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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Excellent cannibalism talk by Diana Fleischman

If you are interested in cannibalism, or biology in general, you should listen to this Cannibalism Talk by evolutionary psychologist Diana Fleischman. I didn’t realize just how many sub-types of cannibalism there were before I listened to this. She doesn’t just cover human cannibalism, she also discusses cannibalism in many other species, and explains why this behavior evolved. Some species will even eat their own offspring! After all, as she often says, the flesh of your own species is the best possible multi-vitamin.

Some of what she says made me feel nauseous, while other parts were funny. For those of you who don’t already know, Fleishman isn’t just a scientist, she’s a vegan. I think this gives her some deep insights into cannibalism that non-vegan biologists may have trouble understanding. I highly recommend listening to this talk and reading some of the well-researched articles on her Sentientist blog. All of them are gems. Her blog is one of the best science-based vegan blogs out there.

Secrets of speed joggling

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I’m not that fast of a runner, but lately I’ve been doing 10 mile joggling runs in a little less than 1:20, mostly without dropping. I even recently did a 5K in 21:39, which is a new record for me, and I didn’t even drop once. In fact, compared to how I was doing last summer, I am both faster and dropping less.

How is it possible to do this? Obviously, it takes a lot of practice. Once you get used to joggling, juggling while running becomes so hard-wired into your brain and muscle memory that the juggling is mostly automatic. Deciding when to switch from automatic mode to conscious control mode can be tricky. For complicated tricks, I have to put myself into conscious control mode, which means focusing more on the balls, and less on my surroundings. Obviously, I am in conscious control mode when there are many people and obstacles around. I don’t want to bump into anyone or have a ball hit someone in the face!

This is why most people do their speed work on tracks or on paths with no obstacles. The “rules” of course are rather simple: Let your running set the rhythm, and the faster you run, the faster and lower your juggling pattern. I learned this from Perry Romanowski and Joe Salter, two amazing jogglers whose joggling tips were extremely valuable for helping me improve my joggling. These rules are actually the basic rules of joggling, but it is helpful for even experienced jogglers to review them and make sure they are adhering to them.

Besides this, what I do to try to joggle as quickly as possible is to try to expend as little energy as possible on the juggling, so my leg speed is minimally compromised. One way I try to do this is to try to harness as much energy as possible from the up and down bounce of running to help my arms throw the balls. I even try to take this to the extreme of trying to not throw the balls at all, I just have them effortlessly bounce off my hands in a juggling pattern. Okay, so I don’t actually do this, but sometimes I like to think I come a little close to achieving this energy efficiency ideal while speed joggling. There are times when I try to pretend that the balls aren’t even there and I am not juggling; I have mixed success with this crazy approach.

Sometimes I also like to think of my arms as propellers helping to push me forward; just because I’m juggling while running doesn’t mean I can’t use my arms like other runners. This probably doesn’t help, but we like to think it does.

All the ordinary rules for improving speed among runners apply:

  • Interval run once a week
  • Hill runs once or twice a week
  • One long slow run once a week
  • A short speed run once a week or every 2 weeks

For intervals, I alternate between 30 second maximum speed running with 30 second very slow running for 13 minutes. Before I do the intervals, I run slowly for 5 minutes to get my muscles ready. Intervals can be brutal. I rest and eat a recovery snack or meal after this, and may do a separate 5 mile run later in the day. I used to do 5 mile runs immediately after doing the intervals, but I stopped doing this when I noticed no improvement. I also drink probiotic beverages or eat fermented vegetables to help prevent gastric distress while running fast or long. I think it helps.

What do you do to improve your speed? And if you’re a joggler, how do you speed joggle?

 

Congratulations, Julia!

Let’s all congratulate my friend Julia on her greatest running accomplishment, her completion of the 55 mile Cateran Trail ultra-marathon, her very first ultra! What an adventure this was for her. You can read about it here: One Epic Chase On The Cateran Trail

Very inspiring story – she’s already thinking about running another ultra! I’m giving some thought into running this next year. It would be fun to run an ultra through the Scottish highlands!