Categories
Lifestyle

Vegan(ism).

By now you should realise I have been on a health kick and fitness was becoming more a way of life. I had realised that to change my body and improve my health I would have to make significant changes to my lifestyle. Some came easy and some not so.

I had been watching an abundant of running and fitness related documentaries, in a search to improve my experience and maximise performance with ultimate weight loss. These documentaries included Iron Cowboy, The mind explained (6 Episodes) Loser (8 episodes), Fittest on Earth: A decade of Fitness, as well as a few other such as Icarus, about doping. They all had something in common, they all talked about what you put into your body. Then someone mentioned that I should watch “The Game Changers”, I registered it but it was some time before I got round to it.

On this journey of discovery I had made a conscience effort to eat better quality, more healthy meals. To do this I would be vegetarian through the week and reserve meat until the weekend, for example the traditional Sunday roast. From around April to September we continued this routine, even when I went back to the City by the sea and everyone around us was eating hamburgers and chicken nuggets, I was eating vegetable burger or vegetable pizza. Having tried Vegetarian 2 years prior but only lasted 8 months, it was the Christmas period that stopped that. This meatless week diet was fitting well with our lifestyle and meat felt like a luxury. I knew where it was coming from and it was all locally sourced so I knew it was good for us.

One Saturday afternoon in October, possible the weekend after my Night Trail, I stumbled across The Game Changers documentary and proceeded to watch it on Netflix. I’m sure many of you have heard of, if not have watched it. An English guy James Wilks having become injured searched for a way to speed up recover and stumbles across how ancient civilisations had fuelled their bodies for intense performance. This creates a lot of questions about diet and performance and the documentary continues to explain the benefits of a plant-based diet. We meet several sports personalities along the way, noticeably Arnold Schwarzenegger, among some other well known names in different sporting areas such as Scott Jurek and Patrik Baboumian.The film has a number of well known producers again including Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron, Pamela Anderson and Jackie Chan.

I watched it intensively. It seemed to make a lot of sense. It showed all walks of life and how meat consumption could effect health without really touching on the ethical side of the farming industry. We followed a “ranger” protecting endangered species within South Africa, who mentions the hypocrisy of caring and defending animals and then going home to eat them, but that is about the only “welfare” aspect I can recall. It touches on the climate aspect of farming agriculture but again, it is a small part of the film and really focus’ on the dietary aspects.

After it finished I mused over the possibility of whether I could manage a plant-based diet. I decided I could and mentioned it to family members who thought it might be tricky, and was I sure I wanted to do this? I said I wanted to try and continued in that vein based on the health implications.

Now, I know a lot of speculation of facts have emerged after the documentary. I have seen a lot of “debunking” videos and listened to podcasts. I want you to understand that I was open to the possibilities that it maybe factually incorrect. I followed all the evidence, I read what I could read, I watched YouTube videos from Mic the Vegan, Joe Rogan amongst others. I watched videos of so called nutritionists who said That a plant-based diet would end up making you sick as you wouldn’t be able to get the correct nutrients and then I have watched opposing videos from people who have been expressing a whole foods diet I.e no convenience foods, only raw ingredients would give you everything and more. The only time anyone seemed to agree was on B12 vitamin. Both parties said that supplements or fortified foods was the only way to ensure enough B12, what blow my mind is that it’s not only a plant-based diet with a B12 problem but can also be a problem in an omnivore diet due to the sterilisation practices. I was somewhat perplexed. I would need to study further.

I watched “What the Health”, it posed the question regarding medical care and information presented being bias in favour of the farming industries. It most instances farming organisations had sponsored support services and funded studies and articles pro-meat/dairy. It discussed why medication was used to treat the symptoms and make the conditions manageable but not to cure the sick. It was compelling. People switched out their medication and it was like divine intervention, they started to get better!

I watched Cowspiracy which dealt with the impact on the planet and how livestock was feed more grain than it would take to feed the entire population. The affects of emissions and greenhouse gases produced by agricultural farming.

