Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Walker's Marathon - Part 2

As a continuation to the first part of the story, there was little doubt in my mind that I would participate in the marathon. The idea brewed in my head for almost three years since the 2013 Chocolate Run, and I was lighter, healthier and more open to new experiences than I was back then. I had already known about ketogenic athletic performance, and while I wasn't ready to be a ketogenic athlete myself, I felt I could apply some of the principles to perform well without “carbing up”. My brother and sister-n-law also had to take it easy this year, so all the more reason to accompany them enforcing a non-strenuous pace. And to be honest, ever since watching my brother's first marathon so many years ago (2011, possibly), I was hooked with the curiosity of being in the midst of all that wonderful, energetic fervor, from the hustle and bustle of the health expo, to the pulsating sidelines of cheering people along the 26.2 mile route!

My main concern was the walking part itself... I knew I could walk fast, but not at a 15 minute-mile pace, certainly not at that extreme a distance. My longest charity walk was only around 12 miles, maybe less, and that was eons ago back in New York,... so long ago, I still remember our starting point being at the old World Trade Center! So unlike the Chocolate Run, I couldn't afford any kind of ill-placed bravado here... I HAD to train and I HAD to do my research, as I set for myself a pretty ambitious challenge within relatively uncharted territory.

This is how I came to know about racewalking. Like many others, I assumed this was that powerwalking that people would often engage in to burn calories and lose weight with exercise, and indeed racewalking his very similar principles. What I didn't know was that the technique was faster and easier on the body, as unlike powerwalking it emphasized speed, which in turn minimized the use of needless, calorie-wasting movements. It was also an Olympic sport (which was both shocking and exciting for me). And in-line with my ancestral-eating habits, it's a sport that has been around for almost 200 years, and which used to be quite popular until it fell out of favor with subsequent generations of drivers and runners.

Granted it still looked a bit funny, but as if by fate this was also the year I decided to take dancing lessons to help placate another long-standing dream of mine. Sure enough, the hip-swaying movement that's so customary in racewalking (as an efficient means to maximize your range of motion) was not all that dissimilar from a Cha-Cha-Cha, a Cuban walk of a good Rumba, or one of my favorite Merengue limps. Sure enough, that experience with dancing transferred over nicely into racewalking. Good breathing was still essential too, especially when going at higher speeds; the fastest long-distance racewalkers that I am aware of can tackle a 50km race at 7 minutes per mile, so good breathing and technique must be practiced to ensure that level of speed AND endurance.

This was the year I enlisted the help of a marvelous dietician and an equally fantastic life coach, both of whom introduced me to meditation, yoga and breathing techniques that have been invaluable in this arena. Said dietician and my new functional doctor were also instrumental in fine-tuning my diet, both in covering any remaining dietary issues that were impossible to detect without tests (such as a micronutrient and food allergy panel), and in gearing my nutrition more towards sports and fitness orientation. The last stubborn 10 pounds gradually melted away, and I found myself with more and more energy even during mundane commutes.

And I can't stress enough how much actual physical practice helped play a huge rule in my training. Already going to and fro work I have lots of walking to do (at least two miles), and so these were good opportunities to push the boundaries of my fastwalking pace. But after hours, at least thrice a week I would take advantage of the bright summer evenings to practice racewalking in the neighborhood. Every other weekend I would perform long walks traversing huge expenses in areas I have always wanted to visit! My first long walk was a 10 miler stretching from my home, up to the gorgeous Ned Brown Preserve at Elk Grove Village,... and after traversing that I would enjoy a celebratory feast at Longhorn Steakhouse over in the adjacent Woodfield Mall! My last long walk was a 21 miler about a month before the marathon, stretching from Hubbard Woods, to the Baha'i temple, to Evanston, to Lincoln Park, and ending quite coincidentally at the very base of the Hancock Tower for a photo finish – and a well-deserved indulgent “victory” meal at the nearby M Burger at the Water Tower Plaza (see below, and that's a lettuce-wrapped burger, woo)!

