Monday, April 25, 2011

12 Redemption Miles

Previous marathon training long runs:

With almost a month left to go before the Bayshore Marathon, I'm finally used to the weekend long run. This week was a step back week in the training plan, so my long run this week was only 12 miles. It's crazy to think that 12 miles is considered 'short' for me right now!

This Sunday's 12 miler started off like every other. PB+J on a bagel thin and coffee. If it ain't broke...
The weather has been getting nicer (since last week's freak snowstorm) and yesterday was perfect. Sunny and in the mid 60s, I grabbed some fuel and was ready to go.
I ran about a mile to lab, did some work, and then met up with my running partner. We tackled 10 on the beautiful Border to Border trail and saw so. many. birds! It was wonderful. Just to list a few: American Robin, Red Winged Black Bird, White Swan, Red Tailed Hawk, and more Canadian Geese than you can shake a stick at. Way different from my Florida birding!

I'm calling this a redemption run because my first 12 miler of this training program really sucked. I was sick, it was windy, and my pace was all over the place. I'm happy to report that yesterday was much better!

Mile 1: 9:33
Mile 2: 9:34
Mile 3: 9:42
Mile 4: 9:37
Mile 5: 9:50
Mile 6: 9:51
Mile 7: 9:47
Mile 8: 9:36
Mile 9: 9:53
Mile 10: 9:55
Mile 11: 9:57
Mile 12: 9:45

I ran the rest of the way home and had a giant smoothie full of goodness. It contained spinach, rice milk, frozen peaches, pumpkin, frozen banana, frozen blueberries and chocolate protein powder. So good.
I spent the rest of the day making hot cross buns and sitting out on the porch before heading to a lab Easter dinner. Just wonderful.
Did you have a long run this weekend?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Human Rights and Factory Farming

This is a part of a series on the many factors that went into my decision to become a vegetarian. I believe we all have a responsibility to ourselves to be aware of where our food comes from. I hope to shed light on the food industry and share why I do what I do. I also hope to encourage conversation and critical thinking about these issues. Previous installments: Environmental Effects of Meat and Dairy and Infectious Disease and Factory Farming.

Hyperlinked text/images are sources.

Today's topic: Human Rights and Factory Farming

Factory farming is driven by profit. The entire factory farming system became a cheap and effective way to mass-produce meat and dairy for the growing population of America. Quick production of meat is the key to the success of the slaughterhouse, with some houses processing over 24,000 cows, chickens and pigs per day.

The push for rapid production of meat has put an insurmountable pressure on the workers. Factory farms have lowered standards and have consistently subjected workers to hazardous conditions and labor violations. Many of the workers are immigrants and have been exploited unfairly by these companies, making this abuse a very serious human rights issue.

There are over 500,000 animal workers in America, and many of them are undocumented laborers. A large portion are from Mexico and Latin America and are highly recruited by employers because they are less likely to complain about hazardous conditions or be aware of worker rights in the US. As an added struggle, many of these workers don't speak English and lack the ability to speak up and fight for their rights. Human Rights Watch calls the issue a matter of "systematic human rights abuses."

The following is a clip from the movie Food, Inc. that documents some of the issues these workers face.

After watching, it's hard not to be struck by the amount of abuse and mistreatment that's happening in this system. Just like many will not stand for animal cruelty, I believe we cannot stand for the mistreatment of humans in our country.

Health Risks
Factory farming is a highly wasteful and environmentally damaging process. Pesticide use and gasses from animal waste do a number on our environment. Unsurprisingly, these chemicals pose a serious risk to full-time factory workers.

Two gasses in particular, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are incredibly toxic to humans. These gasses are produced by the incredible amounts of animal waste and manure. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide have been shown to build up to toxic levels inside animal processing facilities. These levels cause severe respiratory illness with over 70% of pig slaughterhouse workers experiencing respiratory distress. These gasses don't stay just inside the slaughterhouse, either, with one study showing a frightening increase in infant mortality from these gasses in the counties surrounding factory farms.
Additionally, there are a high number of workplace injuries these workers face due to the rapid production speed and dangerous nature of their work. Some studies cite 1 in 5 poultry workers being injured on the job. Benefits from these jobs rarely cover healthcare, and in the case of undocumented workers, there are no options for affordable treatment for workplace-related injuries.

