Friday, April 29, 2022

Don't Say Vegan


Vegan, Vegan, Vegan!!! We went from not knowing the word, or at least not knowing how to pronounce it, to seeing it just about everywhere (menus, foods, products).  As a long-time vegan, when all that we had to eat was lettuce, bread and tofu, I'm pleased to see how far we've come in recognizing the importance of plant-based living.  However, I'm starting to feel like it may be overkill to some degree.  Although many folks appreciate veganism and some have gone so far as to embrace a vegan lifestyle, there are still those skeptics that just haven't come around yet.  I find it hilarious when I hear people say, "I've never eaten vegan food before."  I guess they've never eaten fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, potatoes, etc. lol.  Although I am unwavering in my commitment to being vegan, the choice doesn't have to be binary- vegan vs non-vegan.  Just like anything else, learning about veganism is a gradual process that I feel should NOT be rushed.  In fact, going 100% vegan for some may be a bit too extreme.  I'm just happy if people can make an effort to be more plant based.  Any effort is better than no effort at all.  That being said, we must be careful not to shove it in people's faces, as it can be very off putting, to say the least.  In all my years, I have always been conscientious of not judging or lecturing people or making them feel guilty for their dietary choices.  On the flip side, as many of you know from past posts, I have been teased, bullied and ridiculed for my cruelty-free choices.  I have always taken the high road, choosing to lead by example. 

     In my experience as a vegan living in mainstream society (should anyone in the restaurant business read this post), LESS IS MORE!  Rather than labeling particular items, have a small V/VA/VO label/symbol (vegan available/vegan optional) so that vegans/vegetarians can quickly scroll down to them.  Many dishes happen to be naturally vegan, so when a non-vegan comes across them, they may order a particular item without even thinking whether it's vegan or not.  I know that my dad is terrified of foods boldly labeled "vegan," even if he loves all the ingredients.  I can guarantee you that his eyes will skip right over an item if it's labeled "vegan."  However, vegans can recognize that something is vegan without the labels.  If the abbreviations appear, then it reassures us that it's "safe."  If you are a vegan like me, you will just simply just ask before ordering for clarification.  Vegans know how to study the menu, ask questions and make informed decisions on their own.  Many menu items that aren't labeled at all can actually be "veganized," so just to be sure, ask your server is it's possible.  Another piece of advice I would offer is to POLITELY request that your server ask the kitchen staff for confirmation that an item is indeed vegan, should the server not be sure.  Servers aim to please, usually, and want to make the customer happy. They also enjoy learning something new so that they can be prepared for the next vegan patron. Sometimes I get lazy or careless (vegan burnout) and quickly order something without further "investigation."  It never gets old when a server lets me know that the fryer isn't dedicated or that the dressing has honey/dairy in it, when I make it known that I'm vegan.  Much appreciated!!!

     We recently went to visit our children who live in Tennessee.  We went to a breakfast place called Milk & Honey in Chattanooga, which was very vegan friendly.  The menu had a small VO label on several items so, of course, I was thrilled and even had a hard time deciding.  When we were looking at the porridge bowl, it was labeled VO but as we read the description, every ingredient was vegan.  The server confirmed that the item was vegan but rather than the big in-your-face VEGAN word, which could steer folks clear, they added a very subtle VO, as they did with several other items.  It was then that I realized how clever that was to have a little label/symbol next to an item that most customers won't notice but those who prefer vegan/vegetarian foods will understand and appreciate :) I would be remiss if I didn't mention the restaurant "Cashew," also in Chattanooga and 100% plant based, so...NO LABELS NEEDED (except gluten/nut free lol)!! It's complete nirvana when we find a vegan-dedicated cafe/restaurant where the only thing we have to worry about is having to choose from a plethora of delicious options as well as saving room for dessert!!

     The word "vegan" is on its way to being a household name.  In a perfect world, everything would be plant based and cruelty free where we can do away with labels altogether!  It's remarkable to see just how many vegan-dedicated restaurants are popping up all around us. They are still few and far between so in the meantime, let's just celebrate how easy it is to find mainstream restaurants that can accommodate us with a variety of noteworthy vegan options! Don't SAY vegan...just do it!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

CAUTHION: Products May Appear More Vegan Than They Are!

