Soap Box

Running, Climbing and Transitioning to Vibram Fivefingers

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The past month has been particularly busy, as Spring is finally here in full force and I’m happily spending as much time outdoors as possible while squeezing a ton of activity into each day. The sun stretching across so many more hours of the day means my energy is renewed and I’ve successfully sloughed off the winter urge to hibernate. I even got talked into competing in my first rock climbing comp, The Ring of Fire held by Central Rock Gym (my favorite Boston-area indoor rock gym).

ImageIt was a bit of a last-minute decision as I went in to climb the Monday before the comp and the woman working the front desk really encouraged me to sign up. I didn’t realize most comps have a Women’s Beginner’s division. I had already been planning on coming to watch the pros climb, so I figured why not give it a go. All-in-all I didn’t do terribly well (flashed the first wall, fell on the other two) but I had a lot of fun and learned a ton. I’d definitely do it again! I’m really not a competitive sports person so it was quite a surprise that I both did it and enjoyed it. Also, watching the pro finals that night was outstanding. Ashima Shirashi and Delaney Miller blew my mind, and I was seriously impressed by everyone who climbed.

The real reason I was drawn to blog today though is to address some information that’s making the rounds about Vibram Fivefingers. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you may know I started blogging when I first did the Couch-2-5k program back in the Spring of 2010. I had always hated running and used the excuse of “bad knees” to get me out of even thinking about it. I was encouraged to try running with C25K and Fivefingers as I read there were benefits of running barefoot. The biggest benefits for me were that it encouraged using a more natural stride (mid-sole/fore-foot strike instead of heel strike, working on pushing up/being springier) and increased awareness of the environment (eyes learn to scan the terrain to avoid stepping on sharp objects). I personally experienced both of those pros and also found it was the first time in my life I could run without knee pain and shin splints. I also enjoyed running for the first time as it felt like playing when my feet could really feel the textures of mud, sand, gravel, etc.  It was such a positive experience for me that I’ve bough three pair of Fivefingers in the past four years and I use them for running, hiking, paddling and swimming. I even just ran my first 5K in them last weekend (note, I just started walking at this point so that heel coming down is not my normal running stride):

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While I’m obviously a fan of VFF, I also realize they’re not for everyone. Depending on your foot shape and bone structure they may not be for you. I’ve also seen quite a few people injure themselves due to switching to VFFs and not weaning into them properly. VFF shoes use muscles in the feet, ankles and calves that you may not be used to using on a regular basis. This isn’t true of just VFF shoes, it’s true of beginning any new physical activity or picking up an activity after months without it. For example, how many of us know people who have become injured after heading to the gym and doing the same weight routine they did four years ago when they haven’t touched a weight in months?

So to me, it was no surprise when this research study came out citing the potential for increased foot bone marrow edema in those transitioning to VFF shoes. The thing is, some people are seriously misinterpreting this study to mean VFFs are terrible and horrible and, as one post mentioned, “will fuck up your feet”. Whereas in reality the study clearly states: “CONCLUSION: Runners interested in transitioning to minimalist running shoes, such as Vibram FiveFingers, should transition very slowly and gradually to avoid potential stress injury in the foot.” Well, that makes sense.

But let’s take a moment to break down the study. It involved 36 experienced runners, 17 in the control group ran in their normal shoes, while 19 transitioned to Vibrams. The transition plan sounded reasonable. Runners continue their normal running routines (which are 16+ miles) and use Vibrams for 1-2 miles to start and gradually increase. The thing is, the study gets a little wishy-washy from there. “It should be noted that some subjects stopped logging their runs prior to the 10th week of training and 4 of the 19 Vibram subjects did not document their training at all, though they did participate in both pre- and post- testing and therefore, were included in the statistical analysis in this study. This lack of documentation presents a limitation to this study.”  That’s kind of a big strike here. The people running the study also don’t note how runs were tracked. It’s alluded to that the runners all self-document, which leaves quite a bit of room for error. I was surprised they didn’t have them at least track their run with a smartphone app. Not that those are perfect, but it would be a bit more scientific than giving them a logbook and sending them on their way.

The study goes on to explain that they used a MRI before and after the study with each included participant to check for bone and soft tissue damage. There was a noticeable increase in edema and a small incidence of stress fractures with those using VFF shoes. Incidences were higher in women than in men. This is certainly concerning and not something to brush off. I do personally feel this warrants more study, since the control group was small and there were issues with the data collected, but their conclusion draws upon common sense.

