Summer plans taking shape

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Image description: Tree silhouette against night sky

I thought it might be helpful to make a list of all the the things I’m up do running, biking, etc wise this summer. I’m also going to refer back to this post when I blog about financially accessible fitness!

1. Run for Retina, April 13, http://runforretina.ca/run4retina/

It’s a local charity I care about being a vision impaired person myself. (See The four eyed athlete for details.) I’ve also done it in both the 5 and 10 km versions a few times before so I know the route and venue pretty well. This year I’m very glad it’s the 5K that I signed up for as me and my sore knee have been out of commission for awhile now. See Rough times, tough choices and Fail again, fail better? for details of my miserable winter.

2. Cambridge duathlon, June 15th

Sprint Duathlon ~ 2km Run, 30km Bike, 6km Run

The first 2km run will start near the beach and will do an “out and back” run. The bike is an out and back 30km course, with the riders only making a few turns. The course starts out with a few climbs then flattens out and returning on the downhills as you come back to the park. The run course is all contained among Shades Mills numerous trails which consist of grass, gravel and mulch sections and across a bridge. Runners will run through beautiful shaded areas hitting 4 water stations before finishing back near the transition area. This new site is perfect for spectators to cheer you on in many different places.

I’ve done the bike course before, I think, and the first short run will be fine. The second run, 6 km, I will need to train for and I’m really hoping my knee calms down once the weather improves.

3. 200 km with David: My friend Dave is a serious, award winning Randonneur, cycling distances that boggle the mind. Most of his distances are well out of my range but we plan to do a 200 km Brevet together at some point this summer. See the Ontario Randonneurs page if 300, 400 and even 600 km rides interest you!

4. Kincardine: That’s the wonderful women’s triathlon Tracy and I did last summer, along with my daughter and a friend of Tracy’s. See First Triathlon Try: the Tri That Wasn’t.

It’s a terrific event and so we’re both doing it again, me the non swimming version!

5. Friends for Life Bike Rally: Yay! I’m 65% of the way to my massive fundraising goal of $2500. See 50th Birthday Challenge: Friends for Life Bike Rally. It’s a 600 km ride Toronto to Montreal, to raise money to support people living with HIV/AIDS. (The Friends For Life Bike Rally is the sustaining fundraiser of the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.)

6. August Bull Dog duathlon: I’m hoping to do this one again, Fun end of summer race, complete with age group medals! and My (Accidental) Barefoot Triathlon.

7. Gran Fondo: Last year I did the Gran Fondo Niagara which I loved but they aren’t holding it again. (See Riding, not racing, the Niagara Falls Gran Fondo.) Sigh. So this year it’s the Epic Tour | The GTA’s GranFondo 140K-80K-50K-10K (the 140 km version).

8. New belt test? I’m training for it now and hope to test either end of spring or end of summer. See Training for my 4th Kyu Test in Aikido Either option is perfectly fine but I’m hoping it doesn’t drag into the winter. Aikido more than anything I do tests my ability to be patient with slow progress. See This is how I feel sometimes about Aikido.

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Athletes, endurance, and aspirational vegetables

I am a parent and one of the usual meal time challenges even with teenagers is persuading them to eat vegetables. See Vegetable added everything for my last post on the issue of sneaking in the veggies. I was amused then to see this mix in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. Not just vegetables but “athlete’s mix”! And yes, we bought some and the high school athlete even ate some. (American readers can admire the bilingual packaging. I missed it when I lived in the US for five years. I kept flipping the cereal box over to practice my French but all I got was more English.)

Lately with all the fuss about protein, even here–see How to Get Lots of Vegan Protein (Tracy) and My new challenge! (me)–we can forget how much vegetables matter for health, well-being, and athletic performance.

In a recent research review the Precision Nutrition team asked Do veggies improve endurance?

I’ll let you go read the full report and just quote their conclusion,

“Supplementing with nitrate for three days, using levels that you can get with eating 200-300 g spinach made male cyclists use less oxygen to do more work.

This improvement came mostly from improving the efficiency of individual mitochondria.