I don't know about you but I can definitely say that I have officially arrived at label fatigue!!!  Upon entering the world of veganism decades ago (I just aged myself lol) I began participating in the daunting task of reading and interpreting labels on consumer products to ensure all ingredients were devoid of animal products, meaning they were cruelty free (not necessary plant based).  I have watched over the years how society as a whole has come to accept vegans into mainstream society, with new products popping up at markets on the daily. In addition, plant-based menu options are becoming readily available at fast-casual eateries as well as even the most unlikely of restaurants.  Vegan-dedicated joints are also sprouting up more and more.  I can honestly say I am thrilled to see this happening today, since I was teased and made to feel like a freak or outcast more times than I care to remember over the years.  Veganism is so familiar now that I have become somewhat lax about grocery shopping, assuming at first glance that many products are vegan when in fact, they actually contain some kind of unsuspecting animal product (grrrr).  With so many tasty and satisfying foods being plant-based and/or cruelty free (including SOME vegan cheeses), it begs the question, WHY???  WHY must I discover animal products in my otherwise vegan products and WHY must I always have to read the fine print (I often forget my glasses)???  I'm fortunate that I don't have any allergies so if I am careless and don't bother reading packages, labels or ingredients, should I consume honey, milk, whey protein, eggs or even dehydrated chicken, it wouldn't result in anything life threatening, just feeling like an idiot!  My advice to you would be not to become complacent.  Don't be lured by the flashy packaging or plant-friendly words. For the most part, products mean what they say.  To be certain, trust but verify.  Skip down to the line following the ingredients where it says "contains" or "may contain traces of...". Take a few minutes and make sure you have your reading glasses on you and do your due diligence... for the sake of the animals!!! Fortunately, there are plenty of 100% vegan alternatives to choose from where you don't have to settle for those products from companies that just couldn't help themselves. Should you care to take it one step further, feel free to contact such companies to "plant" the idea of substituting plant-based alternatives in place of their current animal ones. You'd be surprised...many folks either just don't know or don't exactly have faith in the integrity of vegan ingredients. I would venture to say they may be willing to try.  It's worth a shot...we can't give up in our quest to become a cruelty-free society.

Here are just some examples of some products I "fell" for which contain animal ingredients.  Please feel free to comment below to add to this list. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Is There Butter in My Quinoa???

     Oops, they did it again!!! They just couldn't help themselves! Throwing animal products in purely plant foods seems to be the trend lately that chefs/food preppers have a hard time veering from.  The good news is that if you are anything like me, your taste buds have become so refined that you can detect hidden animal products such as butter, chicken broth or beef stock upon first bite!!!  Many chefs are under the false notion that adding such animal ingredients enhances the flavor of vegetables, grains, soups, etc..   I personally feel that this mindset has the opposite effect- those ingredients actually take away from the unique flavors and subtle nuances that plant foods have to offer.  In my opinion, many food prep peeps lack either creativity, experience or self confidence when presented with the challenge of preparing flavorful and artful cuisine when they resort to using animal products in the process.  In other's a cop out!!!
     I won't soon forget my recent experience at an upscale coffee shop/grill in our very own neighborhood.  I was so excited to try a protein bowl made with quinoa and vegetables.  Naturally, I asked them to omit the feta cheese as well as the egg on top (feta/eggs seem to be on everything from quinoa bowls to salads and avocado toast).  When I then asked if I could customize my bowl, the employee was happy to accommodate me.  I don't always like to identify myself as a "vegan" but rather request that my order be made with no animal products used due to allergies to ensure those ingredients are left out.  I added avocado, lettuce and pumpkin seeds and almonds to my bowl without a fuss.  As my family and I awaited our brunch items (I'm the only vegan), my bowl finally arrived and looked scrumptious.  As everyone dug in with glee, I quickly realized after I took a giant spoonful that my quinoa had been adulterated with butter and I honestly didn't know what to do.  As to not gross everyone out, I gulped it down and called the waitress over.  Luckily, I really don't have any food allergies so non-vegan ingredients won't kill me lol.  I didn't want to draw attention to myself (which is typically unavoidable by merely being vegan)  and simply asked that she speak with the kitchen to see if butter was added to my dish.  Much to my dismay, it was and there I was again...finding myself having to send my dish back and wait for them to prepare it correctly WITHOUT animal products grrrr…..
     By the time I got my newly-prepared bowl, my company had finished their meals and I was left to finish up while everyone watched.  What a drastic improvement on taste- the natural nutty flavor of quinoa shone through to my delight!!  I didn't need to say anything- it was apparent that I had my very own happy meal!!! I'm that kind of vegan that prefers to be subtle and never draw attention to myself.  If you've read any of my other blogs, you will know that I aspire to inspire by example and not my preaching.  As with anything else, like religion and politics, no one wants to be told what to do or how to conduct their lives and by doing so, you will only turn people off.  I just want to live my life, plant based and cruelty free and it should be no one's business or issue.  How hard can it be to leave off animal products from foods from nature?  Apparently, VERY!!!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Cheese Louise!!!