“Although most runners will not know about the presence or degree of bone marrow edema, our results suggest that if a runner transitioning to VFF feels pain, they should modify their running regimen.” Yes, this. They also concluded that if you are a long-distance runner, it’s advisable to transition over a period of time greater than 10 weeks. I’m totally down with those conclusions. Not only do these rules apply to running with VFFs, but they’re common sense rules for exercise in general.

Rebecca’s Simple Rules to Avoiding Injury

  1. If you feel pain make modifications to your exercise.
  2. Transition slowly into new exercise routines.
  3. Properly warm up the body before engaging in physical activity.
  4. ALWAYS stretch and cool down after physical activity.
  5. Support your body with proper nutrition to fuel your workouts and support your recovery.

And lastly, since our society is so friggin’ litigious, Vibram Fivefingers was sued for making unsubstantiated claims about their footwear (basically saying it was a healthier way to run). So if you purchased VFFs after March 2009 you may be eligible to collect from this class action suit. So if that applies to you and you’d like to be a part of it, keep an eye on this page for updates on how to register. For the record, VFF still claim they did nothing wrong, so this is a settlement, not an official ruling.

As for me, I’m going to continue rocking my Vibram Fivefingers. And I’m especially excited to use them for paddling season!

 

Practice What You Preach: An Open Letter to Health Workers Everywhere

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Yesterday during a massage my client mentioned she had attended a healthcare conference and she was surprised by how many nurses and doctors in attendance were out of shape. This reminded me of the plethora of massage therapists who are in the same boat, many of whom don’t even get massage regularly (or ever, in some cases). This really got me thinking about the disconnect between those offering healthcare and how we encourage our clients/patients to be. This is definitely not meant to shame anyone, but to me it really begs the question of why we do what we do.

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I’ve mentioned on this blog that one of the major things that kick-started me into being healthy was going to school for massage. I was suddenly surrounded by personal trainers, nutritionists and physical therapists and began absorbing a ton of information on health and wellness. I also fell in love with the art and science of massage and realized that if I was going to really be successful as a massage therapist I needed to be in good physical shape to avoid injuring myself and shortening my career. Learning proper body mechanics and strengthening my core and upper body, along with adding flexibility to my lower body was imperative if I wanted to work through several hours of deep tissue work without compromising my own health. The #1 thing I learned in school is I have to check in with myself, physically and psychologically, FIRST before I put my hands on another body. Self-care, self-care, self-care.

Yet, somehow, we get out of school and it seems that many of us throw that idea away. It’s easier to be consumed by being too busy to exercise, and being too broke to afford massage. It’s easier and cheaper to grab fast food on the way to the office than to bring a healthy lunch or even stop by the salad bar at Whole Foods. The most self-care we do is shaking out our hands between clients and maybe rubbing a little Biofreeze or arnica on our shoulders. All of our attentions is focused outwards, to our clients/patients, our families, our friends.

And this is where I can finally see a glimpse of what’s going on. Most of us in healthcare are caregivers. We were born with that need to take care of others, often ignoring our own needs. We’re willing to martyr ourselves for the benefit of others. That may seem admirable, but at the end of the day I believe this attitude is back-firing. We’re constantly saying to our clients, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Logically, it’s obvious this doesn’t work. If we really want to help others we have to get a little selfish and we have to start taking our own advice.

They tell you if a plane loses air pressure and the oxygen masks fall put YOUR mask on first BEFORE helping others. They tell you this simply because if you don’t put your mask on first you might pass out due to lack of oxygen before you even get a chance to help your neighbor. It’s common sense. Folks in healthcare, listen up, PUT YOUR MASKS ON FIRST! It’s not news that, especially in the US, we have major issues with illness directly related to poor diets and lack of basic exercise. I’m not saying you need to become a raw foodist, a bodybuilder, and pamper yourself constantly, but it’s time to start making time for your own health. If not, newsflash, your patients won’t listen to you. Actions speak louder than words, right? So if you tell your patients to get healthy, and then you step out back for a cigarette and a coke they will not take you seriously.

If we are in the healthcare profession it is our duty to demonstrate good health. Period. I’m not saying we have to be perfect 100% of the time; we’re still human, right? But we are the army fighting for health and wellness so if our army can’t take care of itself we can’t win a single battle, let alone a war. If you’re working one-on-one with clients or patients who are coming to you for help with their health you are literally the first line of defense. Help yourself so you can really help them.

I beg you to readjust your thinking. You’re probably extremely busy, but if you can carve out even 30 minutes a day for exercise you will have more energy and most likely a more positive outlook (thank you endorphins) so you will feel better and be better for your patients/clients. If you eat better you’ll have more energy and a stronger immune system so you will feel better and be better for your patients/clients. If you get regular massage or chiropractic or acupuncture you will feel better and be better for your patients/clientsIs this making sense yet?

