Category Archives: fitness

Brooklyn Marathon Race Report

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On November 20th I completed the Brooklyn Marathon, my second time joggling this race and fifth marathon overall. I had a decent race experience overall, even if I finished slower than the first time. My training and just about everything leading up to the big day were pretty much flawless, except that I may have over-trained. This time I ran as part of Team Humane, to help raise money for the Humane League. I admit it feels a little different joggling as part of a team. I felt like I wasn’t just doing it for me anymore, and that my first 4 marathons were warm-ups for this race.

Part of me is surprised I’ve completed 5 marathons; it wasn’t so long ago that I thought I would never be able to complete 1 marathon as a runner. Yes, while just running, not joggling! The pre-marathon me seems like a different person. I’m not sure who he was, but he disappeared when I crossed the finish line of my first marathon. Now let’s explore marathon #5.

Race day was cold, cloudy and brutally windy. The weather forecast said there was a chance of rain, but I increasingly find weather forecasters about as reliable as astrologers or worse yet, political pollsters. So I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t rain at all. It was about 40 when I first arrived at Prospect Park at 8 AM, but the fierce, howling wind made it feel like the low 30s. I was conspicuously under-dressed(only shorts, and 2 shirts on), so before the race I was shivering and trying to warm myself up by juggling, which only helped a little.

I simply wanted to complete in less than 4 hours and I wasn’t optimistic about not dropping the balls due to the cold and wind. Last year at the Yonkers marathon I started out a little too fast and that may be why I injured myself. So when the race started I took it very slow for the first 2 miles; I didn’t mind looking like a juggling slug. After mile 2, channeling my inner vegan cheetah, I started picking up the pace, doing sub-8 minute miles until I got to mile 9. By then it was also a little warmer; I had no trouble with the cold air during this race except when the wind picked up.

The Brooklyn marathon isn’t especially hilly. The marathon is a series of loops around Prospect Park, and some parts are hilly, particularly the approach to the northern section. At first the hills didn’t slow me down that much, but after several miles of this my legs started to feel fatigued. I drank Gatorade for the first time at mile 7, and did this about every 2.5 miles. My pace after mile 10 gradually slowed down. After mile 20 I was doing 10, then 12 minute miles.

The crowd support was tremendous. Thank you so much people of Brooklyn, especially my fellow vegan Brooklynites! A lot of laughs, lots of cheering, and some people were very supportive of me because of the cause I represent. I finished in 4:16, which means my average pace was 9:47. This was my slowest marathon ever. My fastest marathon was in 3:40. At least I didn’t injure myself like I did last year(in spite of injuring myself I was faster then). This was my 3rd dropless marathon in a row. This means the majority of the marathons I’ve joggled have been dropless. Even I am astonished. Here’s the proof! Here I am at what I think may be mile 16. Thank you Denise! Ok, that’s less than 1% of the race, but it’s still something!

So why was I so slow? I think the cold weather and wind were partly responsible. And I also suspect I may have been overdoing it with the unicycling during training. Riding on a unicycle, especially backwards, isn’t a good way to improve marathon performance. Not that I was expecting it would help, but I shouldn’t have done so much backwards unicycling in the weeks leading up to this event. Though it wasn’t helpful, it sure is fun!

A big thank you to everyone who has contributed to the Humane League and also those who’ve provided encouragement and training tips. Wishing everyone luck with their training, fund-raiding or whatever you’re doing.

So what’s next? Stay tuned!

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My Segment on Plant-Based by Nafsika

In case you missed my segment on Plant-Based by Nafsika: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1NHYHNfloQ

Becoming a better unicyclist

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“Do something crazy with your energy, and you’ll always get back more than you put in” – C.P

The world of unicycling is the gift that keeps on giving. When I purchased my first unicycle last year, I realized it would take a lot of skill to be able to ride it compared to a bicycle. I knew it would take a lot of practice and getting better would likely be frustrating at times, especially after upgrading to a larger unicycle and having to relearn certain skills. Since my last unicycling report on April 18, I’ve been training on a regular basis with my 29″ unicycle and have improved in a number of ways:

  • Instead of 6.5 miles per hour on long rides, I can now ride at 8 miles per hour
  • I can go up big hills. A few days ago I climbed an 80 foot hill with an average grade of 10% without stumbling or dismounting
  • I can now idle a little on the 29″ unicycle, for 20 cycles at most
  • I can juggle while unicycling for up to 2 miles without dropping, 3.5 miles with a few drops; I can even juggle while going up and down hills, so long as they aren’t too steep. My joggling ability definitely helped me with this skill.

