the night. ‘Food prep’, surely that takes too long! I now realize that ‘Food prep’ is a long term investment. Yes, it takes a chunk out of my Sunday, but it frees up time for the rest of the week and eating actually becomes enjoyable rather than an additional stressor!

As I started to run more often and further distances, initially as a means to help with my mental health, I realized that I actually enjoyed the challenges that running brought. I started reading more about ultra running and three biographies really stick in my mind.

  • ‘Nowhere Near First’ by Cory Reese. Quite possibly the greatest, most inspirational, book I have ever read!
  • ‘Finding Ultra’ by Rich Roll
  • ‘Eat & Run’ by Scott Jurek

Cory somehow convinced me that running ridiculous distances was the most rewarding and enjoyable past time that has ever been invented! Rich planted the idea of a Plant Based diet in my head and Scott pushed me over the edge to fully commit to, at least trying, the diet.

There are always placebo effects like ‘if it works for elite athletes, of course it works for me’, that convince you that you must be doing the right thing when you make big lifestyle changes. The moment I was convinced that a Plant Based diet is actually beneficial to endurance athletes was four months after starting. The day after completing the 100km Diez Vista I was actually able to move! It was by far the longest and most gruelling race I had ever been part of, but somehow I could function as a ‘normal’ human being the day after, I was blown away.

The Diez Vista wasn’t a one off occurrence either. This time last week I had just completed my first 100 Mile run at the 24 Hour Cedar Ultra Endurance Run. The only pains that followed that run were the massive blisters that formed between my toes and feet (technically turning me into a platypus!) but no muscular pains.

I no longer have fluctuations in my weight either, I have finally reached a point where my weight is stable and I fulfill all my nutritional requirements through my diet rather than supplements.

A Plant – Based Diet will never turn me into an elite athlete, a time machine and a magic wand may be the only way for that to happen, but it will ultimately increase the longevity of the sport that has saved me in so many ways.

I’m definitely converted!

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I Can Drive!!

Can I ask one favour from those of you who are included in the 16%, approximately 1.2 billion, of the worlds population that are currently able to drive a car?

Please, don’t take it for granted! Don’t assume you will always have that luxury, because it can be taken from you in an instance in ways you can’t even imagine!

The Accident

That is what happened to me seven years ago. While bringing my one year old daughter home from her Sunday morning Gymboree class I was involved in a car accident. I say ‘involved’, I was the sole reason for that accident. While remembering very little of the incident I do realize how lucky I was. After veering across three lanes of traffic I collided into the side of a Toyota Rav 4 (family of five inside) with such force their vehicle was removed from the road and I only came to rest after my own vehicle hit a road sign. I was later told that I missed a lady, with her own child in a stroller, by a matter of feet.

I remember coming round to the sound of the car horn making an annoying and constant noise, it did stop when I removed my face from the steering wheel though. I was dazed, I was confused, but my senses quickly came to when I realized a stranger was taking my child out of the car. I jumped out of the car and confronted this despicable human that was stealing my child! The crowd of people that had gathered around the car intervened and with hindsight that was obviously the correct thing to do, at the time (clearly concussed) I was convinced they were all in on the plan to steal my child!

I started to see the wreckage around me and by the time the ambulance arrived I remember realizing I had been in an accident, but had no idea of the cause and could not understand why the ambulance wanted to take me to hospital. I just wanted my child back in my arms where I knew she would be safe, I also knew my wife would have freaked out if she knew I was letting strangers look after our daughter. My next memory was speaking to the police officer at the hospital and answering questions. I don’t remember the questions but I vividly remember the look of disgust on his face as he spoke to me, this was the first time I realized the accident had been caused by me! The look was an accusatory one, trying to weigh up if I had been drinking or doing drugs.

The Diagnosis and Treatment

The end result of my hospital stay and follow up hospital stays and MRI’s and CT’s and EEG’s and ECG’s (I really got to know the inside of a hospital!) was a diagnosis of epilepsy. The cause of the accident was me having a seizure behind the wheel and understandably, within an instance, my drivers license was gone. I have no complaints about that for my own and others safety.

