Monday, February 24, 2014

The Cost of Obesity

I recently made a few comments on my Facebook page about obesity. I have learned that you can say something akin to “water is wet” on the internet and someone will be either offended or confused.  So let me start here by saying, I don’t hate fat people. (Sad I had to do that.) I hate obesity.

Given my athletic background, people assume I have never struggled with maintaining a healthy physique.  Along with death and taxes, people making assumptions are the only guarantees in the world. So when I attack the weight problem this country is simply being overrun by, I do it from a place of knowing and caring.

Here’s the thing: I know how hard it is to maintain a healthy weight. I have averaged 2500 miles of running alone each of the past 5 years. Meanwhile, my weight has, at least in the past two years, edged ever so higher. If you don’t think that running thousands of miles and still needing to watch your weight doesn’t put you fully aware of how hard it is to win the battle of the bulge, you obviously aren’t getting me.

One of the things I have most taken pride in is the fact that there are not many 6’1’’ 180+ pound marathoners out there who can run under 2:50.  I have to take pride in it because even at my lightest, I have rarely gone under 170 pounds as an adult.  I simply am a larger fella then some. I was also a 225 pound rugby player in college who let that body get fat post-collegiate athletics. I have not always been fit. In addition, I still have to battle to keep myself in shape even as my total marathon count approaches 150.

I tell you all of that as precursor so that you will hopefully understand where I am coming from when I sound off on obesity. I despise that some of my closest friends and family battle weight problems. I very selfishly want them to be healthy not only for their own sake but because I want them around as long as possible. I am also completely aware there are many factors that go into why America is the unhealthiest it has ever been. In addition, there are many theories as to how we can fix it.

We are, undoubtedly, fighting an uphill battle. I know there is sloth and laziness and gluttony amongst some obese people. But I honestly believe that many who are overweight are trying their best not to be. We have problems with labels where we think that foods are healthy are not. We think that drinking juice over soda pop is an improvement (which it rarely is.) Many across this nation have limited access to fresh foods and if they do have access, cost can sometimes be prohibitive.

I often hear we should shop local as well as supporting farmers and markets in our area. This is where the hashtag “suburbanproblems” was invented. Not too many people in Brooklyn have a farmer and his cattle ranch on speed dial. The market down the street is as close as they will ever come to a farm. Our own government does not help by making foods that are better for you more expensive to buy. Although, I will admit, that with a little time and creativity, healthful foods can be just as inexpensive as their costlier fast food alternatives.

However, therein lies one of the many problems in American life: finding time. Americans work too much, doing too little for too long. The 40 hour work-week is a thing of the past. Getting eight hours of sleep every night is stuff of legends. Every day gets long and every night gets shorter. We commute too far, vacation too little and are dying too young.

To wit I have often heard the reply that “If I want to be fat, that is not your problem.”  If only it was so self-contained.  Take a look at these statistics.

$190 billion --
That's the amount of added medical costs every year that are estimated to stem from obesity-related problems. It’s nearly 21% of total U.S. health care costs.
105% --
According to a study conducted by the Brookings Institution, this is the increased amount that obese Americans pay for prescription drugs compared to individuals who aren't obese.
$3.4 billion --
Cars are burning around 938 million gallons of gasoline per year more than they would if Americans weighed what they did in 1960.
$164 billion --
The Society of Actuaries estimates that U.S. employers are losing this amount in productivity each year due to obesity-related issues with employees.
$6.4 billion --
Every year, this amount is estimated to be lost due to employee absenteeism related to obesity.
$1 billion --
U.S. airlines are consuming an extra 350 million gallons of fuel per year due to overweight passengers.
$14.3 billion --
This is how much childhood obesity costs the U.S. each year, according to a published study from the Brookings Institution.
$62 billion -- Medicare and Medicaid
are spending nearly this amount every year on obesity-related costs.
$66 billion --
Columbia University researchers say that if current trends don't change, annual obesity-related medical costs in the U.S. could increase by this amount by 2030.
$580 billion --
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicts that annual economic productivity loss due to obesity could hit this staggering amount by 2030 unless the current situation changes.