In my experience, all it takes to ride faster is feeling more comfortable on the unicycle, and so this it the easiest thing to improve in the short-term.

Idling on the 29″unicycle  was particularly difficult at first. Though I could often idle for several minutes nonstop on my 24″ unicycle, at first I found idling impossible on the 29″. I just couldn’t maneuver the larger wheel the same way I could the 24″, and kept dismounting after dozens of failed attempts. I grew increasingly frustrated with my inability to idle on the 29″, then one day it clicked and I was elated. It was a magical moment. I finally figured it out and 1 idle became 3, then 10, then 20. It’s still much more challenging and tiring than on the 24″, but it’s starting to feel almost natural.

Hills are still a challenge as well. There are steep hills around here that I can easily climb with the 24″ that I still can’t do with the 29″. Juggling while unicycling doesn’t feel like joggling yet, but that will take a little more practice. I still need to work on hopping and going backwards. If you’re new to unicycling and are struggling, just keep on practicing. There are tons of videos on Youtube that give a lot of useful tips. What seems impossible now may soon come easy to you with enough practice.

All in all, I’m enjoying unicycling and the fitness benefits, even if learning certain skills can be frustrating at times. Discovering strange new abilities certainly makes it a worthwhile fitness challenge.

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Who’s afraid of the big bad coyote?

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Photo of an Eastern Coyote, from http://www.ForestWander.com

 

Many people in New York state, apparently. And they certainly have the right to be concerned. Due to recent coyote sightings and attacks on pets, New York state issued a rare coyote advisory, telling people to take precautions in areas where coyotes are prevalent. While coyotes have long thrived in rural areas and even the suburbs, they are increasingly being sighted in urban areas, with one yuppie coyote being spotted in Manhattan last year. Though precautions may be necessary in certain areas, people who think we need to start killing them are overreacting.

Since coyotes almost never attack people(except very small children), these precautions are more about protecting pets. Cats and dogs have been known to disappear when left unsupervised in coyote country. In the south-west U.S, house cats are a favorite meal of coyotes and this is also the case in some parts of the eastern U.S. In the north-east, what we call coyotes are actually coy-wolves, a hybrid of coyote and wolf. Coy-wolves are significantly larger than their western cousins, though not necessarily more dangerous.

As far as adult runners, hikers, and other outdoorsy people go, there is little to fear from coyotes or wolves for that matter. I occasionally see coyotes during trail runs, but they always quickly disappear into the dark wilderness, way too fast for me to stop and take a photo. If you see one and they don’t run away, wave your arms around and yell to scare them away.

It’s estimated that there’s around 20,000 to 30,000 coyotes in New York state, far more numerous than a few decades ago. This highly adaptable species has also expanded its range well into the NYC metro area, with a significant presence in Westchester county. I know some people who were terrified when they saw them for the first time in their idyllic suburban neighborhood where nothing interesting ever happens, though the coyote didn’t attack and just quickly ran away.

As predators, coyotes are a vital part of the ecosystem, especially in areas where the deer or lawyer population is exploding(which in New York is everywhere). Rather than living in fear, I believe peaceful coexistence is the best way to deal with them, and taking extra precautions if you have pets or small children. Whatever you do, don’t feed them! If you’re a runner in Westchester county or live in an area with a lot of wilderness, I don’t think you should cancel your trail running plans just because of coyote sightings.

 

 

My new 29 inch Nimbus unicycle

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29″ Nimbus Road unicycle

As many of you already know, I purchased my first unicycle in late 2015 because it seemed like the next logical thing to learn after joggling for so many years. After a few months I was able to ride it for long distances and was satisfactory with most basic skills. Though the Club 24 inch unicycle was a perfect introductory model for someone completely new to the enigmatic world of unicycling, it’s far from ideal for going on long treks.