Land of Hope and Glory, dealing with the British farming industry, using surveillance footage at several different factory farms and slaughterhouses. The atrocious conditions and handling of animals. I found this hard to watch as it systematically went through the different species and how they are farmed and ultimately slaughtered. There was nothing “welfare” about this.

I watched Ted talks by Moby, Ed Winters, read papers by Michael Greger. Read documentation by The World Health Organization regarding meat being Carcinogenic. I watched Forks without Knives, PETA videos. James Wilks defensive on Joe Rogan. Joey Carbstrong, Earthlinged (Ed winters) on YouTube. I watched influencers who had gone Vegan and then switched back because of dietary complaints. I watched over 4 months everything I could on why A plant- based diet was good or bad. Now, I also wanted to watch a “pro-meat” documentary. I searched and searched but all I could find was either responses to the documentaries I have already mentioned or one called Glass Walls which is a number of episodes of how farming agriculture works. They show a sterile production line of let’s call it, preparation practices. It did not bolster the claim in my eyes to eat meat.

After all was said and done, one thing screamed out to me more than anything. More than the health benefits which had initially peaked my interest. More than the effects on climate change and world hunger.

The one thing that screamed at me like a knife to the throat of a not so stunned pig. Was the suffering. The torture. The bloodshed. The unnecessary culling. It sickened me.

See I can understand that at a time we may have had no option but to eat a living being. That food may have been scarce and that fruits and vegetables may have been in short supply at certain times of the year or in difficult conditions crops may have failed. It may have meant our survival. But we would never had consumed the volume we do today. It would never have been on a mass scale like currently. And in today’s world it is no longer necessary, we grow enough grain and soya to feed the world. It’s not about survival anymore. It’s about money.

I had never made the connection. That meat came from an animal, I know that sounds strange, but wrapped up in plastic sitting in a chill cabinet, ready to purchase take home and consume, I never stopped to think about the animal. The living being. When I go running I pass several areas of grazing animals, particularly sheep and lambs. I would smile and watch them as I ran past and the sun was coming up. How sweet they looked, how happy them seem Lambs with their mothers together. Or when we lived on the coast and the field next to us was full of cows in the summer. How I would smile and be content that I had beautiful creatures around me. That evening I would have a hamburger or a kofta. The irony.

See once you make the connection that a pig is like a dog, and they are just as intelligent if not more so than a 3 year old child, it’s very had to see them as a commodity again. Moral agency – the ability to make moral judgements based on right or wrong. We as human beings are able to make moral judgements, and what might surprise you is that Studies show that animals, have the ability to understand and act with moral agency and are governed by a moral code in the same way as humans also. They live with the same basic principles as we do. They want to feel safe, protected without suffering or pain. They want to live.

I have been a vegan for just over 4 months at the time of writing this. Veganuary came and 375,000 people pledged to give it a go. I’m not sure how many will stay with it, I hope they all do, I know that is optimistic but we can hope. Food producers and restaurants are providing more Vegan alternatives than ever before. Supermarkets are stocking more vegan products than ever before. Mistakes will be made, I still make them currently. It’s a process, and eye opening to what some items actually contain. We learn and we continue to be animal friendly and cruelty free. Fires in Australia are still raging, climate change is to blame there’s no denying it. Agricultural Farming has the biggest effect of global warming than transportation. Yet, it is seldom recognised as a major factor. Just think to be Vegan could – save animal lives, reduce climate change and harmful emissions and allow us to live healthy and prosperous life’s.

Where’s the downside?

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Lifestyle

The Night Trail.

Throughout the year I continued to “train” mostly three times a week. Awaking at 5:30am, out the door by 6am and with tunes pumping into my ear holes, I pushed on to reach my goal, whether it be an interval, speed work or distance related.

