Friday, August 30, 2013

Education Matters

Here is a NY Times article about foreign education. In short, the difference between Americans in school and much of the rest of the developed world can be summed up in this small excerpt:
 “It’s school,” one of them (Finnish school girls) says. “How else will I graduate and go to university and get a good job?” It’s the only sensible answer, of course, but its irrefutable logic still eludes many American students, a quarter of whom fail to graduate from high school.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Would You Sacrifice Any Comfort?

As a serious and semi-successful athlete I sacrifice comfort and miss opportunities all the time. It is nearly impossible to get me to stay out past nine or ten on the weekends. I spend time sleeping and laying on my couch that could be spent out socializing. I go running instead of the group rock climbing trip. Being vegan has really changed my perspective of what others are willing to sacrifice. From immediate comfort to paychecks to a three bed-two bath house, it seems people do not want to sacrifice much. Perhaps most would given the right dire circumstances, but few seem to do it with the eager willingness of an athlete.

I'm not suggesting that everyone quits their jobs to move to Africa to train as runners full time or be vegan or work multiple jobs, rather if there is just one thing you want to be better at, and if there is something else you can sacrifice to be better at that one thing, wouldn't it be a good trade?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sweat in My Eyes

The last few days have been some of the hottest of the year, in the 90s and upper 80s Fahrenheit with plenty of humidity. I've been feeling tired so I only ran five miles today (although that included 15x50 meter short hill sprints). When I finished my running my eyes were burning from the sweat. It hurts and I don't like the feeling, yet it goes along with the subtle satisfaction of knowing I still went out and chipped away at the larger goal when others probably had excuses. Ah, the sweet satisfaction of suffering.
(After I wiped my face off...)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Java Dreams and Hot and Spicy

Java Dreams on University in Dubuque closed Sunday. The family than ran it for years is moving to Port Townsend, Washington, where they will have a blast. It is the only place I know that had white espresso. Their "white coffee dream" was amazing! Similarly earlier in the summer down the street on University Hot and Spicy, the only Indian restaurant in town closed. The owner had another business somewhere else to attend. Earlier another place on University, the Athenian Grill, closed for food safety violations. It was a Greek place I actually never even tried.

The point is in two months two of my favorite food establishments in Dubuque closed. Two of the few places that offered something alternative to hamburgers, slabs of animals, and pasta.

Dubuque is an old town. One that moves slowly. While that means nice old buildings and great trails and wilderness to run on, it also means that diversity, such as white espresso or hyderabadi biryani, can be lacking. 

I will miss the people that made this place even more attractive to live. Although I am sure they are having a great time in their new locations.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 120

The more tired I am the shorter these posts get.

Work went great. I am quite fortunate to have the career that I do. I solve problems and make things better. From more fuel efficient to more durable, I do both, every day.

Coaching was limited, but I did some. The new cross country season is starting! A number of bright young faces to learn about and help develop. Thankfully many returners as well.

Running was great! I ran 103 miles including three workouts, all good. Kind of failed on my Saturday long run to do 20 miles in 1:58, fell apart last five miles and ran 2:03. Only a 6:10 pace average for 20 miles... Still the best long run I have had since 2011.

Also spent some time working out at the winery. Will be out there this coming weekend, and then that's about it for some time. The school year coaching now takes my time.

Other than that I watched this short video about the Outdoor Research Tiny House twice. Less than five house of watching media this past week for sure.

Friday, August 23, 2013

1009 Blog Posts!

I meant to have a celebratory 1000th blog post, but other things were on my mind so we are celebrating 1009 today! Wow, 1009 articles written and published! I have been doing this for four and a half years. It all started on a whim on a weekday night in grad school from my apartment. There have been so many ups and downs since then. My life has not been at all what I thought it would be.

If there is any message to convey today it is that good things often take time. Blogging does not provide me an income, as I naively thought it might when I started. My initial goal to blog the story of a start up company ended with a failure that gave me back pain. I optimistically thought I might run at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials, and I didn't. I went to Pakistan and did not summit anything. I was unemployed.

The way I see it, this whole opportunity to blog is a blessing. If I can communicate poverty to the rich, business to the technical, marathoning to the sedentary, then I can help develop better understanding between people. Who knows what kind of value I have created for other people to use in their daily lives! God has blessed me so much. I could have easily died on more than one occasion since I started Learning to DO. Lest I forget to mention my sponsor, Jesus love you, even if no one else does.

