Vegan Ultra Runner

Can a middle aged, slighty overweight smoker run 50 miles…Did I mention I was vegan?

Nobody Cared What I Ate Before…

I was reading a post on Facebook by No Meat Athlete and it got me to thinking. Here it is.

NMA Marty writes: “Tough being a Vegan in San Antonio this weekend at R n R …..I actually had people BOO at me as I ran by. There was a team of 30 or so runners that had shirts made up that said “Fueled by Beef”. I represented proudly though wearing a shirt that said “Runs on Plants.”

Why would anyone BOO a runner in any race? Why do people seem to care so much about what vegans/vegetarians eat? Most people don’t care about what they themselves eat, so why should they worry about anyone else? It doesn’t bother me that people wear shirts that say “Fueled by Beef”, so why does it bother them if a runner wears a “Runs on Plants” shirt? I’ve seen other examples of people acting this same way.

Arian Foster is a prime example of how people react to vegans, especially vegan athletes. Foster is the running back for the Houstan Texans. Last summer he announce that he was following a plant-based diet, mainly because he felt it would help his ability to recover from workouts. I’ve read numerous comments about how he can’t eat this way and play football. Some fans have even said that they hope he fails this season. Even teammates have not been very supportive. One teamate said “I had a long conversation with him about that. I told him, ‘If this doesn’t work, I’m going to kick your ass,’ ” teammate Brian Cushing said. “I told him that because he’s going too far. He thinks he knows more than me, but he doesn’t, especially about nutrition. We have a good relationship, but I told him this better be right. We have a lot riding this year.” Foster seems to be handling it alright though. “Everybody cares what I eat now,” Foster said. “They didn’t care before, but they do now. Everybody is a nutritionist now and they’re an expert on protein. Every day, every single day somebody knows something new to do. I just smile and say, ‘OK.’ ” Oh and by the way, Foster is 3rd in NFL yards, 3rd in yards-per-game, and 1st in touch downs. Being vegan didn’t make him a great athlete, but it sure didn’t hurt either.

I’ve been pretty lucky, since I “came out”. My wife and kids still eat meat, but it doesn’t bother them if I chose not to. My 13 year-old daughter picks on me. She tells people I’ll go “all vegan ninja” on them. Of course, she also picks on me about losing my hair, so I’m used to it. My wife has even changed some of her recipes to fit in with my new lifestyle, and found out that they’re better without meat.

I waited about a month before I told they guys at work. I did catch some hell for it, but I work with firemen. Any one who has ever worked around a fire department knows that no matter what you do someone is going to have some fun at your expense. If it’s not me giving up meat, then it’s Jason doing Crossfit, or Roger packing on some love handles. There’s always something to laugh about, but no one means any harm. There is one person that does irritate me though. We’ll just call him… Jesse (mainly because that is his name). Everytime I see him he wants to tell me how veganism is unhealthy, how you need meat, or how his sister has had nothing but health problems since she quit eating meat. The problem I have with him is that he is very overweight, has multiple health issues, and makes no effort to change his lifestyle. Now I grew up with a father that has struggled with his weight for all of his adult life. I understand how difficult losing weight is. I just don’t need advice from someone who believes that the more protein supplements he eats the more weight he’ll lose. I don’t even know where to start on that nutritional strategy.

I guess I just don’t understand how anyone knocks someone for trying to become healthier. It’s like when people say that running is bad for you, or it will tear up your knees. Maybe running 50 miles isn’t good for me, but it’s better than what I was doing before. Nothing.

So as I slowly step down from my soap box, so as not to break my weak vegan bones, I’ll just say thank you for listening.

Officially Committed

I am now fully committed to 50 miles. I’ve registered for the Carl Touchstone Memorial Mississippi 50 Trail Run. On March 2, 2013 at 6AM I will be headed out for what will probably be 11 hours of running. It’s a little intimidating just seeing it in writing. At times, I start to think that maybe I have lost my mind (that’s what everyone who knows me thinks). Luckily, I’m finding that there is a lot of support in the ultra-running community. Runners who I have heard from on this blog and other sites all say I can do it. Maybe that’s because they have all accomplished 50 miles and more. They all know what it’s like to be driven to accomplish something that seems extreme to so many people. So as I start to ramp up my mileage, I want to thank everyone for the support, and say stick around. I’m going to need you.

4th in Age Group

Parker, Janet, Rachel and me holding Zuzu in the background.

