Monday, August 13, 2018

what is is with being vegan?

I have had a beard for around seven years now. During that time it has been various lengths and bushiness but ever present. This is relevant as it actually predates the beard fashion by a couple of years. Something people do not know and why should they? 

When I get asked about it and say that I have had it for a while I get sideways looks as if to say, “really?” 

The point of this is that while there are trends, I also ride a single speed bike to work wear statement glasses and run ultramarathons, not all things that we do were as a result of a trend. What has this got to do with eating a vegan diet?

I have been vegan for a little over three years now. It started, like most, with a move to vegetarianism and there was a moment. There was a flash of lightning that came from a Rich Roll Podcast and specifically episode 160 on July 19th 2015 and an interview with David Carter. It was this that prompted me to make the full change and remove dairy from my diet. 

On reflection it seems weird that you can be vegetarian and still consume eggs, milk and cheese. I stop short of describing myself as vegan as on occasion I do eat some dairy, never in the pure form but sometimes in cooking. I always try to avoid it but if there is little option then I will. If you want to label me I am >99% plant based. There’s a t-shirt slogan right there.

What I experience a lot is a sense of defensiveness that I get from people that ask me about it. I do not go around banging the drum for this at all but if I am asked I will explain my motivation and the impact that it has had on me and my health.

How do know there’s a vegan at a cocktail party? Don’t worry they will tell you.

When asked I normally cite the following reasons and outcomes;
  • RRP Podcast and specifically the David Carter interview
  • Netflix documentaries; Cowspiracy, What the Health, Forks over Knives etc
  • Injuries from running that have a connection to consumption of dairy (tendonitis issues that milk is known to inflame)
  • Stopped dairy and injuries cleared up, skin better, feel much better (generally feel much less gloopy) and have abundant energy
  • Weight is consistent and not an issue
  • Recovery from long runs is amazing
  • Read some books (China Study, Eat and Run and some blogs and posts by vegan runners; Mike Wardian, Rob Krar, Sage Canaday etc etc)
  • Immersed myself in the online culture (, Neal Barnard MD, Ray Cronise etc etc etc)
  • No-one will ever tell you to eat less fruits and veggies
I explain this, largely I feel, without prejudice. Remember I have been asked about this, I am not the idiot at the cocktail party.

When I start talking I notice that almost without exception people get defensive and judgemental of themselves but as though it was coming from me. I then find myself apologising for something I have not done and explaining that while it works for me it isn’t for everyone. My wife is around >75% vegan but my kids really are not all (although they do like vegan ice-cream and soya iced coffee) as it should be they do what they want. So why do people get defensive?

I think the main one is animal rights. You might have noticed that I omitted this from the list above. Being totally honest this was not part of the agenda for me when I started out. It was a selfish motivation that was almost exclusively around me being a better runner. However as I have gotten more involved and consumed more vegan materials online you cannot fail to be affected by animal cruelty that takes place on an industrial scale. I do not reference this unless asked as it is emotional and provocative. The vegan at the cocktail party I suspect would reference this almost immediately. 

When you are described as vegan then this is where people immediately leap in terms of motivation and why you would be. They know about it and like much of human kind choose to ignore something that counters their version of their life. We all do this on a wide range of topics and choices. This doesn’t make us wrong it makes us human. We love nothing more than what we know our are bad habits being validated however tenuously. Someone shining a light on that makes us uncomfortable and by extension can often make us defensive. We feel the need to defend our way of living even though it is not under attack.

So if you ask me why I’m vegan and I answer your question remember that you asked me and I am just answering your question. I’m not selling anything and it comes with no judgement from me. 

Anything you feel as a result of that is down to you as is any action you do or do not take.

Oh and i get my protein from the same place a gorilla does. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Gloucester Groundhog - 22nd July 2018

What happens when two runners watch the Barkley Marathons documentary on Netflix? 

The Gloucester Groundhog is what happens.

Inspired by the documentary The Barkley Marathons: The race that eats its young the Gloucester Groundhog is a 5-loop challenge on a route of around 9 miles, each with 1,300ft of elevation set in and around Cranham Woods. It’s a really challenging route with variety of terrain and some good hills. The premise is pretty simple and just like it’s Barkley big brother. The challenge is 5 laps within cut-off or there’s a 3 loop fun run option. The cut-off is a very demanding 9 hrs. To make it even more interesting you have to navigate and at each mile (more or less) find a book and rip out a page with your corresponding bib number.

So far so Barkley.

Sunday 22nd July a few, 10 runners, gathered in a parking spot on the edge of Cranham Woods with the start to be given at 0900hrs. A race briefing at 0845hrs and that was it we were off. Straight up the hill from the start to the first book. It was then a turnaround back to the start to then head up on the road parallel with the woods. Across Painswick Road and onto the second book.