Fight the good fight! Stand strong even when you stand alone. We cannot know in the moment what the effect of our actions and words are, so strive to be better today than yesterday. It's a long road. Maybe you will write 1009 blog posts. Maybe 10,090 blog posts. I don't know how you will change the world, at least your little corner of it, but please change it for the better.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Runners: Eat More Iron

Two runners I work with (coach) have gotten anemic or had low iron levels this year. Human runners lose iron a variety of ways.
1. Blood loss (for women menstration)
2. Sweat
3. Foot strike, although this is not well understood. 
My Iron Supplement
The recommended daily intake of iron varies from about 5-18 mg depending on the source, age and sex. That is a small amount but large enough that it is not insignificant. Also, B12 and the thyroid are both related to anemia as well although again these interactions are not well understood. The concern most people have with iron supplements is overdosing. It takes about 10+ mg of iron per kilogram of body weight daily to overdose. I weigh about 55kg to overdose would require about 550 mg of iron per day!

The point is, there are few legal performance enhancing drugs in the world, but iron is one that if it is low will certainly be a set back. Plus, it is somewhat hard to overdose on it for a person running and sweating two hours per day. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Don't Even Know What is Unusual

Between my world travels, the United States included, and the people I have met in my various endeavors, I no longer "know" what is unusual. What is normal in one location is crazy in another. For example, everybody has a car?! In most of the world that is just ludicrous. It is certainly not normal to have a car. In other parts of the world it is normal for children to skip school to get water or help their parents farm, while in other parts of the world that would probably end with law enforcement.

I aim to try and eliminate the word "normal" from my vocabulary. What is normal? Who knows!? Trying to define the "normal" seems to just be a destructive path for the people on the ends. Those that are not "normal" suffer because they are not "normal". If there was no normal, there would no longer be the stigma and outcast from being part of a non-existent group. In other words, we, and I mean I here, need to welcome those not welcomed by the majority. Again, there is no one else.

Except for the White People, This is a "Normal" African Market
A "Normal" Cab Stand, and a "Normal" Lady Carrying Her Shopping Home

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Give Directly

Returning from Africa it has been a bit of a struggle to understand what can be done to alleviate the health issues and lack of prosperity. The feeling is: whatever I can do, it will not be enough to make a change anywhere close to the prosperity I enjoy. The truth is really: whatever I can do will will help. When I think of the $2500 I spent on the week I know that a better use of the money would be just to send it to people living in poverty in Africa. However, part of the reason I had to go was to share the experience with the 65% of Americans that do not have a passport. If I don't tell people how good they have it, how will they ever know? While the pictures and videos never capture the smell or the taste or the ambience, they show the shoe-less feet and weathered faces. The pictures show the living conditions and lack of infrastructure.

While I have not decided exactly what I will do to change the world in Africa Planet Money had a nice piece about a charity that gives money directly, named Give Directly, to the people who need it most. In short, the most direct way to give charity. Talk about low overhead, you only need a name a cell phone number. In short, if you are looking to make a difference in Africa, this is as good as a place as any to send your money:

Lest anyone think I am doing this haphazardly I will be highlighting several different charity options in the future including specific charities that I will be doing fundraising endurance events for. The idea of feeding a starving kid will probably help me run harder at the end of a marathon.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 119

Another very blessed week! Seriously, I have so much to be thankful for, cell phones, carpet, a well working vehicle, a motorcycle, three bicycles, my health, my wealth, my job and career, my two other jobs, good coffee, and of course, my family and friends.

Work was good. I am working on a relatively small project, well, it's a big project for a few people, myself included. We have done over fifty iterations of design and FEA in the last few weeks. What we have now, it is good. The difference between where we started and where we are now is significant, all without building a single physical prototype. I do not know exactly how much time my structural analysis has saved, or money of physical build and test cycles, but it is certainly more than one month. Finite element structural analysis is a significantly useful tool in virtual analysis of structures. Quite honestly, I don't know how any company over 30 people that build structural things in today's world can survive without it.

