My Game Changer

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Sophie shuffles across the kitchen, stepping between fresh fruit, bagels and cans of beans, all waiting to be sanitized from Covid 19. She opens up the dishwasher setting off a domino-cascade of boxes—Golden Grahams, mac and cheese, baking soda. I snort. She rolls her eyes. “You guys could at least put away the shopping before eating lunch.”

“I’m starving.” I tell her, not pointing out that she, too, could put away the groceries. “At least we put the cold stuff in the fridge.”

I’m bonking. Or since I’ve already started eating, I guess I should say I bonked.

Bonk: (verb) a condition of sudden fatigue and loss of energy which is caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles.

Recently, I remembered that I prefer to start Saturday with a run. For the past year, I put off my weekend long-run all day and wound up squeezing it in just before dinner—hours after lunch, usually fueled with Ring Dings or ice cream or hard pretzels. Then, when I got home, I ate dinner uncomfortably hot with sweat running down my spine. A couple of weeks ago, facing a ninety-five-degree scorcher, I ran first thing in the morning. Oh, right, I thought. Now I remember why I love running so much.

On a bike ride yesterday, Susan told me she planned to get out early this morning to sit. Sit? She meditates. She convenes with nature. She monitors a colony of beavers. One of the most popular attractions on the Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield is Devil’s Den. Not only was a key part of the battle fought there, but it’s one of the few places in a long, dull day of tourism where kids can actually have fun. It’s a tight cluster of rocks, perfect for an hour of scrambling. Its features include caves, stove-pipes, high drop-offs and a stream-bed loaded with snakes.

A few months ago, we noticed a beaver lodge in an out of the way section of Devil’s Den’s stream. On a couple of occasions, Susan has sat near the lodge early in the morning to keep vigil for the beavers. One time, she was successful. Her plan to sit this morning motivated me to get up early, eat a healthy, filling breakfast of oatmeal, blueberries and walnuts and catch a ride with her to the battlefield. She dropped me off at a trailhead and I jogged off, legs still sore from a brisk four-miler on Thursday night.

So that right there, Thursday night, that’s the point of this story. I run once a week. Oh sure, a few times per week, I’ll pace Susan on her neighborhood loop, but that’s two miles. It’s more relaxing than exercise. I see it as a chance to spend time together. For years, when I pushed myself on a run more than once a week, my body rebelled. My calves seized up, my knees ached, my plantar fasciitis crept back across my heels. Last week, I ran hard three times. Monday: a six-mile trail run. Thursday: that four-miles I already mentioned, and today, eight wooded trail miles at the crack of dawn. Every other day this week included a bike ride.

On February 9, I wrote Crash. And Burn, an account of the worst race I’ve ever run. It was so terrible, it took me more than a month to muster any enthusiasm to write about it. Like almost all my runs over the past year, this one hurt from the start. I arrived later than I hoped, and I ate my carefully prepared pre-race meal—pasta, sausage and Ragu. I made it the night before. Overnight, the pasta absorbed all the sauce and then dried out anyway. The fat on the sausage congealed into unappetizing greasy lumps. It was truly disgusting. Because I needed to eat something, I gutted down as much of my meal as I could. And I stood on the starting line bonking. Shaking with hunger despite my distended, stuffed belly. I might as well have eaten nothing.

I never got my nutrition regulated and I suffered the whole race. On Crash. And Burn, blogger Kate Duff wrote a comment. Watch “Game Changers” on Netflix. I haven’t looked back since I changed my diet – lighter, freer and energised are words that spring to mind. Anyway see what you think.

The Game Changers is a slickly produced documentary floating the theory that all food products originating from animals are essentially poison to your body. It makes a convincing case that the nutrition of a plant-based diet is better suited to endurance performance. I watched the video. And I was sold. I immediately decided to become a vegan. And I was a vegan for two entire days. Here’s the problem: I eat pizza no less than four times per week. Eggs at least three times. Giving up these meals would pretty much ruin my life. I already gave up alcohol, I think I’ve given up enough of the things I love in this lifetime.

I did, however, give up meat—all meat except fish and eggs (if those can be called meat), four months ago. And suddenly, over the past few weeks, I’m reaping the reward. I’m running faster and more frequently.  I’m recovering quicker. I’ve stopped walking the steep trail sections. And while I haven’t been tested yet, I guessing my cholesterol is far lower than it was. I love(d) meat. Burgers and sausage were my staples. Ribs and steak, my treats. Improving as a runner is the only reason I can imaging dropping meat. And now I’ve done it.

When I finished my run this morning, I drank some more coffee, and I slowly quit sweating. Then Susan and I went to the grocery store for our weekly shopping. By the time we got there, I was starting to bonk. As I often do on a Saturday morning shopping trip, I grabbed one of the store’s pre-made Italian hoagies for lunch. I stood there, sandwich in hand, and it hit me. I can’t eat an Italian hoagie; I don’t eat meat.

