Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Economics of Fruit

Stuck into an inhospitable crag bordering the parking lot next of the Record-Journal building, there sits an old neglected apple tree. It's daily washed with car exhaust, and some type of vine has wrapped it up, slowly strangling it. It's quite obvious that no one has done anything for this tree in a long, long time.

And so it was with a great deal of surprise that I noticed it's branches filled with green apples last fall. I did a bit of climbing and came away with a few. To my surprise, the apples were fantastic, and easily the equal of any I get from the orchard.

It's a tree that got me thinking.

Today is a rest day for me, so I thought I'd briefly talk about the economics of my diet.

Someone emailed me recently and said that my diet may may be healthy, but that it's "unsustainable". Not everyone can afford to have fruit, they said. Our nation can't handle lots of diets like yours.

I beg to differ. Fruit growing is something I've been researching lately, and my take on the situation is the complete opposite. There can be nothing more sustainable than fruit.

Take that old tree for example. It's probably been dutifully producing a bumper crop- that usually rots on the pavement of the parking lot while people go hungry in the city- for decades.

Fruit is actually the most efficient use of farm land. Orchards produce the most calories per acre of any crop. We could use a tenth of today's farmland to support the entire nation, or use all of today's farm land planted with fruit trees to feed a huge population.

So why are fruits and vegetables so expensive? It's a good question that I'm very curious about. I think that part of it is that they've taken on a kind of boutique image. I've seen locally grown tomatoes for sale for $4 a pound!

If you've ever grown organic tomatoes from seed, you know that tomatoes cost pennies to grow. $4.00 a pound is ridiculous. I've been harvesting a huge crop from my garden for little cost.

It's the same thing with fruit. Fruit is relatively passive. Sure, orchards trim and fertilize fruit trees to maximize harvests, but you can abandon a tree like the one next to the parking lot and it will keep producing food for you. You can plant a healthy tree and it will still be feeding your great grandchildren. It's actually amazing if you stop and think about it.

As for my food budget, it's actually pretty reasonable. I'm a reporter, and can't afford tons of organic fruit on my pay, but I do pretty well for myself. I buy in bulk.

Even with the increase in price, bananas can be had for .44 cents a pound. The 40-pound box I buy every week costs me $17.60. Because they're so packed with nutrients and minerals, calorically dense, and just plain tasty, bananas form a decent part of my diet.

But I buy what's in season and cheapest. Citrus fruits in the winter, peaches, nectarines and watermelons in the summer, apples in the fall, and anything else that that looks good. If you buy in bulk, you get good deals.

Roger's Orchards in Southington, for instance, will sell you a half bushel of peaches (seconds that taste great, but look slightly ugly) for $16.

I usually spend $50-60 a week for fruits and veggies.

When you consider that I no longer have much use for restaurants, and only grab a cheap salad when I go out to restaurants with friends, it's probably fair to say that I'm saving an additional $20 at least.

The other factor is long term. Sure, I might pay more now for my health, but science says that I'll be reaping the benefits as I age.

Studies have shown that a low fat diet like mine (fat under 10 percent compared to 30-40 percent of calories from fat for the average SAD Diet) has no problems reversing and preventing heart disease. A heart bypass operation costs $180,000. How much does a lifetime of diabetes care cost? Cancer risk has been shown to be very linked to diet. Think about the price of chemo.

How much would you pay to avoid arthritis, headaches, and have tons of energy?

I'd say that the economics are in my favor.

The other ridiculous factor is that the government subsidizes poor health by underwriting meat, dairy, and egg production, as well as grains like corn that get turned into high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient in most junk food. They should be subsidizing healthy food.

Now we're talking about universal health care, so we can pay for the meat that clogs the man's arteries, and then we can pay for the heart bypass surgery to keep him alive.

It's a strange world.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I Need More Sleep and A Run Through The Cemetery

The elite Kenyan runners sometimes spend 16 hours in bed during their peak training season, my research tells me.

I can commiserate. The more I run, the more I need time to heal and recover. I mentioned that while recovering from my Saturday 16-mile attempt, I slept 12 hours. That's probably a record for me.