     When looking for plant-based options whether dining out or shopping for prepared foods, what is the deal with cheese on just about um, let's see...EVERYTHING??? I get it...we have been brainwashed to believe that cheese is delicious and we can't live without it!  After all, it's rich, creamy, salty, hearty, substantial, flavorful, gooey, meltable, versatile and the list goes on and on.  We have, in essence, created a society of serious cheese dependency!!!   But, as we all know, it's also high in fat and cholesterol not to mention it is derived from an animal!!! Overwhelming cheese consumption definitely contributes to the increase in obesity and heart disease, among other diseases within our population. I totally understand that the struggle to give it up altogether is real when transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle. For me personally, it wasn't that difficult to give it up in my quest to be healthy and cruelty free.  Once I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan, I noticed that food began to taste better!! Much to my chagrin, after many years of being a mainstream vegan, I just can't seem to get away from random cheese that seems to be thrown into otherwise perfectly balanced plant-based meals at just about every freaking food joint for no good reason at all!!!  Chefs, cooks and food preparers continually fall short.  They can't seem to help themselves when it comes to creating and serving healthy, nutritionally complete meals sans animal products.  It's as if they feel like something is missing..."oh yeah, let's throw some cheese on it..yeah!  Now we're talking!!" They recognize the call to include healthier, veg-friendly options but their brains won't allow them so accept something unfamiliar or foreign.  Somehow they are not convinced that there is enough protein or that something is still missing. Cheese seems to bring it all home for those who don't really get it.  " THAT makes sense."
     The common misconception, as we all know by now, is that vegans don't get enough protein (where do you get your protein from- ugh!!!) So I suppose to non-vegans, the answer would be cheese so why not throw it on anything and everything whether it's healthy or junky.  The biggest problem for me besides the obvious one is that rather than enhancing dishes, cheese takes away from the subtle nuances that plant-based ingredients have to offer.  It's like taking fresh, innovative ingredients from nature and completely adulterating them.   This cheese culture, if you will, seems to be getting stronger and we must band together from near and far to convince chefs from around the world that cheese is not needed on plant foods!!!  In all fairness, I must say that I have encountered quite a few places both locally and during travel where chefs have been enlightened and do go that extra mile to accommodate vegan patrons far beyond a basic salad or quinoa bowl.  Some even take the time to make substantial house-made vegan burgers but "shocker" they might slap a slice of real cheese on it or even worse...throw it on a non-vegan bun!

     One trendy appetizer which falls victim to cheese invasion is avocado toast.  From local coffee shops and bistros to chain restaurants, it seems they all have their own version of these delightful little morsels and if we're lucky, they consist of a slice of toasted French baguette with lightly mashed ripe avocado, basil or arugula, heirloom tomatoes and perhaps a drizzle of olive oil or balsamic glaze.  But, don't be surprised if some random cheese is thrown on like feta or parmesan which only takes away from the sweet and creamy avocado.  Kinda makes you think...what are they trying to hide?  Most food servers are happy to leave the cheese off.  This one local coffee shop owner who serves this item with mozzarella cheese on top recently told me that many customers ask him to leave the cheese off.  When I asked him why he uses it in the first place, he couldn't even give me a reasonable explanation.  That's because there is none!!!

     By now we are all aware of quinoa its many benefits so it's no wonder we are starting to see quinoa bowls pop up on menus with lots of veggie toppings, guessed it... CHEESE!!!  Ugh!!  At least it's not chicken (although there are plenty of those around)!!! How silly, when you think about it, when food preps create a beautiful bowl with bountiful veggies, fruit, nuts and legumes only to be corrupted by a pedestrian mainstream ingredient (this time it's from a goat) which adds zero nutritional value to an otherwise complete protein meal (quinoa alone contains all 9 amino acids). I give Wawa a lot of credit for preparing many different salads and bowls to go but unfortunately, the one I want has one ingredient too much.  Same goes for the red quinoa bowl from Yard House with feta thrown in the mix.  Oh the humanity!!!