At most on long rides I could average 5.5 miles per hour on the 24″ unicycle. Little kids on their tiny bicycles in the park were often very impressed when they saw me on my unicycle until they realized they could go much faster than me. One minute they totally admire me, the next minute I get no respect! And so I began my search for a faster unicycle, which means a much larger wheel. Eventually it came down to 2 choices: a 36″ unicycle or a 29″ unicycle.

A 36″ unicycle can travel about 12 mph on a long ride, which is roughly equivalent to the average speed of a weekend bicyclist. The drawbacks of a 36″ unicycle are that it’s more difficult to maneuver, it’s a struggle to go up hills, and it takes up a lot of space and costs a lot more than a 29″. Like just about everything else in life, purchasing a unicycle is about making compromises.

A 29″ unicycle can travel at about 7 mph, it’s easier to maneuver and go up hills than with a 36″. Since I live in a hilly area, a 29″ was the obvious choice. So I recently purchased a Nimbus 29″ road unicycle with 125 mm cranks. So far I am loving it and the transition wasn’t as difficult as I originally thought it would be. Unfortunately, I still struggle a little with free-mounting it since the seat and pedals are a little higher than on the 24″.

On average, my speed is 6.5 mph on long rides, much faster than my 24″, but still not as fast as I had hoped(kids often zoom past me). I figure a little more training will improve my speed and my ability to climb steep hills. I was competent with idling on my 24″, but it seems impossible with the 29″(the larger the wheel, the harder it is to idle). So far, I haven’t tried juggling while riding the 29″ since I don’t feel comfortable enough with it yet.

Overall, the Nimbus 29″ feels much more solid than my 24″. The 24″ feels flimsy by comparison. The ride is also smoother on the 29″, handling certain bumpy areas better than the 24″. An oddity is that for some reason I’ve long struggled with right turns on the 24″, while left turning was always comparatively easy. With the 29″, it’s the opposite, but the issue isn’t as noticeable as with the 24″. I’ve long tried to find a defect with the 24″ and couldn’t find anything obviously wrong with it, so I’ve long considered that this discrepancy may be due to having a favored side. Having a favored side isn’t anything unusual, it’s similar to right or left-handedness. However, I still suspect a defect since it would be unusual for my favored side to change based on the unicycle I’m riding.

Even though this unicycle is primarily for road riding, I’ve found that it performs well enough on trails, so long as it’s mostly flat. It would likely be even easier riding trails if I replaced the tire with an off-road type of tire. Since I do very little trail riding, I don’t think I’ll be doing this any time soon.

So far, I am very pleased with the 29″ Nimbus road unicycle, and hope to do a 20 mile ride on it one of these days. I will still use the 24″ for skill development, but the 29″ will be used from now on for anything longer than a few miles.

 

Check out the Ultra Ordinary Running Podcast

The Ultra Ordinary Running podcast is by the most inspiring, as well as funniest ultra-runners I know. Ultra-runners Melissa, Angela, and Christina are planning on running the Javelina Jundred in October, their first ever 100 mile run. They discuss their training leading up to this event, as well as the smaller, easy races(like 50 milers) they do along the way. They don’t just share a lot of great training tips, they’re also very motivating. Did I mention they’re funny too? Their discussions sometimes venture deep into sports psychology and the occasional tangent.

Even if you’re just a casual runner, they’re definitely worth listening to. Expect to see them on the cover of Runner’s World late this year or some time next year.

Oh, and there’re vegan too!

Unicycling as the ultimate cross-training

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Unicycling starts to get really interesting when you ride the trails.

Like a lot of athletes, I’m always on the lookout for a cross-training activity that complements my usual regimen. As a joggler, it’s difficult finding something that fits the bill that challenges me in a way that is similar to joggling, but isn’t as strenuous. I’ve sometimes tried simply running, but it often makes me feel like I am regressing from joggling and is otherwise too similar. I also wanted an activity that is easier on the knees. I’ve considered juggling while swimming or “swuggling”, but I don’t have access to a pool.

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The 24 inch Club unicycle I purchased. This is a good beginner model.