At what point did your eyes glaze over?  Or did you read all of those sobering statistics? Do you see how letting yourself die of obesity is not only hurting you but hurting others as well? It is now not just a self-contained problem. It is a problem that affects everyone in this country. Add those numbers up and the total is nearly 1.1 trillions dollars. TRILLION!

This problem is not as simple as Calories In, Calories Out, as I touched on three years ago, but without a doubt exercising is just as important as what we eat. But this is not where I will tell you what to eat. Or how to train. Or how to lose weight. You see, you will never hear me tell you I have the answers for everything. Nothing bristles the hair on my spine more than the fads or trends which try to say they are the one true way. People who give advice in cookie-cutter form, so vague it could be used for any situation, sicken me.  In fact, I caveat virtually every bit of advice that gets dragged out of me with “This is what works for me and it can change at any time and has.” However, given the struggles I have had and how much I have fought through them, I do know there are ways you can improve your situation. The only question remains is whether you want to or not.

For your sake, for the sake of your loved ones and for the sake of this country and the world, I really hope you want to. This requires time, energy and education. There is much misleading information out there as well. But we can beat this problem.

One pound, and one step, at a time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Heart Breaker Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 4th Edition 
19.8 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Hearth Breaker Half Marathon
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 14
Weather: 40s; humid; mostly sunny

I had been contemplating being elsewhere on this weekend but when I found myself staying home instead, the notification I received from the awesome people at AA Sports about the Heart Breaker Half Marathon popped into my head.  Given the great races AA Sports puts on (have run two in the past year at their First Run and Pacific Crest Marathon) I immediately signed up.

One of the first things I noticed was the challenge they had in the middle of the race. You see, from mile 3-4 there is a big honking hill. As such, their Heart Breaker Hill Challenge was to award the top 5 male and female runners who climbed this baby the fastest. I knew, given how badly I run uphills, it would not be me.  But the challenge was sort of the forward thinking AA Sports does with their races. In today's almost saturated world of racing, you have to do something different to catch people's attention.

The week prior to racing here in Portland, we received some record snowfall.  It was all melted by mid-week by some heavy rains but those rains threatened to make racing life miserable on this weekend.  In fact, for one race I thought about doing around Hagg Lake, the muck fest Saturday's rains brought surely made for some tough times for runners. I drove to the race the morning of and passed over the hills which are so often socked in with clouds on Portland's west side. Today was no different.  In fact, some rain began to fall pretty hard.  But after passing through the tunnels to the other side it was like a different world.  Blue skies laid in front of us and the clouds were behind us. Now if only they would stay this way for a few more hours!

The rain was holding off as we pulled into the parking lot of Liberty High School. Races that start at schools are usually nice because they provide shelter and bathrooms. While it was not raining it was still a bit chilly to be standing around. I knew it would be plenty warm during the race but right now in shorts and a shirt, I wouldn't have minded a roof over my head. So in we went.

With just enough time to warm up a bit, use the bathroom and get ready to head back out, I took advantage of the opportunity. As I hustled toward the front I had a tiny woman step right in front of me. I completely stopped myself and made sure even though she ran directly into me that she was OK. I then hopped into the starting corral seconds before the gun sounded. The woman took two more steps and then, very passive-aggressively stated under her breath "No, I didn't need that ankle."  I don't think she was expecting me to still be standing there. Here's a thing about me: I thoroughly enjoy calling people on their crap. I try my best to curb it but when you mix said crap with attitude it is hard for me to stop. So I looked her right in the eye and said. "I heard you.  And I said I was sorry even though it wasn't my fault. Was that not enough?" As she stammered something completely b.s. about "totally kidding" she was saved from further embarrassment by the crack of the gun. We were underway.