But the thing is that I'm a reporter. I'm often forced to be mentally on my toes and stimulated late into the evening. It's not too uncommon for me to not get home until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. When you're trying to get to bed early, it can be pretty hard to wind down.

Around 11:30 p.m. I was fidgeting in bed last night, trying to fall asleep, but suffering from an overactive mind. Sometimes meditation works, but not if I'm too agitated.

I ended up getting up, reading for an hour or so, and then finally going to sleep. I woke up the next morning at 7:30 when the light started creeping under the shades.

By 8:30 a.m. I was on the road, pounding the pavement, creating even more of a backlog of sleep needs.

Right now I'm feeling a bit tired. I can never sleep while I can see light, so napping doesn't really work.

Some people would say drink caffeine, but that's just robbing Peter to pay Paul. It doesn't solve the underlying needs of my mind and my body.

Such is life, I guess. I'll try to get to bed earlier tonight.

The Run:

Tonight I took a zigzag course around the city, eventually headed through Walnut Grove Cemetery. I don't really understand cemeteries. I would be annoyed to know that my corpse was permanently squatting on a good piece of land. Walnut Grove is beautiful, despite the tombs and gravestones. It could be a park.

But then I suppose it could also be a housing development. At least the place affords me a pleasant, shaded place to run as it is.

Future Posts:
1) Last night I worked with some the friendly folks at Omni Physical Therapy, who volunteered to take a look at my running and give me some tips. I'll be writing an article for the paper about that experience soon

2) The Economics of Fruit

3) The Mental Side of Running

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sixteen Miles And The Lesson Well Taken


It was a beautiful day Saturday morning, and I set off around 10:30 a.m on a 16 mile jaunt. On this, the longest distance I had ever run, I decided I was going to experiment with some things.

The first was breakfast. I've always had cramping problems before when I've run with food in my stomach. I decided to eat eight bananas about two hours before I set out. I'd done this before with watermelon, but banana is more calorically dense, which you need to fuel a long run. It's also a more substantial food, and theoretically could give me some digestive challenge compared to the watermelon.

As ran down W. Main Street, I I felt some mild tightness in my stomach, but it passed away pretty quickly.

I headed down Oregon Road, up the Quinnipiac Gorge Trail, and into Cheshire. W Meriden Road is basically a long climb that lasts a few miles, but I didn't have too much of a problem with it.

I was rationing my water, but by mile seven or so I had run out. I was purposely taking this route so that I could stop off at my parents house. There, I had asked my parents to pick some celery from the garden and save me a couple of ripe bananas to try another experiment- my raw "energy drink."

It's simple, but far better than the crap they sell at the store. After a couple of hours, I was feeling fairly tired and a bit thirty. I made a smoothie out of celery and two bananas and a whole lot of water. I sipped it slowly, stretched, and set off back to Meriden after about 20 minutes.

I suppose a 20 minute break in the middle of my run is cheating, but whatever.

So I felt completely refreshed with my "energy drink" and had no lack of energy as I powered up the hills in the neighborhood I grew up in and back down to Meriden.

On about mile 13 or 14, I ran into a problem, though. My legs had been tired before my run, and after a couple hours my left leg was shot. I wouldn't exactly describe the sensation as pain. It was more like a really deep tiredness. It's like my muscle had come off its track. It was just telling me to stop.

I could have powered through it, but I figured that it was better to slow down and walk rather than risk injury.

I found it really, really annoying to be walking all the way back to Meriden when I had plenty of energy.

But my muscular rebellion had a good point. I had probably been averaging 25 miles a week previous to my training.

Last week, I ran 47. I think that while I was cardiovascular fit enough for the mileage, my leg muscles may not have been prepared.

After a massive meal after I got back to to my apartment and a lot of stretching, my leg was soon bending and functioning just fine, though it was a bit sore.

I slept 12 hours that night. I was completely exhausted and the sleep felt fantastic.

I took all of Sunday off for rest and, as I was off from work Monday, I didn't run that day either, but instead decided to go to the beach and do some swimming.


