Running reboot: Starting over with a 5K Challenge series

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I didn’t take any pics in the rain, so this bear on the logo will have to suffice.

There was a time when I didn’t much bother with 5Ks. But coming off a year of injuries, followed by a winter during which I essentially started working two jobs, I’ve been barely running at all. Given all my frustration, the Adams County 5K Challenge seemed like a low-pressure way to ease back into racing again. You fill out one form, write one check and suddenly you’re automatically registered for 13 races.

It remains to be seen how many I make it to, or whether I can actually get back to being competitive in my age group again. But if nothing else, I thought it would be fun to “run with the herd” again.  

As it turned out, the rainy conditions made for a pretty small group at Saturday’s Swiss Village 5K in Berne. We were so spread out, there wasn’t much opportunity to lock onto another runner’s back with my eyeballs and try to reel them in.

I was running without a watch as usual, so I had no idea what my pace was. I told myself my time didn’t matter, that I was just getting a baseline to beat next time out. As I came around the bend toward the finish, I saw that the clock read 36-something. And suddenly it seemed really important that I cross that finish line before it got to 37, because I remembered that back in 2010, when I was about ¾ of the way through my weight loss, I’d run a 5K in 36-something.

I made it, but just barely: 36:57, an 11:55 pace. Nowhere to go but up from there. Luckily I’ve got 12 more races in which to improve.

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Poop donation: The ultimate fitness status symbol?

 

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I remember being really proud of earning one of these patches back in junior high gym class. 

When I was a kid, you could earn an impressive-looking patch called the President’s Physical Fitness Award for performing well in a series of running and calisthenic challenges.

 

Decades later, those life insurance ads that offer special rates if you can run a mile in so many minutes or bike a certain number of miles per week offer a similar type of status symbol for fitness fanatics.

But these days the ultimate badge of good health may well be this: Do you have what it takes to be a poop donor?

Apparently this has been a thing for a few years now, but I’d never heard of it until the topic came up while Colleen was job shadowing a microbiologist at Manchester University a couple of weeks ago.  The students in the professor’s class had been discussing the use of fecal transplants to cure a potentially fatal bacterial infection called Clostridium difficile. This is currently the only FDA approved use of fecal transplants, but there are clinical studies all over the world investigating the procedure to treat everything from arthritis to obesity.

The fecal matter for all those procedures must be thoroughly prescreened. Your BMI matters, as does your diet. They don’t want to be injecting any bad microbes into someone’s colon. At OpenBiome, the nation’s largest supplier of frozen stool specimens for FMT, the joke is that it’s harder to pass the poop donor screening process than it is to get into MIT.

OpenBiome pays pretty well – up to $250 a week for frequent donors, though you must live near the Boston area to participate.

If FMT wins approval for treating other conditions, maybe poop donation centers will become as common as plasma donation sites. If so, they ought to give out bumper stickers. Because being that healthy – and being in a position to pass your good health on to someone else – seems like something to be truly proud of.

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Colleen in the microbiology lab at Manchester University with Professor Rachel Polando. 

 

 

 

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How TV weather man lost 110 pounds

“When you’re heavy, you just don’t realize how awful you feel.”

– Greg Shoup, WANE-TV meteorologist, on his 110-pound weight loss.

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Bob and I went to the local Soil and Water Conservation District dinner in February to hear longtime Fort Wayne TV weatherman Greg Shoup give what was purported to be a behind-the-scenes look at how the weather forecast is put together. Having spoken to him earlier for an article he was writing, Bob knew Shoup had an ulterior motive: He wanted to discuss climate change with local farmers. 

Watching Shoup in person, after having seen him on TV for nearly 30 years, I developed an ulterior motive of my own: Finding out how the heck had he lost so much weight. The guy in the body-hugging suit and the designer glasses at that dinner looked nothing like the beefy meteorologist I remembered from the tube.