There may be other relevant factors involved. For instance, when we eat food-based nitrate, bacteria in the mouth and gut reduce nitrate to nitrite, which is then converted into nitric oxide (NO). NO signals smooth muscle to relax, which increases vasodilation (opening of blood vessels) and thus improves blood flow. In fact, 8th century Chinese doctors used potassium nitrate to treat cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension and angina (as well as garlic, which also improves NO production).

What does this all mean? If you plan to do any endurance type race I’d say chow down on at least a big container of baby spinach (312 g) for each of the three days leading up to the race, and see if you beat your personal best. Worst case scenario — you’ll eat a little more salad.”

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Bike Touring Dreams: Washington Edition!

One of the very cool things about having a blog is that sometimes people send you things, like their books. I reviewed The Velocipede Races here for example. That was fiction and today I’m writing about a non fiction cycling book. The Cycling Sojourner  is a guide to the best multi-day tours in Washington and it’s made me start looking up air fares to the west coast. Written by Ellee Thalheimer, it’s available from www.intoactionpublications.com.
About Ellee: “The author, Ellee Thalheimer, would choose a dusty pannier, bike, and crumpled up map any day over an umbrella drink and a lounge chair. She has toured nationally and internationally, worked as a professional bike tour guide, and coordinated cycling routes professionally.005-2009, Ellee contributed to Lonely Planet guidebooks, and she authored their bike touring guide Cycling Italy. Her travel writing has also appeared in BBC Online, The Oregonian, Momentum, BikePortland.org, Oregon Cycling Magazine, and Cycle California! Magazine.”

I’m a big fan of bike touring. See Cycling holidays, Part 1: Rail trails  and Cycling holdays, Part 2: Organized tours.

“The nine tours in the book provide meticulously laid out nuts and bolts information, including cue sheets, maps, and information about weather, difficulty level, camping and lodging options and how to get to the ride’s start. Yet, the soul of the book lies in the voices of the five authors, four of whom are Washingtonians, who use storytelling, local history, and humor to elevate the book beyond just an everyday guidebook to an inspirational muse that draws out your inner adventurer.”

I haven’t done the tours so I can’t attest to accuracy but the kind of information included looks just right. They’re exactly the sort of things I’d want to know. Also, the guide manages to be a reasonable size to carry with you. It would easily fit in a jersey pocket if you’re a “credit card/B & B” bike tourist as opposed to the “carry your tent with you in panniers” sort. I’ve done both and see merits in both approaches.  Each ride is rated in terms of days. difficulty, season, scenery (“jaw drop factor”). Hills are well marked!

You can like Cycling Sojourner on Facebook here.

Get on your bike and ride!

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Here’s two pretty much unrelated links and news about cycling. They’re things I wanted to share but none makes a whole post on its own.

1. The Rise of the Female Cyclist

“The wheels of change are finally turning in what should be a breakthrough year in cycling. In May, Vos will lead the world’s best riders in the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain. More symbolically, after a campaign led by Vos and Emma Pooley, the British Olympian and former world champion, women will no longer be reduced to podium decoration at the Tour de France: they’ll be lining up along a start line, too.

“Fifty years ago, they said that women couldn’t run long distances,” says 31-year-old Pooley. “Kathrine Switzer jumped into the Boston Marathon [in 1967] to prove them wrong. Today, people still say women can’t ride the Tour de France, but there’s no question that it’s doable. And if they can [have equality] at Wimbledon and in marathons, why not at the most high-profile race there is?”

The women’s race, called La Course by Le Tour de France, will be staged in Paris on the morning of the last stage of the men’s event, crossing the same finish line on the Champs-Élysées. It is a pedal stroke in the right direction that follows earlier, failed attempts to stage a women’s race that could be the Tour’s equal. And it arrives at a time of progress in every area of cycling. From the velodrome and country lanes on a Sunday morning to the daily commute and school run, women are fast closing the gap in a male-dominated world. And they do so in defiance of the greater risk they face, particularly in our cities, and an establishment that has until now neglected them.

To the surprise of many in the industry, a chain of inspiration has been shown to link the exploits of British women leading the world on road and track not only to recreational riders and racers, but everyday women cyclists for whom Lycra and gritted teeth are anathema.”