After two days of rest, I was ready to run again. I had a nice tour of the city and stretched my legs a bit.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Eight Miles and The Return of The Sun

It's nice, really nice, to run in the cool morning air under a bright sun. The last few days I've been hot, soaked, and treated to dark skies.

Life just seems a bit nicer when the sun is out, and my running seems to improve as a result. Just in my head? Maybe.

I had a really nice eight mile run down Oregon road, up the Quinnipiac River Gorge Trail to the Cheshire Border, back on the winding road past Hanover Pond into South Meriden, and back around the pond to the downtown.

I was thinking as I ran that I seem to not be winded as I run. I could run faster in that capacity, but my leg and calf muscles seem pretty tired by mile six or seven and start to slow me down.

I think people are starting to recognize me from the pictures of me that have run in the paper. An old guy shouted out to ask me how many miles I had run yesterday on my walk to work. Other people I call up for quotes ask if I'm "that running guy."

Getting into Fighting Shape

I've been purposely dropping my body weight slowly but surely. I'm trying to get my body fat percentage down to single digits -where professional runners generally keep it- while still taking in enough calories for exertion.

I weigh myself periodically, but don't really worry too much about how on track I am. I weighted myself Tuesday on the fancy scale I got over the winter, and I'm on track.

It tells me:

Weight: 162.4 pounds
Body Fat Percentage: 10.8 percent
Water Percentage: 69.6 percent
Bone: 8.6 pounds
Muscle 53.9 percent.

I realize that this doesn't add up to 100 percent. I believe how it works is that the water percentage can be found in all parts of your body. There is water in your fat, muscle, etc.

But adding muscle and fat together only account for 64 percent. Does the 8.6 pounds of bone fill in the rest? I don't think so. So where's the rest of my weight kept?

Anyone know how this works?

I also want to apologize to Bill, who I apparently inadvertently stood up for a run this morning.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Watermelon Experiment

A morning dentist appointment kept me from running far today, but it also gave me the chance to experiment with breakfast.

I've long avoided food before my morning runs because I've found that it makes me cramp up. That works fine for four-mile morning runs, but what about 26-mile afternoon runs? Fuel really begins to become a problem.

So today I ate half of a watermelon for breakfast at about 7:15 a.m. I started running after I got back from the dentist at about 9 a.m., and it didn't give me a cramp.

I have no idea why not. I'm going to experiment with some blended bananas before a run this weekend.

The Response: I just wanted to thank everyone in the community who has emailed or called me to give me advice. I've probably had at least 30 people contact me since Tuesday.

Diet Questions: I've been fielding a ton of questions about my diet, what I eat, why I haven't wasted into a gelatinous blob, etc. Rather than answering all these questions individually, I'd like to ask that people check out my website first, and then email me if you still have questions. The page is: Diet Page

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Running in The Rain

I'm not sure if my body is getting used to the strain, or if my new running shoes are just that good, but I didn't have too much of a problem with nine miles today.

I was certainly a bit tired by the end, but at least I was cool. The skies opened up on me about half way through the run and I was completely soaked.

I don't have the romantic attachment to the rain that a lot of New Englanders seem to have. Our species grew up in equatorial Africa, and I think clear skies and sunshine is what we were meant for. But standing on the bank of Cresent lake at Guiffrida Park, the fog hugging the surrounding peaks, I had to admit that there was a certain sodden tranquility to the place so early in the morning.

You'd never know unless you hiked up, but the entire opposite side of the mountain (large hill?) is completely missing, ripped away for some metal or for gravel.

No Sidewalks = Bad

Running out of the park and up Westfield road, I was forced to jump onto the embankment every few minutes by the huge dump trucks filled with rock that rumbled by, frequently spraying me with brown water.

The road eventually runs under the giant conveyor belt that runs over the road, dumping rock onto the ground on the other side. The mountain is shielded from view by foliage and fences, so you'd never know of the huge gap in the landscape.