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As for the money excuse, this is usually another mode of thinking that needs to be adjusted. As a massage therapist, I get massage regularly because it keeps my body fluid and keeps me from getting injured when I work with my clients. It also helps me connect with other therapists and often introduces me to other modalities. If I can barter I do, because it’s nice to feel things are reciprocal. But, if I can’t barter I happily pay for it because I firmly believe massage is worth the price we charge for it. I rationalize the cost by pretending I did one less massage that week. So basically, it’s a barter in my mind. I gave one massage to a client and I get one massage in return. Done. I mean seriously, how do you expect anyone to pay for a massage from you if you don’t feel you can pay for a massage yourself? Now ideally, healthcare professionals would have a large barter pool with each other so we can take care of each other and I do think long-term there needs to be major healthcare reforms in this country to make care more universally affordable, but that’s a post for another day.

To sum up, remember, you are a role model. When you took your position in healthcare you made a vow to do your best to help make people healthier and you can’t do that unless you are healthy. Start small, start today, if you have to start again tomorrow. You are worth it. Practice what you preach so our society as a whole can get healthy!

720 Burpees in 8 Days and Smoothies to Spare!

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While my urge to run has ebbs and flows, my love of fitness and nutrition lives on and I’d like to start sharing my latest obsessions with you.  2013 has brought me two things so far: burpees and….

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I FINALLY BOUGHT A VITAMIX!!!  More on that in a minute.  First…

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Oh, burpees, you’re the exercise everyone loves to hate!  Eight days ago we started a new challenge at work.  Well, two challenges to be exact.  You could pick either a 90 or 100 day burpee challenge.  The 90 day challenge is 90 burpees a day for 90 days.  The 100 day challenge is one burpee on day one, two on day two, three on day three and so on and so forth until you’ve reached 100 on day 100.  Naturally, I chose the 90 day challenge and have been in sweet pain ever since.

One might ask, “What is a burpee?”  Well, if you’re lucky I’ll post a video sometime soon but today is not that day.  There are literally dozens of burpee variations.  Two of the most basic are:

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Squat, jump out to plank, jump back to squat, jump up.

And…

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Squat, jump out to plank, do a pushup, jump back to squat and jump up.

The latter is called a “Competition Burpee” and that’s the one I’m doing.  So, I’m basically doing 90 squat thrusts, 90 pushups and 90 jumps a day…on top of my normal workouts.  Yes,  it’s a bit much, but I have to say that after only 8 days I’m noticing much more definition in my arms and legs so, hey, I’m going to keep it up.  Speaking of “normal workouts”, ZuzkaLight is the latest woman kicking my ass.  If you haven’t seen her YouTube channel before check it out!  I try to do one of her workouts 3-4x/wk.  I’m on #40 as of today.

Ok, enough about burpees, let’s talk about my new beloved Vitamix.  I’ve wanted a high-powered blender for a very long time and after doing my taxes this past weekend (oh the luxurious life I lead) I decided to use some refund money and invest in my health.  After watching far too many videos and reading reviews comparing the Blendtec to the Vitamix to the Kitchenaid to the Ninja to the etc. etc. etc., I decided to go with the Vitamix which honestly was my first choice to begin with.  So far I’m not disappointed.

To honor my new toy and give me something to think about aside from burpees I thought it’d be fun to share some of my creations with you.  Here are some of the first smoothies I’ve made.  I should note I also made brazil nut butter (brazil nuts, raw honey, sea salt, flaxseed oil) before learning how high in saturated fat brazil nuts are (damn shame since it tastes just like cookie dough) and a caper-parsley sauce but since I didn’t photograph either I’m not putting them in here.  I should also note that while I have some strong beliefs about nutrition, I am not a nutritionist, nor do I purport to be.

Smoothie #1

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Ingredients:

  • Frozen strawberries
  • Frozen peaches
  • Whole banana
  • Flaxseed
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Coconut Milk
  • Protein Powder*

This was fruity and amazing and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Green Smoothie

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Ingredients:

  • Pomegranate-Cranberry Juice
  • Spinach
  • Frozen strawberries
  • Frozen mangos
  • Chia seeds
  • Spirulina

Again, another winner.  VERY fruity. VERY green (thank you spirulina). VERY nutritious.  It was my after-workout smoothie and not only did I get to enjoy it, but my boyfriend kept gulping it down saying, “This can’t be healthy!”.

*Why is there an asterisk next to protein powder?  Well, I’m in the “testing” phase of powders right now and I’d love to open up some discussion on that.