A whole lot more happened in between, including training with the local racewalking club and help from a professional racewalking coach... but by and large I opted to integrate informal training with exploration and other day to day activities, and I had a great deal of fun with it! And as the day of the Marathon came, I was ready to put that fun to the test – I wasn't interested in going as fast as I could, this would be a pure scouting mission of sorts. If I could survive this marathon, then NEXT year I can focus on picking up the pace! :)


Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Walker's Marathon - Part 1

Hello all,

On Sunday, October 9th, I completed my very first Chicago Marathon! It was a wonderful accomplishment for me for various reasons: ranging from charity, to commemorating my recently deceased and beloved shiba inu, and even to enjoying the chance to be side-by-side with my marathon-veteran brother for an epic finish! But from a food and health perspective in particular, it was especially fulfilling as this aspect was much longer in the making than it seems!

Prior to this, my last organized “run” was the November 2013 Hot Chocolate Run which, despite being only 5K, was still a challenging experience for me as this was during my pre-wheat days (roughly five months before I accidentally discovered wheatlessness). In those days, more than at any time in my life before, I was significantly heavier, health-ravaged, physically unfit and prone to fits of unhappiness and self-doubt. I only committed to scant training for this race, knowing of course that my “amazingly-healthy” lifestyle of sludge oils and HEALTHYWHOLEGRAINS would make this simple 5K a cakewalk. I also had little motivation besides curiosity and a desire to win that chocolate trophy after the race.

Even so, I did complete that race... barely. Being a true run, the "simple" 5K tired me out quickly and seemed all but endless; by the time I crossed the finished line, I was ecstatic to have the grueling death march over with. The chocolate trophy thingy was little comfort in the presence of splitting knee (or was it shin?) pain and breathlessness. There's of course more to the story, but the short of it is: at that point I pretty much swore off running on another organized run such as this one.

While it's easy in hindsight to call this pre-wheat adventurism a veritable and humiliating failure, the truth is that it still accomplished some great things that would have important ramifications in my post-wheat life.

First, it was perhaps the second most influential personal reminder (behind my unnerving heart skips, but ahead of the ever-increasing scale weight) that something was very wrong with me. While it would be months before I took any kind of serious action to address this, it got the ball rolling as far as thinking about a new solution to my predicament since, clearly, I was getting nowhere with conventional diet and exercise.

Second, by all accounts, it was a very humbling experience. I underestimated the race, I was too willing to show off to my coworkers, I was too eager to "beat" all the participants around me, and I was inconsiderate to the state of my body at the time -- and as I result, I paid the price for that arrogance. Any future organized run I would participate in would have to address all these foundational shortcomings.

And third, it helped admit to me that I'm not, by personal choice, a long-distance runner, regardless of health or social stigma -- and that has stayed a consistent trait for me to this day. Perhaps it was the chronic asthma attacks I used to have when I was a kid, the most severe of which landed me in the hospital for days (and yielding their own array of painful memories) – but any activity that can potentially leave me breathless and gasping for air is, for me, the anti-thesis of fun. Add to that the aforementioned heart-skips I used to experience when I was obese, in addition to some other things best left unmentioned for now, and I have little motivation to tempt fate and quite a lot of incentive to follow my heart (both metaphorically and literally).

By contrast, I've always loved to walk and I have never shyed away from walking HUGE distances. I've jumped at opportunities to participate in lengthy charity walks (including Light the Night on October 22nd, spread the word!), and after living in New York for so long I am quite comfortable walking FAST pretty much wherever I go, it's become second-nature. So while I was intent on never running again in an organized race such as the Chocolate Run, in me I knew I could make the exception if I could WALK it.

And so it was that the idea was planted and lay dormant for the months after the Chocolate Run while I focused on other priorities (such as not dying). Then I accidentally discovered wheatlessness, and let exercise and racing fall to the wayside for a while as I engrossed myself in books, literature and anything related to physical healing through food. My physical state improved throughout 2014, and peaked for a while in 2015 as I succeeded in losing around 70lbs, and held that loss consistently and comfortably, even though I was still about 10lbs above my supposed normal BMI. I still wanted to commit to an extra push to remove that remaining 10lbs, but it was never quite forthcoming... almost as if my body was waiting for something.

That “something” came in March of 2016 when my brother and sister-n-law invited me to join the Chicago Lights team for the 2016 Chicago Marathon. By now the idea from three years ago had sprouted into a vibrant little sapling, one ready and willing to have me properly test out my endurance and force of will. Without any hesitation or customary delay to mull things over, I happily joined the team.

