Monthly Archives: March 2014

Running and the Environment


This terrific article, Roger on Running: Running for the Environment, from Runner’s World perfectly encapsulates my thinking about how runners tend to have an intimate connection with the natural environment, and this is why we generally tend to be more supportive of environmentalism. Indeed, if running can be said to be our “religion”, our favorite forest is like our “church”. According to the article:

In the original story of Pheidippides, the big moment comes when the running messenger meets Pan, the goat-footed Nature god, who asks him to tell the city people of Greece that they have been negligent in their worship. So it was a runner who made contact between wild nature and human civilisation, a runner who reminded humans of their responsibilities toward the natural environment. I want to celebrate some 21st century running events that do the same.

It isn’t just the beauty, and quiet of the forest that draws us in. We relish fresh air, and no one needs this more than endurance athletes. This is why deforestation pains us so; trees are natural air purifiers, taking in CO2 and releasing oxygen, besides providing food and shelter for animals.

To me, running through a forest is one of the best ways to commune with and experience nature. The sound and feel of the wind, the sweet music of a stream, birds chirping, animals scurrying off as you run by, and last but not least, the pungent aroma of life and decay in the forest. And let’s not forget the thousands upon thousands of hues of green, brown, yellow, red, purple, and everything in between! Nothing beats running through the woods, nothing is more invigorating, even when I get lost.

To lose it all to greed is a disgrace. It isn’t just runners or hikers who benefit from forests and the natural world. Air pollution is said to kill about 7 million people a year around the world(it’s too bad no one records how many animals it kills). Rapid industrial development, overpopulation, destruction of forests, and above all, over-dependence on automobiles are the main causes of outdoor air pollution.

Realizing that one of the main drivers of deforestation is agriculture, especially for growing animal feed to produce meat is one of the main reasons I went vegan. A vegan diet uses land and resources much more efficiently – How your diet could change the world.

I don’t know about you, but I feel reborn after a day in the wilderness. If you are interested in doing more for the environment: Ways Runners Can Be More Green and Protect the Environment

Joggling Oranges


Now that spring is in the air and I have recovered from my injury, I thought it was time to experiment. I decided it was time to joggle some fruit, instead of my usual juggling balls, to make things a little more interesting and challenging.

I have juggled oranges many times, because their size, shape, and skin texture makes them perfect for juggling. So they seemed like the best fruit to go joggling with. In fact, I have joggled with oranges before, but mostly while running back from the market which is less than half a mile away. Today, however was the first time I ever joggled oranges or any food for more than a few miles. Before I get to the run, let us look at how to pick oranges for juggling or joggling.

IMG_2398The most important thing is for the oranges to be all about the same size, shape, and weight, unless you’re really looking to challenge yourself. Make sure they are spherical and solid. If they are too oblong, they may be difficult to juggle with. About the size of a tennis ball or a little larger is ideal. Since you or someone else will eat them later, be sure they are ripe and fresh, and heavy for their size. Avoid oranges that are discolored. I think navel oranges are best for juggling in my experience.

The oranges I selected were about 8 ounces each, which is double the weight of my preferred Sil-X juggling balls. While joggling these oranges, I could feel the difference and they slowed me down. I managed to run with them for 10 miles, and much to my surprise, I only dropped them once, and that was at the 2 mile mark. So I managed to run 8 miles straight with them without dropping, even while running up and down a 150 foot hill twice, and doing juggling tricks. It took me 1:42 minutes to complete this run. A 10 mile run from last week with my regular juggling balls in warmer weather took me 1:30 minutes.

While running with them, I tried playing in my mind the Sergei Prokofiev opera, The Love for Three Oranges, but couldn’t, since I have no idea how it goes. Oh well, I don’t like opera that much anyway. This very orangey journey got exhausting after a while, especially on those hills, but I kept pushing myself. I couldn’t run in shorts today because it was cold(mid 30s) and very windy, the last gasp of Old Man Winter. It should be very spring-like next week.

In a way, this was like a strange ritual both for challenging myself and for connecting with my food. I have a newfound respect for oranges and Mother Nature, who provides us with these natural, somewhat heavy juggling balls, which also happen to be a good source of some vital nutrients. Granted, it also took thousands of years of selective breeding to produce the orange as we know it today.

