30 Good Things Before 30: #28 – Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

So it just struck me tonight how close I’m getting to the end of my 30 Good Things Before 30 challenge!

It also struck me how amiss I’ve been to not include any books so far!

It’s a great disservice to my roots. I come from a family of voracious readers. For pretty much my entire life, the go-to gift for every one of us on every occasion was a book. (Birthday next month? Get a book. Christmas? Pick up a couple of books. Mother’s Day? Jodi Picoult book!)

Lately though, I’ve been slacking on the reading front. My daily blogging means I’m spending more time online. Tack on my marathon training miles and that means I’m also spending way more nights tumbling into bed exhausted, eyelids too heavy to get through a couple of pages.

If we’re being totally honest, I just haven’t made reading a priority.

I was reminded that I ought to be, however, by a couple of bloggers: specifically, Slacker Runner’s mid-year check-in and 30-good-things-before-30a recommendation of the book The Girl on the Train over here.

So while I work on tracking down a copy of The Girl on the Train, let me use one of my few remaining days of this challenge to correct my oversight and present #28 on my list of 30 Good Things Before 30.


Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

If you’re a runner and you like to read and you haven’t yet read Born to Run, stop what you’re doing immediately and fix that!

Technically, the book is an ethnography, which focuses on the reclusive Tarahumara tribe. Reading it though is like spending a few hours at a pub with a group of rowdy ultramarthoners intent on regaling you with their adventures.

Born to Run

Born to Run

The book came out in 2009 and was kind of a game-changer for the running world. Specifically, it’s credited with playing a significant role in launching the minimalist shoe movement. Author Christopher McDougall focuses on the Tarahumara’s ability to run extreme distances in flimsy sandals without any of the injuries that plague the rest of us typical runners.

I know it’s falling out of fashion but I’m a supporter of the minimalist shoe movement. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me so I find the theory McDougall talks about really interesting.

But even if you’re not all that interested in the technical aspects and think miminalist shoes are a crock, Born to Run is still worth reading just for the cast of characters it brings together.

For me, it was totally eye-opening. I always thought of ultramarthoners as disciplined, serious athletes. Some of them are. Some of them are like Jenn Shelton — a little wild, a little crazy, a little bit apt to drink like a teamster while preparing for a 50-mile race in Mexico’s Copper Canyons and end up lost, hungover, and hydrating from a mud puddle.

True story. You can read about it in Born to Run.

What are you reading? Anything good? Recommendations welcome in the comments!

How do you feel about minimalist shoes?

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Week 3 (a.k.a. the week I lost my mind)

Here’s an interesting tidbit you might not know. My weeks are longer than yours.

That’s why my Week 3 of Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health starts today despite the fact that I embarked on Week 1 on Jan. 9. That’s 21 days ago — officially making my weeks about 10 days long.

It’s called the Ali-Cat Calendar. I expect it will replace the Gregorian calendar any day now. Just wait.

In the mean time, let me entertain you with a new array of Mini-Resolutions as I embark on Week 3. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get them all done in a regular-person week.

Probably not . There’s a lot of them.

Mini-Resolution #18: Retire Old Red

With the possible exception of trading my second cup of morning coffee for green tea, this is the biggest sacrifice Dr. Weil has asked me to make.

In Week 3, he talks about electromagnetic toxicity. Household appliances like electric blankets, heating pads, plug-in clock radios and blow dryers generate electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and some research suggests these can negatively impact our body’s internal systems, increasing incidence of cancer and decreasing immune system functioning.

From DrWeil.com:

..a study in rats at the University of Washington… found DNA damage in animals exposed to a 60 hertz field for 24 hours; more damage was found after 48 hours. … the study leader said that data from this and a previous study suggest that the effects of exposure are cumulative and may build up in humans over time as a result of repeated brief use of common plug-in appliances. He suggests limiting exposure to as little time as possible, particularly with devices used close to the body.

A quick look around the Internet shows that most people think this is load of crap.

But in for a penny, in for a pound, right? I said I’d do this eight-week program to best of my ability and I intend to follow through.

This week, I will banish my electric throw blanket — a long-time staple in my lounging activities. Luckily, I got a Snuggie for Christmas. I will survive.

Mini-Resolution #19: Say Goodbye to the Dirty Dozen

Sigh.

Dr. Weil and I may be on the rocks. First he took away my second cup of coffee, then my electric blanket. Now he’s taking away some of my favourite fruits and vegetables.

Well ok, not really taking away but giving me the ultimatum to buy organic or say goodbye.

I’ll give him credit for one thing: he doesn’t ask for a full switch to organic produce. Rather, he suggests we  avoid or eat only organic versions of a few particularly dangerous products. Specifically, the Dirty Dozen.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization which aims to disseminate knowledge to protect public health and the environment, compiles the Dirty Dozen — a list of the 12 most contaminated foods. They also list the 15 cleanest (the Clean 15) and claim that people who eat only from the latter ingest just two types of pesticides daily versus 10 daily for those who eat the Dirty Dozen.