     Being vegan doesn't always mean always eating healthy.  Sure, we are more evolved than most but we are still human and can enjoy a little splurge from time to time, especially if we are athletic or very active.  By default, many junk foods just happen to be vegan like French fries and tater tots, that is, if they are cooked in a dedicated vegetable oil fryer.  Truffle fries/tots are all the rage these days but wouldn't you know, they are typically topped with parmesan cheese shreds which personally, I think add absolutely nothing to the spuds!!!  If you start with good ingredients like fresh potatoes topped with quality truffle oil, there's no need for cheese!!!  Perhaps a sprinkle of chopped parsley and maybe a little roasted minced garlic is really all you need.  I get it...truffle fries are a departure from the old cheese fries with processed Velveeta sauce but it sure would be nice to exclude cheese altogether!  If one must have a dusting or sprinkling of a cheese-like substance to feel complete then luckily, Follow Your Heart makes vegan parmesan style shreds.  For the love of fries around the world, let's all see if we can school the chefs to look into keeping this viable product on hand.  I doubt anyone would know the difference!

     As I wrap this baby up, I don't want readers to think that I'm bitter or hostile in any way.  I believe my non-vegan counterparts (just about everyone in my life btw) and I can coexist peacefully. I suppose I'm simply frustrated that just when I think we have made some serious progress in our quest for society to adopt a more plant-based lifestyle, I feel that meat-eaters are here to stay.  Fine... let them have their meat!  But for goodness sake, just don't taint our glorious plant foods with animal products.  In all fairness, many chefs have indeed come a long way in discovering new ways to prepare vegan dishes to appeal not just to vegans.  However, they seem to hesitate in allowing themselves to coax the naturally occurring subtle nuances found in those treasured gems courtesy mother nature. As a group, we need to continue our work within the mainstream restaurant setting to ensure we have plenty of vegan options wherever we choose to dine. I dream of the day when I can simply glance at a menu filled with healthy choices without having to always scream on the inside...CHEESE LOUISE!!!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Is it Me or is it Just Meat???

     If you are a mainstream vegan like me, then I'm sure you have faced similar situations where you are dining out with family/friends at a typical restaurant with some vegan options and you have everyone ordering a VERY meaty dish because they really want it or are they doing it just to spite you???  You might say I'm being a bit paranoid but I swear that sometimes the folks around me are deliberately ordering the meatiest dish they can find just to get a reaction from me.  Mind you, I'm not one of those outspoken, bordering on obnoxious vegans always preaching or lecturing everyone about the health risks involving red meat.  I almost NEVER extoll the virtues of a plant-based diet or remind everyone of the recent report from the World Health Organization linking red meat to cancer.  In fact, I consider myself the easiest going vegan I know!!!  I usually just go with the flow, not asking for much, happy to be in good company, hoping to find a healthy, hearty plant-based option and a nice IPA on draft or a cool and refreshing lo cal cocktail to wash it down with.  I try to stay low key and not make a big deal about the menu options (or lack thereof) or brag about the meal I choose to order.  Even when they get my order wrong, which is almost always, I try not to make it an issue!  I even go so far as to inconspicuously tell my food server that I am lactose intolerant or have specific food allergies instead of declaring myself VEGAN!  SO... why is it that those around me feel the need to turn a fun, casual get-together into a meat-centric lesson.  With so many healthier alternatives that aren't vegan/vegetarian, like fish, shellfish or even chicken breast, I have noticed that my dining companions are so obvious and go right in for the kill by choosing dishes like a huge rack of ribs or lamb, steak salad (OMG, the irony) or a gigantic rib eye!  

     Two of my three kids thoroughly enjoy red meat but I know that they do not intentionally try to get a rise out of me when we go out to eat.  It's not their fault that they have been brainwashed by the industry's false advertising as well as their crafty, manipulative way of convincing everyone that animal flesh is delicious. My kids also feel very comfortable being themselves around me without worrying about me judging them.  I do hope one day my healthy choices will rub off on them but my choice to go vegan was my own and imposing my views on them would only backfire, I'm sure. 
     When it comes to my domestic partner's adult children, however, who we visit with from time to time, I get the feeling that their intentions are different but again, I may just be imagining it.  When I observe the abundantly meaty options they choose, at every meal, no less, I cannot help but feel they are doing it to make me squirm. On top of that, the subject always turns to meat with a reference to an old family animal flesh recipe guaranteed to be thrown into the mix.  They are just waiting for my head to explode.  When I address this with my partner, he insists that the only reason they are ordering the meatiest, most expensive dishes is because he is paying!  I would bet that he's right (he always is lol). It's just that when I am with educated folks, their behavior always surprises me as we continue to learn more and more about the never-ending benefits of a plant-based diet and all the health risks involved with animal products from heart disease, cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, not to mention cruelty to animals as well as the direct impact on global warming.
     So when I say it's me, my partner says it's just meat.  He tries to convince me that meat is a treat. Whatever the case may be, I will simply try and keep my cool, no matter what my dining companions directly or indirectly throw at me.  Being the butt of vegan jokes has become so old and tired, am I right???  I have evolved and it's only a matter of time before everyone else does too.  I know that's wishful thinking but I'm not giving up.  At least the word "vegan" is being thrown around a lot more, with vegan options becoming more available in mainstream restaurants not to mention dedicated vegan restaurants popping up in major cities.   Perhaps there will come a time when the world is mostly plant based with the exception of that one unenlightened, unevolved odd ball here and there asking if there are any meat options available.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Clean Running- A Survival Kit

