Monthly Archives: July 2013

What is the key element of personal transformation?

Is it self-love? Is it having supportive friends? Is it having the right personal philosophy? Is it just a matter of determination? What prevents it?

How does a person change for the better, to become a healthier, more whole individual?

If you have transformed yourself, how did you go about it?

In praise of amateurs


Just before dropping them.

The professionalization of sports and many other pursuits has unfortunately lead to the disparagement of non-professionals, often derisively called “amateurs”. In some sports the most successful professionals can become filthy rich, and are idolized by fans, while the amateurs in the same sport live in the shadows, and get treated like untouchables at the bottom of the rigid athletic caste system. Okay, so it’s not that bad, but you get my point.

But it wasn’t always this way. The word “amateur” comes from the Latin root “ami”, for “love”. Amateurs do what they do out of love, not because they seek wealth or acclaim, though these aren’t necessarily bad things. And all professionals were once amateurs. Amateurs used to get more respect. In fact, until the 1970s, the Olympics only allowed amateur athletes to compete(this rule was changed since it tended to favor athletes from affluent backgrounds who could spend all their time training instead of working).

Keep doing what you love. You are you, so there is no need to compare yourself to professionals(or anyone for that matter) with their unique biochemical make up and upbringing. Embrace the term “amateur”. Whether you’re an amateur runner, or cyclist, or climber, or skater, or ninja you can still be super-fit without being super-famous. Strive for excellence, but on your own terms.

Running versus weight-lifting: Which is better for improving mood?

Many runners experience the phenomenon called “runner’s high”, which is caused by a surge of endorphins in the brain, the body’s “feel good” chemicals.

Some weight-lifters may experience something similar, but is it as strong as runner’s high? Does it improve mood to the same degree as running?

According to researchers at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608, in the study, Effects of running and other activities on moods:


The purpose of this study was to compare the moods and mood variations of runners to those of aerobic dancers, weight-lifters, and nonexercising controls. The subjects, 70 undergraduates, were participants in a jogging and conditioning, a weight training, an aerobic dance, or an introductory psychology class. A time-series design was used in which all participants completed eight Profile of Mood State questionnaires over a 6-hr. period that centered on the time of the class. Four questionnaires were completed during the second week of classes and the other four about midsemester, approximately 6 wk. later. Runners had a significantly more positive mood profile than nonexercisers and a somewhat more positive one than weight-lifters, but those of runners and aerobic dancers were similar. Changes in moods across time in relation to activity and across semester suggest that exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, helps the regular participant not only to cope with stress but also to have a generally more positive feeling of well-being.

Interestingly, the aerobic dancers were similar to runners in terms of mood. I gotta admit that I usually find strength-training dull compared to running, and so this study didn’t surprise me. The results of this study imply cardio in general is probably better at improving mood than strength-training. My own experience confirms this.

Beautiful summer day at Lenoir Preserve

The Lenoir Preserve is a 40 acre park in Yonkers, NY, overlooking the Hudson river. It is comprised of both dense forests and fields, with a narrow step trail that leads downward toward the Hudson river and the Croton Aqueduct trail. Much of the park is very steep, and you may spot a deer or two if you walk around enough. This is one of many nature preserves in Westchester county that used to be part of a grand estate long ago, and traces of it can still be seen throughout.

There is a wonderful little butterfly garden in the preserve with many flowers and a big peach tree. Raspberries grow wild throughout much of the preserve as well.

IMG_1387IMG_1409IMG_1382This place is an excellent starting point for a long walk or run along the Croton Aqueduct trail. Admission is free.