Then followed six years of trial and error with changing and increasing amounts of medication to try and control my complex partial seizures. The epilepsy really did not change my life in any way other than not being able to drive, but having been a driver for sixteen years it was frustrating to no longer have the freedom I used to have. It also made me realize just how shockingly bad the public transit system is in my local area!

The medication was unable to control my seizures, but brain surgery was deemed a possible option. Like all surgeries there was the possibility of side effects, but if it had a chance of giving me my ‘normal’ life (the life that was ‘normal’ to me before the accident) back then they were risks I was willing to take. I have always lived with the idea that I never want to look back and regret not doing something. Regretting something I did do? I can live with knowing I made a choice to take that action and I will know what the outcome was, I just never want to be left wondering ‘what if’, or ‘if only’!

The Outcome

March last year was when I had my brain surgery, am I glad I made the choice? I have never regretted that decision but it has been a year of highs and lows.

Physically – it was a frustrating period post surgery with twelve weeks of total bed rest and then slowly building exercise back into my routine. I needed a challenge and as always I have to be extreme! What better way than to regain my physical fitness than signing up for an 80 kilometre trot around Whistler, British Columbia. I had never run a race this long before, but that was the main reason I signed up for it, knowing I would have to push myself would keep me motivated. So I designed a training plan that would fit my schedule and timeline so I could go from ‘Couch to 80K’ in sixteen weeks. This was probably the best thing I have ever done as it reignited my passion for running and provided me with the impetus to move onto other distances (100 km and 100 miles) and provided a focus during a period while I still could not drive and was battling other issues.

Mentally – this would be the ‘other issues’ mentioned in the last paragraph. Before the surgery I had never been an outwardly happy, smiley, cheery person but I was very content with life and happily plodded along with a good dose of sarcasm, content with my lot in life. Despite the struggles I have had this year, I would certainly say they have made me a better person. Twelve months ago if you had asked me about depression I would have pointed out that the person ‘suffering’ from this mental illness just needed to ‘get a grip’ and ‘cheer up’! Now I realize that twelve months ago I was an ignorant ass! I kept that description very short and fairly polite deliberately as I don’t know who may be reading this, children may be present! You can feel free to add to the description as many adjectives as you see fit, I know I have several. I won’t go into details of my struggles, I’m not yet ready to put them down in black and white. My biggest break through came after discovering the ‘Still I Run’ Community:

http://www.stilliruncommunity.com/

The Good News

As things stand today I have to look at the positive side of things, I have never been as physically fit and more appreciative of what my body is capable of. I would probably never have achieved this stage without that accident seven years ago.

The surgery has been a 100% success with regards to controlling my seizures and this as now led to me being allowed to drive again. This means I can explore more of the world without having to be dependent on others (which I HATED!). Long training runs of five hours are no longer restricted to within a two and a half hour radius of my front door!

The biggest beneficiary of this outcome? My three year old Springer Spaniel, Max! He can now come and explore the world with me, he was not the best running partner while on a lead and near roads. Now it’s trails all the way he will be perfect.

Conclusion

If you can drive, don’t take it for granted, it is your key to ‘independence’ and ‘freedom’! So take advantage of it and go explore!

Road to Recovery

How Easily Recovery Could be Stolen!

On the one year anniversary of my surgery I can’t help but reflect on the changes and progress in my life, both mentally and physically.

After the surgery I was 100% restricted to zero exercise, with a slow reintroduction to any form of movement. Prior to surgery I was, without doubt, in the best shape of my life. The knowledge of not being able to exercise after the surgery had definitely acted as a motivator. I had achieved this predominantly through CrossFit, a sport apparently filled with the risk of injury. Like all sports though the risk is directly related to how you, as the athlete, perform the movement patterns asked of you. For me the option of lifting heavy(ish!) weights was a long way in my future, so a return to running was my goal as a relatively low impact sport.

Running was also a long way off at the beginning of my recovery, I needed to stay safe. To achieve this I was to stay close to home and sitting down if possible to prevent falls. The rowing machine came to my rescue! Having said ‘rescue’ there are only so many times you can row 13.1 miles before callous’s start to form on top of callous’s and the pain makes the whole experience unenjoyable.

