Why Wellness Matters

Fitness is big business, am I right? Everyone wants to be fit. Fitness, fitness, fitness. Well I am not too worried about fitness because for a long time now I have been prioritising wellness. Wellness, as defined by the sense of being healthy and well, feeling good and positive, of being fit for a purpose in life, able to carry a burden and so forth. Here are five reasons why.

1. Fitness is unattainable.

When pursuing fitness, when does one stop? Running a half marathon? A marathon? Lifting twice your body weight and the putting it back down again? A triathlon? An Ironman race?

The answer is none of the above, because fitness is relative. To get fit is to be fitter than you used to be. This all sounds very nice but at some point you will reach the terminus of fitness where it clashes with the rest of your life. Then what? You have not yet attained fitness, but now must make a decision, whether or not to chase fitness to your own detriment.

2. Wellness is aligned with purpose.

Wellness is not a pursuit. It is an end in itself. You are either well or not. There are no increments of wellness. Wellness is a target that is not only attainable, but once one achieves it one gains rest from the pursuit and other things can be done.

When I feel well I know what I did to achieve that, and I am able to maintain it. It is the point where I can swim, cycle or run or whatever for the joy of it, and that is a great place to be.

1. One cannot overdo or overindulge in wellness.

We have all heard it: ‘no pain, no gain.’

This phrase is so toxic. We all know what it means right? No, because that attitude causes injury, causes people to continue to train whilst carrying an injury and it promotes the notion that fitness must be paid for with misery and agony. Wellness is not like that. You will not exercise through pain when you wish to be well because you know that a rest is needed. Additionally, because you are not chasing the moving target of fitness you do not beat yourself up when you take time to rest. There is no problem because you know that what you are doing will make you well.

4. Wellness is generative.

I have radically raised my immunity by targeting wellness. Once my perspective shifted towards this as a priority I realised that running, cycling or otherwise training myself half to death is not what I need. So I have been taking vitamin D3 for a long time now. Whilst I occasionally pick up a bug as we all do, now I have noticed that I no longer get it every couple of months. By prioritising being well I have managed my body and it has been a radical shift in my health. Fitness does not cure sickness, wellness does. By working towards wellness I have generated better health, better immunity and a better lifestyle.

5. Wellness is liberty and freedom

It may well be a cliche, but when you have your health you have everything. Wellness allows you to live on your feet rather than die on your knees. Whilst none of us knows how or when the end will arrive, we can do everything in our power to avoid slowly dying of preventable metabolic disease, cancer or similar. I do not want to spend the last decades of my life falling apart. I may be unlucky, who knows, but I can make wellness my lifestyle choice and give myself every chance of a healthy and prosperous second half of my life innings.

A Year in the Life of a Runner

Okay, so for the sake of transparency and honesty I am talking about an academic year here. I am a teacher so I measure my life according to school terms and academic timescales.

Since the school year started in 2020 I have been running as consistently as I can. I have had – and been flattened by – coronavirus, and I have been running and meditating in the early morning hours, rising around 0530 to get out between 0600-0630. Here is what I have learned and accomplished.

1. If you want to run seriously then do it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

Doing middling to long runs on a full stomach would be a nightmare. I have no idea who these people are that eat before a run but I cannot imagine doing this stuff with food sloshing around my digestive tract. Also, running first thing is extremely meditative, reflective and sets up the day. In the evening I am just exhausted so smashing the day into the stratosphere means running first, then sitting down to meditate. No food, but always chug a coffee first.

2. Measure and record every metric.

If you do not know where you have been you will never get to where you think you are going. It may seem laborious, but graphs are cool, and thanks to the miracle of Garmin I have been able to track and plot progress using my Quatix 6 and their Connect back end. I do not use the social side of exercise apps so you will not find me on Strava or any of that nonsense, but I do value the fact that Garmin lets me track my progress. At the risk of being repetitive, you have to see where you have been in order to get where you are going.

3. Whatever you do, just keep running.

Some days I can barely get moving and it feels like even running a mile is going to be impossible. Five miles later I realise the obvious truth. Just keep moving and the miles will take care of themselves.

It is so cliched but so important to remember that you just have to keep going and do the hard miles when your warm bed is calling and you would rather laze around. Once the muscles loosen and the feel good sensation hits I suddenly find the miles in my legs again, and nothing has ever felt better on the trail.