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At 6’2″ and 331 pounds, the old Greg Shoup resembled a retired NFL lineman. 

Because Shoup was having some serious difficulty moving around the stage that night, I wasn’t entirely sure his weight loss wasn’t related to some kind of illness. Turns out he has congenital arthritis. But, as I discovered when I later met up with Shoup at Catalyst Fitness on Getz Road, he doesn’t let that stop him from working out every afternoon after the midday broadcast.

Shoup cut sugar and calories to lose the weight over about 14 months; the workouts came afterward, when his doctor worried he was losing muscle along with the fat.

As he tells viewers — who these days ask him about his weight loss even more than they ask him about the upcoming forecast — “There is no secret” to his success other than dedication and hard work.

Though his tastes have changed now, he still has to be pretty careful about what he eats. These days, he tries to view food purely as fuel and not get caught up in eating for pleasure or entertainment.

He’s come to love his workouts, though.

“I like to call this my ‘hour of power,'” he said. 

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Shoup follows up a cardio session on the elliptical with a series of exercises on the weight machines at Catalyst Fitness on Getz Road in Fort Wayne. 

 

To read more about Shoup’s weight loss, including a short video, check out today’s column at news-sentinel.com. To read about what Shoup told Wells County farmers about climate change, check out Bob’s story for inputfortwayne.com. And to see more about Shoup delivering the weather, go to wane.com.

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Greg Shoup answering questions after the February dinner in Bluffton where he spoke to local farmers about climate change. Amusingly, the people in this photo that ran with Bob’s article just happen to be my great uncle and aunt, Ken and Carolyne Isch.

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A run along the Charleston waterfront

Image-1 (1)Finally, after wanting to do it for two years, I got to run along the waterfront in Charleston.

Every time we’ve visited my daughter down here I think I’m going to make time to do it, but it never seems to work out. It’s a bit of a production to get downtown from her suburban apartment in Summerville, and so usually we have other plans that don’t fit well with getting sweaty and needing to change clothes. (As far as I’m concerned, touring a city by running it makes perfect sense, but I can never get anybody else on board for that.)

This weekend was perfect because it was fairly cool, around 50 degrees. We’d gone to brunch (where I had chicken and waffles for the first time), and then a funky farmer’s market featuring live music, and then just walked around the waterfront for a while, gawking at the people and the dolphins and this enormous cruise ship that was pulled up to the dock. (You can’t tell in the picture, but the people on the upper deck were up so high they were just tiny specks from our vantage point.)

I’d conveniently worn a Nike sweatsuit for the day’s activities, and when it came time to retrieve the car from Battery Park, I volunteered to run on ahead and get it to save everyone time. So it really wasn’t much of a run, only around a mile. But I enjoyed every minute of it.

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Our new Sunday workout: The ‘wall ball shuffle’

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My sister Traci saw this killer core workout at a tennis coaches’ seminar in Indianapolis a few weeks ago. Naturally she felt compelled to buy an oversized medicine ball of her own, and now our Sunday dinners at my parents’ house are invariably preceded by a couple sets of the “wall ball shuffle.”

It’s pretty simple: Basically, the person doing the workout shuffles back and forth, catching the heavy ball and tossing it back. It’s way more grueling than it appears; we set the timer for 30 seconds and we’re always glad when it goes off. The ball tosser gets fairly gassed as well, so we usually rotate through and take a turn at both spots. (To see the video version of Traci and Madison doing this workout, click here.)

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Madison rotates into the ball tosser spot and Colleen takes a turn as the “shuffler.” . 

Traci got her ball at Dick’s Sporting Goods for around $70; you can get them on Amazon in a variety of sizes and a pretty huge price range – up to 150 pounds for just under $500!

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A visit with my favorite fitness guru

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Interviewing Bonny Damocles at his home in Midland, Mich., earlier this month. On the fireplace mantel are photos of his youngest son and “guardian angel,” Arnold, who died in 1999 of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Of all the diet and fitness folks I’ve consulted in seven years of doing this blog, the one who inspires me most is an 82-year-old diabetic chess addict who’s never run a race or joined a gym.