Now go read the rest!

2. If you’re a female cyclist and a fan of the girly, here’s a ride series for you! The Beach Babe, Senorita Century, and Princess Promenade: “The Beach Babe Classic is part of the CaliforniaGirl™ Series of rides which also include the Senorita Century and Princess Promenade. The Series was created for women to enjoy all kinds of cycling without pressure.  Participants who complete all three rides are eligible for the Ladies Triple Crown™ medal awarded at the series finale, the Princess Promenade in Sacramento, CA.” In the past I’ve worried about girly bike events. See Do Cupcake Rides and Heels on Wheels help or hurt the cause of women’s cycling but hey, it’s spring, if it’s your thing, go for it. Let many different kinds of flowers bloom etc, etc.

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Running to, or from? Why exercise isn’t therapy

Image: Cheam Peak Hike

Image: Cheam Peak Hike

Jen Miller recently wrote an inspiring post about running as therapy for the New York Times blog “Well.” After a painful breakup, Miller began to put her life back together not with therapy – as her mother suggested – but by signing up “for a 10-mile race instead.” She went on to train for longer distances and found that distance running helped her to feel better mentally and physically. She wasn’t running from her problems – a concern her mother expressed – but running to a different, better future.

The comments on her post are overwhelmingly positive. Readers really connect with her story and many share their own stories about how running and other physical activities helped them cope with difficult life situations. I connected with her story too. I skied myself through the end of a relationship many years ago. The intense exercise and time spent alone in the wintery wilderness was good for me and those around me. I suspect that the need to exercise outdoors is fundamental for our health and primordial in origin. As Sam B says, “We’re human animals and we need the outdoors, I think. It’s essential to our health and well being.” (Green exercise and the health benefits of the great outdoors) Michelle LG has also written about the deep comfort that exercising in nature can bring. (Forest Bathing)

The comfort we find in full-bodied physical movement itself is probably primordial as well. We all know that rocking calms babies. And maybe later-term fetuses as well: during the last trimester of pregnancy, my developing daughter fell asleep every time I got going on the elliptical machine. (At least I think that was what she was doing. The clincher for my theory was her startled return to movement when I fired up the blender for my post-workout smoothie. To this day, she leaves the kitchen when I take the blender out of the cupboard.) But whether or not we think the comforts of exercise are primordial, physical movement clearly helps us stay well physically and psychologically.

But is exercise “therapy”? Miller says that she “ran down one problem at a time.” And some of those commenting on her post suggest that exercise is as good as therapy for solving problems. “Observant” says: “If everyone were to walk the average 10 miles a day that most farmers do as they go about their work, we’d probably solve about 99 percent of the world’s problems, including the dreaded ADHD…”

Others are doubtful. “Victor” says: “Exercise is a terrific balm, but that’s all it is. What do you do when, eventually, your legs fail you and your mind is still broken?” And we might wonder why, if distance running really is equivalent to psychotherapy, that commenters like Sharon — “Ridiculous stress and personal chaos is why I run ultras! Too much is never enough!” – still have stress and chaos in their lives. If running helps us deal with our problems, then wouldn’t it help us create lives that are less stressful and chaotic?

Part of the problem may simply be terminological. When some people say that exercise is therapy, what they really mean is that it is therapeutic. And they are right. Exercise is therapeutic. It makes us feel better. It helps us solve problems. It strengthens our resilience and perseverance. It helps us become more mindful and peaceful.

But exercise – even in the great outdoors – is not equivalent to therapy in the psychotherapeutic sense. We generally cannot gain deep self-understanding from distance running in the way that we can from therapy. Therapy helps us get at the roots of our suffering, whereas running helps us cope with its branches. For deeper traumas, we must devote time and effort to therapy just as we must train for a marathon. It will be painful, but the gains in psychological well-being from therapy can be genuinely life-altering.