     Greetings fellow VeGALs and fans!  Every summer I swear it's the hottest one ever and that's when I swear off fall marathon training for good...that is, until the next year.  So here I am, regretfully having kick started my training for a series of fall marathons once again.  I swear I must be a glutton for punishment but what choice do I have? The fact is, as brutal and punishing as the months can be leading up to a busy race schedule, if I didn't have anything on the calendar, I fear I would turn into a fat blob!  Let's not forget how yummy and potentially fattening plant-based foods/alcohol can be.  As a vegan foodie, there is no way I could ever "swear off" plant-based cuisine despite any decrease in physical activity.  Thus, the dreaded fall marathon training is a must.  As a "survival kit" of sorts, I have come up with a phrase I refer to as "clean running," a method I believe all runners, not just VeGALs, should adopt to ease the transition and help combat the harsh elements associated with the summer months leading up to our wonderful and rewarding fall events.
     Clean running starts from the inside out, from head to toe, from your nutrition to your outerwear, from how you look to how you sound as well as how you carry yourself.  Clean running means going that extra mile to represent runners in a most positive light.  It means inspiring others to do the same. Clean running doesn't necessarily mean you will magically feel better while training in the extreme heat and humidity but it can mean the difference between challenging vs. disaster.  Clean running is a state of mind which leads to an awesome state of body.  As I have quoted in the past..."To look good is to feel good and you look mahvelous!"
     Let's start from within and address nutrition.  When you think of clean, think of clean-burning fuel, and by that I mean whole foods, plant-based as much as possible! How can anything else be "clean" if it is derived from animal sources??? As we all have learned by now, digesting animal products can be very taxing on our organs, possibly leading to disease and/or medical complications.  With such a wealth of plant-based pre/during/post workout energy drinks, gels and snacks, why try anything else? May I suggest Vega Sport, Genuine Health Vegan Proteins/ActivFuel+, Sun Warrior, Nuun, coconut water, Fuel 100 Electro-bites, Pro Bar Bolt, Gu, Cliff Shots and Gels, Hammer Gel, Pocket Fuel, Salt Sticks/S-Caps and Drip Drop. Wow...that's a lot!!!  Even if you're not completely plant-based, why not use natural fuel sources for increased bioavailibilty/digestibility rather than animal-based/artificial counterparts? Clean products help you to maximize efficiency, aid in recovery and reduce fatigue after a long hot run! Better for you, the enviroment AND the animals!!!  If you typically run with a water bottle, especially in hotter months, why not make it a reusable handheld one that is contoured to fit comfortably in your palm, as an extension of you. Ones by Amphipod and Nathan are both affordable and ergonomic, with pockets provided for your Nuun tablets, gels, money, keys or even your cel phone.  
     Next up...hygiene.  Just because you look like you just stepped out of the shower after less than a mile into your run doesn't mean you shouldn't be clean before heading out.  I don't mean shower right before, but do a quick rinse the late afternoon or night before so you are still basically fresh prior to hitting the stifling, pea soup air.  Note that showering/bathing too often can deplete the skin of natural oils as well as good bacteria. Being clean does NOT mean dousing yourself with perfume or cologne to mask your natural scent.  Perfume can be offensive, even suffocating, especially if you are running with others. Clean running means being considerate of others. Clean means just that...CLEAN, from skin, to hair and body parts so that when you do start to sweat, you might stink a little bit but you won't reek.  Hairy armpits...gross! More hair equals more trouble! Truth be told, I struggle with mainstream anti-persperants/deoderants vs the healthy, natural ones...the latter never seem to work for me, especially with the amount I sweat and the region where I reside (I'm a "schvitzer" from way back).  I'm willing to risk my health a bit for the sake of humanity!  Hairy legs, not cool...ever (unless you are a Ve-dude)!  As for the hair on your head, a little dirt doesn't hurt and is actually beneficial (overwashing can be damaging) for a run as long as it doesn't smell nasty...just dab a little conditioner or leave-in product with SPF and neatly tie it back before heading out the door. And don't forget your hat and sunglasses, not to mentiion the waterproof/sweatproof sunblock if the sun is unavoidable, for added protection.  I recommend natural, cruelty-free products from companies like Kiss My Face, Jason or Alba Botanika.
     The clothes make the girl, right?  I don't mean the fancier/pricier the better but rather the cleaner, neater and matching the better!  Whether running alone or with a group, once you put on fresh, clean, comfortable technical apparel, you are already one step ahead of the game.  Clean running means clean lines and sleek designs, paving the way to streamline running.  The better the fit, the better your performance.  In addition... the more you cover, the less problems you will have in terms of sun damage, dehydration and chafing. Running with just a job bra and shorts for VeGALs and shirtless for Ve-dudes is not advisable on long runs since it can lead to overexposure to the elements.  Lightweight, dry-fit clothing can keep you cooler and dryer rather than running essentially "naked. " Ill-fitting clothes, either too snug or too loose, can lead to added chafing.  And speaking of chafing...If you struggle with this issue, why not give Uberlube (found online on Amazon or Walgreens) a try?  This silky, non-greasy, odorless, scentless and tasteless product is all the rage!  It's made with friendly, inert ingredients.  This quality lubricant can also be used for other creative activities, wink wink.  What a great investment
