Yonkers Marathon race report

On marathon day, I awoke at 5:20 AM, jumped out of bed, and ran out the door to do a quick run. I ran for about 100 yards through the eerie darkness, about half a block and back to my house for the breakfast that would be my last significant carb-loading meal before the race.

Breakfast consisted of raw sunflower seeds mixed with kimchi, dried cherries, and a bagel drizzled with flaxseed oil. This is what I normally eat for breakfast, though the fruit often varies. Sometimes I eat kiwis or mangoes instead of cherries. The day of a marathon and for days before I always stick to what my body is familiar with, to avoid any problems.

Downtown Yonkers is just a few miles away so it was a quick ride to the start line. With the race set to start at 8 AM, I wanted to make sure I was there by 7:30. It was in the mid 60s, much warmer than last year. I did a few short warm up runs along the Hudson river(and 2 push-ups), and went back to the start line by 7:50 and drank the last of the juice I had with me. There were nearly 1,000 runners there, most of whom were doing the half-marathon; only about 168 were there for the full marathon, including me.

After a delay, the race started a little after 8:05. It was a frenzied start like always, and I passed many runners and many runners passed me as we ran through northward through downtown Yonkers. Many people like last year were amazed by the joggling, and I was accused, like last year, of being a “show-off”. The route along Warburton avenue overlooks the Hudson river and often provides spectacular views, but unfortunately my stomach was giving me problems. It was mostly this vague stomach pain that tended to get worse whenever I would run faster. I started out slow, but was slowly picking up the pace. As we ran north, the route not only becomes hillier but also more suburban.

After drinking some Gatorade at around mile 5, my stomach felt even worse. I did my best to ignore it, and was running even faster. I was just a little nauseous, but at the next aid station I grabbed some water and I felt much better. The hills were brutal. They felt even more brutal than last time because I refused to let them slow me down. The race starts at a little above sea level and involves over 1,000 feet total elevation climb. The big hill in Hastings(a small town just north of Yonkers) is especially steep, so much so, while doing the second loop I swore I heard the hills laugh. Some runners just walk up all or part of the way of these hills. After mile 5, the crowd of runners had mostly thinned out.

By the time I looped around to the start line area in downtown Yonkers at the 13 mile mark(50% done), I was feeling super and the space between runners was so big I felt like I was doing a training run. My stomach problem was mostly forgotten, and the crowd support was unbelievable. There were even some people shouting “go vegan!” or “that’s my man!”. Now on my second loop(this is a double loop course), I all of a sudden felt this rush of energy that allowed me to pass a bunch of runners. I’m not sure how fast I was going, since I wasn’t able to record this on my Runkeeper, but I was probably running somewhere in the 7 minute mile range on a gentle incline.

As I approached the steep hills of Hastings yet again, I started slowing down. And so did some of the other runners. The hills seemingly went on forever while running south back to Yonkers and the temperature was well into the 70s. I felt like I had hit the wall by mile 18, though I would pick up the speed on the downhills. At mile 20, I realized I hadn’t dropped my balls even once, though I was expecting to before I reached the finish line.

By mile 23 my legs felt so heavy that even small hills were becoming a challenge. I was sweating profusely on this unseasonably warm, sunny day. I grabbed my last Gatorade, and tried picking up my speed as I headed straight for the finish line along the Hudson. I think at this point the man in the tutu ran past me, complimenting me on my juggling. I complimented his style.

As I’m approaching the finish line along the Hudson river, there was some amazing crowd support, including from some fellow vegans. Since this was my second time running this, I was hoping for a PR. Last year I merely wanted to complete so I held back, but this year I often went all out. There was so much excitement as I crossed the finish line, I think even more than last year. It probably helps that I was significantly faster than last year.