Training your brain to run faster

IMG_1310Training yourself to run marathons is more than just a matter of training your leg muscles, your heart, and your lungs. You also have to train your brain. It seems that brain-training is the key to unlocking your full running potential. According to a study by C. D. Stevinson and S. J. Biddle, Cognitive orientations in marathon running and “hitting the wall”:


OBJECTIVES: To investigate whether runners’ cognitions during a marathon are related to “hitting the wall”. To test a new and more comprehensive system for classifying cognition of marathon runners. METHODS: Non-elite runners (n = 66) completed a questionnaire after finishing the 1996 London marathon. The runners were recruited through the charity SPARKS for whom they were raising money by running in the race. RESULTS: Most runners reported that during the race their thoughts were internally associative, with internally dissociative thoughts being the least prevalent. Runners who “hit the wall” used more internal dissociation than other runners, indicating that it is a hazardous strategy, probably because sensory feedback is blocked. However, internal association was related to an earlier onset of “the wall”, suggesting that too much attention on physical symptoms may magnify them, thereby exaggerating any discomfort. External dissociation was related to a later onset, probably because it may provide a degree of distraction but keeps attention on the race. CONCLUSIONS: “Hitting the wall” for recreational non-elite marathon runners is associated with their thought patterns during the race. In particular, “the wall” is associated with internal dissociation.

All this study is really saying is that if you want to avoid “hitting the wall” and become a better runner, focus on your surroundings when you are running, distract yourself. Looking inward(internal association) and paying very close attention to your level of fatigue, or soreness is not a good running strategy.

As far as I am concerned the same goes for joggling.

How dangerous is BASE jumping?

If you’re an adrenaline “junkie”, you’re always looking for new adventures to get that rush. Maybe you started out as a runner, and did a fair number of races, but then it just became boring after a while. Or maybe you like to go skiing during the winter, and then you adapted to it and that became boring too.

One of the ultimate “highs” is to jump from an airplane. I haven’t done it yet, but I hear its an amazing feeling.

Arguably even more extreme than sky diving is BASE jumping, which involves jumping off of tall buildings, antennas, spans, and earth. If the BASE jumper starts from a high enough altitude, they may even use a wing-suit to fly their way down toward earth before parachuting. Some sky-divers do this too.

As incredibly fun as these activities are, how dangerous are they?

According to Stavanger University Hospital, Norway, in How dangerous is BASE jumping?


During an 11-year period, a total of 20,850 jumps (median, 1,959; range, 400-3,000) resulted in 9 fatal (0.04% of all jumps; 1 in every 2,317 jumps) and 82 nonfatal accidents (0.4% of all jumps; 1 in every 254 jumps). Accidents increased with the number of jumps (r=0.66; p=0.007), but fatalities did not increase, nor did activation of helicopter or climbers in rescue (p>0.05). Helicopter activation (in one-third of accidents) in rescue correlated with number of accidents (r=0.76, p=0.007), but not climbers. Postmortem examination (n=7) of fatalities revealed multiple, severe injuries (Abbreviated Injury Scale score>or=3) sustained in several body regions (median, Injury Severity Score 75; range, 23-75). Most nonfatal accidents were related to ankle sprains/fracture, minor head concussion, or a bruised knee.


BASE jumping appears to hold a five- to eightfold increased risk of injury or death compared with that of skydiving. The number of accidents and helicopter activation increases with the annual number of jumps. Further analysis into the injury severity spectrum and associated hospital burden is required.

This seems extremely dangerous. Far more dangerous than anything I do. I wonder to what degree does the death-defying aspect make this “fun”. If somehow the danger was removed from BASE jumping would it make the sport less fun for some people?

If anyone reading this has tried BASE jumping or sky-diving, please tell us about your experiences.

Are you a psychopath?

Here’s an interesting test to see if you are a psychopath or not: 20 Signs That You Are A Psychopath

Sorry folks, joggling isn’t one of the signs. Since this is an online test, it is usually a good idea to take the results with a grain of salt. If you are not a psychopath, you probably know someone who is.

I don’t think I know any psychopaths personally, unless they are very good at disguising their psychopathic tendencies. The smartest ones are the most dangerous since they are experts at concealing their psychopathy.

The abstemious life

In some parts of the world a person who doesn’t drink alcohol and/or coffee or soda is considered something of a freak. If they are also a vegan, they are a super-freak.