Labor Violations
Even more depressing than the health conditions these workers struggle with are the work conditions they are forced into. Extremely long hours coupled with low wages make for a very stressful environment, but it gets worse. Some workers have reported not being able to take a break at all, even to use the restroom, and have spent entire shifts covered in their own (and animal) feces. These restrictions have made the quality of life for slaughterhouse workers extremely poor, with health, psychological and other issues going vastly underreported for fear of job loss.

Immigration Issues
One of the saddest issues that meatpacking workers face are the immigration laws and policies in effect in America. As shown in the clip above, meatpacking companies place ads and bus in undocumented workers to provide cheap labor for their plants. After using the laborers for cheap and highly dangerous work, these same companies then enter into agreements with law enforcement officials to deport and arrest the very workers that keep their production alive. This is one of the most unjust aspects of the factory farming industry, and the most heartbreaking.
So what are we as consumers left to do? Federal and state regulation agencies have been lax about policies and there is a significant issue of complacency within the system. We cannot choose to let this abuse continue and I encourage everyone to consider the people behind the cuts of meat found in the grocery. A few ways you can make a difference:
  • Consider supporting the United Farm Workers organization, which pushes for stricter regulation and fair benefits for workers.
  • Reducing your meat and dairy consumption can have significant impacts on the industry and by choosing to do this, you choose to not support unfair labor environments.
  • In some states, you can purchase meat with the UFW logo on the package, ensuring that meat came from a reliable and just source.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Strength Training At Home

This week started out with a rude awakening. Snow on April 18.

Springtime in Michigan is almost worse than winter-- one week it's 80 degrees and the next it's snowing (literally!). Such a tease.

This week is the last week of classes and the start of finals on campus. Sadly, this means my strength training for runner's class is over :(. I've showcased some of the moves from class in these two posts, but tonight I created my own at home circuit from the best moves I learned this semester.

Strength training is super important for runners! Not only does it keep you strong, it makes you faster and less prone to injury. Strong muscles=healthy runner. I firmly believe this class helped me achieve a 15 minute PR at the DC half marathon.

Let's get down to it. Here's my "home gym" equipment:
An old $10 yoga mat, 2 10lb dumbbells and a foam roller.

Counterintuitive it might be, only running won't give you strong legs. You need to use weightlifting to strengthen your hips, knees and ankles and maintain muscle density to really power your running.

In class, we always start out with the same circuit: we do a squat/lunge series as follows. 15 squats, 15 front lunges (alternate legs), 15 squats, 15 back lunges (lunge backwards), 15 squats, 15 jumping lunges (jump from lunge to lunge), 15 squats, 15 side lunges. I do this while holding 2 10lb weights. These work your hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings and hips.

Then we get into what trainer Bob calls the 'dunkin' series. Start out kneeling on your hands and knees. Place a dumbbell in the crook of your knee and lift your leg to a 90 degree angle from your body.
Repeat 15 times, each side.

After that, return to the same kneeling position and kick your leg back out behind you at a 90 degree angle.
Repeat 15 times, each side. These moves work your hips, glutes, quads and hamstrings.

Then, we repeat the same movements only from starting facing up, hands on your hips with your knees on the ground, 15 times each side, each move. This is especially good for your hips!

A strong core is key for running. Not only does your core power your legs and keep you upright, it also aids in efficient breathing and posture. We do a few series of crunches and situps, one of which is as follows. 15 regular crunches, 15 crunches with legs flat on the ground, 15 crunches with legs in the air, 15 crunches with legs in butterfly position, 15 situps. Repeat! We also do a number of other ab moves, many of which require a stability ball.