Running went very well. Ran a total of 94 miles for the week including a 12 mile tempo at 5:55 pace, the best tempo I have had in two years! That workout, plus two runs totaling 11.6 miles on Wednesday and a 37 mile bicycle ride (for 3.5 hours of exercise in one day) effectively killed any quality (fast running) for the rest of the week. Although I did get out and do 10 miles with a new guy in town, and while finding appropriate training partners can be difficult, this will probably be good for the both of us.  In short, really good week.

No coaching or wine work this week, which was fortunate because I seemed to have been busy with my other activities.

Saturday many of us that went to Rwanda did have a debriefing about our experience, and the tone was mostly positive. There was a feeling, not necessarily specific to Rwanda, that the needs are great, but where to start? We know there is more we (the seven of us that met Saturday) can do to alleviate poverty in Africa, but what?

In running new, Stephen Kiprotich, who won the Olympic Marathon Gold last year out of relatively nowhere, won the World Championships this year! I seriously thought we would never hear from him again, but we might just have a super celebrity runner on our hands! Watch the video. This means more to me now that I have seen the kind of conditions that these guys grow up in. Lest I only focus on those that grew up in poverty, Nick Symmonds, a former NCAA Division 3 running, like myself, just won second in the world in the 800!! I watched him run to second at USATFs in Des Moines in June and while I never raced him in college, he did only get around 70th to 80th in cross country in college, at the D3 level. Third, one of the few profession runners I have seen training (summer 2008 around the Res in Boulder on a Sunday morning long run, like myself that day) Jenny Simpson won the silver in the 1500 after winning the gold two years ago. To be quite honest, neither Nick or Jenny particularly look like our definition of a runner. Or I should say, yes they both look athletic, and likely that involves some running, but neither is a scrawny person with long legs. Maybe we should redefine who looks like a runner. Many of of the greatest runners throughout history were not what we want to stereotype runners into. For example, Emil Zatopek, Prefontaine, Yiannis Kouros, seem to sit in the same boat as Jenny and Nick.

Hillside Near Byumba, Rwanda
What great scenery right? What a nice place to run as well, maybe this is similar to the place Kiprotich grew up.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Everything I Can DO

While nobody has had a visceral or extremely animated response to me being vegan, most are surprised. Many people say, "I could never do that." They say it with the confidence that even in July I said the same thing. The truth is, we know a lot less about the biosphere and specifically our human bodies, from a scientific view, than we care to admit. With that curiosity in mind and the bit of logic about the sugars and fats in animal products I chose to try being vegan.

I want to see how fast I can run. Specifically I want to run at the Olympic marathon trials. However with each passing year a 2:17 marathon seems more difficult. Regardless of the specificity of any one goal, and the success or failure of that one goal, the process of improvements and the challenge of overcoming plateaus and barriers is a huge part of the thrill. I am partly defined as a 2:30:20 marathoner. Yet I think more about the 1500 miles and 200 hours of training leading up to that race than the race itself. It is the same with my marathon goal. Perhaps I miss the goal, by several minutes, yet it is still likely I run even faster than I have and amongst the top 300 or so marathoners in the country and 2000 in the world. That is hardly a failure for a guy that ran a single 18:26 5k in high school and struggled to an 11:03 3200 meter best. 

Having come so far one might look back and think, 'I have done well, I can sleep in and take it easy.' However, the lure of a more exclusive, more challenging, slightly more rewarding story awaits. If it takes being vegan consistently to lose the extra four pounds to get there the question then becomes, 'how many years would I be a vegan?' 

I know we are barely two weeks into this experiment, but the results seem to be trending towards the best case scenario. I want to leave no stone unturned in this pursuit. When I look back in a decade or two or three or five I want to know that I gave it my best shot. We often say in the US, "No regrets!" That is what I mean to give this effort, although I do have many regrets. Only perfect people do not regret their mistakes. 

At the end of Schindler's List he cries because his car could have saved four more people, his button could have saved one more. Rwanda re-energized me by showing me how luxurious my life is. I have an amazing apartment, with carpet and air conditioning and a garage. I have a great reliable van, and I have a motorcycle and three bicycles. I have enough clothing to wear a different shirt for over a month. I have DVDs, books, shoes, skis, two computers, a cell phone, and a pantry full of food. I have absolutely no excuse for not giving the things I do in life every chance to succeed. I think that excuses might be a first world problem. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

There is No One Else

In the movie Zero Dark Thirty there is a scene where the commander who is frustrated as the progress of his team says, "...there is no one else." He wants to motivate them, because no one else can do the work they can do. I have thought about this since Africa, in respect to charity, my engineering, and running. There is no one else who will do what I can do. Maybe there is, but it would probably take that person or persons longer, simply because I already have proximity to the challenges.

