What a Crap Summer!

It has been an awful summer and I have not posted for a few months. I have still been busy but blogging has taken a back seat due to the summer holidays (four children at home – I defy anyone to find time, energy or the inclination to post) and yet again being unwell. I have had rotten luck with my health this year. I guess that is all a product of approaching forty? I cannot be certain as I have never been forty before.

What have I been doing

The running has dropped off the radar as I have had to combine my work day with the children with my exercise, meaning that I have mostly been walking and cycling. Project Lake District has taken a back seat, because our last trip out was to Grasmere, and on that day we had a blowout on the motorway with no spare tyre, and since then nigh on every weekend has either seen somebody in the house being sick or, worse than that, rain. As I said in the title of this post: what a crap summer!

I have also added the gym to my routine. I have to be honest straight out of the gate and say that I hate gyms. I mean, I REALLY hate them. I hate the places, I hate the routine and I hate the more annoying people one finds there, but I have resolved to dscipline myself to do it because lifting weights is so beneficial for men of my age that is crazy not to do so. That being said it will still be difficult to cope with the panheads found at any gym, and I have catalogued them below, purely to summarise my annoyance, so forgive my indulgence, but here are the people I hate at the gym, and whom I wish that I could kill with hate lasers fired from my eyes:

  1. The man who deliberately drops his weights as loudly as possible
  2. The man who roars as loudly as possible with every rep
  3. The man who does not put weights away
  4. The man who talks to me (at all)
  5. The man who chats up women who just want to exercise

This list is not exhaustive. Number five is the worst since I get angry on her behalf, but getting involved is unwise unless it graduates to serious harassment – such interventions are best left to the staff. For my part I take my Kindle along and read between sets. One page between each set makes for the perfect break, and reading for the time between changing exercises is as healthy for the brain as resistance exercise is for the body. I am slowly raising the weights I am lifting each month and I have devised the perfect post-workout vegan smoothie: 250ml unsweetened hemp milk and three tablespoons of peanut butter, pulverised in the blender. Absolutely delicious and very effective. My body is changing remarkably quickly. I have applied the same standard to this as I do to my other exercising, which is essentially flogging myself half to death by working at as high an intensity as I can whilst not endangering my health or safety. Again, it seems to be very effective for me.

Future Plans

With winter coming I hope to step up my running again, and I am going to swim again too. I am not entirely sure why but I prefer these two sports in the winter for some reason. Project Lake District is still something I will definitely do, but obviously not this year. So rather than aim for that I simply intend to complete it in as short a time as possible.

One plan for the medium-long term is to take up sailing and kayaking. I have done both before and I wish to do so again. I previously intended to use a kayak to commute as I used to work near to the Leeds-Liverpool canal, and I live right next to it so it made perfect sense. Unfortunately I left that job before I could realise it and therefore I had no reason to continue that plan, but now that I am approaching forty it seems to be now or never to me. I am currently looking at buying a good quality inflatable canoe or kayak (almost certainly the latter but I remain open to being convinced either way). Concerning sailing, there is a club near me to which I have applied for membership, but that will likely be next year as the weather and winter is drawing in rapidly and they process club administration in their free time so it takes a few months to complete an application. I will start out by taking my son and hiring boats and eventually I hope to buy a boat of my own and have my younger children get involved too; right now they are a little bit young and a wee bit too small for it but they will grow quickly.

I am genuinely excited about taking up this sport, one which I have previously enjoyed and that I will enjoy again. First up is kayaking, and once I master that I should be ready for the next sailing season.

Nutrition

I am currently shedding weight on a ketogenic diet. Low carb, high fat and protein is very difficult as a vegan and it involves eating nuts by the truckload, which is lucky since I love cashews and pistachios, and it is very effective. The remaining weight I am carrying is dropping off me very quickly indeed. I have already gone through two cycles of buying and donating clothes as I shrink, which is, financially speaking, slightly annoying, but luckily there are plenty of charity shops and bric-a-brac shops (thrift stores to you Yanks) near me (I love shopping in them anyway – bargains are my drug of choice!) so I am currently dropping weight quickly and dropping donation bags off at the charity shops equally as quickly!

Seriously though, I have put a lot of time and effort into researching the benefits of nutrition and whilst I cannot ever see me eschewing a vegan diet, I certainly had to think long and hard about how to engage in serious weight cutting that is fast and effective, and the ketogenic plan turns out to be the best by far. I would have implemented it sooner but the brain fog and anarchy of the summer holidays makes life challenging to say the least, which means that I decided to eat as healthily as I can until I re-established the routine of kids at school and I studying and working from home. If you are not a parent then this probably sounds rather contrived, but I can assure you that merely surviving the summer holidays is a ninor miracle. As a teetotaller I have no crutch such as drinking my sorrows away so I had to survive as best I could whilst it rained every other day. I almost forgot my own name…

Summary

In summary, the future of this blog and my routine goes like this:

  1. I am taking up kayaking and sailing, both for me and for some father and son action
  2. I am lifting weights again
  3. As winter approaches I will be back in the pool and back pounding the road, accumulating serious running miles
  4. I have finally found a diet to shed the last of my excess weight and I am hitting it hard
  5. Project Lake District will be completed in a longer timescale, mainly due to my overestimating what can be achieved with young children!
  6. The future is bright and I am going to do my best to once again post regularly

I would love it y’all would join me for the ride!