Protein Powders

Generally I’m a big fan of whole foods and I try to use whole foods over processed foods as much as possible in my diet.  I ALSO have a strong desire to have ton of protein in my diet so I do want to use a protein powder in my morning smoothie.  I have some ground rules for protein powder:

  1. It must not contain soy, whey or animal proteins. There’s a lot of controversy over soy but aside from the concern that it could increase my chances of breast cancer if I ingest it regularly, I can say from my personal experience that it’s very slow for my system to digest and, frankly, it makes me gassy; so no thanks, soy! 
  2. It must not contain a bunch of chemicals, stabilizers and preservatives because it just doesn’t have to.
  3. It must be at the very least 17-20g/serving of protein and no more than 100 calories per serving.
  4. No GMOs. Period.
  5. It must be sugar free.
  6. It shouldn’t taste like crap.

I have four contenders so far (pictured above): Fat Flush Body Protein, Peaceful Planet Supreme Meal, Warrior Food, and plain Rice Protein, and can review two so far.

Fat Flush: A friend of mine who is a nutritionist highly recommended this and gave me a scoop to try.  Normally I’d stay away from things that say “Fat Flush” because it sounds too infomercially and I’m looking to be healthy, not emaciated.  That said, the ingredient list is pretty good: Pea protein concentrate, Rice protein concentrate, French vanilla extract, guar gum, inulin, and stevia.  So, not a ton of crap.  I will say stevia isn’t my favorite but I couldn’t taste it much in this, and I’m really picky about the stevia aftertaste so I was impressed that I only noticed it a tad.  It was a little grittier than I’d like, even in the vitamin (which turns flaxseeds and chia seeds into dust).  I give it an “I’ll think about it”.  Which probably equates to a B+

The Supreme Meal: I found this at my local coop.  You might be surprised I bought it considering how many ingredients it has: Protein blend (non-GMO pea protein isolate, organic Hawaiian spirulina, rice protein concentrate), freeze-dried sprouts blend (quinoa, millet, amaranth, broccoli), organic flax meal, lecithin, natural vegan flavors, horsetail herb, proprietary FOS fiber blend (fructooligosaccaharides, sprouted mung bean extract), bioflavanoids concentrate, vitamin D2, vitamin B12.  Ok, so a lot of ingredients but a lot of GOOD ingredients.  So far this one is my favorite.  It has poor reviews if you just mix it into liquid with a spoon (it clumps).  I had no problem in my Vitamix.  It was smooth and tasty.  The spirulina makes it dark green, which doesn’t bother me one bit but bothers some people.  I also love that there’s nothing in there pretending to be sweet.  It was just yummy.  Unfortunately, it’s 140 cal/serving but I may overlook that due to how much I liked it and how many nutrients it has. A-

I picked up the Warrior Food from Vermont Fiddle Heads, who I tend to trust as Linda is our local raw foods extraordinaire.  I haven’t tried it yet and I’ll be fully honest that the bottle is filled with so much homeopathic new-age propaganda that I almost didn’t buy it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty crunchy chick, but this was over the top.  That said, I trust Linda and it’s the only protein powder that she sells and I was impressed by the ingredients: Sprouted, Raw, Non-GMO, Organic Brown Rice Protein, Organic Hemp Protein, Organic Actual Vanilla Bean, Wildcrafted Nopal Cactus, Organic Whole Leaf Stevia.  I love that it’s 100% organic and doesn’t have much in it.  I’m wary of the stevia but I’ll let you all know what I think.

What protein powder do you love and why?

Raw Revelations

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After finishing C25K and starting up fartleks my running entries have kind of petered out.  In light of not wanting this blog to die a terrible death of repetitive running entries that put even me to sleep, I’m branching out a bit into the general topic of staying healthy and active.  Today, I want to share a couple raw food recipes that I made yesterday as part of a two week liver cleanse.

I saw my acupuncturist last week and as soon as she took my pulse she gave me a funny look.  Some stomach pokes and prods later and she said, “You’ve been eating a lot of sugar and getting cravings, huh?”  Oh holy crap did she hit the nail on the head there.  Fall for me is the start of hibernation.  I make rich foods filled with fats, carbs and sugars.  Life has been especially stressful lately and I use that as an excuse to “comfort eat”, despite knowing how unhealthy and energy-draining that is.