I’ve been wondering if joggling fruit would encourage onlookers to eat more of them. I really have no idea. I often wear a vegan T-shirt when the weather is better, and while I like to think I am making an impact, it’s not always easy to tell what people think. Since the only joggler in the immediate area also happens to be a vegan, I hope it gets people thinking.

Of course, besides using them for juggling, you can eat oranges. I hear this is what most people use them for anyway. These particular oranges were so sweet, juicy and fresh, though it felt kind of weird eating them after joggling with them for 10 miles. The juggling didn’t damage them at all.

Oranges are a great source of vitamin C, and fiber. They are also a good source of phyto-chemicals which may also have some health benefits, but the research on this is still preliminary. Most people need to eat more fruit, and it can’t hurt to juggle them too, since most people could use at least a little more exercise.

In case anyone is wondering, I will slowly work my way up to joggling with cantaloupes. Whatever you do, make sure you have fun exercising in the warm, wonderful spring weather.



Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued him and the Age of Flimflam


John Brinkley

I just finished reading Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock, which is a real page-turner. It is one of the better books I’ve read over the past few years. Much of the book reads like a suspense thriller, though it is in essence a biography of the biggest quack in the U.S in the first half of the 20th century, John Brinkley, and his arch-nemesis, Dr Morris Fishbein, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association and the biggest quack-buster of his time.

Born in North Carolina to a poor family in 1885, John Brinkley would eventually become a merchant of patent medicines, learning all the tricks of the trade of this very popular form of quackery. He obtained a phony degree from a diploma mill to pose as a doctor, and eventually made his way to Milford, Kansas in 1917, a small town in need of a doctor. It was in Milford where he got the idea of surgically transplanting goat testicles into men to restore their virility.

Brinkley had many satisfied patients and his Kansas clinic flourished. He eventually started a radio station(KFKB) to help promote his dubious treatments, almost single-handedly inventing the infomercial in the process. His charisma and marketing genius brought him even more customers and success.

He even started an innovative radio program called “Medical Question Box”, in which he would answer letters on the air from listeners with health problems, and then recommend a specific pharmaceutical treatment(often nothing but colored water). Upon hearing this, many of his listeners who had similar health problems would then purchase the same drug from Brinkley associated pharmacies throughout the Midwest at inflated prices. Brinkley got a cut of each sale, making him a very rich man.

Meanwhile, Morris Fishbein in Chicago would write article after article exposing Brinkley as a quack and calling him a “menace”; this had little affect, and Brinkley would continue to prosper and kill some of his patients.

Brinkley came close to settling in California, sensing that there was a lot more money to be made there than in Kansas. At the time, California’s salubrious, warmer climate attracted a lot of people from around the country seeking rejuvenation and a better life. It also attracted a lot of hucksters seeking to exploit them. Fortunately, Brinkley’s attempt at obtaining a medical license in California was blocked by Fishbein and others who protested to the authorities. Stuck in small-town Kansas, Brinkley continued raking in the dough, and living a luxurious lifestyle which included a growing number of expensive cars.

Fishbein’s indefatigable efforts to get the RTC(forerunner of the FCC) to revoke Brinkley’s radio license finally paid off, and Brinkley was taken off the air. Not long after, Brinkley also lost his medical license in the state of Kansas. What did Brinkley do next? He announced he was running for governor, with only 5 weeks to election day. Though he lost, he came very close to winning; he would occasionally entertain the idea of running for president.

Brinkley was very far from defeated though. He relocated his clinic to Del Rio, Texas and operated a radio station just across the border in Cuidad Acuña, Mexico, out of reach from the U.S government. Free of any regulation, he used this radio station(XER-AM), to promote his quack remedies and political beliefs, first broadcasting in October, 1931. XER would eventually produce the most powerful radio signal in the world, initiating the era of “border blaster” radio. On a clear day, the signal could be picked up as far away as Finland.

Besides promoting his dangerous treatments, increasingly bizarre conspiratorial political beliefs, and complaining about getting persecuted by the establishment, Brinkley also promoted many early country and blues music performers on his radio broadcasts, like the Carter family. Brinkley was by now a very wealthy man with a large mansion full of treasures, a fleet of expensive cars, and spacious yachts he would spend his summers on. Besides this, he was one of the most famous(or infamous) men in the country, and was popular with the locals since his lucrative practice, trailblazing radio station, and his contributions to civic improvements helped Del Rio prosper during the worst years of the Great Depression.