4. Dump the phone.

I know that it is almost blasphemy to not carry a phone everywhere but you really do need to unplug. There are times when I feel as though I am a cyborg, however the terror of not being connected to the world is an illusion. You will survive, as we humans have done for almost all of our – mobile device free – history. The right to unplug is a luxury and also a necessity and we ought to all indulge in it. I have long since binned social media, the most pointless use of time on Earth, and the improvement in my mental health has been immeasurable.

So, leave your phone at home. It will not kill you to be alone for a while.

5. Decide what you will be and then do what you have to do.

Enough said.

Mr T Pities the Fools

I do indeed pity the fools: those fools being those not concerned with Mr T. T as in testosterone. That is correct dear readers, I have embarked upon a testosterone binge, also know as cleaning up and optimising my endocrine system. Having done plenty of reading on the potentially devastating effects of low testosterone on men I decided to get ahead. I did not have low testosterone but I am in my forties, also known as the old age of youth, and so I do not wish to wait until the problem emerges before I act. It is no secret that testosterone rates in men are falling every decade so I hatched a plan to exempt myself from that dubious honour. I have already been long convinced that a whole food, plant based diet is the best for raising and sustaining naturally high testosterone levels. This lifestyle plan is complimentary to that. Below is what I did.

Eliminate Xenooestrogens

Xenooestrogens are substances that the body metabolises as oestrogen even though they are not. I began to take notice of products such as soap, shampoo, shower gel and suchlike in terms of their ingredients and I found something very interesting. Firstly many of these products have an ingredients list that I need a PhD just to understand. That is a bad sign. Not only should there be relatively few ingredients in such products, but also any time there are names of compounds that you cannot recognise or pronounce then the odds are high that you are dealing with things harmful to testosterone production. I have eliminated these. I think that absorption through the skin is probably the biggest source of my exposure to these chemicals so this was a big one to remedy.

Aromatase Inhibitors

I have begun to take a supplement that essentially blocks the uptake of oestrogen. It is non-prescribed, over the counter stuff but I would not recommend you start this without speaking to your doctor. That being said I use them and they are proving themselves to be very effective in terms of clearing my excess body fat, such as it was. Right now I do not know whether or not prolonged use is effective or healthy but thirty days of this stuff has been profoundly transformative. People whom I see on a weekly basis are commenting – unsolicited – on the transformation in my physique. I am also further convinced of the efficacy of these supplements by the fact that I have not lost weight. My body fat content has reduced substantially but I am still the same weight or thereabouts, meaning that I am gaining lean muscle. This is the promised land of male health.

High T Herbal Supplements

There are a few natural substances that are readily available online, very cheap and which will raise testosterone naturally. I have started to take this as a supplement. I plumped for ashwagandha, a herb. I have added it to my daily pill regimen. Aside from prescription medications I now take ashwagandha, resveratrol, lion’s mane extract and aspirin. All of these I have been he back of reading peer reviewed research and taking expert advice. Ashwagandha is for raising testosterone levels, resveratrol is the healthy part of red wine, lion’s mane is found to sustain brain function and even stimulate neurogenesis, and aspirin as a blood thinner is good for my heart. With the exception of resveratrol, the effects of which accumulate over a lifetime, I have noticed positive effects from each of these. Aspirin has been recommended for heart health for decades so that is nothing new. Lion’s mane, which is recommended by the incredible Paul Stamets, has definitely given me a cognitive edge. I have noticed that my intellect and wit is far more powerful after a year of taking it. Ashwagandha seems, after a month, to be generating positive outcomes too.

The message, to me is clear. Take Mr T seriously.

Shaking Things Up – Time Over Distance – Bonus Content: Gout Can Eat my Ass and Balls

A brief summary of the key points in this post today:

  • I have gone over to the new Apple Watch, using the native workout app and Healthfit for syncing and export
  • I have recovered from another gout flare
  • I am tweaking my diet again
  • I have started running for speed
  • I have upgraded from Garmin Edge 1000 to the Edge 1030 sensor bundle for cycling

Details

So that list is quite a lot. Thankfully I have quite a lot to say so hopefully this will be a blog post of a kind most revelatory.