First Four Miles:

I simply wanted to get off on the right foot with this race and try to break 1:30 overall.  I knew with the big hill and my less-than-stellar calf, this would be a challenge. It was helped greatly when my first mile went by in roughly 6:30. It felt good but not great. I could definitely tell I was working. I had looked at the elevation profile for the race and noticed that while there was indeed the big hill all of us knew about, the race was filled with a series of undulating risers. Nothing too hard singularly but put together they would most definitely wear one down.

We raced down a breakneck hill on a curve and found ourselves going flat for just a bit before another riser. Two 90 degree turns later and we could see the formidable hill in front of us.  I was trying to decide what I wanted to do. Did I want to take what would be an outside chance at best to give it all I had and hoof this hill or did I want to play it smart and try to keep an even keel. The fact I was a little tired, not feeling great and mentally not really in a zone made the decision for me. I would be taking it "easy."

More than a few runners passed me going up the hill which was not a surprise. I figured more than a few of them would be dying later on. I can say that was indeed the case. All told, running a very conservative pace, I was 28th up the hill. That pleased me. Well, it pleases me as I am writing this. It hurt like heck at the time.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Snow My God: Portland Edition

Day Three: All hope is gone.

We haven’t seen the sun in 72 hours. The white cloud of despair has enveloped the city.  As I forage around the city, looking for signs of life, all is still.  In the distance I hear a wolf howl or perhaps that is the whistle of the last train out of town. Carrying with it are the lucky few who won The Lottery and are being whisked away to sunnier lands, where promise of food and shelter caused riots for seats.

Cars are abandoned. Stores are closed and locked with heavy steel gates. Rumors of marauders on skis are confirmed by tracks in the snow and the bicycle count meter on the Hawthorne Bridge continues to register their skis.

The yarnbombers have given up, keeping their warm thread to themselves in order to stave off the wintery mix. The bleating of the Belmont Goats is pitiful and heart-wrenching.  Like the citizens of the People’s Republic of Portland, the goats are distraught over the solid rain falling from the skies.

Discarded Voodoo Doughnuts pink boxes seem to be cobbled together by some to form crude shelters. The bacon, maple and Cap’n Crunch smells seem to be attracting many suffering from glaucoma and “chronic” pain.

As I round the many bridges, none move. The Willamette has become frozen six feet deep (possibly just an 1/16th of an inch but I can’t be sure) and all boats are locked in place. I make my way to the Pearl District, once known for its warehouse turned into trendy lofts. Without a doubt these lofts have been cut off from reality (as they were anyway) and will revert to warehouses again.

The smell of burning pages licks my nostrils. Discarded books from Powell’s are being used as tinder. Suddenly, a pack of crying bros skirts down the street, placards, scarves and axes in hand. From their throats rips the cry:

“Keep it up, Rose City!Don’t let up, no pity!”

They are on the warpath.  The bloom is off the rose. We have all become trailblazers.

All hope is gone.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review for Head to Toe: Showdown at Shepherd's Bush and OOFOS Sandals

Wanted to do a quick review of two totally separate things. One for each extreme of your body.

First up is a review for your head as I look at Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze.  This book chronicles the build up, event and aftermath of the 1908 London Olympic s Marathon.  If you are in any way, shape, or form a runner, you need to read this book to understand the roots of not only the marathon in its present form but how popular the sport once was. If you are not a runner, it is still a great read very light on numbers so as not to confuse you with split times, fartleks or what have yous.

The research that goes into this book alone is massive as is shown by the endnotes.  Moreover, you feel like the events just happened a few years ago, they are so vivid.  The shocking racism toward Irish and Native Americans in this book is a reminder of our not-so-distant past. Also surprising (but not if you think about it) is the rivalry between English and Americans. We often forget as Americans that our closest ally was the country we fought to be free from not all that long ago.  This battle between mother and stepchild is intense and vivid.

But it is the showdown itself, even with the conclusion known, that draws readers in. Seeing the whirlwind tours the marathon runners went on, trying to cash in as quickly as possible on not only the possible fleeting desire of people to watch runners but the quick window in which runners are at their peak, was remarkable. Many things you thought you knew about the marathon are corrected in this book.

