Tag Archives: fasting

The art of remaking me

If only it were this easy.

Caterpillars have it easy; weave a cocoon, go to sleep, and, voila! wake up a butterfly. I, on the other hand, have my work cut out for me.

My ten-day fast was intended, not only to cleanse my body and short-circuit some bad eating habits that had developed, but also to give me the chance to “strip down to the chassis” and start over. Before the fast, I wavered between 156 and 158 pounds; about ten pounds over the ideal weight for my 5′ 7-3/4″ frame; most of the extra was around my waist. I wanted to take the extra strain off my legs and come out of the fast ready to become stronger, faster and more durable.

Yes, this was an all-out declaration of war on Father Time. And, yes, I know it is a conflict I will ultimately, some day, lose. But there a lot of battles that I can win before that day comes.

Eight days have gone by since the end of the fast. My strength has grown every day. On each of those days, I’ve added additional core exercises and reps, started doing push-ups, ate healthier… and I feel better than I have in a long, long time. The arthritis in my hands has still not returned. My legs are still pain-free. I have returned to what I consider my “ideal” weight of 147 pounds (from a low of 141).

My run yesterday was everything I hoped it would be at this stage; ten relaxed miles that did not feel as fast as they were. My stride was lighter and smoother and the pace was quicker than any run since my marathon on September 17 and this run was easy. A 3:15 Boston marathon is within my grasp if I stay the course.

I am struggling mightily (and, in part, unsuccessfully) to avoid falling back into the black-hole of snacking. For now, I’m managing to stick (mostly) to healthier whole nuts, but I know I have to dig deep and find the discipline to limit even these to healthy-size portions. And there are some good habits I would like to acquire, mostly having to do with stretching and self-massage, things that I know can help me stay injury-free.

All-in-all, I am pleased with the rebuilding project so far. There may have been a bent nail  here and there; some of the walls still need to be squared-up. But I’ve squeaked by the first inspection and hope to do better on the next one.

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A Chance to Start Over

It is difficult to reflect upon the past ten days because I am now eager to discover what the next few weeks will bring. I have a chance to change my eating habits, re-form my body and recharge my running as result of this cleansing I’ve undergone.  The post I really want to write will focus on the future – my expectations and my goals. But I promised an honest reflection on my experience and so here it is:

This fast was not hard. You might find that difficult to believe, but it is true. My memories of the hunger in the first few days, the mild headaches, the cravings and other minor side-effects are already fading. They vanish like the memories of pain and exhaustion during a marathon in which you cross the finish line exhilarated at achieving some long-desired goal.

Now I am going to qualify that “not hard” statement. Refusing to eat was the easy part. As I said in an earlier post, I even felt like I was cheating when I ate the few calories that I was allowed in order to partially fuel my daily run. Lots of things were challenging during the fast, but skipping meals wasn’t one of them.

“Give it up!” you say. “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

And you are right; I need to come clean on the hard stuff. At times, the running was physical and mental torture. I tend to look on the bright side in my Dailymile posts, but here I’ll be completely honest and say that, while I was doing it, sometimes it really felt insane to be out there running at all.

Other negatives:

The sleeplessness of the first few nights was hard on my wife and left me more drained during the following day than I really should have been. This put a crimp in my enjoyment of some of the positive effects of fasting.

For almost the entire fast, I had a very low-level pain or tightness across the front of my body between my shoulder blades and under my neck. I got used to it and it often went unnoticed.

And yes, I was tired for most of the ten days. I attribute this to my running, which consumed a lot of calories and kept my body from fully engaging its “hibernation” mode. Maintaining the high level of mental and physical energy that I was asking was a strain. A lot of people who do these fasts report an elevated energy level and I did have periods of that, but they were not long-lasting.

Oh, I almost forgot. I had to wear a lot of clothes during the fast. My body did not want to waste any calories keeping me warm!

But that is it, and so I am in a quandary; a delicate situation where I want to be careful about what I say about the positives of the ten-day fast that I concluded last night. Many of the comments I received during the fast were in the line of “Fine for you, but I could never do that.” How can I disagree without encouraging a person to do something that, if not done properly, has serious health risks? Hence this disclaimer: If you have a screw loose like me and my posts have made you consider a fast such as this, do so for your own reasons, after careful research and at your own risk. Google things like “fasting for health” and “negative effects of fasting” and make your own decision.

