Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A New Challenge?

I've been in a bit of a rut lately and have been looking for some kind of physical challenge to get me motivated. I remember many years ago the first time I saw a video about Spartan races and thought it looked kind of crazy but it would be a fun challenge. I ended up doing one and really enjoyed the experience enough to do many more over the years. I recently came across some videos about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the idea is starting to grow on me, especially after watching the video below.

This idea of climbing Kilimanjaro is especially appealing since I'm already in Africa and I'd only need to fly over to the East side. I have never climbed higher than 12,000 feet so I think it would be a fun challenge, especially since each day features such different terrain it makes it seem like several different hikes. For now the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro is brewing. We'll see what happens later this year.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Nutritional Info: Ghanaian Food

Estimated 1,300 calories
Since I've been living in Ghana over the last year I've made some big changes to the way I eat. The biggest change is that I eat much less fast food than I used to. I live in Kumasi which is a city of nearly 2 million people and the only American fast food I am aware of are two different KFC establishments.

Not having access to fast food can make things inconvenient  but it is also a blessing in disguise since it helps me to eat less processed junk food than I would at home. There are many local street vendors here who sell their version of fast food but they are dishes made from scratch each day.

I'm pretty sure all the fruit and vegetables here are organic and have not been genetically modified which is a good thing but produce does not last very long. We have to buy most fruit every day because it goes bad after just a few days due to the heat.

Another challenge I've had is trying to track calories and macros for many of the local foods here. I've talked to people at the nearby gym who are concerned about their nutrition but they have no idea how many calories the food they eat contains so I decided to do some research on some of the traditional staple foods in Ghana.

Fufu- Is made from casava root and pounded until it has the texture of raw pizza dough. It is served in a ball shape and then ripped into pieces, dipped in a stew or soup, and swallowed.

Kenkey- Is made from ground up corn and wrapped in leaves to hold it together. It usually ferments for a few days before it is eaten with a soup or sauce.

Banku- Is prepared by combining fermented ground corn and casava dough into a smooth paste and then rolled into balls.

Jollof- A spicier version of fried rice made with tomatoes, onions, meat, and spices.

Plantains- They look like giant green bananas and are sometimes mashed up with casava to make fufu or frequently eaten after being fried in oil. They can also be dried into chip form.

Yams- They are prepared by boiling them then cutting them into cubes. They have the texture of a dry baked potato and are usually dipped in sauce and eaten. They can also be combined with casava to make fufu.

Beans with gari powder and palm oil added is another popular staple. Gari powder is made from dried casava and when it is sprinkled into the beans it makes them solidify so they are no longer runny. White rice, fried chicken, and fish are also favorites.

I've been trying to find the calorie content for most of these foods but when I research them online I get a huge range of possible calories due to different recipes, preparation procedures, and serving sizes that are not well defined. Here are the approximate calorie estimates the best I've been able to research them.

1 cup jollaf rice= 300 calories
1 cup beans and palm oil= 400 calories
Fried plantains 3 pieces= 180 calories
1 cup fufu= 400 calories
1 cup yams= 200 calories
1 Ball of kenkey 500 calories
1 cup banku= 500 calories
1 cup of white rice= 200 calories

I bought the plate of food pictured above from a street vendor for less than a couple bucks. It has the following foods: Starting at 12 o clock and moving clockwise there is a cup of jollaf rice, a small piece of fried chicken, a cup of beans mixed with gari powder, 3 fried plantains, and a boiled egg. I estimate that the total calories of that meal are between 1,200-1,400 calories depending on how it was prepared. Most people might have only one big meal a day like that but if someone has three daily meals similar to this, they'd better be extremely active or it will be very easy to gain weight.

Many Ghanaians do manual labor and work hard all day so these calorie dense foods not only taste good but provide their needed daily fuel and help them to feel full for an extended time. Unfortunately, just like in the United States, when people are sedentary and consume more calories than they burn, the result will be weight gain and Ghana has seen a rise in obesity over the years.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Looking For Motivation

I am back living in Africa again. I enjoyed spending several months back home. I was quite active during that time. I played basketball regularly, ran 3 half marathons, a couple 5K races, and participated in the Huntsman Senior Games. It had been close to two years since I'd run an official race or gotten a finishing medal or placed in a race so it was nice to see those things happen again.

This month I moved back to Ghana for an unknown amount of time. It could be 6 months, a year, or more. My biggest challenge here has been trying to get going again with fitness. I was grateful to leave Utah just as winter weather and freezing temperatures were coming but the extreme heat and humidity here are not ideal for working out either. I have inquired and researched but have not seen or heard of any running races in Kumasi. I have not had luck in the past in finding places to play basketball. Occasional I will see a basketball hoop but it is usually netless, not regulation height, and nobody is playing. We actually have one in our back yard but the rim is smaller than usual, the entire backboard shakes and the rim bounces when you shoot. The court also has a 3 foot drop down to the grass once you get to the hoop. I guess I'm a basketball court snob because it's just not the same.

I've recently decided that I'm done running marathons and will stick with half marathons and 5K races from now on. This should help me avoid injury and require a lot less training volume and time in the future. My impinged shoulders are doing much better than they were last year so I am going to start weight lifting again and see if I can regain some of the near 20 pounds of muscle mass I've lost over the last two years.

So I want to get going again but now the question is "how do I get and stay motivated to workout regularly?" If you feel the same way, here are some things that have helped me in the past.