     It's true that running apparel can be very costly but as long as you wash them with naturally-sourced, biodegradeable detergents like Method or Seventh Generation and avoid the dryer, your hallowed running clothes will last through several seasons.  Before throwing out a very stinky, expensive running bra, try adding distilled vinegar to the rinse cycle.  I recommend shopping online at Oiselle or Lululemon in the sale or "we made too much" section for your running apparel.  Road Runner Sports (RRS) also has a wide variety to fit your needs with great VIP discounts and sales. Once you know your size, who cares if you buy last season's stuff at half price! I like to buy Moving Comfort's running skorts made with recycled water bottles and coffee grounds at RRS.  I also like the durability as well as the selection that Brooks has to offer.  On very long runs, you may wish to pack a clean outfit/fresh shoes to change into midway through your run to avoid the inevitable stinkage (which could ultimately get you kicked out of your local running club) or serious chafing (which gives way to screaming in the shower once the hot water hits your burned flesh- OUCH!).
     We've covered head so let's jump down to toes...running shoes, that is!  The rule of thumb is to change your shoes every 3 months or so, depending on your mileage.  Wearing nasty old running shoes is not only a turn off but can be associated with several types of running injuries if the soles are worn down too much.  You may wish to alternate shoes, depending on the type of workout, to extend the life of your fave pair.  BOGOs can be available either online or at your local store so stock up whenever possible!  Your shoes may not be worn out just yet but they can still stink to high heaven in which case I suggest tossing them in a delicate wash cycle and letting them air dry.  A trick my running partner suggests is after a hot and sweaty run when your shoes are water-logged, try stuffing them with newspapers and storing them in a cool, dry place for a day or two.  Carry a pair of flip flops to change into immediately after your run to air out your shoes as well as your stinky feet.  If all else fails, there's always Febreeze!!!  
     Another aspect of clean running beyond your nutrition and overall appearance is your voice!  If you are running with others, make sure to keep your volume down to avoid distracting others as well as annoying neighbors in nearby residential areas. In addition, be careful of content and try to avoid adult or awkward topics that may make random passers by uncomfortable.  Watch out for language that may be inappropriate for younger runners, especially during family-oriented race events.  Control sudden outburts of laughter or swear words, if you can.  To that end, if you listen to music and like to sing along, be mindful of the volume...if the music is too loud, then your voice will automatically be too loud. Rule of should be kept at a soft enough volume so that you can still have a conversation as well as hear ambient noise (safety first). The newest annoyance out there is cel phone music playlists on speaker, especially at races.  Ughhh...that's so rude! YOUR taste is NOT MY TASTE and I DON'T want to hear your crappy music!!! I'm not trying to take all the fun out of running (if you know me then you know my fowl mouth lol).  I am merely suggesting that you show some tact and decorum out there (I should take my own advice). Others may not, but you will be proud of yourself when you show some class while you kick some ass!!!
     And finally, there's running style to address, which is essentially, how you put everything together to make yourself a clean, mean running machine!!! Of course, running is a very individual sport, but there are some common characteristics/principles that runners try to adopt such as good posture, form and stride.  As much as we strive to be as efficient as possible, we cannot help but incorporate our own natural style into every step we take, thus making us a little more prone to injury. As long as it works for you then don't worry about fixing it.  However, there are those instances where a runner should question their gait at which point, their running economy may be compromised. My biggest pet peeve on the road is hearing a fellow runner scrape or "shuffle" one or both feet.  The occasional scrape is okay- I even do it from time to time, kind of like a wake up call to switch gears or step it up.  But there are those runners out there who desperately need to listen to their own sound and re-adjust their gait, if applicable.  Clean running means QUIET running, not scraping your feet like nails on a chalk board!!!  Clean running means being able to sneak up on runners ahead of you who never heard you coming!  That's always fun.  My running partner and I like to amuse ourselves and rate runners passing by in terms of degree of shuffling on a scale from 1 to 10.  Sounds a bit childish bordering on cruel, I know.  But all that noise can really be bothersome to us, especially when we are trying to escape, clear our heads and relax on the road. If you think you might be a shuffler then ask yourself if your shoes are right for you.  Perhaps you are a heel striker and those big clunky heel to to drop shoes aren't ideal for you. Shoes with more fore/midfoot support may help you to get off those heels. Maybe you are leaning too much to one side.  I'm not exactly sure what causes the shuffling, I do NOT claim to be an expert.  But common sense tells me that if you are making lots of noise while running, then something might be wrong. Landing too hard is another pet peeve of mine.  Think of being light on your feet, like floating through the air, to reduce all the extra pounding/wear and tear. Maybe you need more cushioning, or perhaps less. I recommend looking into a Chi Running course which can help tweak your form, reduce injury and maximize your running efficiency. Clean running also means arms are comfortably by your side, loose and relaxed, not flailing.  You certainly don't want to wack someone as you pass them!  Or do you? (I feel like that sometimes lol) Keeping your head slightly lowered while bringing your arms in and keeping them close to your body makes you a more aerodynamic runner, enabling you to move through the thick, hummus-like air with ease (just keep telling yourself that).
      So there you have it...your survival kit to becoming a clean runner!  Pretty simple, huh?  Clean running is just the survival kit you need to get through the summer and achive success throughout the year. If you can put all the pieces together as you put yourself out there, you will represent all runners in a very positive light, which will hopefully inspire both new and existing runners to do the same, giving way to a more courteous and respectful running community overall.  To sum it up, clean running is how you prepare as well as present yourself as a runner, from head to toe, from the inside out, from how your move through space and how you win the race!  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Dreaded DNF