Apple Watch

I continually flirt with gear and currently I have left my Garmin Vivoactive HR aside and turned to the might of Apple with its Watch Series 6. I avoided Apple Watch for a while as the notifications are so annoying, however I have been able to turn most off so now it seems to be an option. Additionally, and I hate to sound shallow, but media functions matter to me. Running without a long form podcast or an audiobook is, for me, intolerable. Not only due to boredom but also I view it as a missed opportunity to work my brain whilst I exercise my body. Right now the best Garmin can do is sync media to its watches using a wired connection to a computer and I am sad to say that that is just not good enough. This is supposed to be cutting edge fitness and navigation technology. When Apple Watch will synchronise it all as I need, wirelessly whilst I sleep is Garmin really offering nothing better than a 25 year old method to get media to listen to? Plus, now that Apple has retired iTunes and separated music, podcasts and video I would have to wait for Garmin to update its sync software, to say nothing of the fact that the software that Audible provides for getting audiobooks onto devices looks like the ancient software I used to use when I owned a Palm PDA – now there is a retro tech reference for you.

It seems to me that for someone in my demographic Apple Watch is the best I can get, so I did. The options and apps available are superb and now that Healthfit (£3.99) will export everything I need and connect to Strava I have to say that I am sold on Apple Watch going forward. For massive day hikes such as the Yorkshire Three Peaks I have my Vivoactive HR ready to go but as an everyday device it is surpassed. Things can change in future as always, but that is my roadmap for the time being.

Health

Gout is garbage. I still curse my bad luck at being susceptible. Even my GP cannot believe it. A teetotal, outdoors-obsessed plant muncher should not be so unfortunate, but there we are. My body simply cannot process uric acid as efficiently as necessary and from time to time I will have to put up with this crap. This time I needed two courses of prednisolone to get rid of it, and be under no illusions about what a horrible drug that is. Naturally I have not done much exercise recently, until the last couple of days.

Diet

I am attempting to tweak my diet to see if I can get the drop on gout. The current view is to get my kidneys to flush – more efficiently – the uric acid, so I am consciously drinking even more water but also I am adding pomegranate juice and powder to my diet. Allegedly this can help. The science seems to suggest that free radicals are raised during a flare and pomegranate contains a powerful antioxidant that will counter this problem. I will also be creating a tincture out of which I will make a herbal infusion to drink daily.

Speed

Today I ran 2.5 miles, prioritising speed over distance for a change, and with relative ease ran my first and second fastest miles, and weirdly Strava said that, according to my heart rate, this was easier than usual, so I need to do some thinking on this front. I do remain convinced that my diet is affecting my performance massively however, and all for the better.

This is much faster than normal and I definitely felt I had more to give.

Cycling

I have upgraded my cycling computer to the Garmin Edge 1030 sensor bundle so I now have a cadence sensor, speed sensor and a heart rate strap. I plan to spend the next few weeks and blog posts going through the Garmin sensor metrics to which I now have access and see what I can do with it all to improve my performance. Stay tuned for that.

Tribute

Today is a day of sadness, and those who understand will appreciate a simple pictorial reference. Goodnight to the Mozart of the Electric Guitar.

Should Cyclists Run?

Today’s Ride

This is an interesting topic. I am inspired to think about this for several reasons. Firstly, I want to run and cycle so I need to ensure that I do each well and safely. Secondly, I am now about to hit double figures for running distances so I am ready to start alternating cycling and running days, mainly to spare my body the pain of daily recovery from an impact sport like running.

Why?

Well, I am not one of those gym bores who bangs on endlessly about targeting muscle groups and suchlike. If that is your bag then crack on but I don’t really envy you. I still love cycling with an indescribable passion, much more so than running or any other sport. I consider myself a cyclist first and hope that whatever else I do will contribute to my prowess on two wheels. That being said, it stands to reason that better runners will be better cyclists, and so I am experimenting with a complimentary approach. Right now I am at the beginning of collecting data and analysing patterns so this is all very new and with that in mind I have to remember several caveats.

  • I have a small data set gathered over only a few weeks
  • I am slightly over eight pounds lighter than a month ago
  • I currently cannot measure things like power whilst cycling

Clearly in future I will need power meter pedals, and a full suite of Garmin tools to measure everything. I will also be a great deal lighter by the time that comes around.

Okay, my bets are now hedged, so I can report early findings. Today I did the Crown Point circuit. I last did this exact route on August 30th this year so below is a chronological data comparison.

The difference is striking and glaringly obvious. In roughly 2.5 weeks have gained 1.4 mph in average speed over the same course. Below is the speed graph comparison from my Garmin Edge 1000.

The results are again obvious. I did not have a particularly fast downhill segment today – there was quite a headwind as it happens – rather I was just faster over the whole course. This suggests a major improvement in physical performance.

