New video: How to idle on a unicycle

Just did a new video tutorial on how to idle on a unicycle. It’s a tough skill to master but with persistence anyone can become competent at idling. Learning to idle is the best way to improve your overall unicycling ability. I hope you’re all having a wonderful New Year so far!

Why I Say No to Detox

nodetox

One of the more popular things I regularly encounter on social media, particularly on health and fitness accounts in December and January, is something called “detox” or “cleansing”. Everybody’s doing it! There’s a long and growing list of maladies that “detox” can supposedly treat: obesity, fatigue, brain fog, skin problems, acne, arthritis, allergies, anxiety seemingly everything except a missing limb.

Detoxing is so popular and common I almost feel left out as a non-believer(a heretic in some circles) in detox, though luckily this feeling lasts for all of 2 seconds. Detox can take many forms while often a pricey supplement, it can also be a week, or month, or 6 month long juice regimen the length of their detoxing sentence often reflects how “bad” they’ve been. Sometimes it can be a tea and is called a “teatox”. In its most extreme form, a person’s entire diet is a long-term detox, usually a 100% vegan whole-food raw-food diet basically solitary confinement for those who have been really bad.

So what do I make of all this? It’s 100% nonsense. The health claims made for these products or juicing regimens are evidence-free and very vague; the “toxins” in question are almost never identified, and the users of these products are not tested before and after for these elusive “toxins”. This is nothing but pseudoscience.

Doctors and legitimate health professionals do not recommend a detox unless someone has ingested a significant amount of heavy metals or poison, and they use chelation drugs to help remove the toxins, not green juice or an MLM scam product. There is no evidence that this type of detox can help you with any medical problem.

Bottom line: Detoxing is unlikely to help you lose weight or improve energy. However, this doesn’t mean drinking fresh juices or smoothies is a bad thing. You can get a nutrition boost from some green juices if you don’t ordinarily eat that well(this may explain why many people feel better after a detox or cleanse). If juice is your preferred method of consuming your fruits and vegetables, then go for it. Detox supplements on the other hand are useless and potentially dangerous.

Just don’t be mislead into believing these juices are helping you “detox” anything. Toxins are a natural byproduct of living and metabolism and you already have an effective way to deal with this: your liver and kidneys. If you have a functioning liver and kidneys, your body is detoxing for you 24/7. If you believe you’ve been poisoned, consult a doctor.

Related articles:

Harvard Women’s Health Watch: The dubious practice of detox

Science-Based Medicine: Detox Scams are Worthless and Potentially Dangerous

The Vegan RD: A Vegan Diet is Not a “Detox” Plan

Scibabe: The Weekly Woo: Toxins. Toxins Everywhere

Ars Technica: Herbal remedy ingredients: lead, mercury, and/or arsenic

Mel Magazine: Yes, Of Course, Detoxing Is a Scam

Yonkers marathon 2018 race report

Screenshot from 2018-10-26 22:19:19

Just after crossing the finish line

Last weekend I completed my 6th marathon, the Yonkers marathon as a member of Team Humane*, a team of amazing athletes who are changing the world. Besides being the second oldest marathon in the U.S, the Yonkers marathon is one of the hilliest.

In case you’re new here I’m the guy who juggled while running this thing for all 26.2 miles. I won’t bore you with too many details, or give a mile by mile account of my race experience. To make the long story short, just think a lot of wind, a lot of hills, and a bunch of people running, with one juggling while running.

So I completed this double loop race in 4:30, my slowest marathon to date. The wind was particularly fierce last Sunday, and was at least partly responsible for my slower than usual pace. At one point I had to hilariously chase after one of my balls that got blown away by the wind, losing precious time as a result. The sub-4 hour finishing time I aimed for just wasn’t happening. I dropped the balls a total of 5 times due to the wind, so my no-drops marathon joggling streak is over. I didn’t drop while joggling at my last 3 marathons — this streak had to end some time.

Besides the howling wind, I was under-trained due to personal issues that unfortunately got in the way of training at times. If the situation hadn’t improved I probably wouldn’t have run this race.

The crowd support as usual was fantastic, especially at the beginning. Lots of good humor also. Years ago I would have kicked myself for falling short of a goal. But it’s just so counter-productive to do so. In the end, I still entertained a lot of people and helped promote a good cause that is doing all it can to help end the suffering of farm animals. Animal exploitation and suffering is a problem, my not running a marathon fast enough isn’t.