On to the positives! The primary, overwhelming and, to me, most miraculous effect of this fast is the elimination of almost all joint and muscle pain in my body. The laundry list of aches and pains I have accumulated at fifty-five years old include: achilles pain, knee pain, IT band soreness, arthritis/stiffness in my fingers and wrists and a variety of other tiny ailments that bother me every so often. When you start getting old, you learn to accommodate and ignore this stuff. A lot of you are in the same boat, I’m sure.

I am working at the computer now and my hands feel better than they have in years. I can massage my achilles tendons and feel no pain at all. All of the little bodily burdens that I usually ignore…  seem to have disappeared. Once again, part of this is attributable to the reduced strain on the joints, tendons and muscles as a result of the lost weight. But I am now a true believer in the cleansing and detoxification effects of fasting.

Another positive is the increase in mental toughness I believe have achieved. It should mean good things for my running. Leadville again? Maybe. Maybe more.

Although losing weight wasn’t the purpose of the fast, the sixteen-plus pounds have allowed me to start over; to rebuild. Imagine you are a skinny sophomore in high school wanting to develop into a strong, fast athlete. I’m now at the same weight at which I started high school. Yeah, I am getting carried away here, but I feel like I have that chance again. If I eat right and follow the right exercise regimen, I can, even at fifty-five, be strong and fast again.

I have also felt very productive these past ten days. Not preparing and eating meals certainly gave me extra time to get things done. New ideas for stories and blogposts were delivered regularly into my mental inbox. So much so that I need to resist getting carried away with my posts. I’m learning to store them for a rainy day.

Getting the chance to improve my act from an eating/nutrition standpoint is another big plus. All that junk is cleared out of my system. It is up to me to keep it clean. This one will be the hardest to sustain. Even ten days is not enough to rewire my brain. I still love all the food I used to love. All that stuff that I KNOW isn’t good for me. And, despite the fast, despite Leadville, despite all the hard things I’ve done in my life, I’m not as strong as I’d like to be, especially in this area. How can I go ten days resisting all food and not be able to resist the bad stuff? It’s different, believe me.

As they say, I could write a book…

Needless to say, this post has gotten too long. Where’s my editor?

In conclusion (really?) I’m certain to do this again. Maybe it will even become my annual “Fall Cleansing”.

Feel free to comment or ask questions

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Ending the fast with Mike’s Red Everything Soup

My fast-breaking meal (not the whole pot of course!)

The people spoke and I listened. My poll to choose the meal with which I would break my fast garnered almost 100 votes. The winner by 13 percentage points was the homemade vegetable soup.  After looking at a handful of recipes online (and not writing anything down!), I had a fantastic time gathering ingredients and cooking. I started early in the evening when the soup had a comfortable lead in the poll. It narrowed somewhat, but was never seriously challenged.

Because of the large red beet, the broth and many of the vegetables end up tinted a bright red. I can picture this served in green, decorative bowls and being a beautiful and delicious appetizer for a fancy Christmas dinner.

My recipe is entitled “Mike’s Red Everything Soup” and I am slowing devouring a small bowl of it as I write this post. It is the best vegetable soup I have ever tasted. (So says a starving man.) I used pretty much every vegetable I could find in our pantry or fridge.

Ingredients:       Notes:  1. None of the vegetables were peeled, just scrubbed thoroughly. 2. All sizes and measurements are approximate. In other words – I guessed at most everything!

6 cups of water                                                                       1/2 cup+  sliced mushrooms

1 large red beet cut into 1″ cubes                                                      1/4 cup brown rice

2 large potatoes cut into 1″ cubes             3/4 Tsp onion salt (or 1/2 med. onion)

1 large carrot cut into 1/2″ chunks                                                          1 teaspoon salt

1 small zucchini cut into 1/2″ slices and quartered        2 chicken bouillon cubes

2 medium broccoli crowns cut into bite size pcs.                                1 Tsp olive oil

1 stalk of celery, sliced 1/4″ thick                                                1/2 Tsp black pepper

1 healthy handful of fresh baby spinach leaves            1Tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 medium tomatoes cut into bite size chunks                         1/2 Tsp minced garlic

1 can of green beans (or 1-1/2 cups fresh)        A healthy sprinkle of parsley flakes

1/2 large green pepper cut in small pcs.               A healthy sprinkle of basil leaves

Directions:

1. Combine water, beets, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, the bouillon cubes, Worcestershire sauce, and all of the spices in a large pot, bring to a boil and allow to simmer for as long as you want, (but at least 45 min to 1 hour). I cooked this soup for a total of three plus hours, so that all the vegetables would be soft and easy to digest. This what you want coming off of a fast. You may want to adjust the cooking times to suit your taste.