You can come up with excuses not to give to charity, not to be an artist at your day job, and not to exercise but if you don't do those things, no one will. The idea in your head, that seems good, although too crazy to tell others, will not magically be done. You must do it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Changing Expectations

I am getting older. Only one day at a time yet the process is irreversible. This causes me to rethink some of my long term goals supposedly finished when I am young. Not dismiss them, but reevaluate. It is important for a goal orientated person like myself to use the newest data to add to the goal and determine the progress from here. For example, a sail boat going across an ocean  may sail with the wind one day, into the wind another day, and across the wind on a third day. It might even end up in the doldrums, windless, too. Yet crossing the ocean is still the goal. If the boat gets off course maybe it will arrive at the wrong port, but the goal is still a continent in general, even if the details of the arriving city change.

The point is, use the most recent data of where you have been recently and how it fits into where you want to go and you will have a better idea of how to sail to your destination.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What if this Long Shot Works?

What if this-thing-that-is-supposed-to-fail actually succeeds? What if our hair brained, Hail Mary, last chance, lottery odds plan succeeds? What if it works? Are we prepared for success to exceed our expectations?

All too often we set the bar low to guarantee getting over it, or set the bar high and guarantee failure. What if you set the bar high, and get over it? What if you happen to high jump higher than anyone in history ever has? Are you ready for that kind of success? To be better at your art than anyone who has attempted that art ever has been? To breakthrough the science that the scientists did not comprehend?

On the odd chance this works, go with it. Do not take it for granted. Share the wealth. Pay it forward. Learn from your success and change the world. There are starving people that would kill for the opportunities you have every day, Somali pirates among them.

Monday, August 12, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 118

Updating the blog less than an hour before I go to bed Monday night, sorry, I really do like to write articles the night before they are published. So the week in review shall we gents and ladies?

Work went well, I developed the project I am working on further. Part of me thinks, 'I'm a genius, I'm rocking this project! I might as well phone it in. Seriously, I'm so good at what I do.' The other part of me, experienced through lived failures and problems thinks, 'great, I've spent so much time on this project and I must be missing something. This is far too complicated for me to really understand. No one else has understood it. I'm missing something and it is going to cost us hundreds of thousands.' What is the truth? We will find out, probably before the end of 2013.

Running went well 81 miles including a true trail race, a half marathon that is. It was the inagural Mines of Spain Trail Race and I was second to Scott Gall, a guy that was once 5th in the world in mountain running, a 2:20 marathoner and in the last few years ran a 1:08 half. However, I made him work for it. I thought him being 39 years old he might be on the decline in terms of 4:10 mile speed, yet after leading from 1 mile to about 3.75 he took the lead going into a hill, and wow can he climb! I do not see myself as a particularly strong hill runner, but I'm certainly not slow. The two of us were in front of all of the 5k and 10k runners from 200 meters on despite running a half marathon. In short, once he got about 15 seconds on me, based on my heart rate, I relaxed a little and never really chased. That being said I couldn't see him to chase him and my legs did go anaerobic on three different hills. I also did a short 5x1000 meter workout, on a humid 86 degrees Fahrenheit day, that went better than expected.

Now for what everyone is really interested in, how is being vegan? Well, I'm hungry all the time and I'm tired pretty often. Which is to say, running is going well and I feel normal. Seriously, my tweets today, Monday, August 12th, chronicle all the food I have eaten today, I'm not restricting. If I am hungry I eat something. There is a bit of a challenge finding food. That being said, Saturday night, after the trail half marathon and going rock climbing in the afternoon, we climbers went out to Buffalo Wild Wings, and I had nachos without cheese or meat. Basically chips with lettuce and onions and salsa on the side. Still for one person it was actually filling. The point being, it is possible to go out to eat without creating a scene and still get a fair amount of food.

A vegan diet does cost more than my standard diet. Bread goes at $6 a loaf, soy, almond, and coconut milk is also in the range of $6 a gallon, and I drink at least a liter of milk a day. I drink lattes, which means getting soy milk, which costs $.50-75 more eat time. I spent more time cooking and preparing my food. It takes longer to make rice or quinoa than it does pasta (which I still eat) or grill a steak.