No not me. The only way I’ll ever win my group is if I live to be 95. Even then there will be some 102 year-old man who will still beat me. My son Parker placed 4th in the under 9 age group at the Dog River Ghost Chase 5k with a time of 27:56. I’m very proud, but also embarrassed to say that his time is faster than any 5k I’ve ever run.

It was a very close finish. By close, I mean he could touch the 3rd place runner at the finish. It was quite a battle, but when I asked what he thought of the finish, he said “I was trying to pass Elvis, and got him at the end”. It was a Halloween run after all. Next week, we have the Senior Bowl 10k, and he says he’s going for the podium.

The kids that ran were all very good runners, even when compared to the adults in the race. The winner of Parker’s group was a 7-year-old boy who finished under 22 minutes. No that’s not a typo. 22 minutes. He was in the top 10 overall. Amazing.

I also need to congratulate my wife, Janet, for running in her first 5k. She finished under 32 minutes. A great time, especially when you consider that it was over and back a steep bridge, with a very cold wind. A tough initiation into running, but she is already figuring out how to run it faster next time.

Congratulations to my family and all the other runners who braved the cold last night.

Head Over Feet

Today I sat and began a post about attitudes, empathy and compassion. Needless to say it is on the serious side of things. About half way through I decided that I couldn’t be that serious today, so I’ll have to finish it another day. Writing about empathy and compassion got me to thinking about my wife though. She is a wonderful person, with a great heart, and is always concerned about other people.I’m lucky enough to have been married to her for over fifteen years. She’s a wonderful mother and always supports me know matter how crazy I might sound (50 mile trail run). I recorded this for her a few years ago and I can’t help but think of her every time I hear this song. I love this song and I love you Janet.

Awaiting Chemo….

No, I’m not sitting in the lobby of our local cancer center. I’m not in the car heading to treatment. I’ve not even scheduled the first treatment. As a matter of fact, I’ve not been diagnosed…yet.

Here’s my situation. For almost thirty years I’ve used tobacco in one form or another. From sneaking off to the park to smoke my first cigarette at age twelve, to”dipping” tobacco through high school, all the way to smoking a pack a day, this has been my life since I was fifteen. I can’t make excuses, or blame RJ Reynolds. I know the damage tobacco does, and I’ve chosen to smoke. What makes matters worse is that for the last twenty years I’ve worked in the medical field. You see, I’m a nurse and a paramedic. I know exactly what is happening in my body every time I light-up. I’ve watched people die, and I’ve watched people live with cigarette related diseases. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is worse.

Whoa, now wait a minute man. Is it twelve or is it fifteen? Your math is all wrong. Well, I smoked my first cigarette the summer between sixth and seventh grade. We (I can’t even remember the kid’s name) would run to Hook’s Drugs, spend seventy cents on a pack of Kools, and then hide on the trails of the local park and smoke. Of coarse, neither one of us could take the pack home, so we would smoke, and smoke, and smoke, trying to smoke as many as we could before going home. After seventh grade, we moved and my trip into the glamorous life of nausea, bad breath and washing the smell off in the creek, was over…until fifteen.

At fifteen, I began “dipping”. If you’re not from the good-ole south, then you might not know what dipping is. It’s where you take a finely cut tobacco, and “Put a pinch between the cheek and gum”. According to the commercial, it was that easy. What the commercial didn’t show was the constant spitting, or the persistent little spot of tobacco spit that hung on the end of my chin, or the stain on my car seat from where the spit-bottle turned over. I wasn’t good at it, and it showed. (Sorry to every girl I ever dated in high school). Later in high school, dipping began having to share my time with smoking. By college I was just smoking, and I have been since.

Fast forward through four kids and fifteen years into my second marriage, and here I am, feeling every light-up, every puff, and every flick of the ashes. If you’ve read my first post, then you know that I’ve made some drastic lifestyle changes due to a sky-rocketing blood pressure and high cholesterol. What I didn’t mention was the shortness of breath and occasional chest pain, that like most medical professionals, I chose to ignore. Well then, how do you run? Yes I am a runner. My wife laughs because I’m the only runner that she knows that has cigarette burns in my running socks. Running is easy, though. You just have to run slowly. I can run long distances, as long as I don’t get my heart rate up. When the heart is asked to put in a little overtime is when the problems begin. My wife talked me into going to a spin class that literally killed me. Obviously, it didn’t literally kill me, but I was pretty dizzy. It’s bad enough to have to show up at the fire station where I work and tell the guys that I went to a spin class, but to tell them that I only lasted fifteen minutes before I had to sit down, was death by a thousand snickers (firemen don’t actually snicker, they hoot and holler).