Bonaparte C. Damocles doesn’t  own any fitness equipment, not even hand weights. He doesn’t walk or jog around his neighborhood. In fact, he rarely leaves his home.

But the man who may hold the world’s record for reversing type 2 diabetes (nearly 27 years, using only diet and exercise, no meds) believes he’s found the optimal exercise formula for human health — and it’s much simpler than most people realize.

Like Tim Ferriss, the best-selling hero of the human potential movement, Bonny experiments on himself. Though Ferriss’ ideas are more exciting, Bonny’s philosophy ultimately resonates more with me because of his focus on frugality and simplicity; you don’t need money or connections to follow his lead. After a recent visit in Midland, Mich., I came away feeling inspired on all kinds of levels – not just new ways to tweak my own diet/fitness plan, but a renewed determination to see the positive side of the most challenging situations. Because nothing I’ve had to deal with comes close to the trials this Filipino immigrant has endured throughout his life.

Bonny controls both his weight and his blood sugar by keeping one simple principle in mind: Exercise is medicine. And the right dosage for him is 15 minutes four times a day.

He used to run the stairs in his home; I’ve written before about how my attempts to replicate his workout left me gassed. He’s since discovered that simpler, easier sessions work nearly as well, so he now mixes in power walking around his house and jogging in place on a mat in his kitchen to his workout routine.

For a look at Bonny’s unique style of power walking, check out this video on the new Type 2 Diabetes Pioneer Youtube channel . And for more on Bonny’s inspirational story of overcoming challenges – from enduring starvation as a child during the Japanese occupation of Manila during World War II to coping with losing his youngest son to Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy – check out my book   Type 2 Diabetes Pioneer  ($8.78) on Amazon.

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Always re-evaluating his best practices for good health, Bonny recently took up drinking coffee for the first time in his life at age 82 because he’d read enough to finally be convinced that one cup a day provided some positive effects. At breakfast at Bob Evans, he ordered a veggie omelet and told us how his wedding to Nemia, left, was delayed by flooding in Manila on June 2, 1958, that had him taking a roundabout route to her house — only to discover that she had done the same thing trying to get to his house. They will celebrate their 60th anniversary this year.

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A VO2 Max test for mere mortals?

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Nate, a soccer player at Huntington University, gets ready to undergo a VO2 Max test in the school’s Human Performance Lab. The face mask worn during the test helps a metabolic cart assess system assess an athlete’s expelled air for oxygen consumption. At right is Dr. Fred L. Miller III, chairman of the school’s kinesiology department.

The VO2 Max test has long been associated with elite athletes – a training tool for Olympians, a way for NFL scouts to assess would-be draft picks, that type of thing.

But recently I had a chance to sit on a test in the Human Performance Lab at Huntington University for a newspaper column I was working on, and discovered it wasn’t as intimidating as you might think. Even better, the school’s kinesiology department is making the test available to the community at large for $50 – less than the entry fee to many races these days.

VO2 Max is a scientific measurement of how much oxygen your body uses at peak performance – a combination of how much blood your heart can pump to your muscles along with your muscles’ efficiency in extracting oxygen from that blood and using it for energy.

A metabolic cart system, the same type of machine hospitals use to conduct stress tests on cardiac patients, analyzes the athlete’s expelled air. It’s a much more accurate means of assessing fitness gains than comparing your performance from one race to the next, according to Fred L. Miller III, the chairman of Huntington’s kinesiology department. Whether you do 5Ks or marathons, no two courses are the same. And a change in weather can make the same course a much different experience. Whereas in the lab, Miller says, the conditions are always the same.