With a well planned schedule in place I started to build my fitness levels back up with running and was able to establish a solid fitness base.

As for running being the safer option, as opposed to CrossFit, I was aware of the bears, the cougars and the coyotes in my homeland, but yesterday I unintentionally introduced myself to some of the wildlife in a different country! A wild boar, a 6 ft snake of some description and two large birds of prey that I startled when running past them and their prey. In my defence, I think they startled me more!!

Running was no longer sounding safe! I had followed a careful routine with a gradual increase in mileage. Carefully followed my physiotherapists advice and used massage therapy to iron out any knots that may be developing. However, it would be nature that proved to be my biggest threat to my health. The irony for me though was that it wasn’t the wildlife, but the vegetation, that posed the biggest threat to my health! Upon close inspection of my shoes I was to find:

It just goes to show that even with the best laid intentions and preparation, it is possible to be dragged back to stage one. I think I’ll save that picture for the next time someone suggests that running can be the ‘safer’ option! I feel the CrossFit weights above my head would be safer than that massive spike! At least I would have the chance to move out of the way if I dropped the weights, there was no warning for that skewer going through my foot!

Happy Running

Be careful out there!

Sun Days

Just to clarify, in no way am I complaining about my position, I appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to travel. I am just feeling sorry for myself having gone from running in knee deep snow at about -4 Celsius (39.2 Fahrenheit) to 28 Celsius (82.4 Fahrenheit) in less than a week. Just like last weeks run in the snow, I now feel the need to justify (to myself) the run in the sun that was so gruelling (invigorating, but gruelling) yesterday!

Running from 10 am to 2pm was probably, let’s hold no punches here, dumb! Especially on an out and back route because the sun followed me around and I now sit with my right arm burned to a crisp lobster red and my left arm it’s usual pasty white!

Before my run I had convinced myself there were benefits to training in the heat, so what could go wrong with just jumping straight in with no acclimatization period?

Two things really. First was a misjudgment of an unknown route and the draining effect that the heat may have. On my way out I went down a, roughly, 4 mile gradual descent. On my way back that same ‘gradual’ descent had turned into a vertical climb of epic proportions! I clearly didn’t look good on the way up as not one, but two, cars stopped to offer me a ride! This in a location I had been warned against running in because it could be dangerous for tourists! No danger from the locals for me, just immense amounts of pity!

My second issue was a lack of water. Roughly 5 km from ‘home’ I found myself without any liquid and no means to buy any even if I did come across somewhere that would sell anything. It was a long 5km! I had no money / credit cards because of the warning about the dangers of running where I was. Can anyone else spot the irony in the fact that I alone was the greatest threat to my personal well being!

Benefits, there must be some!

  • Heat training is more effective at increasing VO2 max than altitude training.
  • An athlete becomes more resistant to training in all temperatures.
  • Heat adaptations improves mental and physical performance.
  • Heat increases plasma volume.
  • The sun will provide you with a boost of vitamin D (my current medication requires extra vitamin D).

This list is not extensive by any means. There are more than enough reasons to justify incorporating heat training into your routine. Just make sure you plan it out rather than jumping in on a whim, over confidence could potentially be fatal! For once I am probably not being melodramatic!

The following website offers a more useful approach to incorporating heat training into your schedule than my total submersion technique of yesterday!

https://www.outsideonline.com/2098556/surprising-benefits-training-heat

Does anyone have success stories of training in the heat?

Snow Days

It is now Wednesday and I have had chance to process what I did to my body last Sunday, allowing me to comment on it in a calm and rational manner; I may have been a tad melodramatic if I had written this post on Sunday!