Sick of the trucks spraying soot and soaking me, I probably would have turned around at that point had I not already mapped out my route to get the distance right. I continued on to Atkins Road, which may be in Middletown (The paper boxes had turned from the Record-Journal to the Middletown Press)and then headed back.

On the way back I went through Brookside Park, which seems a pleasant, if slightly overgrown place. I also discovered a Capoeira place downtown. I've always wanted to be able to do back flips.....

I was starving when I got back and devoured quite a bit of fruit and some celery for electrolytes. Overall I feel pretty good. I feel that I could do 15 miles right now. But 26?

We'll see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rest Day

Everyone keeps telling me that I need rest days, though I don't know why considering that I've run daily for the last couple of years. Maybe the increased mileage will take its toll. But anyway, today is my elected rest day.

I'm going to head over to Woodbridge Running on my lunch break to pick up my new running shoes.

I plan to take a lengthy run this weekend. I'm thinking in the 12-17 miles range.

The Diet:

People keep asking me about my diet, so I thought I'd expound.

Most of my calories come from fruit. I also eat a ton of vegetables. About 80 percent of my calories come from carbohydrates, 10 percent from fat, and 10 percent from protein. The amount of calories I take in on any given day goes up and down depending on how many I'm expending through exercise.

Today, for instance, with no running, I ate half of a large watermelon for breakfast.This works out to about 600 calories.

There is nothing I can imagine that would be better to eat after a long, sweaty, dehydrating run than a watermelon. Watermelons are over 95 percent water, meeting most of my water needs.They're also packed with simple sugars that my body can use with little digestion.

For lunch, I'll likely eat a banana and blueberry smoothie. Eight bananas, a few handfuls of blueberries, and some ice. This works out to about 850 odd calories.

I've got a bunch of ripe peaches, and I think I'll eat them for dinner. I'll follow this up with a large salad (1 head of lettuce, 6 tomatoes, several stalks of celery). The salad will come in at under 300 calories.

On a day with more exercise, I would eat considerably more.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday Training Log


My knees a bit sore from increased mileage in worn-out running shoes, I decided to go for an extended bike ride. I figure some generic exercise is better than no running at all.

I headed up to my parent's house in Cheshire from W.Main in Meriden, a trip of about 17 miles. I plucked a few tomatoes from the garden before riding back. I found an abandoned apple orchard that I intend to plunder come Fall, as well as a full peach tree. When they ripen, I'll ask the owners if they don't mind me taking a bunch. Most people are only too glad to get rid of the excess.

I should have new running shoes on Tuesday, so hopefully the soreness won't be a problem in the future.


Going with the intensity over mileage theme brought on by my shoes, I decided to run up to castle craig on the trails (the final ascent was too steep and rocky so I hiked). It was humid and hot, and I was soaked by the time made it up to the castle.

A nice run though. At some point I intend to run the very steep paved road, which will really be challenging.


I was a bit worried about being late for a morning interview, so I decided to do today's run at a really quick pace. Great experience, as I've rarely pushed myself in terms of speed. Still no idea on how fast I went. I've got to take care of that soon.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Andrew's Marathon Training Day #2

I took a longer run today at just under seven miles. I'm pretty happy about the distance I was able to handle, but I'm fairly tired. My running shoes have been through about 1600 miles with me since I bought them over a year ago, and you're supposed to replace them every 600-800 miles because all the padding wears out.

I can tell that my knees and ankles are a bit sore from the extra miles and lack of padding, and I really need to get a new set. I special ordered a good pair of New Balance shoes (I have a 4E wide foot so stores don't generally stock my size) from a running store, so I should be able to

Something I really need to do is figure out my fuel situation. I always get cramps when I run with food in my stomach. In the past I've found that even bananas will cramp me up unless I wait five or six hours. But on this marathon I'll be in desperate need of fuel part way though, and I need to figure out what I can eat or drink without giving me cramps.

It was in the mid 80s when I was out for my run this morning, and pretty humid, so I was sweating bullets. I brought a water bottle with me so I could stay hydrated, though I think that water sloshing around in my stomach wasn't the best thing to have going on.

I should be doing a long run this weekend, but without the new shoes, I'm not sure that It's a great idea. We'll see.