So, how does it work? The test I watched was done on a treadmill, starting at a comfortable jogging pace for the freshman soccer player who was being assessed and then increasing in intensity every three minutes. The test typically takes 12-15 minutes. It’s up to the athlete to decide when he or she can’t take it anymore.

Nate, the soccer player being assessed, scored 60.0 ml/kg/minute, which put him in the 99th percentile for his age and gender. While this score may impress his coach, he didn’t take the test to improve his standing on the team per se. He’s working on gaining five pounds of muscle in the offseason, and he hopes to do that while maintaining – or perhaps even improving – his VO2 Max.

The speed and intensity levels of a test vary according to the individual, of course. To see a video of Nate’s test, click here and page down to the middle of the story. If  you’re interested in scheduling a test of your own, email Dr. Miller at fmiller@huntington.edu.

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Editing inferior pizza out of my diet

 

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When I saw my husband’s tweet about this disgusting case at an Indiana Little Caesar’s last month, I wondered if I’d finally had my fill of this particular brand of budget pizza.

Just because a heroin user with open sores and hepatitis C was making food sans gloves at one Little Caesar’s doesn’t mean the same thing’s happening at our local outpost, of course. But it was yet another reminder that fast food, regardless of how much fat and calories are involved, is often made by folks who don’t care much about the cuisine they’re preparing. Given that I’m always on the lookout for motivation to improve my diet by editing out so-so food – especially if it’s of questionable nutrient value – I wondered if it was time to end my inner cheapskate’s reliance on Little Caesar’s as a weeknight convenience meal.

I wasn’t sure I could give it up, to be honest. With only four of us home for dinner these days, a $5 dinner already prepared has A LOT of appeal.

Over the past month, though, I’m at least 4-for-4 on managing to talk myself out of making a Little Caesar’s stop. And the longer I resist the impulse, the easier it is to imagine life without it.

The thing is, we already eat homemade pizza at least once a week as it is. And my whole wheat cheese pizza is only 7 of the old-fashioned Weight Watchers points for TWO slices. Given that I make the dough up ahead of time, it’s pretty close to a convenience food anyway.

At some point I decided to stick $5 in an envelope for every time I resisted the impulse to buy Little Caesar’s, and now there’s twenty bucks in that envelope. While on some level it drives my inner cheapskate nuts to know that would only buy one splurge-worthy pizza instead of four budget pizzas … I must also acknowledge that we hardly ever splurge on good pizza.

So, for the same cost as we were spending on frequent inferior pizza, we could now occasionally have splurge-worthy pizza.  Plus we’d have the added satisfaction of knowing we were supporting local businesses – who presumably pay more attention to things like intravenous drug use and open sores in the kitchen than out-of-town chain operators do.

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Versatile oatmeal breakfast cake

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This is a hearty breakfast cake you can pick up and eat. No fork needed! 

We make a lot of oatmeal at our house, which gets recycled into an oatmeal breakfast cake about once a week. If I’ve added apples or blueberries to the oatmeal, then that goes into the cake, too.

But plain old oatmeal cake is pretty tasty – enough so that, topped with my homemade caramel frosting, it makes a company-worthy dessert. Last summer I took this cake to the 4-H Foundation Bake Sale labeled as “Caramel Apple Cake.” Every piece sold.

In terms of making the cake, it really couldn’t be simpler.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Start with 2 cups cooked oatmeal in a saucepan. (The oatmeal shown below had been stored in the fridge, so it was cold and clumpy. Nothing to worry about.) Add 1 stick butter (I substitute applesauce if I have any on hand) and ½ cup each of brown sugar and white sugar, then turn burner about halfway between low and medium to melt the butter. Stir the sugars into the butter as you go, breaking up the oatmeal in the process.

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Step 3: While keeping an eye on the pot on the stove, measure out 1 ⅓ cups flour. Add 1 teaspoon soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon nutmeg. Stir dry ingredients until well mixed.

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Step 4: When butter is melted in the pot on the stove, the lumps have been stirred out of the oatmeal and the sugars have “disappeared” into the mixture, remove the pan from heat.