     Long time no see, VeGAL.  Wasn't feeling inspired there for a while. Still not too enthusiastic at the moment but starting to turn the corner.  Rather than write about a fantastic race event, where everything seemed to go just right, I've decided to share a bad, if not deeply sad moment in time with my readers to let 'yall know that not every race goes as planned...not even close!!! From elite athletes to the novice participant, a DNF, aka Did Not Finish, can strike at any time!  It's something we fear, an occurrence we dread, and most definitely try to avoid at all costs!  But should it happen, go with it, deal with it and be done with it!!! I am struggling to take my own advice so please bear with me as I take this cathartic journey in accepting my first DNF which took place down in the Florida Keys last Saturday at the Keys100 50k race.
     As many of you know, I ran the Keys 50-miler last year, and things went better than planned!!!  In fact, my finishing time far exceeded my expectations due to the unseasonable cool front that blew in the day before, leaving the air a little cooler and dryer.  Don't get me wrong, it was very tough but looking back, especially today, I would do it all over again.  In fact, I had wanted to do the Keys 100-miler in the forseeable future but due to time constraints as well as my running partner's busy work schedule, I thought it best to delay it for a few years.  So when I casually mentioned to my partner that the race had added a 50k event, he was all over it and signed us up straight away.  I was less than excited to learn that the race was to start at 1 pm, the hottest time of the day, in the middle of May, not less.  Realizing that that cool front last year was a freak thing, I was pretty damn sure it wouldn't happen again. And...indeed it didn't!!!
     Thinking that doing a race in Key West would be a nice little excursion, an excuse to get away, my partner insisted we go but in all honesty, I truly believe he was looking to prove something to himself, perhaps some redemption from a previous 50k race that turned out to be very physically challenging to him as he suffered extreme nausea.  I totally get that...we all want that second (or third ) chance, especialy ultra runners who by our very nature, tend to be a "bit" OCD, haha.  So I obliged him and off we went to conquer the Keys, minus any miraculous cool front. Tried as I might to be optimistic, I remained apprehensive about the 50k, right up until we toed the line. From the start, the heat was oppressive, where I could hardly catch my breath.  It's as if the gates of hell opened up and said "come on in?" And to make matterts worse, a side cramp kicked in to boot, ugh.  My partner, on the other hand, was ready and eager to beat the odds!  In fact, I could barely keep up with him!  So we forged ahead, trying to stay cool and steady.  Nutritionally speaking, I stayed true to my vegan regimen, although not all my fuel would be considered "healthy"...Vega Sport Pre-workout drink, Salt Stick caps, Fuel 100 Electro-bites, Drip Drop powder, pretzels, Fritos and ginger ale...not too much at one time.  I always say, "less is more."  My partner, who vowed not to overload on sugar this time as it apprears to be his nauseau trigger, ended up overdosing on Drip Drop, not realizing it contained high amounts of sugar, unbeknownst to him.  In addition, he took in 1 1/2 Hammer Gels (without me looking) and I remember cramming ginger ale down his throat, and the combo ultimately created this sugary tornado that just sat in his belly, wreaking havoc on his system...once again!  Not even Baby's famous coffee could do the trick!