Unlike last time I tapered from both running and also unicycling; I think I did a little too much unicycling last time during marathon training. I use a variety of marathon training guides, rather than just one source. Most say essentially the same thing, though none recommend unicycling during training(still figuring out how to use it as a cross-trainer).

As usual it felt amazing crossing that finish line, knowing all that training, even if incomplete, helped me build up my endurance to complete this race. Also all the support from my fellow runners, fellow Team Humane members and just knowing I am doing this to bring attention to a good cause made a big difference.

Another marathon completed, but so many more to run or cycle. So what’s next on the agenda? Stay tuned!

If you would like to donate, please visit my fund-raising page.

*To clear up any confusion— I want to clarify that I was running for Team Humane, not Team Aisling. The shirt worn by the many members of Team Aisling at this event looks very similar to the green Team Humane shirt; I have nothing to do with Team Aisling(great, good-humored people though!).

I’ll be joggling the Yonkers marathon on October 21

Screenshot from 2015-10-23 20:00:45

At the Yonkers marathon in 2015

 

I’ll be joggling the Yonkers marathon on October 21, as part of Team Humane League. Yes, the hilly monster of a marathon, and second oldest marathon in the country. If you would like to donate, here is my fund-raising page. Any amount is appreciated. This is marathon #6.

I’m not aiming for a PR this year, I’m just aiming to have fun, complete the race in under 4 hours, and not drop(I haven’t dropped since my second marathon). My training has been going well so far besides many 40+ mile weeks, I’ve also mixed in lots of unicycling for cross-training. I finished my last 2 marathons in over 4 hours, #4 due to an injury, and #5 due to fatigue issues/insufficient training. So while I’m not looking to set a PR, I’m hoping to make a comeback by completing in under 4 hours like I did at my first 3 marathons.

I’m currently in tapering mode but I’ll do one last semi-long run before the race. I feel so ready I feel I could run the race this weekend, and I feel confident I can return to sub-3 hour marathon running.

Thanks for your support!

 

Why I’m not jumping on the turmeric bandwagon

Screenshot from 2018-09-10 09:43:50

 

In a faraway land, the native people have been using X root(or fruit, or spice) as a fountain of youth, the ultimate cure-all, and as an energy-booster for thousands of years. It has been recently “discovered” by western science, and its medicinal effects have been supposedly verified by scientific research. The list of health benefits is almost endless, and it is now taken as a supplement, put in lattes, teas, juices, face-masks, lotions, in practically everything! And one ever gets old or gets cancer again.

This sounds like turmeric, doesn’t it? Well of course it does! But it’s also the same exact trajectory for every other amazing “superfood” or exotic herb from the past 30 years. I remember when it was green tea, then goji berries, then countless other things. Now turmeric has taken center-stage.

Does it live up to the hype? Preliminary research does show turmeric has some anti-inflammatory effects — but so do a million other things. It’s also an antioxidant, but antioxidants as disease-preventers has been almost entirely discredited.

I admit I tried turmeric a bunch of times many years ago, and noticed no benefit, unless you call upset stomach a benefit. I really don’t have any use for it, except when enjoying spicy south Asian cuisine. While I frequently experience inflammation from all the running I do, that’s the body’s natural response to stress and muscle damage. The soreness and inflammation I often experience is well within the range of normal and so I just let the process take its course. “Lack of turmeric” is not a known medical or athletic condition.

However, many athletes regularly take turmeric for it’s anti-inflammatory effects to help speed recovery. It’s possible it actually is helpful for some athletes, and people with certain inflammatory medical conditions, but as I said before I mainly experience an upset stomach after taking turmeric.

Except for some epidemiological studies, there aren’t that many long-term placebo-controlled studies on turmeric and general health and turmeric and athletic performance. We don’t know what kind of side effects turmeric could cause when regularly taken in medicinal amounts(keep in mind that curcumin, the main medicinal chemical in turmeric is very poorly absorbed by the body). In this case I think it’s just best to leave well enough alone and not over-complicate my health and fitness regimen with something that may be useless or potentially harmful(though it’s unlikely to kill anyone). If you want to continue using it, great, but at least know all the relevant facts and please consult a health professional in case of contraindications.