2. Add the broccoli and celery after 45 minutes. Continue simmering for another 45m to 1 hour. (Add green beans & onions now if fresh)

3. Add all remaining ingredients and simmer for another 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.

This should serve 8-12 people with some left over. That is unless everyone comes back for seconds!

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Running Fast – The Final Run

Day Ten of the fast has arrived and I am at my computer before 5:00 a.m. dressed and ready to run, eager for the day to begin… and end. Somewhere around 9:00 p.m. this evening I will break my fast. I’m torn between being extremely relieved and a little disappointed. Work, running, and the banana/juice fast muted some of the expected effects of the fast that I enjoyed the last time.

A thin crescent moon was hanging above the eastern horizon like a white hammock against a dark blue sky. Was it waiting to provide a permanent resting place for me should this final test of my body go awry? If so, I am happy to report that it went unused. Cold, gusting breezes kept this from being as enjoyable and exhilarating as my last two “fast” runs, but it didn’t keep it from being faster. It was dark, I couldn’t see my watch, it was my last run of the ten-day fast, and I was accompanying Sid, my son-in-law, during his pre-work run. All this contributed to the fastest pace of this ten-day test of my body’s capacity to endure. Not that I couldn’t have gone a little faster, but I do still have fourteen hours of the fast yet to complete. This pace isn’t normally a challenge, but I worked hard for it this morning and I definitely felt close to my limits.

I’ll be doing another post this evening to report on this last day and my overall impressions. For now, I am about to spend a couple of hours babysitting my two-and-a-half week old grandson. So I guarantee Day Ten is getting off to a joyful start.

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Running fast – Day 9, What’s missing?

This fast started as a water-only. I was allowing myself one banana a day to fuel the daily run that I was determined to keep as part of my routine. In the back of my mind, I suspect I regarded this as cheating. After six days, when the banana seemed to be a continuing problem for my stomach, I made the decision to switch to a juice fast. Now I really feel like a cheater. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, I drink five to six ounces of vegetable juice, about thirty-five calories each for a total of one hundred and five. And yet that little bit has eased my minor stomach issues and it apparently has triggered some type of resurrection, running-wise.

I went four and one-quarter miles today, my longest run since I started the fast. The feeling I had while I was running is hard to describe; the background feeling of being slightly numb was present, as it has been for several days. Of course  I was tired, but somehow I also felt stronger than I have for a while, even from before the fast. I’m now sixteen pounds lighter than I was the evening I started and I’m certain that is most of the reason. My legs are carrying a full ten percent less weight than before. Imagine wearing a sixteen pound backpack for a long time and then setting it aside. All the aches and pains that I usual have to deal with while running have been conspicuously absent. Everything that requires moving is a little easier, even if there isn’t much to fuel my muscles. My mile splits were 9:40, 9:13, 8:34 and 8:37. I did work a little harder, but even that seems like a good thing; I could work harder and not feel like I would collapse.

So, what is missing? The almost spiritual feeling of lightness and serenity that I had experienced in March has not been very strong. I’m certain that the main reason is that I am so incredibly busy with getting ready for the release of my book, interacting with the publisher, getting marketing materials ready, on top of all the networking, blogging, facebooking and other social media stuff. Add in the running, and I’m not giving my mind and soul as much time to cleanse as my body is getting. I think I’ll set aside some time tomorrow to just relax and let the joy of the final day of the fast soak in.

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Running fast – Day 8, Making adjustments for everything

The prairie outside our front door. Notice the faint trail along the fence. It is one of the trails created by pronghorn antelope that we run on.

This entire, crazy, eight days of fasting has been one of adjustments. At first it was getting adjusted to the hunger pangs, then it was learning to deal with the one banana before my run and how it bothered my stomach. I’ve had to learn to wear more since my body doesn’t heat itself very well without fuel. Remembering not to stand up too quick has been an important adjustment. Next, it was realizing that the banana just wasn’t working out, learning about juice fasts and then adjusting to that. Lately I’ve found it harder to make myself drink enough water.

And, all along, I’ve had to deal with the energy-zapping load of running every day.

Until today.