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Note that the cold, clumpy oatmeal we started with is getting into mixture mode even before the butter is completely melted. 

Step 5: Beat two eggs in a bowl, then add to the warm mixture once you feel confident the temperature has come down enough that the eggs won’t start cooking in the pot.

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Note: Given that I’m generally in a hurry, I often break the eggs right into the pot and beat them into the mixture. But my mom has always warned that this is a bad idea, because if there’s blood in the eggs (or anything else that looks yucky), then you’ve ruined your mixture. In more than half a century I never recalled seeing this happen – until one day a few years ago when the whole family was gathered over at my parents’ house and somebody cracked a bloody eyeball of an egg into whatever we were cooking and we had to throw the entire batch out. It made quite an impression on all of us, and so now I always remember this step (even if I occasionally choose to disregard the  warning and proceed anyway).

Step 6: When the beaten  eggs have been mixed into the warm liquid ingredients, add the dry mixture. Stir well.

Step 7: Pour into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, using a toothpick or fork to make sure the center is no longer gooey before removing from the oven.

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Cake’s done! 

Step 8: Eat!

Recipe for optional caramel frosting, if making this cake as a dessert:

(Note: This comes from p. 53 of the 1996 Wells County Extension Homemakers Cookbook, where it is attributed to a contributor named Aileen Mertz. I’ve been making it for many years as a topping for my homemade cinnamon rolls.)

½ cup butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup milk

2 cups powdered sugar

Melt butter in saucepan. Add brown sugar and boil over low heat 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk, stirring until mixture boils. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Gradually beat in powdered sugar.

 

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On giant sloths and chocolate avocado pie

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What does this scary looking 12-foot tall Ice Age creature have to do with the modern human diet?

It turns out that avocados might not have blossomed into 21st century nutritional darlings without the help of the giant sloth, which ate the fatty fruits whole, allowing the oversized pits to pass through their digestive track and get dropped in a new location to start an avocado tree.

This was just one of many fun facts we learned at the Joseph Moore Museum at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., last weekend. The museum focuses on the natural history of Indiana dating back 350 million years. Weird as it is to consider, giant sloths once roamed the Hoosier state up til about 11,000 years ago, along with mastodons, saber-toothed cats and the dire wolf – all of whose skeletons you can find on display at the museum.

The museum also contains the world’s most complete skeleton of a giant beaver, which was the size of a modern black bear. This guy was found in Randolph County, Indiana, about 60 miles south of where we live.

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Luckily for us, avocados didn’t go extinct when the ground sloths did. Humans began collecting and then cultivating what may be one of the planet’s most nutritious foods, packed with healthy fats, fiber and nearly 20 vitamins and minerals. They’re also tasty, whether eaten in salads, guac or this tasty chocolate avocado pie. (Recipe from triathlonobsession, via Gluten Free Gus.)

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Sorry for the crappy photo – this was taken several years ago with a crappy phone camera. But the pie is really very tasty, and now that I’ve been reminded of it I can’t wait to make it again soon!

Chocolate avocado pie

For crust:

8 oz. walnuts

6 oz. pitted dates

1/8 teaspoon sea salt (I used regular)

For filling:

3 avocados, peeled and cubed

½ cup agave nectar

3 Tablespoons coconut oil

1 Tablespoonvanilla extract

1½ cup cocoa powder

DIRECTIONS:

Crust

  1. Pulse the pecans, dates, and salt in a food processor until the consistency of (rolled oats).  Press firmly into the prepared pan.  Chill while you prepare the filling.

Filling:

  1. Puree the avocados, agave nectar and coconut oil, vanilla and salt in a food processor or blender until creamy.  Add a bit of water if the mixture is too thick.
  2. Add the cocoa powder and pulse to blend completely.
  3. Spoon the filling  into the prepared crust.
  4. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.  
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