The acupuncturist asked me to do a liver cleanse, which I’ve never done before.  She told me to try something “gentle” and the only real guidance she gave was to research it and start by drinking Apple Cider Vinegar.  I went online and was inundated with a barrage of liver cleanses: everything from fasting to colonics and from two-day to eight-week scenarios.  Most of the sites were trying to sell me some system, so it was easy to weed those out.  I compared sources and spoke with some of my nutritionist and herbalist friends to come up with the cleanse I’m doing.  I’ll fully admit that this is my first ever liver cleanse so please do not treat me as an expert.

The basic cleanse that I’m following is that for two weeks I’m completely cutting out alcohol and caffeine and I’m greatly limiting sugars, dairy and processed foods.  I’m trying to get all of my sugars from unprocessed sources (e.g. fruits, raw honey, raw agave nectar) and I’m trying to eat raw foods as much as possible.  Then, for three days I’ll be doing a more traditional liver cleanse which entails a juice fast and having to drink some nasty concoctions that I’ll write about it another entry when that gets closer.

So what’s the point of all of this?  People do cleanses for a variety of reasons and there’s a whole school of thought for cleansing and another whole school that thinks it’s ludicrous.  I’m doing this cleanse to change up my destructive Fall eating habit and give my body some easy-to-digest food so my digestive system gets a break and I gain more energy as a result.  The last part of the cleanse supposedly helps dislodge liver stones, and if that really happens that’s cool but I’m taking that piece with a grain of salt right now.  The biggest thing is to get my digestion back on track and get my energy levels up.

This leads to the next logical question, why raw?  I was introduced to raw foods a couple years ago and have been in awe ever since with the health benefits behind it and the opportunity for creativity in the kitchen.  The health benefits are fairly undebatable.  Raw foods are more nutrient dense and easily digested by the body.  Most people on raw diets notice a large increase of energy and a happier digestive system.  On the latter, it’s important to note that if you’re going to try a raw meal out of the blue you might get some stomach upset at first.  It’s recommended to eat light meals on the day you’re going to have a raw meal and don’t start off with an entire day of raw if you’ve been living off of burgers and fries for months (unless you’re down with spending a good chunk of your day in the bathroom).

The daunting task of changing my diet for a two-week period is finding yummy recipes.  Tons of raw recipes sound good, but I’ve definitely had a few flops; usually my issue is that they’re not flavorful enough.  Luckily, the recipes I’ve tried so far have all been super-easy to make (most can be made right in a food processor).  Out of the four recipes I tried yesterday, two were freaking amazing so I have to share.  These are not original recipes, but I can’t really credit a source because for each of them I mixed up different recipes and added some things in so they’re original-ish.  That said, if you want to find more raw recipes, my favorite sources so far are: We Like It Raw, gone raw, Sweetly Raw, and Raw Food Talk.

Now, without further ado, the recipes!

Om Noms Raw Food Snack (mostly based on Morning-After Delight)

This is a great easy-to-make snack that I’m personally using as a breakfast.  Yes, it has raw cacao in it so I’m technically cheating on the caffeine but it is omg delicious!  I split this up into five small ball jars and am finding that I get full a little over halfway through.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup Almonds
1/2 cup Walnuts
1/2 cup Cashews
1/2 cup Pumpkin Seeds
1/2 cup Raw Carob Nibs
1/2 cup Dried Cranberries
1/2 cup Dried Gogi Berries
1/2 Cup Banana Chips
2 table spoons Cup Raw Chocolate Powder
1 table spoon of Raw Honey
4 table spoons of Raw Agave nectar
2 dashes of Sea Salt
2 dashes of Cinnamon

Directions:
1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Eat and enjoy!

Raw Vegan Sushi

Eating raw doesn’t necessarily imply “vegan”.  While most raw foodists are vegetarian or vegan, some do eat meat.  This particular recipe is 100% vegan-friendly and it’s very malleable.  Pick ingredients that sound yummy to you and be creative.  Unlike the above recipe, this one is quite time intensive just for the actual sushi prep part.  It’s a great interactive activity at a dinner party, especially since you don’t have to worry about the ingredients getting “cold” or going bad.  The portion size in this recipe is enough for two hungry people.

Ingredients:
2 Parsnips, peeled
1/2 cup Cashews (can substitute other nuts, I saw recipes with pine nuts, macadamia nuts and walnuts)
1/2 tbsp White Miso (supposedly red works too)
1.5 tsp Sesame Oil (you’ll see from the picture that I cheated here and used Toasted Sesame Oil, that’s obviously not raw but it’s what I had on hand)
1 ripe Avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced thinly
1 seedless Cucumber, peeled and cut into sticks
3-5 Baby Carrots, thinly chopped
1/2 cup Kale, chopped
1/2 cup Spinach, chopped
1-2 tbsp minced Cilantro
Nori wrappers (black is usually raw, green is usually toasted)
1 tbsp Rice Vinegar
Bamboo Mat
Tamari Soy Sauce, as desired.

