The WNY Vegfest

2014-08-03 15.02.13

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!

2014-08-03 15.04.31

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!

Dancing and joggling genes?

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I sometimes say that anyone can learn to joggle. While this may not be entirely accurate, what I’m really trying to say is that it is not as difficult or as incredible as it looks.

What people see is the result of a ton of training. It has taken me many years to get the point where I am at now. I have joggled for thousands of miles, and just recently joggled my first 1,000 miles for the year.

What level am I at now? Last week, I did a 20 mile joggling run while it was in the mid 80s and humid. Several of those miles were on rocky, hilly, curvy forest trails. Surprisingly, I didn’t drop the balls even once, though I had to take 2 short breaks to cool off and drink some Gatorade. I even did a lot of tricks, especially in the first half. I was actually expecting to drop because of the heat, and how much I was sweating, and because of the rockiness of the trails. But it looks like my muscle memory didn’t fail me even in these extreme conditions. This isn’t the first time I’ve run 20 miles without dropping, but it was the first in mid 80s weather. I also did a 12 mile run last week, much of which involved joggling up the steepest hills ever(for me), and didn’t drop during the entire run. I was shocked, to be honest.

As much as I know this is the result of training, I can’t help but wonder if my genes give me an edge somehow. Alright, that sounds ridiculous even to me and those who know me best. I don’t come from a long line of gifted athletes, nor have I ever displayed any athletic ability before I took up joggling. Nor have I ever been a good dancer, which is similar to juggling and joggling.

While my research hasn’t lead to anything specifically focusing on juggling and genes, I did find an interesting study done on creative dancers which shows an interesting correlation between creative dance performance and certain genes. According to:
Gene Polymorphisms Are Associated with Creative Dance Performance:

The association between AVPR1a and SLC6A4 polymorphisms and creative dancing does not exclude the presence of the same polymorphisms in nondancing groups of subjects. Almost all of us dance and almost all of us have engaged in sports. What the current study suggests is that the combination of polymorphic variants contributing to creative dancing is overrepresented in the dancers. There is no reason to suggest that the nondancer athletes or the control group of nondancers/nonathletes are devoid of these polymorphisms, but the current study provides evidence that these variants are relatively scarce in other groups not specifically selected for the creative dancing phenotype. Importantly, we not only compared creative dancers to performing athletes but also validated the case-control design using a family-based study that avoids the conundrum of a comparison control group that might be “contaminated” with polymorphisms contributing to creative dancing. As for most complex traits, the effect size of these two genes is small and in Risch’s terminology will have small displacement.

These “dance” genes may play a role in coordination, but also show links with spirituality, and artistic creativity. They also seem to be linked with serotonin and brain anatomy. Serotonin plays an important role in the central nervous system. It affects mood and behavior, and many mind-altering drugs strongly influence our serotonin pathways.

It is difficult to disentangle what is really going on here, since genetics is very complicated and I lack expertise in it. I often claim that joggling is just like dancing, so it is possible these “dance” genes may influence a person’s joggling ability, though this is speculation on my part. Obviously, no matter how much a person trains, not everyone can reach the same level of joggling ability, just as not everyone can reach the same level of dance ability or martial arts ability. I do wonder sometimes if all the people I know who can’t even learn how to juggle may be genetically disadvantaged somehow.

However, none of this means that if you are trying to learn to joggle you should give up if you aren’t a good dancer or lack coordination. Keep in mind my background as a lousy dancer and even worse athlete, and how I started juggling and joggling while recovering from a car accident. The brain is very plastic; even if you lack these genes(assuming they give an edge to pursuits requiring coordination), it may still be possible to become a skilled joggler with enough practice.

 

 

Dr. Oz finally humbled

It should go without saying that I am not a fan of Dr. Oz. I’ve never actually talked about him on this blog before, but I have alluded to him many times. Dr. Oz sold out a long time ago, and this isn’t surprising for an Oprah protégé. Dr. Oz has long preyed on the gullible and scientifically illiterate; indeed, I believe he contributes to this nation’s scientific illiteracy.

Dr. Oz has long been America’s leading promoter of all sorts of weight loss scams, and many other forms of quackery/alternative medicine. The fact that he is a highly accomplished physician and cardiothoracic surgeon means he should know better. Whether or not he really believes in what he promotes on his show is beside the point. Only Dr. Oz knows what he really believes deep down inside.

When I first heard that Dr. Oz was going to testify at a congressional hearing about weight-loss scams, I wasn’t expecting much. So I was thrilled when Senator McCaskill asked him a lot of tough questions, and even went so far as to accuse him of being a liar! It was fun watching him squirm! I don’t think Dr. Oz was expecting this. In the words of Senator McCaskill:

I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true. So why, when you have this amazing megaphone, and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show?

How many times I’ve thought of asking him questions like that! I’m sure many of you know what the “Dr. Oz effect” is. Dr. Oz mentions a new weight loss “miracle” on his show, and weight loss pill manufacturers immediately start cashing in. While Dr. Oz doesn’t make money from these pills, these types of programs certainly help boost his ratings. His audience probably wouldn’t be as big if all he ever promoted was diet and exercise for weight-loss, which is the only safe and effective weight-loss strategy. Of course, he does often mention exercising more and eating less, but it is still irresponsible of him to promote ineffective weight-loss pills to his audience. Many people watching his show get the idea that if they take these magic pills, they can eat all the bacon, cake, cookies, and ice cream they want(there’s even a sick phenomenon called “Bacon Mania“).