It was cloudy, twenty-four degrees and almost no wind. My pace felt a little quick when I started but I let it go since I could tell that I had more energy than yesterday. The prairie had received an additional dusting of snow and the path was slippery. My legs had adjusted to the lower weight, so the light, prancing feeling that I had for a couple of the runs was gone, but I still was running comfortably. Only a third of a mile in, the tank went dry. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but on all the runs,except yesterday’s awful one, I could tell the exact moment my body ran out of what few calories I had ingested for that day. On other days it was hard to deal with and slowed me considerably. Today, it was as if my energy production system flicked a switch and immediately began using my remaining stored fat for fuel. It might be hard to believe, but I think I’m becoming hyper-attuned to my body’s functions; I swear I can tell the difference between when it is burning those few carbs and when it is burning fat.

This run was, by far, the best, most sustained effort during the fast. My mile splits were 9:50, 9:12 and an 8:35 pace for the last .45 of a mile. I have taken in a total of approximately 630 calories during the last seven days and fourteen hours. On my runs alone I have burned about 2400 calories, the equivalent of what I burn on an average day. I find it amazing that I was able to accomplish a run like this.

I’ve had some runs that felt good on my legs, because of the reduced weight and I was even able to get in some strides. Yes, I skipped my banana yesterday, but that two-plus miles was tremendously hard considering that I think of myself a long distance runner… long meaning marathon length or longer. So I was thinking that the succeeding days would only get harder.

So there is no explanation for today. Granted the six ounces of V-8 that I had an hour before I ran was much easier on my stomach and may have meant less energy going to the digestive process. But the amount was about thirty-five calories, exactly a third of what is in the banana it was replacing. I also had another good night of sleep, which I am sure helped.

What am I saying? Of course there is an explanation. My experience reinforces my belief that the human body is a tremendously adaptable, resilient and strong vessel. It may have limits, but very few people ever discover what those limits are. Even now, I know I haven’t reached them.

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Running fast -Day 7, Yucky…

Yucky, green-brown goo to be exact. That is what I ended up with when I tried to blend my own vegetable juice out of my wife’s left-over salad. I decided yesterday to switch to a juice fast and almost everywhere I turned, people were saying it was healthier to blend your own. It must take some practice, because what I produced was barely edible, even to a guy whose is going on seven full days without food. You know when you cut damp grass with a lawnmower and it gets all clumped up under the mower? Throw in a little mud for coloring and that’s what I had for dinner last night and breakfast this morning. Granted, it was only a few bites, but that was all it took for me to decide I would accompany my wife to the grocery store and find some better alternative, or at least better ingredients.

To back-up a little- I ran shortly after I woke up this morning, partly to determine what affect the banana was having on my ability to run. It was 24 degrees and cloudy; a cold sun peaked through a layer of clouds thick enough to hold back any feeling of warmth.  Snow had fallen overnight, but the wind had eased a little. The first step was hard and the subsequent ones didn’t get any easier. This was my slowest run of the fast and I got a bit of a headache during it. I’m not sure, though, that it was the lack of banana that was the cause, because I recovered some energy after my shower, got a lot of work done and then went grocery shopping (two different stores!) with my wife later that morning.

We bought lots of healthy stuff that I thought might work in vegetable juice; zucchini, beets, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and other stuff. But I also got a bottle of low-salt V-8 as an extra ingredient, or just a complete emergency substitute. I wasn’t in the mood for experimenting when I got home, so I had a tiny glass of V-8 for lunch. It was one thousand times better than my grass drink.

I am looking forward to tomorrow now. Besides a run, my wife and I are also going to either hike or snowshoe, depending on conditions up at Happy Jack. I’m hoping that the energy level I have now will continue.

I said I was going to blog about the history of fasting, but there just isn’t enough time in the day! But here is a little bit-

Fasting has been used as a form of protest for thousands of years; it was referred to in early India in the Valmiki Ramayana. In medieval Ireland, if someone had wronged you, lying in the offenders doorway and refusing to eat was an accepted way of protesting that offense. The offender would be greatly dishonored if the protester died in his doorway because of the immense value placed upon hospitality that existed in the Irish culture. Mohandas Ghandi was without question the most famous and most successful person to fast as political protest. His efforts directly impacted the independence of India. In 1981, ten Irish prisoners died while on hunger strike. The longest made it seventy-three days before succumbing.

Most people probably think that it would be difficult for someone to intentionally starve themselves to death, especially when food is readily available.  I’m not so sure. Even though cravings have been pretty strong at times, it isn’t really like hunger anymore and they are getting weaker and less frequent. When we were in the grocery store, they weren’t that hard to ignore. I suspect that the longer a fast goes on, the less you feel the need for food. Strange, but true. It is one of the reasons that one has to be careful coming off of a long fast. It takes your body a bit to become re-accustomed to food, or solid food in the case of a juice fast.

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