Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blood Test - the results are in!

By Stephen

I first made the shift to a plant-based diet (no animal products consumed) about 4.5 years ago after discovering the legendary Scott Jurek. I had just started running, and wanting every advantage possible, I decided to tweak what I ate to see if I could duplicate Scott's results. While they weren't immediate, and I didn't started crushing races, I did feel better all around: running was easier, I felt lighter, my recovery times were shorter, and all the while I was indiscriminately destroying veggie burritos and vegan s'mac'n'cheese. Since going vegan (I was off and on for the first 2 years) I've finished 25 ultramarathons and have had relatively good success along the way. More importantly, I'm able to sustain multiple high-mileage weeks (generally around 85-100 miles/week, sometimes 120+ when peaking) without wasting away or fear of injury.

Anyways, as part of a routine doctor's checkup, I decided to have my blood tested. It had been about 2 years since my last visit, and while I had no reason to believe that anything was wrong, I took a "better safe than sorry" approach. Full disclosure here: I'm not a doctor, and I don't completely understand my results, but from what I'm told, they're exemplary. Again, without knowing which results are the best indicators for "good" health, I've included a smattering of numbers that interested me:

Lipid Panel
Cholesterol, Total:                              122 mg/dL      (reference interval: 100 - 189)
Triglycerides:                                      85 mg/dL        (reference interval: 0 - 114)
HDL ("good") cholesterol:                  49 mg/dL       (reference interval: >39)
LDL ("bad") cholesterol:                    56 mg/dL        (reference interval: 0 - 119)

Hemoglobin                                       14.2 g/dL        (reference interval: 12.6 - 17.7)

Hematocrit                                         42.9%             (reference intergal: 37.5 - 51%)

Hemoglobin A1c                                5.4%               (reference interval: 4.8 - 5.6%)

Metabolic Panel
Glucose, Serum                                   95 mg/dL         (reference interval: 65 - 99)
Calcium, Serum                                   9.9 mg/dL       (reference interval: 8.7 - 10.2)
Protein, Total, Serum                          6.5 g/dL           (reference interval: 6.0 - 8.5)

The test was performed during a relatively high mileage training block of two 85 mile weeks, which included three demanding workouts per week. Whether or not this affects anything, I don't know; but, it will interesting to get tested again after 8-10 weeks of consistently difficult training. Now, I realize this is less scientific than Matt Laye's thorough and well-documented high fat experiment, but knowing what I do about these results suggests that I'm at least not unhealthy. Please, if anyone is curious about any other result just let me know, and the same goes if I am way off with my assumptions. I wanted these results to be more of an affirmation of my dietary habits, rather than a vegan manifesto aimed at converting people to the dark side. I had an inkling that following a vegan diet wasn't hindering my performance or objective health, and this was exactly the confirmation that I needed to stay the path. Hopefully, this is helpful for those curious about experimenting with going plant-based, and while I realize that not everyone will react the same to a particular diet, it's worth a shot. After all, a couple of months of eating plants won't kill you, and you'll even save more than a few critters' lives!
Hit the trails!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Millie and Toyon

As you can probably tell from our photos on Instagram and Facebook, Stephen and I adopted two kitties just before Thanksgiving last year. We had seen their story on a local adoption website for the Animal Friends Rescue Project (AFRP). The webpage said that two blind cats from Vietnam, a bonded pair originally dubbed "Hope" and "Mercy," were looking for a permanent home.

Millie (top) and Toyon (bottom) on their first night home.

Lt. Col. Robert Lucius: Humane Hero
Millie in Vietnam.

It all started with an email from Lt. Col. Robert Lucius, Pacific Grove resident and founder of the Kairos Coalition, a nonprofit organization that promotes animal protection and humane education in countries where dogs and cats are routinely mistreated, tortured and slaughtered for the meat trade. Robert asked for our help finding a loving home for Mercy and Hope, healthy young cats who had been used as practice subjects for Vietnamese veterinary students learning surgical eye removal techniques.

Hope and Mercy traveled from the Restored Hope Foster home, a volunteer-run rescue facility in Ho Chi Minh City, to Pacific Grove in late March. They went into foster care (thank you Polaris and Taven) and set about adjusting to a new life in a new country. Members of Yeu Dong Vat (YDV), a group of young animal advocates in Vietnam, have been following the progress of Hope and Mercy, who have become feline celebrities and symbols of hope for the animal lovers and rescuers in their country. 

Toyon in transit.
Despite their vision loss, Hope and Mercy are cheerful, playful and affectionate cats who thrive on routine. Their acute senses of hearing, smell and touch help them compensate for their lack of sight, and once they have mapped out their surroundings, they find their way around the house quite easily. It is important to give blind animals a consistent environment (no furniture rearranging), along with keeping food and water bowls and litter boxes in the same easy-to-find location. A bonded pair, Hope and Mercy snuggle together and engage in mutual grooming sessions. We'd like them to be adopted together.

We debated on adopting two blind animals: Would we be able to provide the care they needed? Would there be any complications? Would they have a good quality of life, and would we be able to play with them and enjoy their company like "normal" pets? How would we adjust from having no pets to suddenly having two pets with special needs? We researched about caring for blind pets, and in learning about these two cats' incredible story, we fell in love with them.