Reasons

Is it running that has generated such powerful results? Possibly, however I have also refined my diet from plant- based to whole plant-based. I do not count calories or macros as I have long been convinced that weight gain is caused not by calorie intake but insulin. My commitment to eating whole foods, low glycemic load meals and eating plenty in general means that I am likely gaining significant muscle mass at the expense of body fat. Eight pounds lost in under four weeks is no fluke.

Takeaway Thoughts

Right now several things appear to be working in my favour.

  • Eating a plant-based, whole food diet
  • Fasting at least 16/8, although I often try to reduce my feeding window
  • Varying exercise routines by type
  • Also, forgetting about how fast I run and running on trails that, whilst slow because of the terrain, I actually enjoy. This is better than pounding endless pavement trying to pick up speed and being bored out of my mind.

Clearly things are working. I am on target to be under 14 stones by Christmas, although there is many a slip twixt cup and lip so I am not treating that as a serious target. What I do know is that yes, I think that cyclists should run, and that fasting and eating whole plants rather than just plants is causing me to shed weight so quickly that I’d better be getting some new threads as Christmas gifts!

The Week in Review

I have not posted a ‘week in review’ for ages, so I guess that now is as good a time as any to start again.

This week I…

  • Embraced YouTube and will be producing content regularly
  • Discovered Relive
  • Revamped my diet again, including fasting schedules

Performance

This was a fairly relaxed week really, mainly because I cannot really run due to the monstrous blisters I gained whilst completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks. I have one covering each heel, the left in particular being very tender indeed. I completed two runs this week, each of which was too early in my recovery and ended up being curtailed as it was just too painful to run at all. Strava summary below. I have taken advantage of clement weather and cycled where possible.

Data

Relive

Relive is a superb app I discovered recently. It reads your workouts from whichever app you use record them – in my case Strava or Garmin – and uses the data to generate a 3D flyover-style video. I will definitely being making use of this in future.

Nutrition

I am still fasting, however I am trying to push my time without food. Right now I have the willpower to fast for a whole day, however when I go past approximately sixteen hours without food I get an absolutely paint-stripping headache. This may sound bad, however it is a positive because that limit used to be fifteen hours. I have been slowly pushing this interval longer and longer. It is frustrating to be in a ‘spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ position but I clearly need to train my body to accept longer periods without food. Right now the headaches are absolutely unbearable. I suffer migraine attacks and they are equally as debilitating, which means I am essentially incapacitated by the things. I am slowly winning the battle however, so I only need to keep modifying my diet slowly and hopefully I will be able to start doing day-long fasts without side effects.

Pushing Ahead

Right now my priority is to work as hard as I can. I can only wait for my feet to heal so that I can push my running distances again. In the meantime I am working hard on my nutrition. This week I felt the nip of autumn in the air so I am going to make the most of good weather whilst it lasts and push hard as soon as I can run again.

Recipe: Plant-Based Passion Fruit Cheesecake with Papaya Frosting

This is a recipe for a desert that is like tropical sweetness made flesh. It is very easy to make and great for sharing.

Ingredients

Crust

  • 150 grams walnuts
  • 12 pitted dates
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted (have a little more ready in case but the oil from the nuts should also help to combine)

Filling

  • 150 grams cashews, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes
  • 6 passion fruits, pulped
  • 1 can of coconut milk, chilled in freezer and then the water drained away
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • Optional: maple syrup if you like it very sweet

Frosting

  • Pulp of one papaya, seeds removed
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted

Method

  • Pulverise the crust ingredients in the blender until the texture is even
  • Pour it all into whatever cake or pie dish you will serve it in, press firmly until you have a solid crust, then refrigerate whilst you prepare the rest of the recipe
  • Spin all of the ingredients for the filling in the blender until smooth, then pour onto the crust and refrigerate for a minimum four hours
  • Once the filling has fully set, spin all of the ingredients for the frosting in the blender, then pour over the filling and spread evenly with a spatula if necessary
  • Refrigerate until set, preferably overnight
  • Scatter the papaya seeds on top for a little bit of crunch
  • Serve up slices and enjoy!

Recipe: Decadent Plant Based Pancake Stack

Check it out folks. This pancake stack will leave you feeling as though you just ate your weekly meals in one go. You can oil or dry fry this mixture

Ingredients

  • 2 bananas
  • 200 grams oat flour (I just pulverised oats in the blender)
  • Maple syrup to sweeten to taste
  • Soy milk (or your preferred plant milk)

Method

  • Combine the flour, bananas and maple syrup in the blender
  • Slowly add milk whilst gently blending until you reach a sticky, almost dough-like consistency
  • Either heat a dry pan or oil if you prefer, and spoon into squash ball sized portions, squidging them down as they cook
  • Once brown, flip and repeat
  • Serve with fresh, dark berries and maple syrup

Tada! Couldn’t be more simple. For an alternative topping to maple syrup you can make lime stock sugar syrup which is just melted sugar, a little water, and the juice and zest of a lime, or chocolate sauce which is the same but just add cocoa powder instead of the lime ingredients.