     Rather than bore you with the details of our dramatic 6-hour trek down US1 in the blistering heat and unrelenting sun, I will skip to the part where we came to our decision at mile 25 of 31.07 to throw in the towel.  I will say that along the way, it was very traumtic for me, watching him struggle to walk, nevermind run.  I almost resented him for holding us back. It looked as though at any moment, he could pass out.  That said, when we approached the race marshall who had no ice, but only warm water and Mountain Dew, with a mile to go to reach the ice station, my partner dropped out.  I actually thought he was gonna drop dead.  He insisted I keep going the 6 more miles needed to finish (together, it would've taken us at least another 2 hours) and truth be told, I considered it.  I tought we had come way too far to quit now and I didn't want to face an imminent DNF.  I wanted to cross the finish line and get my medal! How selfish of me, right?  But then seeing him start to hurl then spread himself out on the concrete. my heart sank with fear which was quickly replaced with love.  It was in that instant that (as I approach mid-life in a few years) I grew up a lot!!!  So we carefully placed my partner in the passenger seat with the air conditioning on him full blast. Not exactly in the mood for celebrating, I asked to be dropped off at the hotel, but my partner agreed with the race marshal that we should go back to the finish line and enjoy a cold beer.
     As we took our walk of shame and dropped our timing chips in the bucket, we were mindful not to go anywhere near the finish mat. I watched in dismay as my fellow 50k peeps, along with some 50-milers and relay runners crossed the line and got their medals.  Just then, I decided to drown in my sorrows with the light and watery beer offerings and stuff my face with the veggie burgers, only to find out after one bite that they were Morningstar...NOT vegan!   I began to sob inconsolably. A dear friend of ours, who just happened to win the 100-mile relay event with his team and set a new course record, caught me crying like a baby, rolled his eyes and handed us an IPA to share.  Whether is was vegan or not...who the hell cares!!!  
     We eventually made it back to our hotel and I was completely spent both physically as well as emotionally.  I just wanted to curl up in bed and go to sleep and put an end to the miserable day once and for all.  I stopped taking anymore photos for the rest of our trip as my spirits remained rather low.  My partner insisted we go out for dinner on famous Duval St. that night since we were still in fabulous Key West. quickly my partner recovered!!!  I regrouped and we found Willy T's, where they offered a b vegan burger and fries.  Perhaps it was me but I didn't find my beloved post-race reward staple very rewarding at all.  I would've much preferred a huge bucket of Five Guys french fries (nearby) in bed with a good movie. Oh well.  It seems I wasn't exactly getting what I wanted that weekend. No biggie.  What was big was seeing our sweet and passionate ultra running friend DB, the oldest runner in the race, 2 miles before he completed the 100-miler 32 1/2 hours later! What an inspiration, a true hero! 

    Well, as I near the end of this blog, I can say with all honesty that I accept my DNF as a right of passage and I wear it with pride, like a badge of honor, better than any race hardware (NOT!). Gives me an idea of how some 100-mile runners feel after they are forced to drop out of a race by either missing their cut off time or from sheer exhaustion/fatigue.  No applause, no medal/buckle, no praise from their running club, even though they have probably run 70-80 miles that day, more than most in a month!  Both my partner and I retraced our steps to see what we (he) could've done differently and for starters, we would NEVER choose a 50k race that starts at 1 pm in the deadly heat!  As far as nutrition, I think my partner has it all figured out (hopefully).  So we will forge ahead, thinking of our next distance race and how great it will be, no matter what, as long as we are together.  Oops, I more picture that I couldn't help taking as we pulled away from a famous local key lime pie shop parking lot...
I'm sure they weren't as slow as us at the race :)))

Gotta Run!  VeGAL Andee