With regards to your feet, stop what you are doing and get yourself a pair of OOFOS sandals. Sweet fancy moses are these comfortable.  I received a pair of sandals and flip fops from OOFOS to test ride and I was blown away.  I cannot stand flip-flops.  Having that little band between my toes drives me crazy.  But the actual footwear portion was so dreamlike I actually kept them on longer than my previous flip-flop PR which was about 15 seconds.

However, when I put the OOAHH slide sandals on, I knew I was in foot nirvana. I had once tried Crocs and thought if they weren’t the ugliest things in the world, I might want to wear them as they felt pretty good.  OOFOS feel even better and don’t look like you should be drooling in a dirty terrycloth robe with Jack Nicholson in an insane asylum.

I don’t like to have things on my feet when I do not have to.  But as I sit here typing this review, my foot is being massaged by these fantastic sandals. Honestly, you owe it to yourself to get a pair.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Choices (and a Look at Woody Allen and Philip Seymour Hoffman)

We make choices all the time. What to eat, where to live, how we exercise. Most of them are done without much thought, some are done with agonizing scrutiny. But our choices shape our lives.

I have always been intrigued by choices. Last night I listened to a speech by a runner and a hiker who set new records traversing the Pacific Crest Trail. What intrigued me more than anything were small choices they made. Why did they start at the time of the year that they did? What made them choose to run north rather than south? How did they decided to wear this, run in that, eat those?

Another thing that shapes our lives is the choices others make. These can have as much of a positive or negative impact on our lives as the ones we make for ourselves. Whether it is our government deciding who gets what tax break, how health care is handled, or the closing down of a bridge heading into New York City out of spite, others' choices often influence our own.

A chapter in my book 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss talks about how we definitely should applaud those who make a choice about becoming healthy again. By this I mean they have eaten themselves into near oblivion or have almost died because of drub abuse but have fought back to health. Good for them, indeed. But we often forget to praise those who were faced with the same choices and didn't succumb to them, either totally or in part.

Woody and his lovely bride to be.
Two interesting stories about choices have cropped up recently. The first is about Woody Allen's adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, claiming sexual molestation. Now, Allen is innocent until proven guilty but it is hard not to look at the large body of evidence working against him. He did, after all, marry his other adopted daughter and famously quoted "What was the scandal?" This is a choice that apparently Dylan Farrow did not make that has affected her life.  But, as I said, innocent until proven guilty, so let's move on to the next story of choice.

Philip Seymour Hoffman apparently died of a heroin overdose.  For those who enjoyed his acting, this is a loss. I am one of them. I have enjoyed virtually everything that he did. I also looked at him and saw a rather overweight guy who I was sure was:

a. going to drop dead in the next few years from health issues;
b. could not believe was just 8 years older than me. I would have easily put him in his mid 50s. He looked that terrible.

So where is the choice some might say? Well, while I know there is a feeling amongst some that drug addiction is not a choice I find that to be ludicrous. For 13,761 days I have chosen not to take drugs (obviously referring to the illegal, harmful kind.) Why? Because I am a big fan of being alive. I am not saying that some people are not faced with harder lives than me which might make them more predisposed to trying drugs. I am not saying that some people are not made up of different ways in which they cope with what is put in front of them. And I am definitely not saying that once you make a bad choice that it is easy to pull out of that life and start afresh.

But to equate drug abuse to a disease is insulting to all of those who actually get a disease without choice. Those who get lung cancer but never smoke a day in their lives. Those who are stricken with Alzhemier's or Parkinson's without once deciding to shoot up with a drug. Those who contract malaria or cystic fibrosis or a litany of other diseases which attack the body and try to kill it under no fault of the person who owns that body at all. These are the people I feel for. They did not make a choice. Like Dylan Farrow. She didn't choose to be molested.

Philip Seymour Hoffman may have been a great guy. He was a fantastic actor. But he chose very poorly.