Let’s be clear here, I do not find it easy. Some people struggle physically, some have trouble breathing, some with pace, and some struggle with the mental race. I seem to struggle with all of the above! The mental game is a back and forth of “you could stop if you want?” “I need to keep going?” “Maybe just a quick stop?” “Just push on?”. I am not a naturally born runner. Whenever I see other runners, they are slim, muscular athletes, moving with such speed and form that their stride becomes second nature. I am everything they are not, overweight, red faced puffing, hunched messy stride with sweat pouring profusely. As I continued to go out on my runs, I would see other runners (usually going the other way). Unsure what the etiquette of greeting was, I would proceed to say “good morning” as I passed, but more often than not, I would mouth the words and no sound would be produced. This was due to the most part because I would be struggling to breathe! (If you passed me, I can assure you I tried to greet you!)

A short illness and a slight ankle injury lead to a slight delay, but for the most part I continued to run. Leaving the house at 6am, created some pressure to complete objectives by 7am. I would shower, get dressed and have breakfast before then leaving for work. This meant that my distance through the week was very short, at most 5km (3.11miles).

When Josh suggested that in October we attempt a Night Trail run in Thetford Forest, I was apprehensive. The race was over a 10k distance and had never entered anything apart from a few Parkruns. Running in the early mornings meant that I came across very few people, as mentioned in a previous post, I am self-conscience. To enter the event would mean having to run with hundreds of people, what if I failed spectacularly?! There was much discussion and consideration to not only the event, but completed an event at night…in October.

Eventually coming to terms to the idea I signed up for the race. Continuing to train, acknowledging my distances would need to grow and would have to use my weekend to facilitate that. I pushed past 5km up to 8km. I moved my interval training to after work to become more accustomed to running in the evening. Then followed up on the weekend with a full 10km. It hurt, It was slow, but it was done. I had managed to reach the equivalent length of the race. This was an important move, physiologically. Having managed to complete a 10 km training run, meant that I could physically cope with the distance. The mental game would take much longer to master, in fact it would take several events to get closer to the right performance to consider the next distance step. The event was nearly upon us, a trip to Decathlon helped us to acquire a head torch, and high visibility running jacket. I was as ready as I could ever be…

Friday 18th October 2019, after completing a days work and having travelled 40 minutes, we arrive at Thetford Forest, Norfolk. I had never been to the forest before and later would comment that I still hadn’t seen it during the race. With our support network in tow, we headed for registration, got our race numbers and then headed backwards and forwards to the toilets several times before lining up near the start line.

We were off! Head torch band tight around the temples, lighting the way forward we turned over our legs. Grouped together with other runners the combined light illuminated the path, stone under foot and divots where forest vehicles had cut away the path with their tyres, the previous few days weather had mainly consisted of torrential down pours, and this had made the forest very soft and wet in places. In some parts large ‘puddles’ blocked the path like lakes dividing countries, all made it difficult under foot. So much so, that fairly early on as the group started to thin out, a large sound thundered out from behind, enough to concern us. As we looked back it would seem a gentleman had slipped and face planted the ground with an almighty SLAP. Once we had realised what had happened, several other runners where helping him back on his feet. Credit the guy he continued on to the finish. After a hill climb that seemed to go on for an eternity (I wish I was exaggerating for dramatic effect) we approached the half way mark, and a well deserved watering station, bottles of cold fresh H20 were handed out like stumbling on an oasis in the desert, I was parched.

The second half of the race became a colder, darker place. Jumping puddles and ducking branches the paths got long and narrow, other runners headlamps disappeared in the distance as they turned corners or had sped off. As mentioned the narrow path had meant we continued in single file, myself up front and Josh behind, constantly I had to point out hazards as we went. This happened for quite a distance, and we chatted as we continued at our comfortable pace.

My watch confirmed we were approaching the 9km mark, we had paced ourselves through the darkness, jumped puddles, ducked branches, heard a man epically fall, and taken on refreshment whilst continuing onwards to the finish. At 9km we could feel the end was near, and in the faint wind we felt we could hear the excitement of the crowd in the near distance. It had become quite cold now, though my body temperature was high, the wind hit my face with a slight sting, we had been running for over an hour now and my watch showed us rapidly approaching the 10km and subsequently the end. My pace moved up, I had something left in the tank, the wind played the crowd, my legs turned over faster the numbers on my watch rapidly increased until it hit the 10km mark! I looked up…no finish line, hmmm….