The results: I finished in 3:40, compared to 3:51 last year(the route was virtually identical to last year). This is a new PR for me. Out of the 168 finishers, I was 36. Of the 32 males in the 30 to 39 age group, I was 6th. But most shocking of all is that I didn’t drop the balls once. Sure I fumbled a few times, but I didn’t drop. This is my third marathon, and my first zero drops marathon. I wasn’t expecting this, not with all the brutal hills, pot-holes, other runners, and endless distractions. Not to mention the heat, exhaustion, and borderline delirium during the last few miles.

I hope that while running this race I’ve inspired others to go vegan; that would make me happier than the new PR or the fact that this was a zero drops run. I’d rather drop 10 times and get 5 people interested in going vegan than drop zero times and have no one think of going vegan.

Congratulations to the amazing Oz Pearlman for winning the Yonkers Marathon(2:37) 2 years in a row! 1 day after winning the Hampton’s Marathon! Wow! Thanks to everyone for making this a wonderful race experience, especially the volunteers, and thanks to NYCRUNS for organizing this. All in all, a great race, and congratulations to everyone who finished the full and half marathon!

2013 Yonkers Marathon Race Report

Addendum:

Why did I experience so much stomach pain this time compared to last time? It could be due to my faster pace, but it may also be do to all the carb-loading I did in the days leading up to the marathon. I may have overdone it, I was eating tons of bread, pasta, and fruit, and sometimes I felt a little sick afterwards. I did have some probiotics like kimchi, but no kefir juice in the days before the race. I believe this helps, though sometimes probiotics can be unpredictable. It’s possible I drank too much juice before the race. According to some sources, fructose is more likely to cause stomach upset than other sugars.

Not getting enough sleep sometimes plays a role in digestive upset, however, I believe I got more sleep this year compared to last year. I slept I think 7 1/2 hours versus 6 1/2 last year, and I was less nervous.

Another difference from last year concerns the omega 3’s. Last year I was still taking vegan DHA/EPA supplements. I stopped doing this almost a year ago because I wasn’t sure if they were doing anything, and now I only take flaxseed oil for my omega 3’s. The ALA(alpha-linolenic acid) in flaxseed oil can convert to DHA(docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA(eicosapentaenoic acid) in many if not most people if they maintain the proper ratio of omega 3’s to other fats(the proper ratio is a controversial issue) and are healthy otherwise.

Science has shown that the omega 3’s, DHA in particular, are important for optimal brain function, and also for cardiovascular health. Late last year I decided to stop taking the DHA/EPA supplement, just to see if I noticed any difference. I replaced it with flaxseed oil, which, as I explained before, contains a precursor essential fatty acid called ALA which can be converted to DHA and EPA. I figured that if I were to become deficient in DHA, or any other omega 3, my joggling performance, which requires a high level of neuromuscular functioning, would suffer.

Since then, it seems my joggling performance has improved over last year. I didn’t drop once during several 20+ mile training runs(this didn’t happen last summer), and even the times I did drop, I dropped once or twice. Last year I could only go as far as 15 miles without dropping, while this year during training I went as far as 23 miles without dropping, and now this record was broken at the marathon and I can go 26.2 without dropping. All while not taking DHA/EPA supplements.

This isn’t scientific, it’s not like I’ve had my blood tested, but I think it’s safe to say my DHA/EPA levels and omega 3’s in general are adequate. I think the ALA I get from flaxseed oil is converting to DHA/EPA in significant amounts. A lot more research needs to be done on these essential fatty acids, but I don’t think I need DHA/EPA supplementation anymore. To get adequate omega 3’s on a vegan diet, you simply need to eat flaxseeds or their oil, or chia seeds, or walnuts. It may not be wise to take DHA or EPA supplements, so consult a doctor or health professional if you think you can’t get enough from diet alone.

My marathon training

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Hills like this are a big part of my marathon training

Many people are curious about how I have been training. With a few minor changes this year, this is how I train for marathons: My marathon training

What I don’t do anymore are the ankle weights exercises, since they are no longer necessary. I also no longer do resistance band hip exercises. The exercises I did with the ankle weights were a holdover from many years ago when my doctor recommended them to help heal a knee injury. My knee would feel worse whenever I stopped doing them, but now it feels fine. I very occasionally do half squats.