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Maintenance Running

I don’t know if maintenance running is a thing, but it is in my house. I am now levelling off my performances in the midweek sessions I do at 9-10 mile runs. The weekends are when I have more time and therefore I intend to use them to drive hard on distances. Unfortunately the last two weekends have seen me have to cancel runs for personal reasons but I fully intend to push through the half marathon barrier very shortly. Sometimes life conspires against us in strange ways. In this post I will have my usual map and performance assessment but I want to talk a little bit about food and diet planning too.

Map

This was what I call a maintenance run. It is a good distance and kept my fitness up.

Eating for Fitness

Diet must be one of the most talked about yet simultaneously most misunderstood and neglected lifestyle issues in the West. Hell, do you know anyone who isn’t in some way dysfunctional about what they eat? Everyone I know is either constantly ‘dieting’ – a stupid word that is misused, or constantly eating and drinking in a shockingly irresponsible and unhealthy way. I have to provide full disclosure at this point and say that I eat a vegan diet, just to be upfront about my own choices and so forth.

‘Dieting’ and Exercise

The word dieting is just silly. You’re not ‘dieting’. You’re eating unsustainably. Every single person I know who ever went on a diet didn’t make it. The reason is obvious: diets are intended to provide short term results. And they do. And that is all. I can hear you all saying ‘but you’re a vegan’. Well, yes, but that is the point. Firstly, veganism is a philosophy and as such it is sustainable. I live this way for many reasons. Compassion for animals is a primary motivating factor but so is the need to eat healthily. The point about veganism for me is that it is not something I am doing temporarily and this in my opinion is the whole issue concerning the rank stupidity of ‘dieting’. You cannot change your body without changing your lifestyle. Simply eating a Weight Watchers diet or low carb diet or whatever for a few months is pointless. It is unsustainable. People who do this know that they are not going to stick to it, and of course the weight returns eventually. I know people, women in particular who have been dieting for their entire adult lives. Not only that, but they are still overweight, sometimes grotesquely so. This is because – here comes that word again – dieting is UNSUSTAINABLE.

Any attempt at weight loss must have one thing as its central, core philosophy, and that is permanence. You will be what you are. If you do not have it in you to change everything about your lifestyle then you aren’t going to make it. Simply enrolling at a gym and carrying on as you were is going to accomplish absolutely nothing. I am going to go even further than that and say that gyms are very often a waste of time. Not only are you being charged to do what you can do at home for free, but you are likely going to be intimidated and put off by those who are either ludicrously muscular or simply vain. You should not believe the hype either. Plenty of these guys are using steroids. They will say they aren’t but they are, I can promise you that. Secondly, the stupidity of using gyms for cardiovascular exercise is simply mind boggling to me. I know people who drive to the gym, run on a treadmill and then drive home. Here’s an idea folks: save yourself £20 a month by just running to the gym and back.

Gyms are a cancer in our collective living spaces because they promote the idea that people go somewhere to get fit. We don’t. We don’t go to the fitness place and become fit any more than we temporarily eat healthy to get thin. Going to the gym to run for half an hour, burning 300 calories and then coming home and rewarding yourself with a 500 calorie chocolate muffin is why so many people fail. You’re not a car. You can’t be dropped off at the mechanic and come home fixed. It just doesn’t work that way. Some of the happiest, fittest, healthiest and long lived people I know never use gyms. They never exercise the way I do either. What they do is walk everywhere, never drive unless they have to, and they spend their lives outdoors. They don’t sit still for more than twenty or thirty minutes and they eat sensibly, and most importantly they don’t think about it. This is the secret to health and happiness.

My vegan diet is a healthy one. You can eat crisps and drink Coke all day and you’ll be a vegan so it isn’t as simple as just eschewing animal products. My veganism taught me to understand food with a focus on getting everything a body needs. When one lives this way one quickly learns what the human body needs regularly, and how to get it. I personally discovered that the Western diet is an unmitigated disaster. Too much salt, sugar, red meat, processed foods and so on. Veganism for me was a part of a wider lifestyle change with a focus on learning what I should be eating and why. In the UK we are still at a stage where, if I say I am a vegan (I try to avoid this conversation at all costs) people often look at me as though I have just confessed to being a genocidal war criminal. It is also remarkable to watch people transform into expert nutritionists right before my eyes. Common concerns from people with no knowledge of my lifestyle are often whether or not I get enough protein, whether or not I would eat meat if trapped on a desert island with little food, or whether I ‘force it on my children’. The last issue on that list is particularly comical when one considers the number of fat, wheezing teenage lardasses I see all the time. Nobody ever chastises their parents for feeding them enough for three and subsequently shortening their lives and ruining their bodies. Strange that.