I checked with Josh, ‘What does your watch say?” he concurred with me that we should be able to see the finish now, he was certain he could hear it. Looking around, other runners were struggling, some had started to walk then continue to run, we turned a corner expecting to see the finish, we turned but no finish.

I later learned that because of the trees the GPS could sometimes be a little off as opposed to running in the open. As such it would estimate my placement, in this instance, it had over estimated the distance we had travelled. I had exerted myself, believing that the end was nigh. The next straight was a struggle, it was a mix of run and walk and run as we approached the next turn, expecting another straight after. Slowly we approached the left turn, and as we completed the turn I could see light, lots of lights! I could see the finish, the beckoning glow of the finish was in sight and suddenly my legs wanted to move faster. I said something like “lets get the done” to Josh and I accelerated towards the line and across. I was handed a bottle of water, a medal and was greeted by Fiona, my fiancee who was there with Josh’s partner Hollie to congratulate us across the finish. It had taken me 1 hour and 24 minutes according to the official timings to complete this 10k Night Trail. I was exhausted.

In the car on the journey home, shortly after visiting a McDonalds drive-thru, I thought I was going to be extremely ill. To this day I’m not sure if it was the McDonalds or the Race that made me feel as sick as a dog. The pride and elation hit me the next morning, once rested, on what I had achieved. I know that other runners had run faster times, and longer distance than me, but the pride I felt, I had gone from couch potato to runner. Yes, I was now officially a runner…I think…

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Lifestyle

Parkrun.

On April 20th 2019, 6 days after my 40th Birthday, I attempted my first ever parkrun. If you are unaware of Parkrun, where have you been?

Parkrun was founded in 2004 by Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE. The first ever event was in Bushy park, Teddington, UK, where 13 runners got together on 2 October 2004. It would take a further 2 years before parkrun branched out from its birthplace. Parkrun is a free, volunteer-lead 5km run, hosted by various parks and recreational areas every Saturday at 9am. It is now a world-wide phenomenon taking place in 22 countries!

I had hoodwinked my colleague Josh into joining me at 9am at Nowton Park.

I never expected it to be so busy, a good 400 people as well as dog runners (Cani Cross). Adults, kids, parents with prams, various running clubs such as Stowmarket Striders, St Edmunds Pacers and Vegan Runners, the elderly, Josh and Me.

I remember it being a surprisingly warm day, and as I was still fairly new to set distances, I tried to convince Josh to run his pace and I would run mine. He refused, and stayed with me at my pace all the way round. As I mentioned it was extremely hot in the open areas, and the sweat was pouring as we went round. The ground was trail with lots of divots and mole/rabbit holes, it was two laps of the park area, round two large open areas and then into a wooded area before emerging out down a slight slope to the courts and back through the start/finish. It was on the second lap where the lack of stamina started to kick in, I had to slow to a walk every now and then, (a technique called ‘Jeffing’ founded by Olympian Jeff Galloway) I wasn’t the only one but when a 70 year old lady shifts past you, it makes you realise that you need to get going again.

I had read it was helpful to identify a ‘pacer’. Someone to manage your run against, who you thought to yourself, “I can keep up with you.” I had various ‘pacers’ throughout the run, some I was much quicker than, some that where much quicker than me and some I felt should not be allowed across the finish before me. Please keep in mind that it is a Park’run’, not a race, but I had identified someone who to race….a Vegan Runner. There was no way a ‘vegan’ runner should ever be in front of me, announcing to Josh, “Theres no way I’m being beaten by a vegan!!”

As we were on the last leg of the run, coming out of the woods towards the courts, I accelerated around the vegan runner to move a head of them as the elevation lowered, then negotiated the sharp left turn around the court onto the last straight and off round the finish to be presented with my token and a volunteer scanned against my Parkrun barcode.