I do feel more lean, less fat even after only 12 days than I did before. It is probably imperceptible to others, and maybe better if they can't see, thus they worry less. Also, sometimes after eating a large steak or huge chunk of fish or milk or ice cream it is common to get a heavy feeling in your stomach, I have not had that feeling in 12 days! I have an iron stomach so it was never really a problem, but all of the sudden I do not have that feeling, and it feels better.

Finally, I did start taking a strait up iron pill Saturday. I have not felt strong all summer, and after hearing of yet another runner getting anemia I decided to bump up my iron intake. After two pills in three days I ran a 1:10:59 12 mile run tonight, which is in short, great! 12 miles at 5:55 pace average far exceeded my expectations, and I still feel good. Especially considering that Saturday I ran a tough half marathon.

The vegan experiment was kind of designed in my head to help me lose a few pounds but hamper my performance and strength, then I had this great medium pace tempo?! I fear this experiment may last longer than the month of August.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Running the 2013 Chicago Marathon!

I have registered for the 2013 Chicago Marathon on Sunday October 13th, 2013. Just over nine weeks away I will be chasing my potential. I am part of the American Development Program due to my 2011 CIM marathon time of 2:30. What is my goal? Definitely break 2:30, so that at a minimum I can be a 2:2X runner. Other than that, I know a lot of people will be chasing the 2:18 Olympic Trials standard and some the 2:15 A standard. The truth is I have another month before I really need to commit to a race pace.

I hope that one of you my family or friends might be able to be there. I put a lot of time and effort into my serious marathons and I want to share that joy with others. Plus, In the 20 months since I last raced a marathon, I have set PRs at 800 m, 1 mile, 5k, and 10k, so I think I am headed in the right direction. Longs runs have been going rather well too. We shall see of course how well I can prepare over the next nine weeks.

This is the largest marathon I have ever done, so I expect some things to be different. Hopefully that means I have more people to run with. On a side note, if anyone else is running Chicago let me know! There are charity spots still available if you would like to run it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

United States Health Care Has a Price Problem

The third article in a new series by Elisabeth Rosenthal in the NY Times is about joint replacement. In short, if you need a joint replaced, don't do it in the United States. There is an excellent interview on NPR with the author about this article as well.

In the US most of us have a feeling that our healthcare is more expensive than it needs to be. How many fountains are there in hospitals? Yet having only had one small experience with healthcare in a foreign country (Costa Rica, and my friend basically had the flu) I do not really have anything to compare to, until I read the article and heard the interview. This is a problem. I look at even my health care costs, $340 a month, and I wonder, how in the world those 15 malarone malaria pills, that I paid $115 for anyway, warrant that kind of monthly payment when in the year I have no other medical costs to date? Last year I only had a doctor visit and x-ray, which cost me about $150.

It makes me wonder, if I opted out of insurance, saved the $4000 per year after a few years I would have enough to really self-insure myself for nearly everything. Not cancer, or a paralyzing accident, but in those cases at my young age I might be able to sue someone. The point being, $4000 is a lot of money for the slight chance that a healthy young person like myself will need $4000 in medical car in a given year.

What are some solutions?

  • Transparent prices for products and services. Open the price information up to a market so that people can clearly see the costs before the procedures. 
  • Less administration, we have reduced the person count in manufacturing, why not in healthcare? It is not only the fact that there is so much administration, it is that each person or company has a profit on top of the salaries required to sell the pills and plastics. I am all for increased employment, but when that quintuples the cost of the service provided compared to other countries, like Belgium, we have just gone too far.
  • Accurate information about procedure outcomes, such as percent of people with X type of cancer and Y type of treatment that were cancer free five and ten years later. I have been offered an MRI for an issue that was visible, although only slightly, on an x-ray. No thank you, that is $1000+ I do not need to spend.
All of those negatives being said, we have a price problem, not a value problem. It is still very possible to get great health care in this country from many of the best doctors and nurses and medical product companies in the world. Despite the fact it is overpriced, it is still a high value product. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Only Three People Cared to Hear About Africa

Since returning to Dubuque from Africa I have had the opportunity to tell a number of people, maybe close to 100 by now a little of my adventure. However, only three people so far have been interested in more than a very superficial overview. That is an oversimplification, the only presentation I did was to a group of high school students and they asked more questions than anyone else, but due to time constraints we didn't have time for a long discussion.