As a confessed super-freak, I am sometimes asked why I don’t drink alcohol or coffee, as if I am missing something from my life. For some reason this makes me very “strange” to some people. Being “strange” isn’t the goal, but being in the best of health is. I just don’t like the idea of becoming dependent on any chemicals, whether it is for mood-enhancement, energy, or to relax. Even in moderation alcohol can be taxing to the liver and other organs(though I admit it may be beneficial for cardiovascular health). I believe very strongly in clean-living, and veganism, and see nothing to persuade me to change my ways.

For this attitude and lack of bad habits I sometimes get labeled the “monk”. In fact this does hit rather close to home, as some of my ideas about drugs and alcohol were formed while training to be a Greek Orthodox priest. Anyone who knows me well enough knows how that training went, but wanting to remain “pure” has stuck with me.

These thoughts of mine still smell of incense. The woods I frequent and meditate in is my cathedral. I preach healthy living. Junk food at times seems to me to have demonic powers. I am normally very religious in my adherence to my vegan diet and to my joggling routine.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world live fulfilling lives without any alcohol, like most Muslims for example. I am not a Muslim, but I feel I can relate to them when it comes to this. So I fail to see what is missing from my life when entire societies are almost entirely alcohol-free.

So if you start eating healthy to lose or maintain weight, don’t worry about what other people think. Never be afraid of being different, for not following the crowd. Most people are followers; only a few can be leaders or monks.

What did Beethoven die from?


Ludvig van Beethoven(1780- 1827), one of my favorite composers, wrote some of the most sublime music in the western tradition. His inspiring music is still very popular among classical music enthusiasts, especially his symphonies. I often listen to his music on my long runs.

At the same time that he was producing one masterpiece after another, he was in extremely poor health. He famously started going deaf(likely due to Paget’s disease) in his late 20s, only to become completely deaf by his early 40s. Besides this, he had serious digestive problems, abdominal pain, chronic bronchitis, and depression. His deafness also apparently drove him to alcoholism.

And yet even after he became deaf, instead of just giving up he continued to compose. Isolated from the outside world due to deafness and living inside his head, he lived only for his music, he became one with his music. He wrote some of his most powerful music while deaf. Besides his symphonies, one of my favorite pieces from his last years is his string quartet #14(op. 131). I highly recommend it, unless you have a problem with sad music(it is mostly the opening which is sad).

To get back on topic of what did Beethoven die from, there have been several different theories advanced over the years by experts. It is difficult to attribute his death to one cause since he suffered from many different diseases, however, lead poisoning(his temper, mood disorder, and digestive disorders suggest lead poisoning) was one of the most popular theories for a long time, along with syphilis.

By focusing the most powerful X-ray beam in the Western Hemisphere on six of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hairs and a few pieces of his skull, scientists have gathered what they say is conclusive evidence that the famous composer died of lead poisoning.
“There’s no doubt in my mind . . . he was a victim of lead poisoning,” said Bill Walsh, an expert in forensic analysis and chief scientist at Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Warrenville, Ill., who led the study with energy department researcher Ken Kemner.
Well, there we have it, Beethoven died from lead poisoning. Oh no, wait a minute, it looks like some experts disagree:

Five years ago tests on different strands of Beethoven’s hair and a tiny piece of his skull again pointed to lead. That, Beethoven scholars said, could have explained his infamous temper and his occasional memory slips. Some figured he had drunk too much cheap wine that was sweetened — in the custom of the 19th century — with lead to hide the bitterness.

But last week a lead-poisoning expert at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York tested the same piece of Beethoven’s skull that had been examined in 2005, along with another, larger, fragment. The researcher, Dr. Andrew C. Todd, said that over all he had found no more lead than in the average person’s skull.

It looks like we may never know for sure what lead to his death. It’s incredible how he was able to produce so much incredible, lofty music in such a wretched state. Or is intense suffering a requirement for creativity? If the medical treatments we have today for whatever Beethoven suffered from were available in Beethoven’s time, and he was cured and his pain taken away, would his music have been less profound and timeless? Do sickly or mentally disturbed individuals make better artists?