One move that has done a number on my abs is this leg-lift side-crunch. Start by laying on your back. Then, lift one leg into the air and crunch up to reach it. Holding dumbbells, turn to the side of the raised leg. Return to start position, then do the other leg. Repeat 15 times each side.
I do this holding my 2 10lb weights but it took me all semester to work up to it! It's hard, but the results are visual!

Foam Roller:
Finally, there's the foam roller. This tool isn't meant for strength training as much as massaging tight muscles. I picked this one up for $20 at Meijer with the purpose of rolling my sore IT band. Here's the position for the IT band roll:
Basically you use your body weight to slowly roll over a hard piece of foam, providing deep tissue massage and therapeutic benefits. Don't get me wrong: it hurts like heck! I yelped the first time I rolled my IT band, but it's helped the pain and inflammation immensely. I'm a new convert!

Note on foam rolling: never, ever roll over your joints!

Finally, remember to have fun and be safe with strength training! A healthy practice can greatly add to your running or other sport workouts. Plus, muscles are sexy :)
Bigcat thinks you look hot.

How do you strength train?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

16 Mile Weekend

Another weekend, another long run in the bag. All week I was looking forward to my long run, but come the weekend, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. With forecasted rain and winds 20mph (with gusts to 40mph!) I decided to do the unthinkable: attempt 16 miles on the treadmill.

I started Saturday morning with a typical fueling breakfast-- wheat bagel thin with chocolate sunflower butter and jam, plus coffee.
For fuel I grabbed some orange shot blocks. These had caffeine in them! It made a huge difference later in the run. I also downloaded Tina Fey's new book, Bossypants, off of I've heard lots of great things about people who've been successful using audiobooks on their runs, and was eager to try.
Around 11am, I dragged myself to the gym for the treadmill long run. I'm happy to report that I was successful, but it was hard! Here's how I made it work:

-Broke it down into small chunks: I decided to take the long run 4 miles at a time. After each 4 mile interlude, I hopped off the treadmill, refilled my water and had a shot block.

-Changed up the scenery: I switched treadmills every 4 miles too. It provided a nice change of scenery and kept the run bearable.

-Alternated book/music: I started with the audiobook for the first 4 miles, then switched to music. Music was way more motivating, but the audiobook provided entertainment for when I was running facing a wall.

Overall, I was done in 2:39, about a 9:57 min/mi pace. I was glad to get the run over with, and glad I didn't have to fight with the winds all day. But I can't say I'll be wanting to run that far on a treadmill ever again.

I felt like this afterwards (blurriness intentional):
And came home and promptly made and ate an entire box of mac and cheese.
Plus yogurt and pumpkin for protein.
After a nap, I spent Saturday night watching City of God with a friend. It was an intense movie, but excellent and I highly recommend it.

Today I got two exciting things at the store.

1) Foam roller!
With my super sore muscles, I'm eager to try this out. Look for a review post coming soon.

2) Cheap produce! I generally buy about 1 red/green/yellow pepper/week, around $2 a pop at most stores. Today I spotted the produce clearance rack and scored 4 red/yellow peppers for just $1.14!!
I'll definitely be checking that rack again in the future!

Finally tonight I took some extra time to whip up dinner: sweet potato fries and split pea soup following this recipe (halved, plus yellow pepper and garlic).

How was your weekend?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Arbor Brewing Company IPA Tasting

Last night I had the fortune of attending Ann Arbor Brewing Company's IPA tasting event. It was in a word, perfect.
ABC is a great brew pub and restaurant located right in downtown Ann Arbor, just 4 blocks from my house. When some fellow grad student friends suggested checking out the IPA tasting this month, I was all game.
The tasting ran from 7 to 9pm, but people started lining up at 6:30! We grabbed our tickets and hopped into line.