The point is, most adults are so comfortable in their lives here that the thought of a difficult life in a far away land makes people uncomfortable. Besides, we worked hard for our 2500 square foot house and new cars, we deserve these things. No, we do not deserve to be born in the USA. We do not deserve to have the opportunity to go to college, even if that means taking out massive loans. We do not deserve any sort of government social safety net. Yet for some reason, we can afford these luxuries. Do these safety nets become a privilege we are now responsible for maintaining? Yes, with great power (wealth) comes great responsibility. We do not like to hear that when it means we are the rich one with the responsibility. Yet often the uncomfortable truths are the ones we need to hear the most.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 117

Another week, working moderately. I think we in the US like to think of ourselves as hard workers, all the time, but real hard work is not sustainable.

Engineering went well, I cycled through a few iterations of the project I am working and took a two day "Working with China" class. The class was very good, I learned quite a bit. For example, even though China is communist it is a very hierarchical society. Your status is an important aspect of you in that culture. That is a stark contrast to our western perception of communists being equals. Another aspect of the Chinese culture, and most of Asia, is that relationships are more important than the task at hand. Again, that is different than the argumentative goal orientated culture of the west. The concept of "Face" is important too. "Face" is like one's reputation, or quite literally, one's face to the world. The more status someone has the more face that person has too. The implication is that the boss can yell at people, even though he is wrong, if it means he can save face in front of a third party. The concept of a verbal "yes" is interesting too, maybe a whole blog post interesting.

I ran 84 miles including a 24 mile long run and some strides and a couple hard hills, though no formal workout. I need to do some quality, and I would like some running partners to help push me through workouts.

How is being vegan? Expensive. Who pays $6.59 for a loaf of bread? This guy. How about $3 for half a gallon of soy, almond or coconut milk? The upside is I am discovering new foods, like coconut milk, new mushrooms, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and tahini. I have had some before, but never tried to cook them myself.

I am tired, between working, running, and making food, there is not a lot of time left over. I realized recently that I have not had cable, satellite, or even a home Internet connection in over two years! Considering that means I have probably saved close to $2000 by now, I would say it was a good choice.

Monday, August 5, 2013

I Can't Do Everything

The weekly update is coming. I had a long weekend and well, other thing had my time and attention today and yesterday. Sometimes it is good to realize we cannot do everything all the time.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Vegan Experience: Lessons Learned after Two Days

A few lessons have been learning in a very short amount of time. That is another point of doing unique things, to learn. I have had more quinoa, black beans and rice in the last two weeks than in the rest of 2013. That's not really a lesson learned, eating more of a food, but it's about learning how I like my quinoa or rice. Here are the major things I have learned thus far. 
  1. Really this was the warmup challenge, finding vegan bread. Between Trader Joes Sprouted Wheat Bread found in Madison, WI and Ezekiel 4:9 at The Food Store in Dubuque it looks like I shall survive. I eat a loaf of bread about every five or six days, because I eat 2-3 sandwiches per day at work most days, plus bread with olive oil and vinegar. Point being, I cannot envision going without bread. That seems more drastic to me than being vegan.
  2. Sometimes I feel like an idiot for the length of time it takes me to learn something. For example, [anecdotally] vegans always seem to be really skinny, so if I am a vegan I will probably get really skinny. Not once did I try to reason why vegans are skinny. I thought for some reason they didn't eat as much or something. On day one of my vegan month (August 1st) I discovered why in the evening: I had a craving for ice cream. Vegans cannot eat ice cream, custard, or gelato because all contain dairy products. Suddenly I knew why vegans are skinny. It's not for lack of eating, already two and a half days into the month the volume of food I eat has gone up. The reason vegans are skinny is that many of the vegetarian friendly foods like doughnuts, brownies, pizza, and most baked goods are off limits. Many of the high sugar foods are also high in milk, cream or butter, which tends to contain more fat and often saturated fat. It's as simple as that. Forget meat as a source of high fat and salt, which are not always conducive to weight loss, what about milk and related cream products as a source of fat and sugar? How many calories of that subway sandwich are in the cheese?
  3. Always carry food wherever I go. Often there is one ingredient that makes an entire food inedible to a vegan, like honey or an egg in bread. In short a vegan has to read a lot of labels, which is not a huge change for me because I have been on the lookout for high fructose corn syrup and sugar in foods for some time. This just takes that to a whole other level, instead of eating something I have a craving for, like ice cream, I have to find soy or almond milk to satisfy the craving. The point of this lesson is that leftover pizza and doughnuts are something that might be in my best interest to avoid regardless of my diet, and having my own chosen more healthy food available I am less likely to eat the junk food.
  4. We are not meant to be vegan, because of B12. It's a huge issue for vegans. It basically only comes from animals, really from bacteria, but in a symbiotic relationship with animals. What this means for me is that a vegan diet, even if I stay on it for years, is temporary for me. I like steak, salmon, cheese of course, and especially the occasional sea bass.
On a side note I have been tired all of August. I think that is from passing 300,000 miles on my van, talking to my parents of Africa, traveling to Moline two days in a row, and running over 50 miles in three days. So I don't think it's tiredness from an inadequate diet. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Hills Are Steep in Rwanda