And this where I have concerns about how Miller’s admittedly inspiring and thoughtful perspective might be interpreted. While running is therapeutic and important for maintaining psychological well-being, it is not a substitute for a deeper examination of ourselves and our relationships with others. The advances in the field of psychology in recent decades are remarkable and to not make use of this field in the darkest moments of our lives is, to my mind at least, unfortunate. Therapy can mean the difference between a life of sadness and disconnection and one that is meaningful, peaceful and loving. It can save lives, metaphorically and literally. I would be concerned if someone used running in place of therapy to address a serious trauma because they thought it would be just as effective. Exercise is important to recovery, but it is not a substitute for social and psychological support.

And for anyone imagining some halcyon past of vigorous physical activity and happiness (as I sometimes do, for whatever deluded reasons), it is worth remembering all of the ancient traditions that address suffering. If exercise really did extinguish emotional suffering, Buddhist philosophy probably wouldn’t exist — word is Buddha was an accomplished athlete. But to address suffering through meditative practice (or philosophy, or prayer) takes effort and consistent practice. Psychological changes require focused attention over and above the time we spend exercising.

One last concern related to Miller’s story involves social stigmas about mental health. While we champion those who transform their problems into marathon-sized achievements, we sometimes stigmatize people in therapy. Given this, I worry that the promotion of exercise as therapy (rather than as therapeutic), is fueled in part by social prejudices about psychological support. Because the truth is that any one of us at any time might need psychological support and we shouldn’t have to feel ashamed about it. Bad things happen to all of us sooner or later, and therapy can be invaluable for making it through. Well, that and running.

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Talk Review: Forks and Knives–Weapons of Mass Destruction or Instruments of Healing

Fruits and vegetables in the shape of a heart, green on one side, red on the other. Photo credit goes to http://saladexpress.ca/en/blog/fruits-and-vegetables-canadas-food-guide-superstars

Fruits and vegetables in the shape of a heart, green on one side, red on the other. Photo credit goes to http://saladexpress.ca/en/blog/fruits-and-vegetables-canadas-food-guide-superstars

Can the way you eat change your life and transform your health?  If Hans Diehl, author of Dynamic Living: How to Take Charge of Your Health, is right, you bet it can.  Making the connection between what we eat and what’s healthy isn’t exactly a new idea.

Most people who go on diets are seeking “healthier” eating habits.  But beyond the idea that healthy eating habits will lead to weight loss, and weight loss will lead to improved health, few people think about further indicators.  They assume that if they lose a bit of weight and get into the right BMI range, then it’s all good.  Wrong.

Way back when we first started this blog, Sam talked about Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI.  We have repeatedly emphasized that weight and fat are not sole determinants of health and physical fitness.  We’re not into super-restrictive diets for weight loss.  They don’t even work.  We’ve talked about that tons, including here and here and here and here.

I attended Hans Diehl’s talk on campus the other day because I’m a member of the Western Ontario Vegan Society, an energetic and enthusiastic student group whose cause I believe in, and I like to support their events.  The abstract said that “Dr. Diehl’s research shows that most people with hypertension, Type-2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and heart disease can reverse these diseases and often become drug free within weeks.”

That kind of research interests me. It’s in keeping with the work of Physicians for Responsible Medicine, of which Diehl is a member. He advocates Lifestyle Medicine and has developed an affordable program called the Complete Health Improvement Program (C.H.I.P.).

In keeping with my commitment to writing only about empowering, positive, and optimistic things for the next little while (in honor of spring), his talk left me with a good feeling.

He went over the usual scary stats about our declining health as a population.  I did wonder at some points how much of the increased instances of things like diabetes and heart disease have to do with better diagnostics, but whether we as a population are actually less healthy or are only now discovering how unhealthy we are, the fact is, it’s possible to make relatively simple dietary adjustments and radically alter our health.

Diehl correctly cited BMI as a meaningful measure over populations not individuals.  And the BMI in North America is over 40, which indicates not just obesity, but increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, sleep apnea, cancer (especially prostate, breast, colon, and cervical).  Many of these are chronic diseases that, according to his and others’ research, correlate with lifestyle choices.