I had done it, I had completed my first Parkrun. I finished with a time of 39 minutes and 37 seconds. I would go on to regularly participate and shave a few minutes off here and there.

My data from Strava.

Categories
Lifestyle

Couch 2 5K.

Back in the tale end of 2018, after a transition in early summer to the Suffolk countryside from the hustle and bustle of the City by the sea, I found myself fast approaching the end of my 30’s and the start of my journey into oblivion. It seemed to have snuck up on me, as if whilst I was busy making plans to move closer to my family and start making a life for ourselves, I needed reminding that I hadn’t quite got it right yet and time, was ticking on.

I had recently started working in a office based environment, and with many of my colleagues being around their early to mid- twenties, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t quite as fit and young as I thought I was. They were/are a good bunch of people, and have never made me feel like I wasn’t part of the team, and though I would get the odd jib regarding my age, it was all in good humour and I was regularly invited to social gatherings. Towards Christmas 2018 I was discussing my fitness with my colleague Wayne on our tea break and expressing that I really need to join a gym. The office environment had taken it’s toll on me, with all my previous jobs being fairly physical, currently I was rooted to my seat. I’d explained that gyms seem so expensive and I never felt that comfortable (I am very self-conscience). Wayne suggested that I try running. I thought about it for a moment and then trundled back to work.

The last part of our working year was a trip to Sheffield for our annual end of year meeting. While eventful for many different reasons, it passed without too much drama and we were back on our way home. For the journey we all had split up into a number of vehicles and I was fortunate to be a passenger in Wayne’s car. Towards the end of the journey as we just arrived back at the office to decanter back into our own cars, the discussion came back round to fitness. Wayne mentioned to me that he too had felt the desk bound job was taking its toll on him and we discussed joining a Gym again, to which again, I had voiced my concerns. Once again Wayne mentioned “running”, but this time it seemed to have rang in my ears.

I arrived home from the office ready to start the festive period. It had been the first time I hadn’t had to work any of the season and was ready to make the most of the 10 day break. I researched running… how could someone like me be able to run? I despised any physical exertion. Searching the interwebs I came across a number of forums discussing the “Couch 2 5k” programme. Running 3 times a week for 9 weeks, it helped to build up basic stamina to keep running continuously for 30 mins, and to help you eventually complete 5km (3.11miles) distance. Further more it was available as an app on your smartphone, with a number of different “celebrities” to help you through the process and to graduate the course. I choose Jo Whiley.

I bought a pair of basic running shoes, a running top and shorts with zip up pockets (to stow my phone) from Amazon, and on the 31st December 2018 at 5:30am, I ventured out on my first “run”.

I could tell you it was a breeze, that I bounced out of bed every other morning at 6 am, full of the joys of spring. Only it wasn’t spring it was winter, and it was cold, so cold. At 5:30am I would force myself out of the warm cosy slumber of my duvet, into the cold of the bathroom and then the colder, wider world. Some days I couldn’t feel my fingers or nose, it was -1 degree Celsius, and I would be running for a minute then walking 1 and half minutes then running again. It wasn’t quick, it was really, really slow. People were passing me whilst walking!

A couple of times I had to repeat runs too, once because I hadn’t saved the run On my phone and another because I had been so ill I had to abandon it. On the latter I was suffering from “runner’s trots”. When I explained it to my colleague Josh, who had also been training for a half marathon, he just laughed. Karma always finds a way, as the next morning Josh divulged that on that previous evening he had suffered exactly the same fate whilst training. Vindication.

During C25K people in the office started to comment how much weight I was losing, I had noticed that my jeans were getting loose and my belt needed to go up a few notches. Wayne was right, this running lark was making a difference, I was starting to feel better. Strangely, I started to enjoy the run, my mental health seemed better, I had more focus, more energy. On Tuesday 12th March 2019, after a couple of repeated runs, a month before my 40th birthday and after losing 1 and half stone – I graduated the C25K.