Eventually a competitor came to town, charging a lot less than Brinkley for the same sham procedures. In spite of Brinkley’s popularity and connections, his efforts at driving out this upstart failed, and Brinkley would eventually relocate his clinic yet again, this time to Little Rock, Arkansas.

Brinkley’s hubris in his never-ending war with quack-buster Morris Fishbein would eventually lead to his undoing, but I don’t want to spoil the rest for those who don’t know how it ends.

Brinkley wasn’t just one of the most successful quacks in American history, he was also one of the most prolific serial killers America ever produced. It is difficult to know how many people he killed with his dangerous and dubious treatments. Many more, possibly at least in the hundreds, were maimed.

John Brinkley is a stark reminder of the extreme gullibility of humans when it comes to health matters. Reading between the lines of this book, it’s not just about Brinkley, but is also a powerful indictment of quackery as it exists today. There may be many more laws today to protect consumers, but quackery is very much alive. I see a little bit of Brinkley in some of the better known quacks out there today, who often practice “alternative medicine”, which is what quackery calls itself these days. While they may not be prolific killers like Brinkley, they still prey on the vulnerable, and use the same marketing strategies.

All in all, a very educational, enjoyable, and well-written book for those interested in the history of modern medicine, as well as quackery, or who just like to read a true story that vividly portrays what America was like in the first half of the 20th century.

Back in Top Form

Screenshot from 2014-03-16 20:38:33

After several weeks of recovering from a knee injury(which I injured in mid January), I am thrilled to report that I am very nearly back in top form. I say this with reservation because one can never be certain about such things, as there is always the risk for re-injury or even a completely new injury. For what it’s worth, I’m getting called a “showoff” again when I joggle around the neighborhood.

As you can see in the chart above, I didn’t run all that much for many weeks. In fact, I actually went 1 week with no running at all due to this injury. Yet last week, I managed to run a total of 68 miles, which is just a few miles short of my all time record. This post describes my recovery program – The long snowy road to recovery

The lesson I’ve learned is to not overdo it. Too much mileage all at once is almost always a bad idea. Running 84 miles over the course of 6 days was a stupid idea, since my body was only used to 50 to 65 miles a week at most.

So if you’re injured, don’t give up! To stay in shape, find something else to do to maintain your fitness. If it is really painful and/or inflamed, make sure you see a doctor though before doing anything. You will likely have to take a lot of time off from your favorite activity, you may even become depressed. Do all you can to keep your spirits up, it’s not the end of the world.

Thanks to everyone for your support. It’s great being able to show how fit a vegan can be again.

Is gluten-free the way to be?

A wheat field in Idaho

A wheat field in Idaho

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, you’re likely very much aware of the gluten-free diet craze that has swept the country. While it seems like it is “new”, its proponents use the exact same play-book as those who promote fat-free and carb-free diets to the public. The strategy is simple: identify one nutrient or food group as the culprit responsible for the obesity epidemic, and a laundry list of other serious health problems. Remove this food and your health will improve. This time it is gluten, which is simply a protein composite found in wheat and closely related grains, and gives wheat dough its well-known elasticity.

As unscientific as these eliminationist claims may be, there is often a grain of truth to them. While dietary fat may not be the main or only cause of obesity, too much of it isn’t good for you; the same is true of carbohydrate or anything for that matter. And while evidence for gluten being harmful to the general population is lacking, people with celiac disease, who are a tiny minority of the population(about 1%), absolutely have to avoid all gluten containing grains or they will experience severe gastrointestinal problems. There is a slightly larger percentage of the population that is sensitive to or allergic to gluten and wheat, and are better off avoiding it.

Just because some people have serious problems with a certain food doesn’t mean that the general population will benefit from avoiding that food. I’m allergic to bananas, but it would be nonsensical to advocate a banana-free diet to people who aren’t allergic to bananas.

Besides the fact that there are no recognized benefits for the general population, a gluten-free diet can be much more expensive, though it is unlikely to be harmful if a person is still eating a healthful diet otherwise. Ultimately, to help separate the wheat from the chaff, what does the scientific evidence say? According to Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population? in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

There is no evidence to suggest that following a gluten-free diet has any significant benefits in the general population. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that a gluten-free diet may adversely affect gut health in those without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.31 Additional research is needed to clarify the health effects of gluten, and potential consequences of avoiding gluten-containing grains.