Directions:

1. Make Parsnip “Rice” by combining the parsnips, cashews, miso and sesame oil in a food processor until “fluffy”; it really will look and feel rice-like (it also tastes freaking awesome).

2. Prepare your other ingredients so they’re easily grabbed.

3. Add the rice vinegar to a small bowl of water and keep that next to your bamboo mat.

4. Lay a piece of nori shiny-side down on your bamboo matt.  Dip your fingers into the rice vinegar mixture and lightly brush them over the nori; this will soften it.

5. Spread a thin coat of the Parsnip “Rice” over the nori.  Add any of remaining ingredients to the roll that you desire.  My favorite combo was avocado+cilantro+cucumber+kale.

6. Now it’s time to roll it up.  For this, you may want to watch a YouTube video on rolling sushi (there are a million out there).  I usually start on one end of the bamboo and I curl the roll into itself.  Once I’ve reached the far side (so the roll is fully rolled) I hold the bamboo that’s still flat on the table by the far side and I pull the roll towards me with the opposite hand; this makes it tighter and is similar to burrito rolling.  Then I shape it a little better with the bamboo mat.  The trick is to get it tight enough so it doesn’t fall apart when cutting/eating.  To be honest, I’ve never found it particularly challenging but it takes a couple tries to get it right.

7. At this point you can unroll it and cut it.  One trick I use is to lay plastic wrap on top of the roll (you can also lay the plastic wrap down before you put the nori down so it’s there to begin with).  Next, I clean my knife with some of the rice vinegar solution and slice the roll through the plastic wrap; this helps it stay together and helps you get a clean cut.  The obvious downside is using the plastic wrap itself.  For those of us who are environmentally conscious this is not ideal.

8. Eat and enjoy!  I dipped my sushi into the tamari soy and it was great.  I think in the future, though, I’m going to drizzle the soy into the roll before rolling it up.

The thing I really love about both of these recipes is that I don’t feel like I’m giving anything up.  They’re both delicious recipes and amazingly nutritionally dense.  It’s like getting all of my food groups crammed into one tasty meal.  Hopefully I can find more tasty recipes to keep me going for the next two weeks.  The “bliss balls” and “pumpkin pudding” I tried yesterday were unfortunate disasters of “blah”, but these two sure were winners!

Running and Remembering

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Fall is definitely shifting it’s way into the Green Mountains.  Most of this week was cool and drizzly, though the sun fought off the fog to give us some glorious sunsets.  Unfortunately, when I ran on Thursday the sun didn’t even poke its head out; it was damp, foggy and cool.  I think I’m really going to enjoy running in the Fall.  While I’ll miss the warm sun that drove me to jump in the river right after a run, the cool temperatures are much more enjoyable to run in and the grey haze caused me to turn off my iPod and wrap myself in the introspective sounds of the change of season.

I ran along the Stowe Quiet Path and found Fartleks are especially fun there because there are so many twist, turns and hills that sprinting feels like being on a roller coaster.  Toby had even more fun than I did thanks to us being there at an unusually dog-populated time of day.  There was a new doggie friend around every curve.  Despite having some issues getting motivated to go out in the blah weather, once I got moving I felt a million times better.  My tight shoulders loosened up, the stress knots in my stomach released and my body felt springy and playful.  It’s easy to come up with excuses to not run, but once I get going I always remember how much I enjoy it and why I want to keep it up.

Speaking of the introspective quality of Fall, I’m going to once again usurp my space here to talk about something unrelated to running, but greatly important to me.  For those in the US, today is the anniversary of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.  For the past few years, when this date rolls around I really don’t give it a ton of thought leading up to 9/11.  I’m much less emotional when listening to newscasts and I usually feel that the day can come and go without effecting me.  I’m wrong; it always finds a way to get me.  This morning, when I logged into Facebook for my morning internet voyeurism, I watched a remembrance video that a friend had posted and I totally teared up.  Between losing people I knew and losing hundreds of people I didn’t personally know along with losing a skyline that had marked my childhood, I can’t be unaffected by this day.

©NYC Police & REUTERS/Hans Deryk

They say everyone remembers where they were on 9/11.  I remember it with vivid clarity.  I heard about it early in the morning as I was driving to class.  By the time I got to the art building I found the classrooms were empty and people were surrounding televisions set up in common areas and crying.  I was in school down in Dallas and I couldn’t reach my parents or brother back in NY; I couldn’t reach anyone in NY.  Then I realized that I had left a house of about a dozen sleeping friends and our mutual friend was in NYC visiting his girlfriend.  I drove back and woke everyone up and we just watched the news, horrified.