After exploring countless options, I recently “discovered” unicycling, and won the Nobel prize for my amazing discovery. Granted, I’ve always known about unicycling, but for some silly reason or other I didn’t seriously consider taking it up. I used to think it would take too long to learn how to ride one, or that I wouldn’t have enough time, but in late October of last year I finally purchased a 24 inch wheel unicycle. It took about 3 weeks for me to learn to ride forward 500 feet(while recovering from the Yonkers marathon injury), and I am now capable of riding up to 13 miles on it. I can even go up and down hills, so long as they are not too steep.

It should go without saying that it took a lot of practice and patience to get to where I’m at with unicycling, just like how I progressed with joggling. In fact, I can now juggle while unicycling, though very sloppily. I think my joggling ability helped make the transition to juggling while unicycling a lot easier. I can also “idle”, which means pedaling back and forth to stay in the same position without dismounting(which comes in handy when waiting for a traffic light to change), and do a little hopping. Backwards riding I can barely do. Though I’ve taken a bunch of nasty falls, so far I haven’t suffered any serious injuries.

Unicycling just makes perfect sense to me. Similar to juggling/joggling, it’s an aerobic and acrobatic activity that was long ago appropriated by circus performers to the point that few people see it as a sport. Whereas joggling requires a great deal of coordination, unicycling requires a great deal of balance. There’s something about being in “perfect” balance or coordination that brings about a state of euphoria. Unicycling engages the brain in a manner few exercises can approach. Unlike running or joggling, it’s a low impact activity so it gives your knees a break while still providing your legs a great workout.

Unicycling generally requires more effort than bicycling. You always have to pedal if you want to move since you can’t coast on a typical unicycle. This means you burn more calories on a unicycle than on a bicycle when covering the same distance. It’s not as many calories as a person would burn while running, but it is significantly closer.

A lot of people balk at the idea of unicycling as a sport. The association with the circus is still too strong and some people are too self-conscious about all the attention they would get. Besides this, some people see it as inherently dangerous. However, over the past two decades unicycling has become much more popular as an athletic activity for fitness enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. These days, there are even some gutsy people riding mountain unicycles, which are usually called “municycles”. Some prefer riding long distances on roads or bike paths with large 36 inch wheel unicycles which kind of look like smaller versions of the Victorian era Penny Farthing, except that they lack the tiny rear wheel.

As far as safety goes, as long as you know what you’re doing and wear a helmet and safety gear, it probably isn’t much more dangerous than bicycling. If you are still concerned about safety, keep in mind that unicycles tend to be much slower than bicycles, and if something goes wrong they are easier to bail from since they lack handlebars.

Though I enjoy it for its own sake, I unicycle mainly for cross-training since I still see myself primarily as a joggler. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with making unicycling your main athletic activity. I don’t intend to do a lot of juggling while unicycling, but it’s a good skill set to have since it helps to make your upper and lower body movements more independent of each other.

I am considering doing some cycling events in the future, but haven’t found anything suitable yet. Since I am still a novice, I can’t travel very far on my unicycle yet, but I am getting there. I plan to upgrade to a bigger model soon so I can go much farther. In the mean time, I will enjoy the cross-training benefits of unicycling. Unicycling around the neighborhood after a long joggling run is a great low-impact recovery aid, and is a lot of fun both for me and the local kids(as well as adults) who love all the free entertainment. The mean kids love it when I fall off, of course. On the other hand, the geeky kids enjoy it when I explain the physics of unicycling. Actually, they usually do a better job of explaining it to me. I highly recommend unicycling as a cross-training activity for jogglers and runners alike.

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My first wheels

 

 

Kids and acrobatics

AcroYoga pose called Hangle Dangle. Source: Earl McGehee

Acroyoga pose called Hangle Dangle. Source: Earl McGehee

I don’t have any kids of my own, but if I did, I would take their physical education as seriously as their intellectual development. After all, active kids are not only healthy kids, they generally tend to do better in school. This is why athletics are so important for kids and adults alike.

In order to get more kids interested in fitness, we should broaden what we consider to be athletics. The focus in schools is often on boring old calisthenics, team sports or track, and I think this is very limiting. I believe widening the scope of athletics to include acrobatics can help kids find the fitness activity that is right for them. It can also accommodate children who are not inclined to play team sports for whatever reason. If kids aren’t having fun with what they’re doing, they won’t stick to it. Many people don’t see acrobatics as athletic, but I do. How are the abilities of trapeze artists, tight-rope walkers, or jugglers not athletic?