Recipe: Quinoa Protein Bowl

This is something I just improvised but it is delicious and looks good so I decided to publish the recipe. It is full of protein, good fats and variety, and the quinoa has a very low glycemic index meaning weight loss.

Ingredients

  • 100 grams quinoa
  • 100 grams (dry weight) dried chickpeas, hydrated and cooked (or a can)
  • 1 bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/2 an iceberg lettuce, chopped
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • 1 red chilli, finely diced
  • A generous handful of cashews
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  • Boil your quinoa in water or stock, then rinse and set aside
  • Add a good glug of olive oil to a frying pan, add the chilli and cook for thirty seconds
  • Add the pepper, sweat for three minutes
  • Add the avocado and stir well, cooking for three more minutes
  • Add the lettuce and wilt
  • Throw in the nuts and toss the whole thing to mix well, season to taste, then turn the heat off
  • Add the quinoa to a bowl and fluff with a fork
  • Pour in the fried ingredients and then top off with the chickpeas
  • Sprinkle with lemon juice

Done! Most people will probably need two or three sittings to finish this so it’s cheap too. I might add chilli sauce or change the chickpeas for pinto beans perhaps next time. Maybe even some jalapeños for some twang. Enjoy!

In the pan

How to go From Couch to 5K in Four Days. Bonus Level: Records Broken Also

After outlining my running ambitions previously I managed to get injured practically the next day. No good deed goes unpunished, right? I guess I asked for it really. Even more astounding is that the injury was in fact gout. That is right, a (then) almost, (now) completely teetotal, vegan, twenty five year + veteran cyclist, runner and swimmer received a diagnosis of gout. Unbelievable. I can only presume that it runs in the family because you do not get lower risk than me for gout, typically the disease of ale swilling, red meat guzzling, Henry VIII type bloaters. Ho hum, so it goes. I have beat it into retreat with careful diet management, dispensing with crap shoes, exercising and resting properly and so forth, and now I am back on the trail.

How I Did Couch to 5K in Four Days

As silly as it sounds, I just did it. I have noticed that, for me at least, when I take a break from running the first three or four stints back on the road are like dragging a sack of lead around. Only after I push through this do I start feeling the Afterglow of Champions (I just made that up but I am so trademarking it). The sense that, suddenly, out of nowhere, the agony of laborious effort is receding and suddenly I feel as though I can run a marathon. It is a great feeling and I appreciate it more and more with age as my body starts to need more work to maintain great health and performance.

The sequence is as folows:

    Day one: 2 miles
    Day two: 2.5 miles
    Day three: 3 miles (probably 5K)
    Day four: 3.5 miles (definitely 5K)

On the way I scored my fastest 5K and recorded several fastest miles, with my current best being 10:30, which is bang average really, but still an improvement. All of these runs were done in a fasted state. I am still fasting 16/8 and intend for that arrangement to be permanent. Right now my trousers are falling down as the weight is falling off me, and I am not fat at all, but I am shedding residual body fat so quickly that I need new clothes already.

I have to once again acknowledge the power of incremental change. Ever since I was a wee nipper I have known its power, as my mum stopped smoking when I was very young, and ran to the traffic lights on our road and back. Eventually she ran multiple marathons. It is that simple to me. Start where you can, go where you want, do a little bit more the next day. Small beginnings, no matter how insignificant they may seem in the moment, yield results you could never dream of because no matter how little you do, it is more than nothing.

Here in England the NHS is always pushing Couch to 5K as a great achievement, and for sure it is for anyone, but simply by pushing myself pretty gently in increments I am already there. At this rate hitting marathon distances by the end of the year seems trivial. Doubtlessly it will not be that simple, but it will not be that hard either, provided I give the effort that I know I can and I do not get injured. Combining this with a high protein, low GI diet I am making gains that seem remarkable but which are really just good outcomes based on the science.

My ambitions to run ultra distances are intact, as is my body and I am going to do it if it kills me. Remember folks, it does not matter who you were yesterday as long as you are better tomorrow. Past is prologue, the future is for gods!

Strava Data