So it looks like the general population is unlikely to derive any benefits from a gluten-free diet. If you haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease or wheat allergy by a medical doctor, you are unlikely to benefit.

The high risk sports personality

Having looked at the personality traits that are common to runners in our last post, I thought it would be interesting to compare them with other types of athletes, in particular, those who are into high risk sports. In case you have forgotten, runners tend to be more introverted, and imaginative, among other things.

So what personality traits are common to those who participate in dangerous sports? According to Personality differences in high risk sports amateurs and instructors:

This study investigated the personality differences of 21 amateurs and 20 instructors who participated in the high risk sports of skydiving, hang-gliding, paragliding, scuba diving, microlighting, and rock climbing, versus those who did not. 38 men and 28 women (M age=32.6 yr., SD= 10.0) were assessed using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire-Revised, the General Health Questionnaire, the Generalised Self-efficacy Scale, and a Type A/B personality measure. Instructors and Amateurs scored significantly higher on Extroversion and lower on Neuroticism than Nonparticipants; however, they differed from each other on the General Health Questionnaire and Type A/B personality scores. Amateurs scored significantly higher on Psychoticism and Self-efficacy than Instructors and Nonparticipants. In conclusion, these test scores suggest that people who are attracted to high risk sports tend to be at the extroverted and emotionally stable end of the scale, with a tendency to exhibit Type A characteristics; however, Instructors’ scores on Psychoticism and Self-efficacy are more akin to those of Nonparticipants.

The tendency toward extroversion among participants in high risk sports makes them the opposite of introverted runners. They also seem to be more Type A, and if I am reading this correctly, amateurs in this sport have a tendency toward “psychoticism”? I can understand “crazy”, but “psychotic”? I wish they had elaborated on this.

Also, it’s strange how instructors in these dangerous sports have personalities more like non-participants. Is this the ultimate example of “what you don’t do, you teach?”.

I still can’t find anything definitive about joggling and personality.

The runner’s personality

You can see a lot of interesting things when running.

You can see a lot of interesting things when running.

There is so much more to running than meets the eye. Avid distance runners really are a tribe apart. It is not uncommon for runners to have only other runners as close friends, since it can be difficult to relate to non-runners. In large part, this is because running isn’t just an activity, it is the centerpiece of a very active lifestyle. Sure we can be friends with other athletes like cyclists or rock-climbers(and we sometimes participate in these activities), but only other runners can be our soul brothers or sisters. To runners, sedentary people seem like a totally different species who speak an unintelligible language.

Which leads some of us to ask “how different are we really?”. As diverse as runners are, there are some personality traits we seem to have in common. I’ve long suspected that distance runners tend to be more introverted on average, since running for long stretches of time alone practically requires that you enjoy solitude. Having looked into this, it appears this hunch has some evidence to support it. According to Personality and physiological traits in middle-aged runners and joggers:


A series of personality and physiological tests and measurements were made in 48 healthy male runners and joggers 40-59 years of age (x = 47.3 yrs.). The Cattell 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire showed that the subjects were significantly more intelligent, imaginative, reserved, self-sufficient, sober, shy, and forthright than the general population. A maximal treadmill test revealed the men to be well above the mean for their age in terms of cardiorespiratory fitness. The men who had run a marathon race and the 40-49-year-age group were higher in terms of fitness than nonmarathoners and the 50-59-age groups, but the groups differed very little from each other on personality characteristics. Middle-aged runners and joggers either possess or develop high levels of self-sufficiency and imagination and tend toward introversion in their personality makeup. It is not known for sure if these factors are a result of or a casual factor in their habitual exercise pattern.

Now this is an old study, but it seems accurate enough to me. In a way, the kind of exercise a person engages in is a reflection of their personality, so this isn’t a big surprise. Introversion is often unfairly considered a negative trait(in contrast to extroversion), yet if it correlates with or somehow encourages people to be more active even if they don’t have an exercise partner, this is one big advantage of introversion.

Now if only researchers could do a study on the personality traits of jogglers. That should make for interesting reading!

Update: Last week I managed to run 40 miles, after weeks of very little mileage due to my injury. I am almost fully recovered, I feel only a little soreness toward the end of long runs. The photo above was taken during yesterday’s 14 mile, very hilly run.