This year, to help improve my speed and endurance and because I’m crazy, I’ve been doing more hill runs, with steeper hills and lots of repeats. I think this has really helped me improve my speed. Unlike last year, I also have a lot more 20+ mile runs under my belt(it’s a vegan belt), unlike the small handful I ran before the Yonkers Marathon last year. I also run more mileage generally compared to last year, usually a minimum of 40 miles per week. Besides this, the less I run, the more I juggle to stay in top form.

Everything else in that old post is still part of my training, though I don’t drink beet juice as often. It should go without saying that I am carb-loading(this is an understatement!) and still tapering.

Here I come Yonkers!

 

Lost in Yonkers? Then run the Marathon

Yonkers Marathon here I come! It’s been a little while since I’ve run a marathon. This will be my third official marathon, and my second time running the Yonkers Marathon. I’m hoping to beat my previous time of 3:51, and I’m also hoping I drop less often. It’s a hilly race, so if you’re not used to hills, this marathon will be brutal. Here is how the Yonkers marathon went last year – How I did at the Yonkers Marathon. This time, after the marathon I will be swimming across the Hudson river to New Jersey.

If you’re in the area and want to see some joggling, this is your chance. Your support will be very appreciated. I hope there are more runners participating this year, especially more vegan runners. I think I was just one of two vegan runners last year. With all the vegan runners in the NYC metro area, there really should be a lot more vegans participating in this race.

Vegan or non-vegan, if you’re running this I look forward to running with you. You’ll know exactly who I am, trust me!

I was kidding about swimming to New Jersey.

 

Review of Saucony Cohesion 7 running shoes

IMG_2660Finding the right combination of durability and comfort when it comes to running shoes can be difficult. If you have wide feet like me, it’s even more difficult. But it looks like I’ve finally found a near perfect sneaker for endurance running, the Saucony Cohesion 7.

Not only are they extremely comfortable(thanks to the wide fit), unlike the Asics I used to wear, but they stand up pretty well to hundreds of miles of running. How do I know this? Because I just bought my second pair!

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Old and new Cohesion 7. That’s what the rubber soles look like after hundreds of miles of running.

I got my first Saucony Cohesions several months ago after wearing Asics over the winter. In the end, I was disappointed with the Asics, since they just weren’t wide or comfortable enough. In fact, when I first tried out the Saucony Cohesions, I was shocked. I hadn’t felt comfort like that in a long time. Of course, just because they were comfortable at the store doesn’t mean they would still feel comfortable after months of running over the summer, yet they still are. I even think my new PR last week was partially due to the comfort and cushioning of these sneakers, and that was accomplished with my old pair of Cohesion 7s that I won’t be wearing anymore.

These days I mostly run on sidewalks or other hard surfaces, so my experience with them for running trails is limited. What little trail running experience I have with them suggests they are good for that too, since they have good traction, though there are some similar shoes from Saucony that are made for trails.

In terms of price, these sneakers are in the very affordable range for me. In my experience, the more expensive, gimmicky sneakers are seldom worth the cost.

I really hope the wide Saucony Cohesion doesn’t get discontinued any time soon.

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New PR as summer comes to an end

IMG_2601With summer almost over, us runners can finally harvest the fruits of our labor thanks to the cooler weather. All that sweating while conquering steep hills, running far out into Connecticut, and running intervals has finally paid off. For the longest time, I’ve been trying to run(while juggling) 8 miles in 1 hour or less. This seemed impossible last year, during the spring this year while recovering from an injury, and well into the summer with the heat slowing me down.

After a lot of training, I could manage, with maximum or near maximum effort to run 8 miles in 1:02 or 1:03. It seemed erasing those few extra minutes was almost impossible. Then, 2 days ago, it finally happened during a 10 mile run. With temperatures in the upper 60s, I finally managed to run 8 miles in 59 minutes, 34 seconds. I also managed to run 10 miles in 1:14 and 31 seconds, the first time ever running 10 miles in less than 1:15. My average pace for this run was 7:28. I wasn’t flawless though, since I dropped the balls once during this run. At the end of this run I felt amazing.