I wish I had a better way of tracking my time, pace, and exact mileage during a run. I compltely lost track of time today.

My route is below.

To clarify, I went twice around mirror lake to accommodate a R-J photographer. I should have good pictures to post soon.

You can click on the route to zoom in and see where I back tracked, etc.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Training Day One

My First day's Run. 4.45 miles.

My raw marathon challenge.

This story, or an edited version of it, should run in the Record-Journal on Sunday.

Had you asked me 6 years ago if I’d ever find myself trying to run a marathon, I probably would have laughed at the notion. At age 17 I was overweight, and though athletically competent, completely out of shape. Today, however, there's 55 pounds less of me to drag up a road, and my athletic exertions have gone from the lauded few miles on the treadmill to eyebrow-raising activities like climbing mountains and four-hour bike rides.

As I’ve whipped myself into shape, the idea of running a marathon has been growing in the back of my mind, but I’ve always found ways to put it off. When the notion came up in conversation at work the other day, though, and my editor, Eric Cotton, mentioned that if I ever I wanted to run one that I should write some articles about it, I decided that now was as good a time as any.

"That's great," he told me. "But you're crazy, you know."

Maybe I am, but how many people can say they’ve completed a marathon? It’ll make a good story, if nothing else.

And so, come October 11th, two days after my 24th birthday, I plan to be running the Hartford Marathon.

What most people find unbelievable about me, and even dangerous, is that I’ve been living off a diet or raw fruits and vegetables with a bit of raw nuts and seeds for about seven months now. But what about protein? People ask me, sometimes very interested, sometimes seeming almost outraged at my dietary maleficence.

I’ve been told multiple times that I should be wasting away by now. I should be getting weak, and my muscle should be atrophying, one weight lifter assured me. But my muscles, over the past seven months and for the three years previous to that during which I ate no meat, dairy, or eggs, seem to be getting stronger.

Since I went on this raw diet my energy level is continuously getting better. After a brief period of detox when my body cleared itself out and I generally felt poorly, I noticed that I just wasn’t getting tired like I used to.

My runs are easier, and I sometimes feel an almost child-like glee that I haven’t known in years when I’m moving around. I sometimes find myself sprinting faster than I intended because it feels good to. It’s hard to describe.

I came to this diet as a way of curing the last few problems that my earlier dietary corrections hadn’t been able to tackle, particularly some serious intestinal issues. Raw food fixed me up when medical science couldn’t offer me anything but ineffective treatments that only address the symptoms and not the underlying cause.

So it looks like I’m going to be on this diet for good or ill, but I think it’s going to turn out to be an advantage when running this marathon.

I figure if Pheidippides died spewing out the news of victory after the original run from Marathon, I should be at least able drag my half-dead corpse across the finish line in Hartford.

But the fact is that I haven’t the slightest clue of how I should be training, and I frankly could use some help. What I ideally need is a pro bono running coach who can look at my stride (I’ve never run on any team so I could have horrible form for all I know), tell me how I should be training (what pace should I be keeping?) and answer the questions that come up, (like how I can keep track of my pace while I’m running so I don’t slow down. I know there are some GPS units I can use, but I’m not keen on spending a fortune.)

I’d be happy with someone who has just run a few marathons and can give me some advice, though.

Anyone interested in offering pointers can contact me at the number and email address below.

I’ve got about 11 weeks to get into shape for the marathon. I found a training guide online that has me running increasingly lengthy stretches every day.

Today I ran a from my apartment in downtown Meriden, up W. Main Street to Hubbard Park, around Mirror Lake, down Spruce Street to Johnson Avenue, and back to my apartment again. I wasn’t able to keep track of the time, but I’m guessing I was on the road for 40 minutes. The total length of my route was 4.45 miles.

If you want to see a map of my run and summation of my training, ask me questions, or read more about what I’m up to, check out my marathon blog at:

Everyone always asks me about my diet, why I do it, and what it does for me, so I created a website several months ago to give people the details. You can find it at

Wish me luck, and visit me online.