* Keep pictures or images of your goals out in front of you where you will see them.
* Focus on the health benefits you will receive as you work towards your goal.
* Reward yourself along the way and when you hit your goal with appropriate incentives.
* Share your goal with someone who has similar interests and who will support you.
* Set Smart Goals. Specific, Measurable, Accountability, Realistic, Timetable

When all else fails, use some external motivation. This has been my all time favorite motivating video for years. It features Olympic footage and has been masterfully edited to a kick butt song by Muse.

Survival - Muse from Batier Merand on Vimeo.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Huntsman Senior Games

This year I turned 50 and decided to celebrate by participating in the Huntsman World Senior Games. I had heard about this event for some time but I didn't realize how big of an event it is until witnessing it first hand. The games takes place every October in St. George, Utah. They offer over 30 different sporting events to participate in. It is the largest over age 50, mulit-sport event in the world. There are over 11,000 athletes who come from all over the world to participate over a two week period. That's as many athletes as participated in the Rio Olympics.

I signed up for table tennis, the 5K race, 3 on 3 basketball, and a basketball hot shot competition. My first event was table tennis. I'm pretty good at ping pong but I quickly learned this was not ping pong. Table tennis athletes have different rules and are very serious and skilled about their sport. I find myself getting beat up on in a hurry. The next day when we played against players with similar ratings, I was still getting smoked by grandmas. I was in awe of the skill level and look forward to improving my skills over the next year which shouldn't be hard since I only played about 15 minutes last year.

The next day I ran the 5K race. All the runners started together but you only compete with people in your similar age bracket. Since I just turned 50 I was pretty much the baby of the group. I saw some athletes in their 90's. I ran pretty fast but was still surprised by how many people who were older than me ran faster than I did. Even the slower athletes who struggled were inspirational to watch.

My third event was a basketball hot shot competition. It's a timed shooting challenge similar to around the world. Points are assigned according to the distance from the basket and you only have one minute to earn as many points as possible. There were some great shooters there and I was fortunate to be making most of my shots for that event.

My final event was 3 on 3 basketball. I made arrangements to play with 3 guys from California who were short a player. I had never met them before but things worked out for the best. We played well together and our different strengths complimented each other. We ended up doing great after a slow start.

At the end of the week I had won two gold medals, a bronze medal, and a 4th place ribbon from the events I participated in. I was impressed with the scope of the games and how well they were organized and managed with so many volunteers. The athletes really impressed me. They showed great sportsmanship, determination, and camaraderie. It was inspirational to see so many people who do not let age slow them down. Some were just enjoying participating in the sport they love and others were definitely competing at a high level and kicking but. I will definitely be going back next year.

I had such a good time and was so impressed that I signed up as an ambassador to the games. If you are over age 50 then I highly recommend you look into the Huntsman Senior Games.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Being Flexible-My first DNF

Photo by Ron Chaffin
In 2017 I was injured and unable to run any races. I spent last year recuperating and started training in early 2018 for the St. George Marathon. I've run this particular marathon 3 prior times and was hoping to get a PR this year. I put in more practice mileage this year than I ever had before and ran several several good half marathons so I was feeling pretty good leading up to the race.

Two days before the marathon I got sick. I had stomach cramps, nausea, and a head ache. I was up all night trying not to puke. I couldn't eat anything until lunch time the day before the race, so my carb loading efforts were thrown out the window. The morning of the race I was feeling a little better but still having stomach pain and felt weak. I was considering not running at all but I didn't just want to quit. I decided to run and see how things went.

As the buses drove us to the starting line it started to rain. It was a light drizzle but enough to get you wet after waiting an hour and a half for the race to start.  I found the 3:45 pacer before the race began and did a good job of staying ahead of him for the first 7 or 8 miles, but then I started getting stomach cramps again. I began to slow down and found myself walking for a few stretches after mile 10. I just didn't have my usual energy. It was much cooler this year, which was nice, but the rain made things harder than usual. By the time I got to mile 13 I decided I was not well enough to complete it. I may have been able to finish it with a very slow time but I would have taken a huge toll on my body and seeing how I would be participating in the Senior Games the following week, I didn't want to chance it.

The final straw that persuaded me to stop was when I looked down and saw I was pulling an Andy Bernard. I had two little blood circles around my nipples despite the fact I had applied plenty of Body Glide before the race. The rain and wet shirt had caused too much friction. I later noticed I was not the only runner suffering from this condition. I decided to call it a day and rest up and get better so I'd be able to compete next week.

I walked over to an aid station at mile 13 and asked if they had a shuttle. I was directed to a large white van parked across the street. I got on and saw about 16 other people on it who looked miserable. A few of them had elite runner's bodies, but looked like they were on death's door step. One guy blew his knee out and couldn't walk, some were cold from the rain. A few of them looked like they didn't know what to expect when they signed up and just weren't having any fun and decided to quit.

We all may have had different injuries, problems, or reasons for stopping, but one thing we had in common was that we were bummed out for not finishing the race. It was a very slow, somber, and quite ride back to the finish line. The depressing mood in the van carried over as we unloaded near the runner's recovery area but we did not cross the finish line, get medals, or get the usual post race food. Instead we just got to go pick up our bags and go home.

Instead of looking at this race as a failure since I got my first DNF (did not finish), I decided to look at it as having successfully completing a half marathon. My hat is off to all the runners who kept plugging away and did finish despite great adversity. Many of those people will be limping around next week, but the pain is worth the satisfaction of knowing they completed a very difficult task.

I respect all the runners regardless of their finish time for doing something hard. I also appreciate all the amazing volunteers who make the Saint George marathon such a great event each year.