Running Trails, Eating Plants, and Sharing What I Pick up Along the Way

Running Trails, Eating Plants, and Sharing What I Pick up Along the Way

Sunday, September 28, 2014

008 The P-Word and the 8 Worst Parts of Being a Vegan Runner

[More of a list person? Here you go:
1. People say/ask annoying things such as, "But where do you get your protein!!!?"
2. Fresh produce doesn't stay fresh very long. 
3. Fruits and veggies have lots of fiber. 
4. Injuries and bad weather are bad. 
5. Sweaty running clothes are smelly. 
6. Traveling light is tricky. 
7. Some people are mean. 
8. Eating out can be an adventure.]

I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to the meat and dairy industries' marketing teams who have convinced too many US-Americans that we need insane amounts of protein in our diet. It's safe to say that I'm posed with the protein question on a daily basis. It's an annoying part of life that I've gotten used to, and I'm not even one of those loud or preachy vegans who makes sure everybody knows how I eat. 

I could sum this portion up by saying that "people will say/ask silly things," but I don't want to mislead anybody. Here's a short list of things I hear regularly:
"Aren't carbs bad for you?"
"I couldn't live without eating (some animal product)!"
"What do you even eat!?"
"You know, Jesus ate meat." Or some other religious statement about meat. 
"Vegetarian just means 'poor hunter' in some ancient language." 
"My food poops on your food!"
"Don't plants have feelings too?"
"Is chicken considered meat?"
"Wait, is (insert animal product here) an animal priduct?"
"How far can you run?"
"How fast can you do a mile?"
"Don't you know that running is bad for your knees?"
"Why do you insist on wearing those little shorts?"
"That's why you're so skinny!"

Now, I know that many people saying these things mean no harm, and I still love and respect them, but that doesn't make them any less annoying. There, I said it. 

I understand that the lifestyle I choose is foreign or "extreme" to many people, and I'm the first real-life example of a vegan that many people encounter. This sparks curiosity. I get that. I choose to live differently, so I can't be upset when I'm treated differently. 

Now that that's off of my chest, there are a few other inconveniences that I've run into, or continually run into. At the forefront is the juggling act of keeping fresh produce on hand without it spoiling. 

Make no mistake about this, I'm a smoothie guy. 

I regularly consume two or three 30 ounce smoothies a day. I will go on record saying that the Nutribullet changed my life in the best way. 

Each of my smoothies are made entirely of whole foods: fruits, sometimes nuts or seeds, and occasionally some vegetables. I'm able to freeze fruits before they spoil and use them for smoothies later on, but I'm often out of the fresh fruit that I'm craving. I'm on a tight budget, so letting food spoil is not a thing I want happening. That being said, I do believe that long-term health is an investment and I'm okay with spending a big chunk of my paycheck at the grocery store or farm stand, but that's a topic for another time. 

Eating a large amount of fruits and veggies means that I get a lot of fiber in my diet, and its effects are obvious. I understand that this apart of good health, but it can still be an inconvenience. For this reason I've been called a "salad shooter" by more than one person, and I think we can leave this topic alone now. 

Injuries and other circumstances that keep me from running are the worst. Awful weather, having to work late, forgetting running shoes on a trip. These things all happen, and it never feels good to give up a run. 

I'm a sweater. I sweat a ton. I can break a sweat by tying my shoes. Because if this, I've had roommates complain about smelly running clothes, and then turn around and give me a hard time for washing them in the shower or sink. There's no winning here if you're living in a place without a washing machine. 

Packing light while traveling is tricky. Bringing running clothes is essential, as is Body Glide and my calf sleeves. These are the necessities, and my daily clothes and toiletries get whatever room is left after these items are packed. I've travelled and brought all of my running clothes and forgotten to bring spare underwear. It happens. 

Traveling by plane also means an extended period of time without my Nutribullet. I've consulted the Google machine, and I've found nothing that that leads me to believe that I can get it past the TSA agents in my carry on. 

I began by sharing the annoying things that people say to me. But there are people who are just intentionally mean. Honking at a runner isn't funny. Neither is a screaming at them as you drive by. And, believe it or not, calling somebody a "fag" or some other awful insult isn't cool either. The people who do these things are in the minority, but it's not all that uncommon for these things to happen in my short jaunts on the road while I'm on my way to a trailhead. Please don't be that guy. 