Related articles:

Turmeric: Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine

Turmeric May Not Be a Miracle Spice After All

Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health

Interleaving update

 

A few weeks ago I did a post about interleaving and for the most part I’ve been using this innovative learning strategy for learning new unicycle skills since then. In case you’ve forgotten, interleaving is a learning strategy that involves mixing things up instead of focusing on just one skill at a time. So far it appears to be working.

As you can see in the video I figured out how to juggle while idling one-footed(at least that’s how unicyclists would describe it). I even figured how to do the tricky two to one foot transition in only one practice session; I assumed it would take longer to learn the transition. Instead of a long block practice approach, I interleaved learning this skill with the closely related juggling while unicycling backwards. I would focus on one skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then switch to the other skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then back to the first skill, in an ABABA pattern for about 50 minutes to an hour or more. Of course in this heat breaks are very important.

It took a mere few weeks to learn juggling while idling one-footed though I can’t do it that well yet. I think interleaving did give me a learning boost. I also think the fact that it’s just an extension of juggling while idling two-footed, which I can do competently, was also a big help. There’s a lot of overlap, it’s really not that distinct of a skill in other words.

Since juggling while one-footed idling is a more challenging version of juggling while idling, I think it’s helping me polish my juggling while two-footed idling(sometimes the key to mastering something is to practice the more complex variation of what you’re trying to learn— you don’t even have to do the more complex variation that well to benefit from it). It would be interesting to see what happens if I try interleaving with skills that are unrelated.

It also helps that I mixed it up with juggling while unicycling backwards, which I can almost do competently now. Idling and backwards are related skills and if you can do one well it helps with learning the other. Idling is, after all, going forwards and backwards just a little.

So if you’re on a learning plateau with anything, consider experimenting with an interleaving approach or at least trying variations of what you’re trying to learn.

Chris Stratton’s first 100 mile unicycle ride

Screenshot from 2018-08-11 22:47:56

Map of Chris Stratton’s 100 mile ride

There’s another unicyclist in town, and his distance riding puts me to shame. Chris Stratton, from Manhattan, who I rode with last year in the Brooklyn portion of the NYC Unicycle fest just completed his first century(100 mile) ride along the Putnam trail from the Bronx up to Brewster and back. What an amazing accomplishment! My longest ride is only 20 miles, also on the Putnam trail. You can read about his epic experience here: My First Unicycle Century

Boost learning with interleaving

Screenshot from 2018-08-07 22:01:55

One of the things I love most about unicycling(and joggling) is that it’s a fun way to learn about learning. With all the different skills unicycling entails, and the difficulty of learning many of them, it’s a great opportunity to test some new learning strategies. Let’s face it, we all want to learn faster. One strategy that I recently stumbled upon is called “interleaving”, which involves mixing things up instead of focusing on one skill or area and repeating until competence is achieved. Interleaving appears to provide a boost for both academic and athletic training.

According to Scientific American, in The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning:

We’ve all heard the adage: practice makes perfect! In other words, acquiring skills takes time and effort. But how exactly does one go about learning a complex subject such as tennis, calculus, or even how to play the violin? An age-old answer is: practice one skill at a time. A beginning pianist might rehearse scales before chords. A young tennis player practices the forehand before the backhand. Learning researchers call this “blocking,” and because it is commonsensical and easy to schedule, blocking is dominant in schools, training programs, and other settings.

However another strategy promises improved results. Enter “interleaving,” a largely unheard-of technique that is capturing the attention of cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists. Whereas blocking involves practicing one skill at a time before the next (for example, “skill A” before “skill B” and so on, forming the pattern “AAABBBCCC”), in interleaving one mixes, or interleaves, practice on several related skills together (forming for example the pattern “ABCABCABC”). For instance, a pianist alternates practice between scales, chords, and arpeggios, while a tennis player alternates practice between forehands, backhands, and volleys.

This sounds very promising. The research suggests it works best if you interleave similar skills. I’ve already been doing something kind of similar by practicing variations of the skill I’m trying to master, but usually on different days. However, interleaving isn’t about varying your practice every few days, it’s about variation within the same practice session.