Millie after the surgery to close her open eye sockets.
Stephen contacted the AFRP, and we scheduled a time to meet the kitties. When we first met the cats, Stephen (the cat whisperer) bonded with Millie right away. Toyon was shy, retreating to his cat tower, but warmed up as we talked with their foster parents about care and concerns. Their foster family generously gave us important advice, as well as a haul of blankets and toys for the pair. It was evident that these two cats were incredibly special and had touched the hearts of every person along their journey.

The dynamic duo.
We received their paperwork, which detailed their journey from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to San Francisco, California. The medical records simply noted:
"Eyes removed - open sockets; ocular discharge w/ foul odor. Haircoat is sparse & some scabby on skin."

The records said that portions of the ocular nerve had to be removed and that their eyes were stitched shut. Since living with us, we have put them on a "low residue" diet, meaning we're feeding them high quality food that's very easy on their digestive systems. They have both gained weight and their fur is luxurious.

We renamed the cats "Millie" (affectionately referring to Mill Valley) and "Toyon" (a local trail named after a Californian plant). They have settled in amazingly well in their new home. Millie and Toyon love playing with their feather wand and running laps around the apartment- expertly avoiding the furniture! They are the most affectionate and cuddly cats I have ever encountered. Millie is the adventurous one - climbing up onto shelves, window ledges, and sunny spots on the desk. Toyon insists on being my study-buddy: he hoards the pens and pencils, naps next to (and sometimes on top of) my laptop, and lets me know when it's time for lunch. Both cats love sitting next to the screen door and listening to the birds outside.

Study time quickly devolving.

Thank you to everyone who had a hand in Millie and Toyon's journey: from the veterinarian in Ho Chi Minh City, to Lt. Col. Robert Lucius, to AFRP and their foster home, to the amazing staff at Cat's Cradle and the East San Rafael Veterinary Clinic, who helped us get them all set up and checked out.

More information on the groups involved in Millie and Toyon's journey:
Animal Friends Rescue Project /
Kairos Coalition /
Yue Dong Vat /

Help even more animals, yourself, and planet earth - go vegan!

Thug Kitchen Vegan Cooking /
Scott Jurek, Vegan Ultrarunner /
Minimalist Baker /

Forks Over Knives /

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Marin Ultra Challenge!

By Maggie

I'm super pumped for the Marin Ultra Challenge 50 miler! So I went OCD on the course map.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014, it's been real.

By Stephen

I would have never imagined that 2014 would unfold like it did. I raced and ran more than ever, became an RRCA certified coach and a Hoka ultrarunning ambassador, moved to Marin with my girlfriend, joined the amazingly talented crew at SFRC, and adopted two adorable blind kitties. Oh, and I got into Western States! Originally, I planned this post to be a North Face race report (I still might put one together for fun), until I realized how underwhelming it was recounting every climb and descent of the day. Maybe it's because I came up short of my goal, and I'm being petty? I had a good, not great race there, but everything seemed to unfold well. There were no periods of dark thoughts, nothing cramped, I ran smart early in the race, and besides a few stomach issues at mile 40, I finished strong. I don't want to take any finish for granted, especially considering how lucky I am to be healthy and to train and race as frequently as I do, and with my report taking a whiny turn for the worst, I decided to instead reflect upon my progress in 2014 and where I can improve in 2015.

Here are my 2014 stats for the curious: 3,186 miles - 464 hours - 378,788 feet climbed - 10 races (435 miles raced total)

Running has been an incredible journey, filled with excitement, growth, pain, and self-discovery. It's been a process of trial and error, during which time I've learned that food is my friend, not my enemy, and that maybe 150 mile weeks aren't entirely necessary in preparation for an ultra event. My biggest takeaway from 2014 is that consistency rewards progress. This was most obvious in my 8th place finish at the Miwok 100k in a time of 10:06. It's one of the first races where I saw a glimpse of my hard training efforts pay off, and outside of TNF 50 mile last December, the only race where I truly raced within myself. I never really understood what this meant, but now I sort of get it. Previously, I raced with the intention of running harder than my other competitors. However, since I don't know what their training looks like, how they feel coming into the race, etc., I cannot expect to simply outrun them. I need to toe the line in my best shape possible, knowing that I have done everything right: from training, to nutrition, to recovery.

I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that I've yet to have this experience. I've never felt fully confident in myself at the start of a race, either because I've missed a few key workouts, indulged in beer more than necessary, lacked a race strategy, or a combo of everything. The beauty of coming up short in training is that when questioned about how a poor race went, I can fall back on the cliches of going out too fast or not having included one more 30 miler in my buildup. In short, I can shirk some of the responsibility. In 2011 it was a struggle with disordered eating, in 2012 it was a struggle with too much beer and not enough recovery from 2011, and in 2013 it was overtraining which lead to plantar fasciitis. 2014, however, was the closest I've come to a "perfect" year in terms of consistency and injury prevention, and it's this momentum that I want to carry into 2015. Missed workouts and excess beers will be decidedly out of style, while Tam summits and miles with friends will bolster my confidence leading up to the big dance. Who knows when I'll be lucky enough to have the opportunity at such an iconic race? I'm hungrier than ever and have lofty aspirations for Western States, so I'm going to put it all on the line to see if I really can hang with the big guns, and to achieve this, everything needs to be in sync. #seeyouinsquaw

Run selfie with the Queen!