The point about all of this is that veganism was and is not a ‘diet’. Obviously it is in the sense that however I eat is my diet, but I think you see what I mean. It is not a phase or a fad, it is how I live, and that is why I have sustained it. I am not trying to do it, I just do. That is why I do not yoyo diet and while not ever need to do so, for the rest of my life.

Lifestyle Changes

When I was in my twenties I made a decision. I bought a bicycle and cycled to work . This was the smartest thing I did in that decade. Why? Because it built exercise into my life in a way that was easy to maintain. It took only slightly longer to get to work than driving or public transport. It was therefore easy to keep it up. The time was allocated anyway, it was simply a choice of how I spent it. Needless to say I became much fitter with ease and rapidity. Now that I am at the end of my thirties I have been cycling ever since, and over much greater distances too.

We live two miles from our children’ school. We walk to school every day unless it is raining torrentially, and by that I mean rain that drenches a body in minutes. I have seen feats of laziness during the school run that simply blow my mind. I have watched people drive in rush hour traffic for 20-25 minutes to drop their children off when a ten minute walk was all that was necessary. I see people regularly turn up in taxis rather than just walk a mile. I don’t like being negative about this sort of thing but there has to be a line somewhere between a lack of options and sloth, and these people deserve to be fat and unhealthy in my opinion. If you are so lazy that you would rather drive the long way than just walk for ten minutes then you ought to be utterly ashamed of yourself.

The problem here is that in England in particular we are obsessed with driving. It used to be the case that cars were machines built to serve us. Now we serve cars. We  spend 30% of our income on them, we polish them, talk about them, watch films about them. Some men I meet love their cars more than their wives. It’s astonishing to me. I’ll again fully disclose my feelings on this: I don’t get cars. I don’t like them. I don’t care about them. I don’t understand why people get to a state of near sexual arousal over them. I don’t understand why it is exciting that a car can go from 0-60 in a certain time, nor am I impressed by such number. I don’t care for cars, I don’t watch TV shows about cars and I don’t want to be within a thousand miles of anyone who does.

That being said, even accounting for my feelings on the matter I still do not understand why people are so lazy. But that is the issue for certain. Somehow we have arrived at a place where, rather than owning a car as a way to get to work, we seem to go to work as a way to own a car. I have a car. I hate it. It’s 16 years old. If I could live without one I would. We use it only when we have no other option, usually when transporting shopping or other heavy things over long distances. Failing that we we walk or cycle and usually commute by train. As a result we walk often, because we have built the necessity to walk into our lifestyles.

Alcohol

In my thirties I made another decision. I went teetotal. I am not going to debate the merits of moderate alcohol consumption and so forth, although I will briefly say that this mythical moderate drinker is something I have never observed in the wild, and the meme is often trotted out every time anyone wants to pass laws to do something about the fact that we in the UK drink like no other country. We drink the way Americans eat. I personally view it as a national disgrace.

Anyway, the reason this is in here is that my decision to stop drinking cost me a lot in terms of my social life. This further enhances my point about lifestyle changes. You cannot change habits if you do all of the things you associate with that habit. At school I was teetotal too. After a brief flirtation with a bottle of cider at the age of 15 or so I didn’t drink until I was around 22-23 years old. Believe me, here in the UK that is years after most people. I didn’t exactly swill it for fun but I was never comfortable as a drinker at all, and the only reason I did it was that in the UK everything revolves around alcohol. It is nigh on impossible to have a social life and avoid alcohol. The pressure placed upon people, men especially, to drink is ludicrous. I personally got fed up of spending my time with people who, on occasions I chose not to drink, would harass me all night long and I realised that in order to succeed in my commitment to being teetotal there was only one option. Those friends had to go. It was difficult at first when attempting to fill the social void, but by god it was worth it. I am the only teetotaller I know and it does make for awkward situations. Bizarrely it seems to have a negative effect in the world of dating. I would have thought that with all of the dangers faced by women in relation to alcohol it would be a welcome thing but it really isn’t. There is a distinct distrust of men who don’t drink in my experience. I would thought that the opposite would apply, but there we are.

Getting rid of friends who only drink and don’t think much of exercise was hard, because they were friends after all. In retrospect it seems odd that we ever were friends. They were heavy smokers and drug users, I am neither, nor have I ever tried either of those – I just don’t feel the need or possess the appetite. I could never really keep up with them either, and I realised over time that they thought that this was their best version of life. They would often enthuse about going on trips to breweries. I can’t think of anything less interesting. Much like cars, I just don’t get it. I was always a fish out of water and eventually, after around a decade I wound down the habit and then just stopped. Many teetotallers are ex-alcoholics. Not so with me. I just realised that I was doing it for everybody else rather than for myself. My personal conviction is that anyone with sense will put alcohol away and live a life of sobriety. It is a better way, but of course people are what they are and I have no interest in telling people how to live. The only thing to which I do object is the fact that people who destroy themselves tend to blame everyone and everything else but themselves and I get annoyed at those running to the state for help when they can change their lives on their on their own.

So there you are. My opinions on how to eat well.