I would participate in an organized run once again – and not just any run, but a full-fledged 26.2 miler,... and not just any 26.2 miler, but the Chicago Marathon, one of the largest of its kind in this country! And this time,... I would walk it!


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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Left Coast to its Own Devices - Part 2

So now that my previous rant is out of the way, let's talk Left Coast, a self-styled progressive juice bar and cafe that I visited as part of a gluten-free expeditionary task force. They pride themselves on changing the perception of healthy eating as not being "dull and flavorless" -- but they're probably not talking about me, as clearly that pork belly salad was anything but dull and flavorless. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, so I was prepared to switch gears for maximum veg-intake.

Fortunately it wasn't an entirely lost cause as they did have SOME respect for beloved lipid-rich ingredients. The standard smoothies seemed fairly crummy, but you could create your own, and here you had the option of choosing avocado, coconut, cacao, and other useful fats, aside from a wide array of low-carb plant foods, including spinach, kale, hemp, spirulina, turmeric, cucumber, etc. I created my smoothie pretty much out of those ingredients and it did indeed taste divine, so no complaints here...

...Except one...


So why on earth they're still adding that liquid fructose to almost half their pre-made juices I have no clue, but be sure to check out the menu before you order as this stuff makes HFCS look like moderation.

I was also hungry so I queued up the fattiest gluten-free dish I could find, which was the Montecito Hash: eggs, sweet potatoes [aka, garnet yams], red peppers, kale, spinach, queso fresco, some yogurt, sunflower seeds, and a very weak hot sauce. It was decently-sized, very nourishing, and thank goodness for runny egg yolks coating every corner of the dish in golden goodness -- I only needed a tiny drizzle of the avocado oil I always carry with me to give it that extra fatty oomph! It was good, and I took my time eating it.

But I can clearly tell that it was just shy of dull and flavorless compared to other fabulous dishes I've enjoyed during my post-wheat years -- and for the price, it didn't seem like an efficient meal. I could probably veg-out MORE at a local Roti for less money, and slightly better fat options (though admittedly, Roti has no eggs!).

As for the issue of gluten-free and being catering to people with allergies/food sensitivities in general, I have a mixed opinion here.

Admittedly, my own experience was fine as I had no hassle ordering my food and having my barrage of questions answered. While they weren't allergy-conscious enough to NOT make wheat such a heavy menu staple (they still want to sell sandwiches and wraps, I guess), they were still nice enough to mark dishes on their menu as being "gluten-free" (in addition to "dairy-free" and "vegan"). The menu admits that the kitchen is not entirely gluten, dairy or nut-free, though, which seems contradictory to their mission statement of being very catering to people with allergies and food sensitivities -- I would think the owners, given their history, would go to greater than average lengths to be rather strict about this. At least I was assured they [sort of?] have separate preparation areas, and [kind of?] use different bowls if preparing a meal for a person with a major food allergy?

The staff was probably the Achilles heel since there was an overarching feeling that they weren't sure what they were talking about -- maybe it was the overall laid-back feel of such a "progressive" and "eclectic" cafe, but a lot of the fabled catering to people with allergies just wasn't there. My partner ordered the Baja Sol Tostadas... a very expensive bastardization of real tostadas... sans the nasty tofu plus some other ingredients that could cause her issues. They obliged in removing the problems ingredients, but were adverse to substituting the tofu for something safer to her personal well-being like chicken. In fact they went so far as to charge her $4 extra for chicken as an additional protein, despite leaving the tostadas devoid of a replacement for tofu. This was severely upsetting to her, and the manager had to intervene to set things right... and even then, all he could offer was substituting boiled egg in lieu of the tofu, and keep chicken as the additional protein, which she begrudgingly agreed to as the meal had already been charged by the careless employee.

And so with tax, my friend spent $16 on two measly half-baked tostadas with a small smattering of chicken and egg -- they only lasted longer than expected because she had already lost much of her appetite with the disappointing exchange and lack of consideration. I have to ask myself... what if she had a soy AND egg allergy? Would she still be penalized because they can't charge her $1 extra for chicken replacement?! [additional tofu is $3] The place is already pricey and she could have gotten much better, naturally gluten-free tostadas at a proper Mexican restaurant for half or a third of the price... could there not have been at least some effort to cater to her needs?