The weekend just gone was meant to consist of a 3 hour run on Saturday and a 4 hour run on Sunday. We had received a lot of snow during the early part of that week and it was looking like they were going to be a long 7 hours of running. By Saturday though there was no snow to be seen, so I set off in my trail shoes looking forward to an enjoyable run into the mountains. I would actually class myself as a reasonably intelligent person, if that is the case though I am clearly void of common sense! About 45 minutes into my run snow appeared on the ground. By the 1 hour 20 minute mark I found myself stubbornly plodding through knee deep (and deeper where it had drifted) snow. The only thing that stopped me running to the full 1 hour 30 minute mark before turning around was the fact I finally found out who lived in that little caravan that has been in the forest since last summer. Quite a pleasant man, though clearly cognitively impaired, ironically, it was him that pointed out that I was ‘crazy’. I declined his offer of a ‘proper drink’ (unsanitized water from the nearby creek) and after a short conversation I turned around and headed back out of the snow.

Sunday came around and back into the mountains I went, this time a little more prepared. There was no way that the run was going to be missed, I had both my motivation and accountability pieces in place. As an added bonus the shoes I had bought last September, especially for this kind of weather, could now be truly put to the test. I was driven to a starting point in the Provincial Park and agreed with my driver to be picked up in 4 hours. Yes, I did just refer to my wife as ‘my driver’! I’m legally not allowed to drive since my surgery, but will hopefully be getting my licence back within the next month. Sadly, I may be heading for more surgery if she finds out she is ‘my driver’!

The dog was brought to keep me company for this journey and we slowly, but surely, ascended roughly 2800 feet progressing from no snow, to ankle deep snow, to knee deep snow. A lot of my time was spent justifying why I was running in these conditions and how they were benefiting me. The upcoming Diez Vista 100km / 14000 ft gain race kept coming back as the main reason! But HOW was the snow helping, I had to justify it to myself. The dog had very little sympathy for me; as knee deep snow to a 6ft human was head deep snow to him! I really wish I could read his mind because for the last hour(ish) of the run, if we approached an uphill section (surely the return was all downhill), he would stop, turn around and give me a look that clearly portrayed ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’!

We were going to be back late for our ‘driver’, by about 20 minutes. The snow was clearing up as we lost altitude so we could accelerate and enjoy being able to move freely. As I flew along at (comparatively) great speed, eating into the 20 minute deficit, I quickly discovered that the equation of tired legs added to over confidence equals falling flat on your face! A tree had fallen across the trail due to the weight of snow it had accumulated and I clearly didn’t see the branch / twig laying in wait for me and it pulled me down. My shoes, my special new ‘I can now run in snow’ shoes had served me perfectly until this point. Sadly, as I fell, I managed to tie my legs into a bow and the steel spikes on the base of my shoes scraped down the back of my calf. The dog came over to either check if I was alright, or laugh and point out that the fall was karma for taking him on that ridiculous journey, I’m still not sure which!

We both made it back to the car and after a few days of digesting the journey I have come to the following conclusions about the decision to go running in the snow:

  • Always go for that run, irrelevant of weather! The trails had never looked more beautiful and were reward enough for the arduous nature of the 4 hours
  • Make sure you give people a rough idea of where you plan to run so if anything happens you have a chance of being found. I discovered on Sunday that even with the best planning you can easily be led astray in difficult conditions. I would love to say I discovered some new trails, the truth is that I was probably no where near an actual trail and temporarily lost! Be careful and have the correct equipment to enhance your chances of survival!

Benefits of Running in Snow:

  • The obvious argument is, because of the extra energy required to pull your legs out of the snow, is that it acts as strength training. Thus, killing two birds with one stone.
  • It order to persevere in difficult, different, conditions you are developing your mental strength.
  • Apparently, shivering can burn around 100 calories in 15 minutes. Snow is cold, running in snow makes you shiver because it makes you cold. So running in the cold can help with weight loss. That is one argument, my counter argument would be that I don’t remember shivering very much! The extra work running in the snow helped prevent that from happening!
  • You get to use, and justify, expensive equipment if you are a ‘shopaholic’ like myself!
  • Running without snow becomes seemingly so much easier. My training runs since Sunday could not have gone any better!

If anyone can throw some additional benefits for running in the snow I would love to hear them as they will help me to grind through the next snow run I complete.

Rest Days – A Love / Hate Relationship!