Besides this, just yesterday, I’ve managed to run my first 2,000 miles since signing up with Runkeeper. That’s like running from New York City to Billings, Montana. All those miles were fueled and continue to be fueled by a 100% vegan diet. How did I manage to do this? Having supportive, wonderful, even crazy friends is a big help(there’s no community like the running community!), but besides this, I doubled my interval training a few weeks ago. I used to do it for 13 minutes once a week, now I do it for 26 minutes(I always do an easy 5 minute run beforehand). I alternative between 30 seconds of fast and 30 seconds of slow running.

The day before I broke this record, I was doing some hill training in Yonkers where there are some very steep hills overlooking the Hudson river. I did this for 47 minutes while it was raining, running up and down a steep 100 foot hill 7 times, covering about 3 miles while doing this. My legs didn’t feel as horrible as I thought they were going to feel afterwards. Some people were shocked by what I was doing. I believe the long runs I do also help. Unlike earlier this year, I hardly do any leg strength training anymore, except for squats very occasionally(I do ab work more often). I do little cross-training, and I don’t stretch. My cross-training consists mostly of walking, hiking, and “juggle chi” which is like Tai Chi but it involves juggling(I usually do it with 4 balls, while I joggle with 3 usually).

The important take away message here is to never give up. If you train hard in less than ideal conditions, you’ll reap the rewards when conditions improve. What records have you broken that once seemed impossible for you?

High Altitude Airships to Combat Poaching

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Elephants at Amboseili National Park from amoghavarsha.com

Hardly a day goes by without some depressing news about species going extinct or on the brink of extinction due to poaching or habitat destruction. These are sad times indeed for those of us who realize what a treasure biodiversity is, and how the loss of it can never be undone. So many unique, wonderful animal and plant species, some of which may have contained cures for many diseases have been irrevocably lost.

Elephants and rhinoceroses in Africa are particularly vulnerable due to their size and because of the high demand for elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. Various countries and organizations are doing what they can to combat the ivory trade and poaching, yet it continues. It appears to be getting worse. According to experts, in 2013, we lost 96 African elephants a day due to illegal hunting.

This bloodbath continues to go on due lack of protection and corruption. There just aren’t enough park rangers or security personal to prevent all poaching. These days, poachers linked to terrorist organizations are heavily armed and often kill rangers to get to the elephants. Besides this, some locals see elephants as a nuisance.

One approach that I think can help prevent poaching of elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species is a much more effective surveillance system based on unmanned high altitude airships with cameras and sensors located up in the stratosphere. The current system of park rangers or military personal in jeeps or helicopters patrolling wildlife reserves on the lookout for poachers is woefully inadequate. I don’t remember where I first heard of this idea, but it came back to me after reading this article by Joshua A. Krisch: Modern Research Borne on a Relic: Airships That Carry Science Into the Stratosphere

It looks like there is a lot of potential in this area for airships to improve surveillance. Instead of satellites, which are very costly, and not stationary, or airplanes, which are also costly, think of something that is stationed high up in the stratosphere, almost in outer space, monitoring a very large area. Think “stratellites“, instead of “satellites”.

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High altitude airship. Public domain picture.

With state-of-the-art camera and detection equipment on board these high altitude airships, it may be easier to monitor the movements of both animals and poachers. Many elephants will have GPS on them to make them easier to track. Obviously, this will need to be coordinated with rangers on the ground or in helicopters to arrest the criminals. Maybe this will also make it easier to conduct an Elephant Census.