This brings us to where I am today. As you may know, in June, I gave up meat and challenged myself to run a fifty mile trail race. When I finally told the guys at work, their first question was “Why?” (actually the first question was “What the f**k?”). So, I began explaining how studies have shown the relationship between animal proteins and heart disease, diabetes type II and some forms of cancer. As I finished up my impromptu lecture I could tell that they were puzzled (mainly because “What the f**k?” was asked again). At that point I should have seen it coming. “Have you stopped smoking?” “Well…Um…No…Not Yet”  So, here was the simply truth. I could give up meat because it may cause cancer, but not smoking. (Now I had to ask myself  “What the f**k?”) So, in July, I quit smoking. Quit is an awfully strong word. “Fighting smoking” is a better phrase, because that is what I’m doing. It is a constant struggle. A struggle that I find myself losing on occasion. To see what a true hypocrite I am, you have to know that I smoked while writing this post (sorry Honey). It is what it is. I’m not proud of it, but that’s what happens. I fail, then I start again. I don’t know any other way and untill there is a magic cure, that is what I’ll do.

So why did I call this “Awaiting Chemo…”? I’m not trying to sound flippant about such a serious subject. As a matter of fact, I hope that if anyone reading this is or has gone through cancer treatment, that I haven’t offended you. I’m not trying to make light of the issue.  I was a little concerned about the title of this post. Maybe it is too casual. Sounds like I’m waiting for a bus, or waiting in the car-pool line at my daughter’s school. The truth is that cancer scares me. Chemo scares me. RADIATION SCARES ME. When I say that I’m “awaiting chemo”, it just reminds me of the sad fact that cancer treatment is probably in my future. I hope not, but these are the choices I made. If I develop cancer one day, I can’t really be surprised about it. These are the choices I made. I can’t blame anyone else for the damage to my lungs. These are the choices I made. Now, I started to change the title because I sincerely feel for anyone struggling with this disease. I don’t want to come off as being insensitive. In the end, though, I decided to stay with it. You see, this blog is about dealing with my health. It’s about the journey of trying to turn my life  around. It’s about being honest and accountable for the decisions I’ve made, and the ones I’ve yet to make. If the title seems insensitive then I am sorry, but at this point in my life I feel like I am “Awaiting Chemo…”.

Not a Triathlete

Okay. I am not a triathlete. I am in love with the idea of mastering three sports, but I’m not sure that I will ever have the determination, motivation, or commitment to fulfill such a long term goal. I just can’t seem to stick with goals. My wife thinks that I may suffer from ADHD. I prefer to think that I just have many interests that might change at any moment and without any notice. There is one interest, though, that remains fairly constant in my life. I’m a runner. Not a particularly good runner, but a runner all the same. I won’t ever win my age group, or qualify for Boston. I’m just a middle-aged, former smoker that likes to get out there and aggravate every dog in the neighborhood as I slowly plod through a few miles every day.

Now as much as I love to run, I still find the need to set goals that keep me honest about my mileage. After all, it’s easy to tell the wife that I’m going to run 5 miles, but sooner or later she is going to want some evidence of what I’m doing out there for an hour or so. Now, I have made several significant life changes, which include training for a marathon and a 50 miler. Most of the time I’m just happy to make it from point A to B, but this time I have decided to follow a set training plan. Today I had an off day and decided that some cross-training might be good for me. Swimming of all things. You know, maybe master the swim, get a road bike, and finish my first Tri next summer. How hard could it be? Well…okay, so I may not always think things through before I jump in, but in I went anyway.

Now to truly enjoy this picture you have to see my swimming set up. I don’t have a pool large enough to swim laps. We have one of those 18 ft. above ground pools for the kids, or what I like to call our “bag of water”. This could discourage all but the most determined, but not a problem for someone with a little ingenuity, too much time on his hands, and little to no shame. It’s actually a pretty simple fix. I tied a long strap to my shop, which is near the pool. The other end goes around my waist and off I go. It’s my cheap version of a never-ending pool. If it weren’t for things like this, my wife would have never married me. Of course she probably wouldn’t make fun of me nearly as often as she does, but that’s marriage.