I find it interesting that the thing that bothers Dr. Oz the most is that his name and image are being used without his permission by unscrupulous supplement manufacturers, which makes him a “victim”. This is a legitimate concern, but what about all the people getting taken advantage of? Dr. Oz also insists that he believes in these pills, and if he was irresponsible in any way(besides using “flowery” language and being “passionate”), it was because he never told his audience to purchase pills from companies he finds reputable(I’m not sure if he will ever produce this list). This of course misses the entire point that if something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, regardless of what company it comes from. Besides this, I hardly see Dr. Oz as a “victim”.

No one held a gun to Dr. Oz’s head and forced him to push weight-loss scams and other quackery on his show. He is not a victim. The real victims are the people who have wasted their money on the ineffective pills he’s promoted. Dr. Oz may not directly financially benefit from the pills, but he is as much a part of the problem as the pill manufacturers. Meanwhile, America continues to get fatter.

As a result of these hearings, I’m pretty sure Dr. Oz will tone things down a bit on his show to slip below the radar, but this will almost certainly hurt his ratings. I also don’t think these hearings have damaged his reputation, at least not with fans. He still has his cult-following, and I don’t believe any amount of information will sway them. For the conspiracy-minded, the fact that he was called in for questioning and asked all these tough questions is just more evidence(to them) of some vast, evil conspiracy that is trying to discredit quackery.

It’s been said so many times before, but it has to be said again: Weight loss does not come in a pill. It can only be achieved through exercise and eating less/eating more low calorie foods. Fitness is a lifestyle, not an activity. An active vegan lifestyle can be an effective weight-loss strategy.

Some great, in-depth articles about Dr. Oz:

Dr. Oz and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The Great and powerful Dr. Oz: humbled by Senator Claire McCaskill

 

I got interviewed by the Victoria Vegan Fest!

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In case you’ve been outside of the Galaxy for the past year, you almost certainly know that Victoria, British Columbia is having its annual Victoria Vegan Fest on July 1st. Their promotional website features the “This is what a vegan looks like” campaign, in which they interview some awesome vegans and ask what being vegan means to them among other things. So 2 days ago, I was contacted by one of the organizers, David M Kong, who said he would like to interview me for their campaign. After thinking it over, I agreed, and here it is: This is What a Vegan Looks Like. David, you rock, you do so much for the vegan movement!

Don’t just read my interview, be sure to read all the interviews with all the other inspirational vegans. It truly is an honor to be featured there with terrific people like Krystle Charlton, Ryan Canty, Emily von Euw, and Hayley Zedel.

I would definitely go to this event if I lived closer. If you live anywhere near British Columbia be sure to drop by. It sounds like it is going to be one big extraveganza, with tons of delicious vegan food, entertainment, contests, and many speakers/performers who are doing amazing things for veganism.

Enough with the self-promotion. If you can’t make it to this event, whatever you do this summer, have fun, and live like every day is a vegan fest!

 

 

 

One legged exercising for balance

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Many runners and other athletes don’t often think about balance. Runners, in particular, are mainly concerned with speed and endurance, not balance. Yet doing some balance training may help improve your proprioception, which is the perception of your body’s position and movement. This may make you a better runner, especially in difficult terrain, and may decrease your risk of falling and injury.

Most of the balance training(besides joggling) I do involves juggling while standing on one foot. I really believe this has helped improve my balance, and my joggling ability. I’ll sometimes spin around on one leg(while juggling), to make it more challenging and to improve my balance further. This is also a great reason to learn to juggle, since this kind of training improves both coordination and balance. I can juggle up to 4 balls on 1 leg, and I am working on 5. Doing high throws can make this extra challenging – I usually drop the balls.

I often do this at home for a few minutes every day, but I prefer doing this when going on hikes in the woods, often on a narrow or pointed section of a big rock outcropping. This can make it even more fun, as well as more challenging. I’ll do this after joggling around for several miles, or on days when I’m not joggling. As I often say, the great outdoors is my gym. If I bring my resistance bands with me on a hike, I can do a total body workout in the middle of the woods! This is especially wonderful if I’m on top of a big hill with a spectacular view of the countryside.

For beginners though, I recommend doing this at home or on flat surfaces. If you can’t juggle, try shadow-boxing or doing arm exercises on one leg. Even some strength-training can be done on one leg, but be careful if you have a bad knee. Don’t start doing anything crazy on rocks. Work up to it gradually; slipping and banging your knee against a big rock doesn’t feel gneiss.

As I said before, doing some balance training may help prevent falls. In fact, among the elderly, not being able to balance yourself on one leg predicts injuries from falls. So people of all ages can benefit from this. For a more detailed look at this, check out: The Benefits of Balance Training for Runners, at RunnersConnect. There are many different types of balance training, and this just scratches the surface.

If you are learning to joggle and are making slow progress, some balance training may help improve your joggling ability.

What kind of balance training do you do, if any?