This is important, Dr. Weil says, because regulations on acceptable levels of pesticide contamination only consider short-term exposure (i.e. if it has an immediate toxic effect) and not the accumulation of long-term exposure. They also consider each pesticide in isolation and not the possible interactions between them.

So this week, I am going to try to either avoid the Dirty Dozen or — in the unlikely event that prices aren’t too exorbitant — buy them organic. Which is going to be a challenge because I regularly consume a lot of the Dirty Dozen including apples, bell peppers, celery and carrots.

This will require some creativity in order to not break the bank.

Mini-Resolution #20: Me and Miso

Once again, Dr. Weil suggests we substitute one serving of meat for a soy product this week and, because I’m up for a challenge, I’m going to opt for one I’ve never tried before: miso.

I have absolutely no idea what this is. I’ve heard murmurings about miso soup in my day, but have never tried it. And I certainly didn’t know it was soy-based. Not until Dr. Weil mentioned something to that effect. I can’t quite recall the exact details as I was still reeling from his brutal electric blanket embargo.

Anyway, I will find out what it is, I will cook it (you have to cook miso, right?) eat it and report back.

Mini-Resolution #21: Don’t Stock Believing

Groan. That’s supposed to be a pun. A little Journey reference? No? Anyone?

Anyway, in Week 3 Dr. Weil again recommends that we up our veggie intake. To facilitate this, he provides some recipes for vegetable stock which is, apparently, incredibly handy for cooking vegetables with. Who knew?

Not me, but I’m about to get educated when I make my first-ever homemade veggie stock this week.

Mini-Resolution #22: Stretch it Out

Stretching: my nemesis.

Well, not so much. Mostly, it’s just like a really boring acquaintance who if you saw at the mall, you would duck into the nearest store just to avoid contact. And you’d stay in that store as long as you needed to, even if it too was something really boring like that wicker store (you know the one), because it’s undoubtedly the less painful choice. But then your boring acquaintance comes into the boring wicker store (you should have known that would be her taste!) and starts talking to you about all the boring wicker baskets and it’s like boredom overload and your brain explodes.

Yeah. Stretching. It’s like that.

Nonetheless, I will be doing it five minutes a day because Dr. Weil says it’s good for me. It increases flexibility, reducing chance of injury and brings about a “welcome alteration of consciousness.”

Or perhaps it, like the breathing exercises, is just another way to lull me to sleep. Like I needed the help.

Mini-Resolution #23: Let Myself Be Breathed

No, that’s not a typo. That’s an actual Dr. Weil-ism.

Letting Yourself Be Breathed is a new breathing exercise that consists of the following:

  • Lie on your back, with arms relaxed at your sides
  • Focus attention on your breath without trying to influence it
  • Imagine that with each inhalation the universe is blowing breath into you and with each exhalation drawing it from you. Let yourself feel the breath penetrating every part of your body, to your fingers and toes.
  • Repeat for 10 cycles of inhalation and exhalation.

Dr. Weil doesn’t go into much detail about why this particular exercise is so important. He just says that, if done properly, we should find it “unusually refreshing.”

My issue is that it requires imagination. I’m not so good with that. If I told you to close your eyes and picture a purple lamp, I bet you could do it, right? I can’t. I just don’t seem to have those  neurons.

I’ll work on it.

Mini-Resolution #24: Get Provoked by Prose

This is my favourite this week. Dr. Weil would like us to make a list of  inspirational books that we’d like to read. These could be books of poetry, biographies, books on self-help, spirituality or anything else that moves us. We are to select one and begin it this week.

To which I say “Yay!” I’ll be heading to the library this afternoon, no doubt.

Mini-Resolution #25: Become an Amateur Agriculturalist

This is optional but I’m taking it on because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Dr. Weil would like us to look into growing some of our own food.

That is, of course, easy for him to say. He lives in Arizona. Assumedly in a big house with a giant backyard. I live in Victoria, BC. In a third-floor apartment with a balcony.

Nonetheless, I know it’s possible to grow stuff here. The previous tenant, my best friend, succeeded in growing tomatoes, basil and a bunch of other herbs. It can be done.

Maybe not by me, but I plan to enlist the help of my dear fiance — whose green thumb can hopefully mitigate my thumb of death — and see if we can get ourselves a little garden started.

And that is all. Thank God because that’s a lot.

On top of that, however, are a few other activities from previous week t0 round out Week 3:

  • Another one-day news/Twitter/Facebook fast
  • 20 minute walks five days a week
  • Continue the supplement plan
  • Continue the old breathing exercises in addition to the new one
  • Continue swapping that coffee for green tea
  • Eat two servings of fish
  • Eat broccoli twice
  • Make some more time to just hang out in nature

Wait… do you hear that?

I think it’s the sound of my week growing even longer.