Also, I'm not sure what about it is about  eating plants that makes people question my masculinity or heterosexuality, but that's a thing. 

Eating out with friends can be an adventure-that is, if they still invite you out. Some will feel a weird sense of guilt and not invite you out in fear that you won't find something great to eat. Invite your vegan friends to hang out with you; they still like being social, even if they eat differently. If they're smart they'll eat before hand, or bring a bunch of bananas to the bar, or even find something in the menu to eat. 

This isn't a complete list, but these are the most bothersome things to me. I can't tell you how much time I've spent reading food labels, or how much it sucks to disappoint somebody by turning down their home made sweets because you know they used eggs to bake them. 

Please don't read this post as a complaint or a "poor me" type of post. It's just an insider's view of this lifestyle to those considering it, or for those curious. In fact, this is more of a testament as to how much I enjoy this lifestyle that I put up with all of the little inconveniences and I'm still happy. 

Did I forget anything? What surprised you about these little annoyances? Feel free to share below. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

007 My Journey as a Runner/Veg(etari)an

[Hi friends, this is my longest post yet. If you don't want to read the whole thing, no problem. Here's a quick summary: in high school I was a (small school) all-state sprinter with injury problems. These injuries led me becoming jaded on competition and I quit running after one year of college track. A few years later, after transferring schools, I joined the track team and got hurt again almost immediately. This time, however, I wanted to keep competing so I moved up in distance so I could still be apart of the team. I stopped eating meat in late 2005, and only this past summer stopped consuming all animal products for ethical reasons. Now that my time running track is over, I'm running purely for fun and I'm falling in love with trail running and the dream of completing a 100 mile race one day.]

Growing up I had every intention of becoming a professional football player. I spent my Sundays watching my idol, "Prime Time" Deion Sanders. 

I attended small, private schools through high school and wasn't able to play school sports until seventh grade. That year I played football and basketball, and I ran track. Looking back I can see that I was the most mediocre guy on the football field and basketball court, but I showed a bit of potential on the track. I was the only seventh grader to run on the 4x100m relay team-one that included an eventual state champion/record holder and another guy who was an eventual collegiate all-american. 

This was great, because before I showed up to practice that spring, I didn't even know what track was. I did it because my dad was a runner in high school and he told me to do it too. 

Eighth grade was when I had my first taste of real success. Coming off of a big turnaround football season and a championship basketball season, I was ready to go when track season arrived. I went on to win every race that I ran that year. 

High school track began slow, but I eventually made the varsity relay teams by the end of my freshman year, and got early experience competing at the state meet, even if we did lean heavily on our all-state anchor leg. 

From this time on, I was a track guy. 

I tried football and basketball in high school, but I ended up breaking my collar bone playing football, and I was hardly good enough for freshman basketball as a sophomore. I should note that I got my big growth spurt early, and I contribute much of my success in middle school sports to this. By the time I was a sophomore in high school all of my peers had out grown me, and my advantage was gone. I'm about the same height now at 24 that I was when I was 13. 

It was also around this time that I stopped eating meat. I'm not sure what got into my fifteen year old mind, but I had made the realization that eating chunks of dead animals was gross, unfair, and unnecessary. 

There wasn't any sort of graphic PETA video or anything like that -- it just sort of happened. 

I was given a lot of grief for this decision by my then track coach, but when I continued to improve they stopped giving me a hard time. 

Eleventh and twelfth grade were focused on track, and when it was all said and done I had run in the state meet three of the four years, collected a box full of ribbons and medals, and earned a second place finish in the 4x100 meter relay in what I thought was my final race. 

It wasn't until a month or so after I graduated that I decided to run in college. I was convinced by my high school coach from ninth and tenth grade to run on a team that wasn't much more than a club team. In fact, I believe that I held school records for the 100m, 200m, and the 4x100 meter relay. This isn't because I was fast; it was because I was the first to run these events in the existence of the program. (side note: this program has grown dramatically since then, and has seen much success)

The truth is, my junior year of high school was my strongest on the track, and the next two years were filled with injuries, PT appointments, and disappointment. 