I remember two other big details from that day.  I remember the lines at the gas station as we all tried to fill up our cars after the news warned us that some stations were gauging prices and sure enough we saw prices like $5/gal so we waited patiently at the station that hadn’t changed their signs yet.  Then, we all drove out to the lake to sit and watch the Dallas skyline without any planes flying overhead.  It was eerie and peaceful.

Now, almost a decade later, here we are still at war and while I do believe this war has more facets than just a fight about oil, that black gold continues to hold us hostage.  I’ve watched several documentaries on the oil and gas industries in the past few months and while I overall feel powerless to free myself from Big Oil, I made a move to greatly reduce my consumption by trading in my 2007 Subaru Outback (which I loved) for a 2010 Jetta Sportwagen TDI that will run B5 Biodiesel.  In many ways that’s a small step, but it’s a step I could afford.

Just about any diesel made in the past 10 years or so can run biodiesel without any modifications (as long as it has nylon gaskets instead of rubber, which all modern diesels do).  You can use the same tank and switch between biodiesel and regular diesel without issue (though if you live in a cool climate you’ll probably want to stick with B5-B20 as B100 will gel at a higher temp than regular diesel).  Now that biodiesel can be made from very fast-growing algae, that when farmed next to oil refineries actually helps clean up the C02 emissions, it’s very sustainable and practical.  It’s also completely street legal, though it’s recommended to only buy from commercial pumps that are ASTM-rated.  Keep in mind that biodiesel is not pure vegetable oil; it’s a mixture of plant-based oil, Methanol and Sodium Hydroxide which creates a substance that looks and feels like petrol-based diesel.

I first went on Craigslist and checked local places for used diesels, but the pickings were slim to none.  I ended up going with the Sportwagen based on its great reviews, but after quite a bit of research it’s clear that the 2009-2011 VW TDIs can’t take 100% biodiesel due to the new DPF filter.  The new filter does a phenomenal job of keeping emissions incredibly low on the new “clean diesels” and it also adds to the great fuel economy (I’m getting 44-51mpg!).  However, biodiesel has a higher flash point and it’s also a solvent so it can initially cause the filter to become saturated faster (this is not an issue once biodiesel is used regularly) and it could cause the filter to not burn off the buildup efficiently.  In the long-run this can theoretically decrease engine performance and lead to needing oil changes more often.

However, hope it not lost!  The 2009-2011 TDIs are still warranty approved for B5.  B5 is only a 5% biodiesel blend, but it turns out I can easily get B5 locally (thanks to Bourne’s Energy being awesome) and it’s still a positive start.  Between that and the vast improvements with the fuel efficiency of the diesel engine and incredibly low emissions, as someone who drives close to 30k miles/year, I’ve lowered my carbon footprint markedly.  While I’m not about to throw a big, “Eff You Big Oil!” party, it’s a start.

These small changes are things that we all have to individually do if we hope that big changes will arise.  I did something small that I could afford, what can you do?  Did you know that if your home is heated with oil you can probably switch to biofuel without modifications (barring potentially swapping rubber for nylon)?  My small local fuel provider in the middle of Vermont offers biofuel.  If you stick your head out to see what alternatives are out there you might be surprised.

Get Inspired:
Gasland (not about oil, but about natural gas)
Crude
A Crude Awakening (watch online free)
Oil, Smoke and Mirrors (watch online free)
Tedx OilSpill (I watched the event live but you can watch it online free at that link; it was an all-day conference so it’s 8+ hours of video regarding the Gulf Oil Spill)
Fuel, which sealed the deal on the car issue for me.

Barefoot and Covered In Glitter

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For anyone who hasn’t caught on yet, this is more than just a running blog.  It started as a place for me to explore the C25K program along with Vibram FiveFingers and, as I mentioned in my intro, it’s also a place to discuss other “barefoot” activities.  Running, hiking, swimming and playing in my Vibrams often leaves me wanting to discuss my physical experiences but also the spiritual/emotional/intellectual experiences that come from being outside on the trails.  Today’s entry is not about running, it’s about glitter.

I mentioned in my previous post that when I ran on Friday I was alarmed by the massive amount of silver glitter poured all along the trail.  Without exaggeration, many areas of the trail resembled sheets of glitter; I seriously don’t want to know how much money was spent on all this glitter.  I became more and more upset as I ran the trail and found that the glitter extended for close to a mile!