We take for granted that agriculture in the US is on level ground. In Rwanda, and what I have seen of Indonesia and China, that is not the case for most of the arable land in the world. The United States is very fortunate to have the farm land we have. Honestly, we should import some people to bring the population density on arable land at least remotely close to that of other countries.
Our Host's House, Cut into the Hillside
In the panorama above you can see our host's house and compound. Also, notice the UN tarp that I mentioned a few days ago to the lower left of the house. The platform is cut into the clay hillside, by hand and with only three feet of space between the hill and the house, at the top the land cut away is taller than the house!
The Front of our Host's Compound
Similarly, the platform is also built up in front of the house, and this is what results. Those are banana trees in most of the picture and the fence is made of bamboo vertical pieces and wood horizontal pieces. This is all recent construction, that's why the lawn hasn't come in yet.

Tractors just will not work here. Besides the fact that most plots of land are less than a quarter acre, the hills are too steep for machinery anyway. There is some terracing, but it varies by region and even a terraced field may still be on a 15 degree slope with a 50 degree slope between fields. While that sounds inefficient to us, during the rainy season the last thing they probably want is a giant pond where their crops are. So the challenge is: how to make the land more agriculturally productive? Short answer, I do not know. Long and uncomfortable ecologically incorrect answer, terraform the country to make it less steep.

A tangent on all this is that if other parts of Africa are this hilly, and the Africans ever decided to go into the mountains to run trails or hike serious mountains, they shall utterly destroy the speed records.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Running to Congo

It's funny how we don't realize the significance of something until it is over. I had no idea how close I was to Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo) and specifically the fighting near Goma until I was back in the US and uploaded my GPS tracked runs to my running log. Thus, I want to share this with you.
Running Toward the Gorillas and Guerrillas
This first run was just up a long low angle road toward the mountains that were somewhat masked by haze, smog, and dust. I knew that we were in the general region of the DRC and Uganda, but when I actually look at it on the map... Wow, it's just another five miles away, I was halfway there!
Running Toward Goma
For those that do not know, Goma, or north of Goma, DRC is where the M23 rebels are fighting and UN peacekeepers have moved into the area. This was a shorter run, but this is clearly the main road from the city of Ruhengeri to Goma, with a population up to even one million. I look at this map and I think, while fighting still exists there, and the city was captured by M23 rebels in late 2012, I could have run there! Sure it would be 20-25 miles or so, but the road was pretty good. 

The strange thing about this whole experience is that the two days spent in this area no one ever mentioned anything about the fighting in the Congo just 15 miles strait away. It's like Platteville, Wisconsin was having a war and in Dubuque no one talked about it.

Interesting to say the least. This highlights an idea that I had after Pakistan, the world is more day to day than we understand. I think in the US we still think wars are fought on battlefield in far away destinations, because we have not had anything up close and personal on our land in a long time. Yet in much of the rest of the world, wars are fought next to uncle Jim's fruit stand and behind aunt Margret's house. By far, most people do not participate in the fighting, thus the issue of refugees. Yet these struggles are so close to their daily lives that there is not a choice of stopping until the conflict ends. If a country or place wants to develop and have something economic, life and work must continue.

By the way, DRC, doesn't that sound scary? I keep thinking, 'Demilitarized Zone' because of all the fighting that has happened and the connotations of demilitarized zone in Korea.