I still struggle with Rest Days. There are those times, 4 hours into a 5 hour run on a Sunday for example, that the only thing getting me to the end is the knowledge that Monday is Rest Day. I take solace in the fact that I will be able to recuperate and enjoy a day of allowing my body the time to repair itself. However, Monday arrives and all I want to do is get back out on the road or trails and instead of enjoying my hard earned rest I find myself twitching restlessly and eager for Tuesday to arrive!

Thankfully this is one of the occasions that my, admittedly limited, common sense prevails! The benefits of building Rest Days into a training schedule have been studied and proven time and time again. I have to make the conscientious decision between having the immediate gratification of going for a run and taking the risk of sitting on the sidelines for a long time with a serious injury or allowing my body the chance to repair itself and actually enjoy running for an extended period.

No amount of protein powder being chugged down your neck is going to allow your muscle fibres to repair as well as taking the time to rest. Rest days are an essential requirement to provide the time required for your muscles, bones and connective tissues (among many others) to recover adequately so you can perform your best. More importantly, Rest Days provide you with the chance to recover mentally. With all these aspects taken into account you are going to feel more accomplished with your runs which will in turn ensure you are actually able to enjoy yourself! After all, that is surely the ultimate goal; I know it is for me!

How many Rest Days do you need?

This is going to depend on your own personal goals, your current physical condition and how hard you are pushing yourself on your days of activity. You could just play it by chance and decide on the day that you need to rest. I would personally find myself questioning that decision time and time again later the same evening, along the lines of ‘did I need to rest, or could I just not be bothered today’. Then I would feel the guilt for not doing a particular run, which I would remember the next time I wanted to take a Rest Day and possibly force myself into a run that should have been avoided!

The strategy that works best for me has always been to plan when my Rest Days will be, leading to guilt free resting and sufficient time for my body to recover. Whether you organize your own training schedule, or through discussion with your coach, ensure you build in Rest Days and STICK TO THEM! Scheduling Rest Days helps me avoid falling into sloppy habits of taking an extra day purely because I was just ‘meh’ that day. Obviously, take heed of what your body is saying to you! If needed, take the extra rest day, just make sure you are taking it for the right reason!

10 Signs You Need a Rest Day – Courtesy of Runners World

Don’t Forget Arm Day

Strength Training for Runners

A stereotypical gym goer will often be accused of ‘skipping leg day’, deciding instead to focus on those muscles deemed as attractive! These include the chiseled, rock hard abs as well as perfectly toned and defined arms.

 Image result for don't forget leg day meme

As runners, everyday is a natural ‘leg’ day. However, to name a few, extra strengthening of legs through lunges, squats and box jumps will always be beneficial. We also work hard on our cores to ensure correct alignment and posture, which helps generate power as well as preventing injury.

As a group (please excuse the sweeping generalizations being made in this post so far!), if we are guilty of anything, it is skipping arm day!

Image result for don't forget arm day meme

  • Our legs, without doubt, are our primary propulsion system.
  • Our core holds our form together.
  • Our arms? These two limbs shouldn’t just dangle from our sides like ears on a Springer Spaniel, either in a flaccid position or flapping around uncontrollably! They should follow a natural rhythm, helping to maintain our centre of gravity and alignment. They are going to need strengthening to prevent fatigue, which in turn, will lead to poor form and therefore injury.

I sit here now, preaching about the importance of arm strength, purely because I have been reminded of its importance over the last 48 hours. There is a reason that every key I am currently pressing is causing me discomfort!

After running over 30 miles this weekend on trails, always in at least ankle deep snow and at times knee deep, I find my arms to be causing me way more discomfort than they should! I could understand my calves, or my quads, but this has been a significant reminder of exercises I have been neglecting.

Post – Surgery I spent nearly 16 weeks sitting down and then placed my focus purely on regaining my leg strength and cardiovascular fitness. My arms have been very much neglected. That is a mistake I have made, and this weekend has pointed that out to me very clearly! I think it is time to incorporate some arm work back into my routine!

  • Push Ups
  • Banded Stretching
  • Overhead Press
  • Barbell Row
  • Thrusters (kill two birds with one stone! Legs and arms)

The list goes on, now it is just a case of actually doing it! All I need to do is remember the suffering of today and that will act as a reminder to incorporate these exercises!