So it’s seven in the morning and I’m waist-deep in a pool with my nine-year-old son’s swim goggles on and this strap tied around my waist. Luckily I have a tall privacy fence, so the only witness is my Labrador, Callie. It’s at this moment that I hear her laughing at me. This is not one of those little dog giggles that you hear so often. This was one of those howling laughs. Now Callie is a pretty strange dog, so if you knew her, you would see the irony in her, of all things, laughing at me. She spends long hours in the hot sun guarding the patio so that no bug shadows will invade her private space. She doesn’t mind the bugs, just hates those evil shadows. I know that when she’s looking at me like that I should probably rethink my plans.

Anyway I take off with my best attempt at a free-style stroke. I’m not an expert, but I doubt that the splashing from a good stroke should wake the whole neighborhood. Here I am though, working as hard as I can, not moving an inch, but at this moment I am a triathlete. Not one of those sprint distance guys, or even a 70.3 finisher, I am a full blown Iron Man! I have joined the ranks of athletes like Reed and Potts. So I’m swimming and concentrating on my stroke. I’m making sure to turn my head to both sides when I breathe, making sure that my hands finish close to my side, but don’t cross my centerline. Basically, I’m tearing this swimming thing up. Piece of cake! I’m ready to accept my medal and start doing magazine covers. “44 Year Old Man Comes From Nowhere to Defeat Pros at Kona.” That will be the headlines. People who have never heard of triathlons will even stop and take notice.

Finally I stop. My record breaking swim has come to an end. I hit the stopwatch button on my ten dollar watch, only to find that I managed 30 seconds of swimming. 30 SECONDS! No way that could be right. I have filed a protest with USA Triathlon and I’m still waiting on their official ruling. Until that is resolved, I guess I’ll have to live with that time.

I realized though that living with that time won’t be too difficult, because I found that I’m thankful. I’m thankful for being a horrible swimmer. I’m thankful for being a slow runner. I’m thankful that even though I can’t keep up with my kids, I can still get out there with them. At times when I stop being thankful, I think about the people who once had that lifestyle, and due to no fault of their own can no longer enjoy it… the biker now confined to a wheelchair because someone thought that their right to text while driving was more important than a persons safety…the woman facing a death sentence after being diagnosed with ALS… or the man so weak with cancer that he can’t go out and play with his neurotic dog. Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we forget that it can be taken away in an instant. We should focus on the blessings we have, and not on what we don’t.

I haven’t given up my dream of being a triathlete. God does work in miracles after all. Maybe after my arms recover I’ll try again and make it a whole minute. Maybe I will get a road bike and brave the not-so-bike-friendly roads. Don’t count me out for Kona just yet. I might still win my age group one day…maybe…if I live to be 105 and have the group to myself.

Running with Zuzu

Here’s 3 out of 4. It’s like pulling teeth to get Jesse in a picture.