This really isn’t so far-fetched. The U.S Navy’s MZ-3A Airship has already been used to monitor and assist cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the largest oil spill in history, and was also used for security at the Olympics. Of course, this is a regular airship, not a stratospheric geo-stationary airship. Fortunately, a company called Hyperblimp seems to be on board with the idea of using its airships for preventing poaching, though they specialize in low to mid altitude airships. I really love their idea of using solar energy to power their airships, which could allow them to stay afloat longer and further reduce costs. Aerostar’s HiSentinel high altitude airship appears to be the most promising high altitude airship, and is probably closest to commercialization.

I really do not know exactly how to implement this, who would own or control the airships, or if an organization like Sea Shepherd would be interested or capable of doing this. In the past few years, the World Wildlife Fund has turned to drones and UAVs(unmanned aerial vehicles) to help combat poaching. This approach isn’t exactly the same as using unmanned stratospheric airships, though it’s similar. The airships would be stationed high in the stratosphere at around 60,000 to 70,000 feet(above all weather) for at least a few months, so fewer of them would be needed for monitoring a large area and they may cost less in the long-term(they may even be retrievable and upgradeable). The current WWF approach requires lots of drones and UAVs over smaller areas.

These approaches aren’t necessarily in conflict, and would probably complement each other depending on the situation. It’s great that technology may provide the answer to preventing the extinction of these magnificent creatures.

Stop the Ivory Trade

HiSentinel & Stratospheric Airship Design Sensitivity

 

 

 

Metacognition in Scrub Jays

Scrub Jay in Flight

Scrub Jay in Flight by Lyle Troxell

A common faulty justification for eating and exploiting animals is that humans are so much “smarter” than all other animal species. “Animals are dumb so it’s okay to eat them!” so many meat-eaters proclaim. This of course is absurd; even if it was true, this still doesn’t justify harming animals. Carry this reasoning far enough, and it justifies making meals of humans who are mentally challenged. Besides this, it seldom makes sense to do interspecies intelligence comparisons(it’s difficult enough comparing humans when it comes to intelligence). Each species evolved as intelligent as it needed to be, based on the unique environment it evolved in. Some species are “smarter” or more “talented” at some things than others.

Increasingly, it appears that certain cognitive traits that were once thought to only occur in humans also occur in other species. Metacognition, or “thinking about thinking”, is something humans do on a regular basis. This ability helps us solve problems, philosophize, and plan for the future, among other things.

Recent research reported in Scientific American suggests that a small species of bird called the Scrub Jay may be capable of metacognition. As Watanabe, one of the researchers put it, “some birds study for a test like humans do.” I suggest reading the entire article to understand the experiment they used to arrive at this conclusion.

If this is true, this is yet more evidence that the human mind isn’t so different from other animals after all.

The WNY Vegfest

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The WNY Vegfest in Delaware park, Buffalo, New York

Last week’s Vegfest in Buffalo’s Delaware park was a blast! It surpassed my expectations and even the expectations of the organizers. It was a big success thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the gang at Vegan Pathways and others. To think this is the first one; next year it should be even bigger. They originally expected 2,000 people to attend. Turns out over 5,000 attended, and there are reports that some people went vegan as a result of some of the talks(in particular by Georges Laraque).

There was so much going on at this fest it would be difficult to encapsulate it all in one post. There was an almost endless variety of delicious vegan food, inspiring speakers, live music provided by Alison Pipitone and the Skiffles Minstrels(these guys are really good!), hilarious puppeteers, and so many other things. I found the martial arts performers from Master Chong’s World Class Tae Kwon Do among the most inspiring, along with various yoga(Acro Yoga Buffalo) and acrobatic performers doing incredible athletic feats that put me to shame.

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Were some of you expecting me to run in my underwear?

The Tofurky Trot 5k at the beginning of the fest was thrilling. I joggled the entire distance without dropping. I was a bit concerned I might drop due to my unfamiliarity with the layout of this park. Though I’ve been to Buffalo before, I’ve never been to Delaware park. I think I managed to complete the race in 20 minutes, 5 seconds. The crowd support was incredible, thanks to everyone for cheering me on. It was awesome running with so many other vegans(and a few almost vegans), including Georges Laraque, Andrew Peters, and Esther the Wonder Pig’s dads running in their underwear. The Buffalo Joywalkers danced the entire 5k!