After just one year of college track, I decided to hang up my spikes for good and transfer to a community college without a track team to pursue academics and work. I was jaded and happy to be done with the living the life of an athlete. 

Oddly enough, as jaded as I was on competition, something inside of me wanted to give coaching a shot. Timing was right for me, and I became the sprints coach at my high school at 19 years old. I made a ton of mistakes, learned a lot, had fun, and finished the season with a handful of all-state sprinters, and a state champion relay team.

I was hooked. I knew from that point that I would coach track forever. 

It wasn't the success that the athletes were having, or the opportunity to create workouts that I loved; it was the daily interactions with the student-athletes. I got to be there for them, and walk through tough times with them. I coached another season of track, and I branched out to helping with cross country before I made my initial move to Santa Barbara. 

I transferred to a small NAIA school with a historically successful track program. I had the itch to compete again after coaching for two seasons, so I got in touch with the coach and he said he'd give me a shot. I joined the team as sprinter because that's all I had known. I quickly re-injured my hamstring, and had to face the music: sprinting wasn't for me any longer. My coach, who I admire greatly, presented me with two options: move up in distance and keep competing, or quit because my body can't handle the explosive nature of the sprints. 

I stayed on the team, made great memories with wonderful friends, and learned to love running. I ran two seasons of track and one season of cross country. My times and finishes wouldn't indicate that I was especially successful, but I gave it my best shot, and I picked up a lot of knowledge and wisdom along the way. 

Having a few years of coaching under my belt at this time, I clung to what Coach shared with us. I saved all of the handouts he gave us, and I regularly steal ideas from him since I've returned to coaching. 

This brings me to the summer of 2013, and I wrote about this time in more detail last month, but here's a quick summary: I was a new college graduate trying to figure things out, and I was running because I thought I was supposed to; it's the identity that I had built for myself. After months of wrestling with the question of why I was running I concluded, quite simply, that I was running because I can, it was fun, and because it gives me the joy of a little kid. 

It's now September 2014, and two overlapping passions have led me to eating an entirely plant-based diet and running on trails rather than roads, with a dream of completing a 100 miler one day. 

I've become almost obsessive over reading food labels and trying new things with my diet to optimize  my nutrition while giving up all animal products to do my small part in showing love to non-human animals and protecting the environment. 

Trail running is a whole new adventure for me. I was a numbers based runner, and my numbers aren't as pretty any more. My miles are (significantly) slower, and I'm not running as far due to elevation gains and technical trails. This was hard to swallow at first, but I'm enjoying the opportunity to get out in nature and explore new trails more than I did running fast on the same roads over and over. 

I'm learning a lot from trial and error: what kind of foods does my body like? What types of workouts can my body handle? When is it okay to walk while on a trail run? How much can I push this Achilles injury before it's unbearable? 

My twelve years of running have taught me a lot, and, as with most disciplines, I've found that the more I learn, the more I realize I don't actually know.

I'm looking forward to the day when I can share the chapter of my story where I went from 100 meter runner to 100 mile runner. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

006 Out of Control Intent

When creating Chasing Kale my goal wasn't to be overly personal, but I only know what I know; this post reflects my recent/current experiences.

I've made it no secret that I'm in a time of transition. I recently moved to a new city that I'm (re)acquainting myself with, I'm (re)establishing community here, I'm still not working (though I have been hired for an ideal position and I'm just waiting for the state send fingerprint results back), I'm seeking a new church home, I'm recovering from this Achilles injury, it looks like I'm going to be training for a new distance once I do return, and I'm experimenting with my diet trying to find what suits me best ethically, athletically, and practically (I'll probably share about this at some point).
I believe I've mentioned this before, but I'm a sucker for change.

Even so, having this much change happening at once leaves me wanting some resolution. I don't want everything to be resolved, because that's no fun, but I'd like some of it to be resolved.

I've been reading John Wooden's book, Wooden on Leadership, where he outlines his famed Pyramid of Success. Everything Coach Wooden says is golden, but two different concepts have struck a chord with me thus far. The first is to "control the controllables". Wooden didn't word it as such (in fact, I took this wording from Hall of Fame volleyball coach Judy Lovre from my time at Western Oregon University), but Wooden focuses on controlling what you can, and letting the score take care of itself. He never told his team to go out and win, rather he told them to go out and give their best effort.