Groups quickly formed with one of the runners racing off at the front, I was in a pair just behind with then a larger group just behind. There was another pair that, i think, were predominantly walking the course.

Running with a mate is always good but when you spend more time talking than paying attention you can go wrong very easily and then not really understand that you have. Jez and I ran straight past the location of book 2 not seeing it at all. Book locations were indicated with pink rope. Some were easier to spot than others. This one eluded us and we ran past, probably a good half a mile past it. Only realising our mistake when the larger group of runners came through. We headed back and eventually found it. Acknowledging the time loss we figured we could make up the ground.

If we had been paying attention maybe we could have.

After the second book we set-off running again finding the third book with not too much issue. It was, though, here that we should have been concentrating on the map. We missed the turning down the hill for Watery Lane instead ending up on the main road down to Upton St. Leonard's. We were quite far down the road before realising our mistake. We turned around and orientated the map to then see that we were parallel with where we needed to be but some distance away. Between us were houses fields and barbed wire fences. We found a route across a field, hopped over a barbed wire fence, over a couple of stiles and onto Watery Lane where we located the book.

It was then back on road into Upton St. Leonard's. We made another mistake here. You’re not surprised at all are you! There was no visible rope although we could see from the ma where we were and that there should be something around. We met with the two walkers at this stage who were hunting too. It took us quite a while here to find the book. Later we heard that someone had taken the pink rope! To give an idea of how wrong we had gone at this point the walkers had done around 6.5 miles and Jez and I had covered closer to 11.

Back on course and running again we found our way to Nut Hill and located the book (a cheeky little up and back) it was then across Painswick Road and up towards Coopers Hill. You might not know Coopers Hill by name but if I said Cheese Rolling you might know where I mean. This is the site of the annual May Day Gloucester Cheese Rolling festival which can only be described as bonkers.

The views across Gloucestershire as you head up Coopers Hill are just amazing. You can see right across Gloucestershire as far as the Black Mountain in Wales, then moving your gaze to the right, The Mayhill with it's clump of trees perched on top a little further and it's The Malvern Hills with then everything in between. 

Uphill still the road gave way to trail and a steady if relatively short climb to the top. In the woods at Coopers Hill there are old walls and pathways. The book was located on a wall that has become part of the pathway. There was now one book remaining. The pathway leads towards a farm where it was through the gate and down onto a road that bisects the wood. There’s a footpath on the other side of the road that you pick up after which it is a nice down-hill towards the last book. The last book was difficult to find and another cheeky out and back. The footpath then deposits you by the Scout Hut in Cranham. It was a short up hill on the road towards the start/finish.

We had covered around 15 miles and taken 3hrs 45 minutes or so!! Any hopes of completing 5 laps had evaporated.

There was time to replenish supplies and head out again although this time in reverse. The advantage here was that we now knew the course and more importantly where the books were located. The second loop was without event as evidenced by the improvement in time where we ran around 1:45 for the loop. Quite slow for 9 miles but we had an additional 6 miles in the legs and also quite a lot of mental tiredness from searching for books and getting lost. It all takes a toll.

The third loop was where things changed dramatically. By now it was a long day and with this amazing weather we have been having it was a very hot and very long day. Lap two finished with the up and back that we did on lap 1 as lap 3 was a repeat of lap 1 it started with the up and back. All part of the Barkley plan to mess with your head and break you.

We started running and ran most of the loop down to Upton. Here with tiredness and heat catching up we started to walk the up hill section. It was around here, just at the top of Nut Hill that I started to have difficulties. I was suddenly overcome with tiredness and fatigue. Not just over come but over whelmed. I was doing massive yawns and putting one on front of the other was a huge effort. I was panting despite moving at a snails pace. I was craving water and only had 0.5ltr of Tailwind with me the thought of which made me feel sick.  As I struggled up the hill Jez got me to check my blood sugar, which was absolutely fine, and encouraged me to sit for a bit. I did but was worried about doing so as I felt like I could just fall asleep and knew that this was probably not a good thing.

I managed to take some Tailwind on board, gagging as I did so, and did start to improve. It was short lived and I was all over the trails. I was also between two road so getting support would have been far from simple. I was resolved in my mind to getting help at the road crossing by the farm which was probably less than half a mile. Making it there and feeling improved I knew I could finish. It was a slow walk down the hill towards the final book. The RD had come up the trail to find us noting that we had been on the third loop for quite some time.   We explained, or maybe Jez explained, that I had been having some difficulties and needed water but that I would finish. He headed back to the finish while we set about locating the final page from the final book.

Down to and through the scout centre it was then a short uphill to the finish, Jez helpfully pushed me up here, then the fence post to have completed three laps and the fun run.

Once done the RD handed me a bottle of water, I sat down and made my way through it. Also eating watermelon that was still available. I immediately felt better and set about chatting about what had happened and how it had been. I talk a lot but even I felt myself talking too much! Buffs were handed out (these are great by the way the Gloucester Groundhog branding is great). It was then into the car and home (I should point out that I wasn’t driving).

I got home and had some food and more to drink then a little nap in the garden. It was probably an hour and a half after finishing the event that i went to the bathroom to shower and hopped onto the scales. I was down 5.5lbs on what i weighed the day before. and that was after taking on around 2.5 of fluid post event and having eaten. Dehydration is the only answer for that kind of weight loss and explains why i felt so bad. I was probably down closer to 7lbs when i finished the event and i only weigh 148lbs anyway! 

The issue was i think on the lead up to the event and not during the event itself. Like a lot of people i have been busy in work so probably not drinking enough and i was in the car all day Saturday with family stuff so just not hydrated enough on the start.

Pretty serious though and a lesson learned for sure.

Looking at the Strava file post event Jez and I covered 33.5 miles. The fun run should have been closer to 27 miles. On running a loop last night (3 days after the GG) it actually measured as 8.6 miles with 1,306ft. An efficient fun run would barely be a marathon!

As the first holding of this event it was really great, the RDs did a fantastic job of organising, hosting and looking after everyone on the day. Their energy throughout was incredible. The runners were all in the spirit of it and no-one was able to complete the challenge, the best on the day being an excellent 4 laps. Look out for this event next year – it’s demanding, challenging and far from easy. 

That Netflix documentary has a lot to answer for – see you next year!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How a new activity affected my blood sugars

I have been struggling of late with an ITB issue in my left leg. It's always my left leg. Any issues I have had in past 2-3 years have been my left leg. It's frustrating, monotonous and a bit boring. More than a bit boring it's a pattern.

Get fit, feel great then as i start to progress towards my goals something breaks down.

You could argue I need different goals and you might be right but as of now I don't know what they could be. Right now what I do know is the goal is the South Downs Way 100 miler on June 7th.

This post isn't meant to be about that or me moaning about yet another injury setback. It's about what I have been doing in the absence of being able to run and the significant impact this has had on my diabetes.

On Saturday I went to the gym, I have been increasing my gym time to help with my leg. Strength training really helps to keep this all at bay and my focus to upper body is a contributor towards this. Saturday, I decided to go on the rowing machine, a good all body workout. I rowed 5km in a little over 21 minutes. Pride dented slightly as I used to be able to do that in less than 19 but that was probably 5-6 or even more years ago and I am 47 and not a rower! After that I did 20 minutes on the treadmill at a really easy pace and then some strength work.

For the rest of the day my blood sugars were down. I used a -80% setting for my basal during the exercise session (this was around and hour and 20 minutes total) and continued for a further 2hrs or so afterwards. I ended up extending this -80% for nearly 4 hours post workout such was the impact. It seemed that each time I tested I was at 3-point-something. It was exhausting.

When this low blood sugar cycle happens I always go back over the day and previous days to see what was different and the answer was very little. I eat more or less the same food, drink the same amount of coffee, water and tea and exercise a lot. I always do. The only thing that was different was the actual exercise I did.

Could it be that the 21 minute row had that much of an impact?

I can only assume that yes it did. A different type of exercise and different intensity and one that uses a lot more of the body than just running does for example. I eventually got things under control by evening, where i was running a little higher at around 9mmol, and took the opportunity for an early night. A day of up and down blood sugars really leaving me drained.

The lesson learned is that different exercise can have a profoundly different effect. This got me to thinking that when you start exercise as a diabetic you really need to be careful and test regularly during the effort to understand what is going on and what affect it has. I have been running for so many years that my body is used to that, throw a random-row in and I am right back at the beginning of the journey. Learning what it does to my body and how my body needs to get used to it and adapt to it.

When someone with diabetes says they are struggling to exercise this may be part of it. Don't judge them or think that they are looking for excuses not to do it; they really aren't. It's difficult and they need more time to understand what's going on and how it affects them.

Exercise is the simplest thing right? You put on your kit and you go. Now imagine that every step or pedal stroke or pull on the rower that you are worried about your blood sugars going low. That you need a strategy for this if you feel it. That you have to carry more kit to test, that you need to stop and test. It's frustrating and difficult but persevere. I learned so much about my diabetes through running and the benefits to me in terms of blood sugar control and overall health are massive.

Now i just need to get my 5km row time down again!