I initially believed the glitter was related to the Story Walk event, sponsored by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, that many of the trails in Vermont are participating in.  Story Walk is an awesome program in which a children’s book is photocopied, each page is laminated, and the pages are staked alongside a trail so people can read while they walk.  I love the idea of promoting reading and exercise and think this is a phenomenal children’s event.  I couldn’t understand how polluting the trail with glitter was part of an educational event.  It turns out it wasn’t.

Waitsfield had terrible storms Sunday night into Monday; strong enough to down trees along the path.  When I ran on Monday I noticed that the bulk of the glitter had been washed away (most likely into the corn fields and Mad River) but the path was still saturated with sparkles.  When I got to the gazebo I picked up the guest book with the intention of writing a comment when, to my chagrin, I noticed the last comment was from someone praising Story Walk which began with, “I LOVED the glitter!!”  Really?!  REALLY?!  You double-underline-LOVED the glitter?!  Ignorance is not always so blissful.

I’ve lived in enough cities that I know I shouldn’t be surprised by people littering without thinking about it.  While it’s always bothered me, I find I get much angrier when it happens in areas that pride themselves in being eco-friendly and “green”.  I feel those of us living close to nature should somehow know better, really, everyone by now should know better, but I am obviously wrong.

So, I wrote a letter.  I wrote to the Mad River Path Association and to the Kellogg-Hubbard Library complimenting them on Story Walk and expressing my concern for our new glistening path and wondering what the clean-up plan is.  I explained that glitter is not only incredibly difficult to clean up, but it does not biodegrade and in the area it was spread it is likely to be washed into the Mad River which can cause death to small fish, tadpoles and other wildlife that is attracted to eating small shiny objects.  Even without making contact with the river, there are several species on land who could suffer ulcerations if they digest the glitter (including curious dogs).  Since I also like to have sources beyond myself, I quoted a nice summary of the environmental impacts of glitter from Wikipedia (there are several other in-depth articles on this if you Google it, but I really liked Wikipedia’s brief synapsis):

“Because of its small size and durable nature, glitter is a persistent environmental pollutant. Glitter is commonly made from[2] copolymer plastics, aluminum foil, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, bismuth oxychloride and other materials. These materials are not readily biodegradable. Being heavier than water, glitter sinks to the bottom of waterways and contributes to toxic sludges. Most glitter is used only briefly. At the end of each use it is showered off, entering waste water systems, or swept up for disposal in landfill. Glitter is not recovered or recycled in any way. Because of its small size, down to 15 micrometres, glitter is often lost or spread by humans throughout their environment. Insects and other small organisms are unable to deal with glitter, as it is inedible. Larger creatures can ingest it involuntarily, allowing it to enter the food chain. Because of its metallic nature, static electricity effects can cause it to stick to body parts or habitats. Some of the oxides glitter is made with can be reactive when combined with other waste streams, particularly in water. Glitter has very sharp, hard, edges which are uncommon in nature, are also a problem for very small life. When the same material as glitter occurs in industrial situations as swarf, it is considered a hazardous contaminant, for which extensive safety measures are required. Micro pollutants in animal bloodstreams can have significant health effects.”

I was pleased to receive an email back from the Mad River Path Association the very next morning.  They were as surprised as I was about the glitter and immediately began investigating.  As I mentioned earlier, it turns out this was not a part of Story Walk, so my apologies for assuming it was.  That leaves all involved wondering where the glitter came from and why.  Was it a prank?  Was it someone’s ignorant attempt to make the path more “magical”?  Who’s responsible for this random act of glittering and how the heck do we clean it up?

Many of those questions will never have answers, and the clean-up question is really the only one that can be realistically focused on.  Speaking of which, do you know any way to clean up glitter from grass and mud and rocks spread out for almost a mile?  I’d love to hear your ideas. 🙂

I’m not beyond seeing the humor in all of this.  I can see in some teenager’s mind that turning our path into a silver version of the Yellow Brick Road might seem like a brilliant idea, especially after smoking some Vermont Green.  That said, as a culture I believe we’re past the point of laughing off environmental blunders.  The Mad River Path brings joy, wonder and relaxation to hundreds if not thousands of people every year.  It, along with all of our natural resources, needs to be respected and cared for.

The world right now is outraged by the BP Oil Spill, but few people seem to care if someone drops a gun wrapper or a cigarette butt on the ground.  Where do we draw the line and when do we as a society stand up to educate ourselves on how the small environmental impacts we make every day accumulate in massive ways?  I’m standing up for glitter.  Hey, we all have to choose our battles, right?

Part of the glittery Mad River Path after several huge storms.