QUESTION: What's your final verdict on this place?
While the ingredients are high quality and the flavor of what I have tried was above average, this is not a trait unique to them -- other farm-to-table restaurants (and cafes) can accomplish the same or better with competitive prices. And the service, while friendly, seems [perhaps unwillingly] disingenuous in its mission statement. In trying to protect us from evil mythical saturated fat monsters, it's leaving the rest of us exposed to real and present dangers of sugar and modern grains, as well as a food allergies, autoimmune conditions and severe sensitivities.

As long as it still remains grounded in archaic notions of "healthy eating", I can only really recommend Left Coast as a fairly decent juice bar... so long as you mind that agave!  ;)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Left Coast to its Own Devices - Part 1

Hey all,

Although I consider my diet a healthy one in that it's cured almost all of my past ailments (albeit initially by accident, more on this in a future article), and continues to let me hover around the same weight for over a year, I actually don't refer to it as a "healthy diet".

On the one hand I know people's needs are different, so what might work for me might be ineffective for people with thyroid issues (and no effective treatment), or difficult for people with no gall bladder... to say nothing of people with deep-seated emotional ties to bread and beer.  On the other hand, the term "healthy diet" has long been usurped by a very mainstream conception of what constitutes "healthy" eating, which can be concisely summarized as follows:
  • Fat is evil
  • Monounsaturated fat is good for you... BUT IT'S STILL EVIL!
  • Cholesterol of any kind is evil.
  • HDL is the GOOD cholesterol... but it's a cholesterol [not really] so it's inherently evil and you must kill it with statins.
  • Toxic, hydrogenated, rancid, oxidized, trans-fatty sludge oils have zero cholesterol, and are thus lovely -- stick that bottle in your mouth and chug it all down!!!
  • Oh, but HOLD ON!! When sludge oils are used to cook, it makes food all greasy and stuff, so it must be evil! But then they have no saturated fat or cholesterol... But then... it's still a fat... But... But...
  • *brain explodes*
  • All plant foods are good for you!
  • ...Except avocados, olives, coconuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, peanuts, chocolate, and practically all tubers.
  • All fruits are good for you, eat 250,000 servings daily!
  • ...Except avocados, olives, coconuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, peanuts, chocolate,...
  • Eat your vegetables... like corn, tofu, Pop Tarts, Fruit Loops, Weight Watchers dinners, hamburger buns, wildly-flavored V-8's,...
  • All animal foods are evil.
  • ...Except when they're just bland, tasteless, nutrient-deficient muscle meat or dairy, in which case they're only slightly less-evil.
  • Fish is good.
  • ...Except when it's not.
  • Sugar is kiiiiinda,... sortaaa,..... maybeeee a little evil-ish?  I dunno,... since it's not a fat and all, it's so confusing....
  • Wheat is holy -- put it in everything and inject it into your bloodstream.
  • Chronic diseases are inevitable, so start stocking up on diabetes medicine.
  • And a calorie is a calorie.

It's safe to say I follow something a little more... contrarian than this, and it's worked out beautifully for me. This is in sharp contrast to when I ate conventionally and even committed to a semi-starvation diet on SparkPeople many years ago... despite doubling down on HEARTHEALTHYWHOLEGRAINS and exercising religiously, I still inflated like a balloon. So from my personal experience, it should be safe to say that my notion of "healthy eating" is completely inversed, but that hasn't stopped people from assuming otherwise.

Ergo, I end up with situations where I treat the office to some delicious Frite Street, and then have baffled looks as to how someone as "health-conscious" as I am would be sharing a dish of "French" french fries, cheddar cheese, bacon, fried egg and scallions. While it's true that buying from this place is considered an indulgence (since I'm pretty sure they cook with sludge oils), it's often hard to fathom that the food, in principle, is closer to a staple for me.

QUESTION: What does this have to do with Left Coast?

Oh whoops!  I spent too much time ranting.  :P
Tune in next time to see what I have to say about Left Coast, the little juice bar that... tries... to making healthy eating awesome!

At least... conventional healthy eating... all my daily meals are awesome. >v>

View Original At: https://pixabay.com/photo-24404/