Apparently, french fries are the most eaten vegetable in North America and soda pop consumption accounts for 1/3 of all sugar in the American diet (not likely far off in Canada, although I think our fast food drink sizes are a bit smaller).  Without going into all the gory details that many of us know already, the upshot is that as a population we’re undernourished and overfed.  This could  be due to all sorts of things, but he attributes it largely to big food companies who pay scientists to do research into the pleasure centre in the brain that processed foods activate. It’s the brain’s “blisspoint” and the right amounts of sugar, salt, and fat make it come alive to produce pleasure.

I have no expertise from which to critically assess these findings. But I’ve eaten my share of sugar, fat, and salt, and it always made me feel temporarily good. I should stress the temporary nature of that boost.  No doubt many of us are familiar with it.

Anyway, the fact is, though I do not delude myself into thinking that the only reason to eat food is for its nutrients, I find claims about the health benefits of whole foods, mostly plants, to be quite persuasive.

Focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes pretty much guarantees a low fat, low sugar, low salt diet.  Doctors like Dean Ornish, Neal Barnard, and Caldwell Esselstyn have all argued that it is possible to prevent and reverse heart disease.  Bill Clinton adopted a vegan diet after heart disease required quadruple by-pass surgery. I’ve faulted Clinton for just one thing: that he doesn’t draw any attention to the animal ethics side of the vegan debate.

Though Diehl’s talk focused almost exclusively on the dramatic health benefits of a plant-based diet, he mentioned at the end of his presentation that there are plenty of other reasons to take such a change seriously.  In terms of animal welfare, 1,000,000 animals are slaughtered for food every hour in the United States.  And there is growing concern about the environmental impact of industrial livestock agriculture.

But even if we just focus on the health benefits, they are undeniable.  The American Heart Association reports that heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year (compared to one in 31 death each year from breast cancer).

Leaving the Diehl’s talk, I didn’t need to make many changes to my lifestyle or my way of eating to conform with his guidelines. But miraculously, my usually skeptical and reticent spouse is eager to sign up for the C.H.I.P. program when it’s offered in London next fall. That’s fairly strong evidence that the talk had a convincing impact on people who aren’t currently following the recommendations.

Diehl’s message isn’t new. You can get it from lots of other sources. But the views he expresses aren’t exactly mainstream yet, despite the amazing health transformation experienced by lots of people who adopt the basic diet strategy:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • legumes
  • whole grains
  • water

Sounds easy enough.  Enjoy! 🙂

Clara Hughes’ Big Ride

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Clara Hughes is a Canadian hero.  She is the only athlete in the history of the Olympic Games to win multiple medals in BOTH the summer games and the winter games.

Yep, you read that right.  She’s a six-time Olympic medalist, winning gold, bronze, and silver in speed skating and three bronze medals in cycling.  That’s pretty awesome on its own. But that’s not all Clara Hughes is about. She’s awesome for a whole bunch of other reasons.  Her website subtitle is “Olympian, Humanitarian, Motivator.” And she is definitely all three.

One of the things that shows her awesomeness is Clara’s Big Ride. Right now Clara is riding around Canada on a bicycle in an effort to “create a stigma-free Canada.”  Her Big Ride will take her to over 95 communities, attending more than 200 events in 110 days to raise awareness in Canada about the stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s a grueling schedule for a cause close to her heart.  She was sidelined from her sports for a period of time when she faced a dark depression that took away all of her motivation.

The seventeen week (110 days) ride will take her all over Canada, ending up in our capital city, Ottawa, on July 1 for Canada’s birthday. If you count backwards from that, you’ll know that she started on March 14 in Toronto. Those of us from around here know that it’s been a chilly winter that’s kind of gone on and on and on. Cold riding conditions even for an Olympic speed skater!

She is going to average 150 km per day, some days riding as much as 225 km; others taking it easier to cover 75 km.  She “will visit every province and territory in Canada, to grow awareness and action in mental health and help end the stigma around mental illness.”

She already made her pass through London and made a brief appearance at an anti-stigma event at the Western Fair Grounds last week.  If you’d like to follow Clara’s Big Ride, make a donation, or support the cause in other ways, you can find plenty of information about it on the website.

 

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Clara Hughes cycling for Canada.

 

Clara Hughes speedskating for Canada.

Clara Hughes speedskating for Canada.