These days I’m trying to learn how to juggle while idling one-footed on the unicycle(I can already do this with both feet on the pedals). I usually use a block approach, and after practicing this would sometimes do backwards juggling in figure 8’s, which is a similar skill that I’m much better at. This week I’ll experiment with an interleaving strategy and do 5 minute intervals of one-footed idling while juggling then backwards juggling, an ABABAB pattern and see how that goes. I hope 5 minutes is long enough. I wonder what would happen if I did intervals of unrelated skills, but I’ll try that out some other time.

I’ll let you know how it goes. If you’re struggling with learning something, consider the interleaving strategy.

Related articles:

Variation is key to deeper learning

Learn To Study Using…Interleaving

Vegan Pastitsio

Screenshot from 2018-07-23 13-46-53

 

One of the glories of Greece is that its native cuisine is either thoroughly vegan or easily veganized. Dishes that are already vegan include dolmades(stuffed grape leaves), gigantes(lima beans in tomato sauce), as well as many others. Spanakopita and tiropita can be veganized by replacing the feta cheese with vegan cheese. Meatier dishes may be more difficult to veganize but there are myriad ways of doing this.

One of my favorites growing up was pastitisio, which is essentially baked ziti topped with bechamel sauce and ground beef. This dish is typically served during big holidays or large gatherings and I must warn you it isn’t a fast, easy recipe. Reserve this for special occasions.

One of the things that gives pastitsio its distinctive flavor is the allspice or cinnamon in the beef. For most recipes I find that cinnamon and allspice are interchangeable, hence I used cinnamon which I had on hand. This may not be true of everyone but I think most people won’t notice the difference. I also decided to use vegan ground beef from Trader Joe’s instead of using lentils like other Greek vegans like to use.

Screenshot from 2018-07-23 13-47-21

For this use a standard size lasagna baking pan, or something close to 12 inches by 16 inches and is 3.5 inches deep.

Ingredients:

Meat sauce:

  • 1 lb vegan ground beef(I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or allspice(or more)
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

Bechamel sauce:

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups cashews(soaked overnight)
  • 2 cups veggie broth(optional)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • black pepper
  • pinch of salt

Pasta:

  • 24 ounces of penne or ziti
  • drizzle of olive oil(optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Saute all beef ingredients in saucepan until onions are a slightly browned.
  3. Cook pasta until it is almost al dente. Remember you’ll be baking it later so don’t over-boil it. Drizzle with olive oil(optional).
  4. Thoroughly blend cashews in blender. Mix in other bechamel ingredients and cook in sauce pan for a few minutes until everything is thoroughly mixed together.
  5. Thoroughly mix about 1/4 to 1/2 beef sauce mix with pasta and put in lasagna pan(spray bottom of pan with oil first).
  6. Put the rest of the beef sauce mix on top of the pasta/beef sauce mix.
  7. Put bechamel sauce on top of all the other layers.
  8. Cover with foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes in the oven at 350 F.
  9. Let it sit outside the oven for 10 minutes before serving to cool.

This was a hit when I last made it and I’m sure it will be in your home as well.

 

 

 

 

 

How to ride a unicycle

 

I thought I’d finally do a video on how to unicycle since so many people keep asking me how to do it. It’s really not that difficult if you devote enough time to it every day.

The key things to remember are:

  • Practice in a flat area along a long wall or fence — the longer the better.
  • Lean forward to gain forward momentum.
  • Try to keep most of your weight in the seat though this isn’t absolutely essential early on. With time you’ll likely end up doing this without thinking.
  • When breaking free from the fence or wall use your arms to help you balance.
  • Patience, practice and perseverance.

As far as which size unicycle to learn on, I say choose a 20″ or 24″ inch unicycle(for small children a 16″ may be best). These days most people learn on a 20″ inch unicycle — I learned on a 24″. I chose a 24″ because I wanted something that I could ride around town on, besides doing freestyle tricks. A 20″ inch unicycle is great for freestyle but it’s impractical for riding around the neighborhood. A 24″ also makes a better gateway to the larger size unicycles used for long-distance riding, like 29″, 32″ and 36″ inch unicycles.

Whatever size you choose, get plenty of practice! If you’re a runner, this is a great cross-trainer. Happy riding!