When not eating or talking with other vegans, I would walk around the fest while juggling. A lot of people, especially children, enjoyed it, especially when I dropped. It was great connecting with so many other vegans, almost vegans and people curious about veganism. I feel bad for not staying the entire time, but I had to drive nearly 400 miles through the rain to get back home.

Overall, an epic race and awesome celebration of the vegan lifestyle. A big thanks to everyone who attended. If you couldn’t make it this year, be sure to come by next year. Niagara Falls isn’t that far away, and the Buffalo area has a lot to offer. Thanks to everyone who attended for making this a big success!

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Does practice really make perfect?

2014-05-11 15.49.51Many people I know have trouble learning how to juggle or joggle. I always tell them to practice more, or that “practice makes perfect”. Some of them improve, some of them don’t. After all, I attribute my “success” at joggling to practicing a lot. I do not believe my joggling ability is due to being genetically gifted. On the contrary, as I’ve said many times before on this blog I never excelled at sports and I don’t think I am uniquely well-coordinated. I joggle 5 to 6 times a week, and juggle every day.

Still, as important as practice is, hand-eye coordination is in part genetically determined. The same is true for dance or musical ability. The question is just how big is this genetic component? Or how important is practice? According to this recent study, Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis:

More than 20 years ago, researchers proposed that individual differences in performance in such domains as music, sports, and games largely reflect individual differences in amount of deliberate practice, which was defined as engagement in structured activities created specifically to improve performance in a domain. This view is a frequent topic of popular-science writing-but is it supported by empirical evidence? To answer this question, we conducted a meta-analysis covering all major domains in which deliberate practice has been investigated. We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.

© The Author(s) 2014.

Interesting study. It concludes that while practice is important, it isn’t as important as previously thought. This doesn’t mean you should stop practicing whatever it is you are trying to master, if it often proves challenging for you. It would be ridiculous for someone to give up playing cello just because they’re not as good as Yo-Yo Ma. The same could be said for juggling/joggling. In my opinion, joggling would count as “sport”, and 18% of the variance in joggling performance could be explained by practice, based on the above study.

This is an extremely complex issue, so this study is hardly the final word. I’m sure this study could be interpreted many different ways by people more skilled at reading scientific studies. When it comes to human potential, science at best gives us only a few clues. It is ultimately up to us to find out what we are really capable of.

Vegfest WNY here I come!

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Yes everyone, the rumors floating around in the vegan-o-sphere are true. I am happy to report that I will be attending the first annual VegFest WNY in Buffalo, New York, on August 3rd, at 11 AM, and will joggle the Tofurkey Trot 5K. It sounds like it’s going to be a blast, a real extraVeganza! There will be delicious vegan food, inspiring speakers, live music, exhibits, dancers, acrobats, animal adoptions, and so much more.

If you’re in the area, I hope you can make it to the fest. There’s nothing like having fun and supporting a great cause. Special guest runners at the race include: George Laraque, Andrew Peters, Derek Walter & Steve Jenkins(Esther the Wonderpig’s Dads), and the Buffalo Joywalkers. What a list of inspiring vegan/veggie athletes/activists! Don’t forget that this is a run or walk event.

Thanks to Veganpathways and all the other vegans in west New York for making this possible. You guys are amazing; I wouldn’t be surprised if all of western New York goes vegan thanks to your efforts. When I’m not busy munching on delicious vegan food, or dodging buffalo stampedes, I’ll be more than happy to give free juggling lessons to anyone interested. I promise to keep my bad jokes to a minimum.

I’m really looking forward to this big celebration of the vegetarian lifestyle and the race, and meeting so many other like-minded vegans. I can already feel the energy! Above all, let’s have fun and make this a day to remember!

Your support of WNY Vegfest will benefit Asha Sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary, and Food Not Bombs

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