Upon entering, we were greeted with rooms full of different styles of IPAs, all microbrews, ranging from the local ABC brews to other breweries across Michigan and the US. For $25, you get unlimited tasting of all of the beers and a free appetizer bar! We quickly began tasting and taking notes on all of the great IPAs.
After the first round of drinks, we loaded up at the appetizer bar. The fare was great: veggies, cheese, periogies, fresh hot pretzels and lots of meat-friendly options too. The food was key to keeping our alcohol levels low-- especially at an IPA event!
Later, we went into the cellar where the strongest and hoppiest beers were being poured. I got to try some totally wacky sweet IPAs (ew) and of course had a few tasters of my favorite high-gravity, Bell's Hopslam. It's in the cellar where we began to get the most inebriated :)
The best part of the whole night though were the awesome pourers behind the beers! They were all super friendly, had great stories and loved talking about beer. Everyone's favorite pourer is Roger, he tells incredible stories AND is a microbiologist to boot! When Dave told him I was a microbiology student, Roger let me come behind the pouring table for a photo!
Sadly, our 2 hours went by so quickly! I have to say that the beer I was feeling the most last night was New Holland's Imperial Mad Hatter. Not surprising, as I love New Holland, but I was won over by the imperial blend!
The night ended with more joking with the pourers, a raffle, and general revelry. I had a blast and ended up running into so many grad student friends! I can't wait to go back next month.
Have you ever been to a beer tasting?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

15 Minute Risotto and a Mediocre Run

Monday night I sent out a tweet (can't believe I just used that as a noun) for dinner recipe suggestions that would use up a lot of mushrooms I had in the fridge. A friend of mine tweeted back: risotto or pizza? I've never made risotto before, and I thought I'd give it a shot.
Now by now you know my number one food philosophy is "quick and healthy" for weeknights. Most risottos take about 30-40minutes and are often very rich. I consulted one of my favorite cookbooks, Rachael Ray's Veggie Meals (before she was famous!) and made up a quick risotto recipe on the fly.
The goods:
1 cup quick-cooking brown rice
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 Tbsp butter
1 cup (or more!) baby bella mushrooms
8 stalks asparagus
1/2 medium onion
1 Tbsp garlic
Handful spinach

Start by boiling the vegetable broth and butter. Add brown rice and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until fluffy.
Meanwhile, chop and steam veggies, adding a little of whichever seasonings you like (I used thyme and salt/pepper).
Voila! 15 minute risotto! Alright, so it wasn't made with arborio rice, and wasn't made with wine, but this version is much faster, healthier and just as delicious.
Another thing that I've been up to this week is the continuation of marathon training. I'm finding that like cutting back on my drinking to make long runs successful, I need to start being more mindful of what I eat before weekday runs. Today I had indian buffet for lunch (yum) but then ran 8 miles.

It wasn't pretty. My average splits for the first half of the run hovered around 9:15 min/mi, but the second half clocked in around 9:45 min/mi. I'm glad it's over, but lesson learned: no curry before a run!
Bigcat, of course, would never do such a thing.

Have had any food or running revelations this week?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beach Weekend

Last weekend I had the opportunity to head back to my hometown of Holland, Michigan. After running 15 miles Saturday morning, I spent the rest of the weekend at the various lakeshores around Holland.
Growing up so close to a giant body of water has definitely shaped who I am and what I appreciate in life. Coming back to the lake every year restores a part of my soul and helps me reconnect with the beauty of the world.
Saturday night some friends and I hit up Lake Michigan for the sunset and a beach fire. It was perfect.
After a night of beaching, we stopped at China Kitchen and devoured some fresh, hot doughnuts.
Sunday morning I went with some family to Boatwerks restaurant, a great eatery right on Lake Macatawa (which feeds into Lake Michigan). In the summer, we drive the boat right up to the patio and enjoy burgers and beer in the sun.
I enjoyed a delicious Boatwerks lunch of the house salad that contained greens, candied pecans, dried cherries and gorgonzola cheese.
Followed by a delicious portabella and red pepper panini with a side of chips and grapes.
With the unseasonably high temps, the trip back to Ann Arbor was a breeze. I left feeling refreshed and restored. It's amazing what a weekend at the beach will do for the spirit.
Have you hit up the beach yet this year?
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