I finally got to run today. I’ve been sidelined for the last week due to pain in the ball of my foot. More on that later. Today I got to get out there with my running partner Zuzu. For those of you that don’t know me you might think Zuzu is my dog. I do have a black Lab mix named Callie who loves to go running. As a matter of fact, if she sees me leave with my running hat on, she howls like some old coon dog untill I get back. But no, Zuzu’s not my dog, she’s my two-year-old daughter.
Zuzu’s name is actually Zoey. I tend to just call her “God’s little sense of humor”, mainly because everyone said that “Oops” was an inappropriate name for a girl. I mean, we are in our forties and surprises do happen. My other daughter came up with “Zuzu” from “Zuzu’s Petals” in It’s a Wonderful Life. So when she’s being sweet, it’s Zuzu Petal. If she’s in a playful mood then it’s Zuzu Monkey and if she’s mad then it’s Zuzu Monster. If you hang out for about half an hour, you will get to meet all three of them.
Now Zuzu is not my only child. I have three other kids, but they aren’t around during the day. My oldest, Jesse (20) , doesn’t live with us. He just started EMT school and tends to be pretty busy. Rachel (13) is in seventh grade and Parker (9) is in fourth. My wife Janet (age not spoke of) is a teacher, so on the week days they are all gone. I’m pretty lucky because I work for 24 hours and then I’m of for 48. During my 48 hours off, Zuzu stays with me and we have a pretty set routine. Either we’re out running, or we are watching Dino Dan….endlessly!
If you don’t have small children, then you are probably lucky enough to have never set eyes on this kid named Dan. Dan is this 9 year-old boy who apparently is not only delusional, but suffers from hallucinations. Dan sees dinosaurs all over his town, and nobody seems worried that he is the only one that sees them. This all seems to stem from the fact that his dad, a paleontologist, has abandoned Dan’s family. His mother says that he is away at a”paleontologist seminar”, but it’s been 8 episodes and we haven’t seen him yet.  Apparently his friends and teachers feel so bad that they let him live this fantasy. Well, at least that’s how I interpret the show. Zuzu sees it a bit differently. This is her favorite show, and so we watch…and watch…and watch some more.
So, I guess that since this blog is about running, I should probably get this ship back on course. As I mentioned, I haven’t been able to run for the last week due to metatarsalgia. Don’t worry, I’m an RN and I can’t say it either. Basically, it’s pain in the metatarsal heads, better known as the balls of your feet. It’s probably caused by either doing too much, too soon, or too many road miles in minimal shoes. I love my Merrell Trail Gloves, but I’ll have to save them just for trail runs. After a week worth of rest, My foot was feeling pretty good today. I taped it up with a mole skin pad and some Kinesio tape and it did alright. The secret is to place the pad just behind where it hurts, and not directly over the tender area.
Zuzu kicked back in her stroller, and we set off for an easy 5 miler through the neighborhood. Where I run is usually determined by whether she is with me or not. If we’re running together, then we run either in the park or in the neighborhood. I don’t trust drivers enough to get her out on the main roads. If I’m by myself, then I will either go run the University of South Alabama trail system, or I’ll just take off down the road. For any one in the Mobile, Alabama area that is interested in trail running, I highly recommend the trails at South. The local mountain bike group does a wonderful job maintaining them.
Now if you have stuck with me hoping for some exciting story about getting chased by wooly mammoths, wild baboons or even some of those feisty slugs we have, then this is where you will probably be mad. It was a nice run, but nothing exciting. Zuzu fell asleep within the first 5 minutes, although she did occasionally wake up and yell “Dino Dan” for no reason. The temperature was fairly cool, not like the 95 degree and 150% humidity days we had last month. My feet and legs felt pretty good after a week off, and I idled a little closer to my 50 miler. Tomorrow I’m off to the trails where I hear that a band of vicious koala bears have been heckling the local mountain bikers. Stay tuned.
For anyone interested in following my progress, I’ll post my Garmin GPS data on my Training Log page.

Can a middle aged, slighty overweight smoker run 50 miles…Did I mention I was vegan?

What do you do when you’re a 44-year-old husband and father of four and find that you have to make some drastic lifestyle changes?  You’ve smoked for almost 30 years and your blood pressure has rocketed to 180/117. You’ve inched your way to being 20 lbs overweight and your cholesterol levels are in a such state of denial that even Lance Armstrong and Pete Rose are telling you to come clean. What do you do? You do like all the other middle-aged, mid-life-crisis, superhero-in-your-mind men do. You swear off meat, and sign up for a 50 mile trail race. Seems obvious to me.

So first off, it’s time to be completely honest about the name of this blog. I’m not actually an “ultra runner”. Not yet anyway.  As a matter of fact the longest race I’ve completed is a 10k. The longest run I’ve ever made was 10 miles, but that was two years ago. So what makes me think I can run 50 miles? I want to run 50 miles. I’m going to try to run 50 miles. I don’t know that I truly believe I can run 50 miles. That’s something I hope to discover over the next few months.

The other thing is that term “Vegan”. In June I decided to give up all animal products, in my diet at least. I’m not sure why I initially gave up meat. I was probably just desperate to stay off the medicines that the doctor has tried to get me on for years. As I began reading things, such as The China Study and Forks Over Knives I began to see the health benefits of a plant-based diet. I also read things by super human athletes such as Brendon Brazier, Rich Roll and the GREAT Scott Jurek. Obviously I’m a big fan of Scott’s, although my wife says that Rich Roll is my “man crush”. I don’t think he is…I don’t have a man crush… well… maybe… I mean… Look at him! So anyway, I’m really about 98% plant-based. I still have to have cheese on pizza, and my wife’s wonderful lasagna, which she started making with spinach just for me.

So this is the wacked out veggie trip that is part of my life right now. I plan to document it, even if it is just for me. I hope to come out on the other side as some type of super-human running machine, or at least still be able to walk. I’m guessing the odds are about 50/50 either way. So whether you’re the type of person that believes in the greatness of the human spirit, or just a sadist who likes to watch people fail miserably, stay tuned. There should be enough for both.

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