Optimal fuel for endurance runnning

jumpIt should go without saying that optimal nutrition is an absolute requirement for endurance running. The most important thing an athlete must do to prepare for long runs(besides hydration) is to maximize their muscle glycogen, which is the body’s main fuel source(and the more vigorously you run, the more your body will rely on glycogen) during long bouts of vigorous exercise. Unfortunately, once glycogen is depleted, a runner “hits the wall”, and will slow down, or even stop due to fatigue. Hence, the “Holy Grail” for endurance athletes is something that spares glycogen for as long as possible by using another fuel source or other methods.

Carb-loading, which is something practically all endurance athletes are already doing doesn’t necessarily “spare” glycogen – it merely maximizes the supply so you don’t run out too soon. Even with optimal carb-loading, trained runners can still “hit the wall” somewhere between 15 – 20 miles.

If you’re running a marathon, this isn’t good enough. Assuming the athlete has already carb-loaded to the max in the days and hours before the run, especially with their last meal, can carb-rich snacks immediately before the run help prevent glycogen depletion, and improve performance?

I have long wondered about this. Obviously, you can’t eat too heavily immediately before running long distances, this can cause digestive problems that will interfere with your run. Some trainers even advise athletes to not consume carbs before runs. Fortunately, I found a study that attempts to find the best approach. According to the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK, in The myths surrounding pre-exercise carbohydrate feeding:



Carbohydrate ingested 30-60 min before exercise may result in hypoglycaemia during exercise, a phenomenon often called rebound or reactive hypoglycaemia. There is considerable confusion regarding pre-exercise carbohydrate feeding with advice that ranges from ‘consume carbohydrate in the hour before exercise’ to ‘avoid carbohydrate in the 60 min prior to exercise’.


It can be concluded that advice to avoid carbohydrate feeding in the hour before exercise is unfounded. Nevertheless athletes may develop symptoms similar to those of hypoglycaemia, even though they are rarely linked to actual low glucose concentrations. An individual approach may therefore be necessary to minimize these symptoms even though they do not appear to be related to exercise performance.

I very often eat or drink something 10 to 30 minutes before an endurance run( 90+ minutes) and based on my experiences it seems to help. However, a few times when I went overboard by drinking too much juice, I did experience that nasty “reactive hypoglycemia”. This is different from regular hypoglycemia and usually isn’t a serious condition. The trick is to figure out how to just consume enough carbohydrate without causing an insulin response that leads to reactive hypoglycemia and reduced performance, if this is a problem for you. Diluted cherry or beat juice is my favorite, and sometimes raisins. Don’t eat anything immediately before a long run with too much fiber, protein, or fat since this can slow down digestion and cause upset stomach(the same goes for eating or drinking during an endurance run).

So it looks like consuming carbs immediately before a long run isn’t a serious problem for most people. This may help delay glycogen depletion.

Another possible strategy to help delay glycogen depletion and/or fatigue is to train your body to use more fat for energy. This can be tricky, even though our fat reserves(even in skinny runners) contain thousands upon thousands of calories.

Just training on a regular basis can likely train your body to use more fat for energy. The body also just becomes increasingly efficient at using energy from all sources the more you exercise(you eventually plateau after several months), which can make it harder for the overweight to lose most of their excess weight.

Can fat intake influence how well we perform at endurance exercise? According to the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Buffalo, New York, in A perspective on fat intake in athletes:

Data from recent studies in trained athletes, who were fed iso-caloric high-fat diets (42% to 55%) that maintained adequate CHO levels, have shown an increase in endurance in both men and women when compared to diets composed of low fat intake (10% to 15%). The magnitude of the effect on endurance was significant at high percentages of maximal aerobic power and increased as the percentage of maximal aerobic power decreased. Based on this review, a baseline diet comprising 20% protein, 30% CHO and 30% fat, with the remaining 20% of the calories distributed between CHO and fat based on the intensity and duration of the sport, is recommended for discussion and future research.

Unless I am misreading this, it is suggesting that increasing fat intake improves endurance in athletes. However, this may not be such a good idea if you are trying to lose weight.

See what works best for you, experiment.