It’s going to take a while to get used to this diet change. The other day Susan asked if I wanted to go out for dinner on Father’s Day. My immediate thought was a barbecue joint for ribs. For years I scoffed at and pitied my brothers because they are both vegetarians. They both found a reason more important to them than eating meat. Now, I’m surprised to find that I have too. But I’m not surprised that the reason is running.

Photo by Ahmad on Unsplash

19 thoughts on “My Game Changer

  1. It was documentaries that made me go vegan as well. But like you, I didn’t like giving up my eggs so I just stuck with a vegetarian lifestyle. I did that for a few years and unfortunately for me, I started gaining weight and was thoroughly exhausted. I think I overtrained though. I was running 50-65 miles a week. I will eat chicken and turkey now and feel better and I am running less. I have not had a satisfying run in forever. I’m slow although I feel like I am pushing a faster pace. For the first time in forever, I have actually decided to sit out an injury. I have a piriformis issue that has really affected my stride. I made the “no running until it is healed” decision yesterday after an awful 4 miles. Maybe when I tie the running shoes on again, I’ll watch another documentary and be scared away from the horridness of meat again.

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    • Your piriformis: Are you rolling around on a tennis ball? When Susan was a massage therapist, half of her clients had piriformis issues. she always recommended that they lay flat on the floor and shove a tennis ball under there and try to find the most painful areas. I’m sure if I could get off cheese and ice cream, I could double my health benefits, but you gotta live, right?

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      • Yeah, I agree. I definitely enjoy a few treats. That was part of the problem with vegetarianism for me – 1. I am not the biggest vegetable fan. 2. I am allergic to so much – dairy, wheat, oats and even beans make me bloat. I was so limited and once I started to gain weight I ate less and ran more which didn’t help. Really, I just made a mess of things I think. I have the tennis ball and lacrosse ball to help. And sitting with my legs in a V and leaning towards my toe on my affected leg helps. I have to remind myself that I run slower in the heat as well and summer runs have always felt awful. The break may (fingers crossed) do me good!

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    • I have piriformis syndrome. Developed it a decade ago. I was fit. I was athletic. I rested. It came back. The cure: strength training with a rehab personal trainer. After two heinous bouts — lying on the floor screaming type of bouts — I did what I needed to do and haven’t looked back since (and I’ve kept up the strength training, which only began as a fix but became a fixture).

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  2. How I describe my diet is: “I don’t eat mammals.” Once a week chicken, once a week fish, still eat dairy, but my menus are what the hipsters call “vegetable forward.” Welcome to the club. (And you can still eat pizza … it is a food group, right?).

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  3. Food for thought, though I fear I enjoy bacon far too much to be this committed, athletic performance be damned…I usually avoid red meats, and avoid eating poultry/fish more than a few times a week. What about protein supplements? Do you use them in your training? Whey? Pea? I can’t stomach the vegan proteins..

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    • For the most part, if something is labeled as a performance or recovery product, I steer clear. I’m starting to rethink that. On a long run recently, the water i was drinking wasn’t satiating my thirst. My body was craving something else. finally stopped and ate a payday bar and felt better. I think I need to get some electrolytes into the mix. Bacon! Sure, why not.

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  4. Hang in there, Jeff. You can do it! Markus and I have a plant-based diet, too. It was frustrating at the start. It felt like we have no options, especially when eating out. It took a few months of adjusting, but now everything is good and we are enjoying wonderful food every day. At least you can have more meals with your brothers now, right?

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  5. So many topics in such a small space! I could comment on many. Let’s say my meals of white meat, occasional fish and vegetable are healthy. If I could avoid eating 500 Dove Promises in between, that would be good. Wish I had a beaver lodge to observe. Like your wife I find watching nature relaxing. I won’t touch the whole stressful process of Covid grocery shopping. I’m glad that running has motivated you to eat healthier.

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    • I don’t really mind doing the shopping itself, but by the time I get done, I’m really done. The chore of arriving home and sanitizing everything we just bought always puts me over the edge of frustration. My kids generally skip out on this because we shop too early to comply with their teenage sleep all morning schedule.

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  6. Good for you, Jeff! I changed my diet a little over a year ago too (eliminated sugar) and could not believe the effect it had on my running. I don’t usually eat meat but once or twice a year I do crave a burger!

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    • Do you give into those cravings? I’m thinking for myself it would be kind of nutty not too. It’s not like I gave up meat over concern for the animals. I would just take me a few days to work the ‘poisons’ out of my system. Not ready to try yet, but we’ll see.

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