What is probably the biggest stumbling block to wider acceptance of acrobatics as athletics is acrobatics close association with the circus. This association is unfortunate since the world of acrobatics offers so many fun ways to stay fit that can either be the mainstay of you or your child’s athletic routine, or a supplement to it. And before anyone mentions it, I am not recommending you or your kids take up acrobatic daredevilry.

Juggling is arguably the best gateway to this world, and it’s a safe(unless you juggle chainsaws), fun athletic activity in and of itself. It’s definitely a step forward that more schools are including juggling and acrobatics in their physical education programs. Acroyoga is another excellent way to practice acrobatics. Not surprisingly, juggling and/or acrobatics is linked with improved academic scores. The more options kids have when it comes to athletics, the better.

Upper body exercise versus lower body in terms of inflammation

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Like a lot of fitness fanatics, I do a lot of reading. I am always looking for new information to help me and my readers and friends improve their athletic performance and overall health. One area in particular I love exploring are the differences between upper body exercise and lower body exercise.

So I was very excited when I found this- The inflammatory response to upper and lower limb exercise and the effects of exercise training in patients with claudication.I have cited some studies that contrast upper body with lower body exercise before, but they weren’t about the amount of inflammation in response to upper body versus lower body exercise. I’ve been curious about this for some time. To make the long story short, inflammation can be a good thing at a moderate level, while chronic inflammation is associated with, and may play a role in causing many serious diseases.

Too much inflammation may also hinder exercise recovery and performance. The study I mentioned above, from the University of Sheffield, U.K is of particular interest since it found that:

RESULTS:

An acute bout of sustained lower limb exercise significantly increased the intensity of CD11b and CD66b(these are markers for inflammation) expression by peripheral blood neutrophils in all groups, whereas upper limb exercise had no effect. Resting neutrophil expression of CD11b and CD66b and circulating von Willebrand factor levels were unaffected by the training program, as were the inflammatory responses to an acute bout of sustained upper and lower limb muscular work, despite the fact that both training programs significantly increased walking distances.

CONCLUSIONS:

These findings indicate that upper limb exercise training programs may offer certain advantages over currently prescribed lower limb programs. Our results show that exercising nonischemic muscles in a way that promotes improved cardiorespiratory function and walking capacity can avoid the potentially deleterious systemic inflammatory responses associated with lower limb exertion in patients with stable intermittent claudication.

(Bold is mine)

So in essence, the lesson here is that lower body exercise produces a lot of inflammation, while upper body produces none(based on the specific markers used). This makes sense in a way since lower body exercise is generally weight-bearing, compared to most upper body exercise, and the leg muscles are generally larger. This isn’t really that surprising.

So upper body cardio probably wouldn’t be as exhausting, obviously. And as far as joggling is concerned, most of the inflammation is due to the running(most of the effort/calories burned is due to the running), not the juggling, so if you are afraid that adding juggling to your running will be problematic for you, there is little reason to be concerned.

Unlike regular running, joggling helps improve posture and coordination, with little to no drawbacks.

Let’s Get Vegan on the Tonight Show!

With the help of Stephanie and Celeste, they won’t be laughing at us vegans ever again.

Honk If You're Vegan

I’ve seen veganism negatively stereotyped on TV many times. The latest hit was on the Tonight Show when Jimmy Fallon joked about feeling sorry for the spouses of vegetarians because they’d have to eat yam-burgers. It was about vegetarians, not vegans, but I think the public lumps us all together.

I couldn’t find Fallon’s statement online, but I did find this:

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No wonder people assume that vegan food is crappy – that’s what the media is selling! Vegans know differently, but it’s hard to compete with Hollywood.

Or maybe we can…

Celeb plant-based chef known for The Great Food Truck Race and owner of Seabirds Kitchen, Stephanie Morgan, and I want to get on the Tonight Show and blow Fallon’s socks off with amazing vegan food.

Here’s a photo of the lovely Stephanie.

9355228_orig Celeb chef and owner of Seabirds Kitchen, Stephanie Morgan

But we need your help!

We need BUZZ to for this to fly. So let’s make some…

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