They did, and Wooden has ten NCAA titles to show for it.

In my situation, I need to focus on what I can do rather than get upset with my Achilles, or with the state taking so long to process my fingerprints. What can I control here? Fortunately, not much. Yes, I do mean fortunately. Not having control relieves me of the stress of having to worry about getting stuff done.

It's not on me any longer; I've already done my part.

The second idea I'm stealing from Wooden is the idea of intentness. He uses this term to sum up diligence and determination, fortitude and resolve, or persistence. I'll add to this patience. Each of these are qualities I'm aiming for in each of my little transitions. At this point only one of seven of these current transitions have some resolution within sight-I'm starting work in the next few weeks. The other six have no end in sight, and this has left me frustrated, and discouraged at times. Even my watch was teasing me by trying to get me to run while I was intentionally taking a break in order to recover. This quality of intentness is one I can and need to show in a number of different ways towards my current challenges.

Intentness and controlling the controllables are not unrelated. Not even close. In my current situation I'm being intent to control what I can, giving my best effort and let the score take care of itself rather than waste my time worrying or feeling depressed.

I'm not going to try to connect these ideas to your running and/or veganism (which are, after all, the focual points of the blog); I'm sure you can do this yourself. I do, however, believe that these ideas can be encouraging to anybody in a transitional time, whether it involves running or not.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic; I'd love to hear them.

Quick note: the morning after I posted this, I received confirmation that I'll be starting work a week earlier than initially planned, and my schedule will be ideal to allow me to pursue a great coaching opportunity. Very excited about all of this. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

005 Running Irresponsibly

In strictly running terms, the past two weeks has been dreadful for me. I've not been able to get any sort of mileage in. As soon as I think I'm taking a turn for the better, the Achilles begins to act up again. Currently, I'm in day three of strictly no running. I'm disciplining myself in the worst way. As a coach, this is how I treat athletes who break some terrible rules.

The time off has found me (re)exploring the beautiful town of Santa Barbara. I've also had a lot of time to read. Currently, I'm reading a book about diet, a book about coaching, and, you guessed it, a book about running. I love having the opportunity to learn new ideas from experts in these fields; some of their ideas I'm adopting into my own life, and others I'm throwing away as soon as my eyes pass over the words on the page. 

Today's post comes from thoughts I'm developing from combining reading and the exploration of Santa Barbara. I'm looking into local races in the future, reading about the great trail runs that are so close, I'm seeing beautiful photos like the ones on Scott Jurek's Instagram, and I'm seeing race updates from iRunFar. I want in on this ultrarunning thing. 

Nothing in my background indicates that I'll be super successful at it. In high school I was an all state sprinter, and my time running in college saw me go no further than half a mile on the track. Not once did I complete an 8k (our standard distance) race in my lone season of cross country. But I still want to do it. 

Am I being irresponsible? I have somewhat of a "gift" in running shorter distances of 5k's and 10k's. I tend to place towards the top of my age group in local races, so why would I "waste" what I have to go on and try something that, on paper, doesn't look like it'll work out? 

I do have a history of making decisions that don't make sense on paper, and finding that they were great decisions. I moved abroad for 10 weeks with a group of people I hadn't met before; I moved to Santa Barbara (the first time), enrolled in a school I couldn't afford, and joined the track team after not competing for two years. My last two moves (the current one included) I signed a lease without having a job or much money saved up. So, it's a thing I do. I take dumb chances, and they always end up going great for me. 

Do I make the dumb chance to begin ultra running once I'm back from this Achilles injury? I was 5ish weeks into my twelve week training plan for a half marathon in October. Now, I'm not sure I want to do it because I'm missing so much time. I know I won't be at my best, and If I don't hit my goal, I'd be bummed. 

I'm not set on one way or the other. This fascination with ultrarunning could wear off before I'm even able to put foot to pavement (or trail) again. But the idea of it sure is exciting.

What are your thoughts on choosing which race distance to train for? I suppose that this ties in with my post from a few weeks ago. Do you make your choice on what to train for because you're good at it? Because you can win races? Because it's a challenge? To be social? Or because, on paper, it's not realistic? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts.