Obesity is The Government’s Business

I use running to check out or check in. I use it to become absent or to become present. I listen to my shoes crunching through the snow, to my favorite tunes or just to the world around me. Running, for me has become the only time when I can break away from the direct work responsibilities to expand my mind. To do this, I often listen to podcasts of a variety of types. This past Saturday while running in Mill Creek Park, I found myself listening to a local Youngstown NPR channel and to a rebroadcast of a February 2012 debate from Intelligence Squared US entitled Obesity Is The Government’s Business.

Granted by listening to this while running and while listening to National Public Radio, I’m already self selecting into a specific stereotype, and when I heard this was a debate, I initially reacted by thinking, “What is there to debate about?”. 78 million adults and 12 million children are obese. We spend more than $150 billion (with a B) addressing chronic and largely preventable illnesses, brought about from poor lifestyle choices and personal decisions. Of course our government has a role in solving this problem.

The panel for this debate was impressive with Dr. David Satcher, former Surgeon General and Dr. Pamela Peeke, WebMD’s Lifestyle Expert representing the Affirmative, and John Stossel, FOX Business News Anchor and Paul Compos, author of The Obesity Myth opposing government’s involvement.

The main point of Drs. Satcher and Peeke are that government has a role in providing an environment where everyone can participate in healthy and active lifestyle choices regardless of socioeconomic status – access to sidewalks, parks, foods, etc.  Those opposed to the motion argued that this was largely about awareness and anyone can watch Richard Simmons or P90X commercials and know that being overweight or obese is not a desirable trait in our culture and that the problem with government being involved is largely that 1) government has a lousy track record of making a difference in people’s behaviors, 2) that schools are having enough problem teaching reading and writing without asking them to teach nutrition, and 3) we are a free society and government shouldn’t be involved in the individual decisions of its citizens. They also put forth a few specious arguments such as the proposition that there is no evidence that obesity is unhealthy or responsible for rising heath care costs.

I was disappointed that there were a number of important positions that went unexplored in this debate including the fact that government is already involved directly in obesity when they subsidize commercially available packaged foods and factory farming of foods that contribute to this issue in turn making whole real foods more expensive and less accessible by comparison. They also did not fully explore the fact that rising healthcare costs are largely contributing to one of the most significant national defense issues of our time by throwing us deeper and deeper into debt. They also did not explore the fact that healthy people subsidize the poor decisions and bad behaviors of those who just don’t care or who selfishly have decided that somehow they are entitled to these as rights under our constitution. Why should my tax dollars go to support their bad decisions and how is that not a government issue?

What actually amazed me most of all is that the team opposed to obesity being government’s business actually won the debate. I’m not sure how to interpret this with so many facts and the preponderance of evidence weighing in favor of what many would see as common sense. Listening to this on the heels of the Newtown slaughter also reminded me that there are a lot of Americans who simply are willing to sacrifice a whole lot of lives to protect what they see as their individual freedoms and liberties. Similar to the debate on gun control, those opposed to government’s involvement really didn’t provide any alternative recommendations on how to actually solve the problem, only that whichever path is chosen, government should not be involved. Now I’m Jewish and my mother was first generation born in the United States and I grew up ever wary of fascist overzealous controlling governments that strip away the freedoms of its citizens in order to promote a particular point of view. So am I just naive? Am I ignorant? Must we always and forever assume that representatives of a duly elected government will always be looking for ways to harm its citizens? I’m not sure I buy it. I guess I believe that liberties and a government that actively helps its citizens can responsibly coexist.

In any case, do listen to the debate here: Obesity is The Government’s Business. It’s definitely worth your time while commuting or working out. It provides a good summary of the facts surrounding this extremely important issue in our country. Its an issue that won’t be solved any time soon, but must be solved to avoid a tremendous amount of suffering in the future. Interested in your opinion.





"The New Nutritionist: Your Grocer" A great concept that misses the mark entirely

The Leonard Lopate Show. “The New Nutritionist: Your Grocer”, Friday August 6, 2010

Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of Leonard Lopate and not having a tremendous amount of time to read for pleasure, his show The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC has helped to educate, enlighten and intrigue me and beyond that has gotten me through any number of long multi-hour runs by listening to his podcasts. Every now and then, I come across an interview that really just makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Last week’s episode entitled “The New Nutritionist: Your Grocer” was just such an episode. Leonard, I’ll chalk it up to having a bad day because there is no way you would have let your guest, The Wall Street Journal’s Timothy Martin get off of the hook so easily for any other reason. It was clear that he had no idea what he was talking about on the topic of nutrition or healthy and active lifestyles. Now having spent the past ten years directly involved in the fight against youth obesity, I feel that this is one of those public discussions that I just can’t let slide.

Just to bring everyone up to speed, the episode highlights one of a number of new nutritional ranking systems that are being put into place at grocery store chains designed to provide shoppers with simple and necessary information to make healthier choices when shopping. In this instance, this system combines all of the factors such as sugar content, fiber, sodium levels, fat , etc and runs them through an algorithm to arrive at a single score between 1 and 100 with the higher number being associated with the healthiest foods available.  I really like the concept, but I found two obvious flaws in the author’s argument that Leonard in any other situation would have not let him slide on.

The first is that this system is being funded by a grocery store chain and a hospital and led by a nutritionist at Yale. Sounds great, right? The problem is that nutritional guidance is hardly a science and the prevailing winds seem to change what the public is told to do with regard to the factors listed above. Eat high carbs for fuel, don’t eat carbs, look at net carbs. eat fiber, but not too much, take fat out of your diet, fat is good in your diet, use portion control but don’t eat too little or you’ll trigger starvation responses,only eat low glycemic, eat all protein, don’t eat protein, and on and on and on. So what does this mean with respect to my first issue of controversy? We didn’t cover any of the aspects of how the algorithm is created or the philosophy that the founders adhere to.  Personally, I’m not going to take anyone’s judgment as an authority on this subject just because they teach at Yale.

The second issue is the one that made me accelerate the pace of my run yesterday because I was just hopping mad. The statement was that this system is not designed to drive people to eating better in a way that would really make a difference. It’s not to make people stop eating potato chips or other crappy food, rather it is designed so that people can select the healthiest choice within each category. So you can choose the healthiest potato chip, or the healthiest diet soda and feel good about making those selections. This statement was reinforced throughout the interview and I couldn’t figure out why the guest and even Leonard seemed to be acting defensive about wanting to help people make real choices that can help, like helping people to make real healthy choices is a bad thing. In one example, they suggested that a shopper was observed buying one brand of breakfast sausages over another because of this scoring system. The honest truth is that he shouldn’t have bought either brand and I would just bet that this system provided support to this guy to feel like he is justified and actually doing something healthy by buying this brand of artery clogging, heart stopping, stroke creating wannabe food. Didn’t we just get past all of this with the whole fat free generation of manufactured foods where we saw obesity increase even further because people inaccurately rationalized that since it’s fat free they can eat as much of it as they want?

Leonard, your show does a service to so many and to not call out this obvious flaw in the author’s logic only reinforced bad messages to an already confused population, and unfortunately one that seems committed to data mine for any evidence they can find to continue their bad behaviors which cost our country billions of dollars each year, all of which are preventable.

I hope you invite the author back to challenge him in your traditional thoughtful and objective way, and provide your listeners with real guidance on how they can use these new technologies to make a measurable difference in their lives and the lives of those who they love.

Get your butt off the couch and LET'S TRAIN! – Triathlete's Coffee Shop is Monday at 8PM EST

Triathlon season is just around the corner and before you know it you’ll be racking your bike and walking to the swim start. How well you will do is largely dependent upon properly planning your season and then executing that plan. This Monday evening at 8:00PM EST, yours truly will be co-hosting The Triathlete’s Coffee Shop with an episode dedicated to planning your perfect 2010 triathlon season. I will be joined by Race with Purpose triathlon coach Javier Gomez, Justin “Mango”, and professional triathlete and head coach of Team Continuum, John Hirsch. Special guests will also include my friend and USC Triathlon Head Coach Rad Hallman, and more.

You will not want to miss this episode as we’re going to provide you with the opportunity and the tools to put your 2010 plan together in a way that will help you to achieve and exceed your goals. This episode is for triathletes of all levels and experiences from first timers all the way to veteran Ironman finishers.

Post your questions in advance or bring them with you to the show. You can participate by listening to the show live by calling (724) 444-7444 code: 32637, or through your computer over the TalkShoe webcast. At TalkShoe, you’ll also be able to ask questions electronically and chat with other listeners and tri-tweethlete community members. Click here to access the TalkShoe Page.

In the meanwhile, if you have great tools and tips that others can benefit from, post them here as a comment. You can also reach all of us on Twitter at any time by following @mangorunner, @crash_gomez, @j_hirsch, @radhallman, and @coachadam. We’ll meet up with you Monday night at The Triathlete’s Coffee Shop.

A scientific vs a natural approach to your running

Our friend Adam Tinkoff, The Zen Runner, recently published an article in a UK publication entitled Running Free, in a column called Both Sides Of The Track. He was profiled as the Zen side of the argument of running. His opponent is Gary Palmer, a well known UK exercise physiologist and endurance coach. Gary took the scientific side of the debate.

This is not a new discussion topic and one that people come back to more often than not as they progress through their evolution of running, swimming, biking, rowing, kayaking, cross country skiing, triathlon or any other type of endurance activity that becomes more than just a sport, and certainly a significant part of, if not a way of, life.

Both authors raise some very interesting issues although the lead into the debate seems to create the impression that the discussion will be focused on the scientific vs the zen debate over sports nutrition which in my mind it doesn’t really address. That said, there are some really useful take-a-ways for newbies and reminders for veterans, and it’s always great to reflect back on where we are in our own evolution because like most things, the pendulum swings back and forth on fairly regular intervals and knowing where you are in that arc can be really beneficial in finding peace and balance within your life and your training.

Check out Adam Tinkoff’s “Both Sides Of The Track” article and let us know what you think.

I Now Pronouce You Mr. and Mrs. JetPack – The Iron Wedding

On November 3rd 2006, JetPack “Tyler” Darby was preparing for the biggest moment of his life, and it wasn’t just about preparing to run his first marathon in a few hours. He was about to ask the woman that he loved, the one that he had been following, and dare I say coveting, for almost fourteen years, Kelley Ward, to marry him.  He did, she said “yes” and the rest is history. OK, it’s not nearly that simple. Kelley, or Special K as we know her, learned early on what marriage challenges with JetPack might be like as within the next 12 months they purchased a new home, and he looked for a new job all while training for Ironman Moo 2007.  As if, training for an Ironman wasn’t hard enough, JetPack and Special K did all of this with JetPack under the spotlight of the virtual blogworld paparazzi as a member of Team Race Athlete.

I had the pleasure of being a small part of this experience and in the process got to know JetPack and Special K even better, and quickly understood just how amazing and grounded these two people are.

We were so incredibly excited when Tyler and Kelley invited us to their wedding in Philadelphia this weekend. Cindy and I have been a couple for quite some time, long enough to see most of our friends get married, divorced and remarried, so we’ve seen it all and are pretty good at knowing when couples will work and when they won’t. Trust me, it’s not like they’re perfect as individuals, I mean Special K can’t drive for shit. Our mutual friend Emily can attest to experiencing the white knuckling, red-light running, wrong side of the street experiences we had with Special K at the wheel of our rental car in Madison during Ironman weekend. And Jetpack, well he wasn’t planning the Iron Nut for nothing. But together, these two are quite the force, like a tag team of positive energy and purpose. In the case of Kelley and Tyler, this is beyond a perfect match. They’ve already been through  more than most couples were ever intended to, so from our point of view, the hard part is already done. This wedding is, therefore, the beginning of all of the good times and promises that life is meant to provide.

But I digress…

I know that was a long-winded preamble so I’ll cut to the particulars of the Iron Wedding weekend. We arrived in Philadelphia on Thursday night and found that Tyler and Kelley had picked up the cost of one of the nights for our room and provided us with a lovely welcome basket. To continue their graciousness, Cindy and I were invited to the reception dinner, for a terrific meal and an opportunity to reunite with the Darby clan and meet new members of Kelley’s family.

Darby shows off the \

The rehearsal dinner was absolutely perfect with a few toasts, a few roastings and a perfect blend of Tyler playing the strong host and Kelley graciously playing the perfect hostess.  In a particularly emotional moment, Tyler presented his dad with a beautiful watch inscribed with the words “Iron Father” on the back, representing the relationship they have and the strength that exists within this family which is gaining a new member.

Of course any seriousness went by the wayside with this crew, as after dinner the pre-celebration continued back at the hotel bar with stories of Tyler growing up, the arrival of drunken pilot friends and alcohol, and alcohol and alcohol. I mean seriously, Tyler picked the location of the rehearsal dinner across the street from this pet care establishment. What was he trying to suggest?

Friday morning began with me meeting Jetpack for what would be his last run as a single man, a 5.1-mile run along the Schuykill River and boat house row. The trials and blessing s of life came clearly into focus as we ran passed two homeless men debating the merits of the dollar menus at McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s. We did the obligatory Rocky run up the stairs of the Art Museum steps and from the top we paused to stare at the Cathedral Basilica where JetPack and Kelley would say there vows just a few hours later. Our run continued along, what else, Kelly Drive. Along the way, we compared wedding planning to Ironman planning and Tyler was absolutely convinced that his Ironman was far easier by comaprison.

He did like the fact that the night before his main event, he didn’t have to eat dinner at 5PM and could carbo load with his favorite libation and it wasn’t CarboPro. As we made our way back to Tyler’s hotel and the end of our run, a serene calmness fell over him. He was ready.


The Swim:

The choice of venue, the Cathedral Basilica, was out of this world. It was simply extraordinary. Looking up at the ceiling, we wondering how they possibly crafted this immense and intricate structure. The ceremony began with the priest pointing out that this was a historical wedding If only because the bride arrived thirty minutes early. Never in the history of the church has that happened.

Having lost her father, Kelley walked down the aisle alone, a very powerful and emotional statement that had everyone in the audience holding their breaths and causing Tyler to bubble up and cry like a baby, the priest was kind enough to point this out as well, in case anyone in attendance missed it. Kelley made a beautiful bride and the dress, enhanced by Mary, made for a true once in a lifetime experience and a look that was jaw dropping.

Kelley Ward soon to be Kelley Darby

Below, Tyler pulled it together long enough to say his vows, exchange rings and officially begin his new life with his wife. Shortly thereafter, Mr. and Mrs. Jetpack walk back up the aisle with Kelley carrying the red rose that was placed on the railing during the ceremony in memory of her father.

Mr. and Mrs. JetPack

Getting Married


Our first transition required only a short walk to the reception and no change in clothing.

The Bike:

With the formal part of the wedding complete, we all headed back to the Sofitel hotel for the reception, which was without a doubt worthy of “E” Entertainment television in terms of the thought that went into each aspect of the evening. Upon arriving, the foyer contained digital photo albums of the couple and as we walked into the main ballroom, we were provided with paper planes with 08.01.08 written onto them. As the newlyweds entered the ballroom, they were showered in these planes by their guests. This is definitely the first time that I’ve ever thrown a paper airplane at a wedding and didn’t get scolded or removed.

A great touch was that the tables and table cards were not numbered, rather they were labeled with dates and numbers of events from throughout their courtship. We sat at, what else, table 140.6, while others sat at tables recognized for their engagement date 11.03.2006, 13.1 signifying Kelley’s completion of the Philadelphia Distance Run and others referencing their individual birth dates.

Given that the bride went to Julliard, you can expect the dancing to be outrageous and the new couple kicked things off surprising everyone with a Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers routine that would have easily won them the competition at Dancing with the Stars. Yes, Tyler looked a little like George Hamilton in comparison to his lovely bride, but the man has moves and the effect was extraordinary, even more so when we later found out that only 25 percent of the dance was choreographed and the rest was made up on the fly.

The Dance

Nothing was left to chance. The kids got their own Net Jets kids packages, there was a separate VIP lounge area, great food and amazing friends and family. Joe Wibner “Trifilmer” and his wife added to the experience by bringing with them special race bibs made for this event, which Tyler proudly wore. Even the cake got into the action with a topper of a bride and a groom sharing a ride on their bicycle. I’m not sure if it was a BMC because it required a magnifying glass to see all of the detail, but you can clearly see the deep dish aero wheels.Lifetime Marathon

Trifilmer, his wife and Jetpack

Cake Topper
Tyler and Kelley tearing it up


As you might expect, we took our time in our second transition as everyone including the bride and groom changed into clothes that more exemplified Kelley and Tyler’s clear urban street upbringing.

The Run

The Happy Couple

The evening continued until one o’clock on the rooftop of The Continental, a cool bar on 18th Street. As August 1st rolled over into August 2nd, Tyler leaned over to celebrate the completion of their first day of marriage, a very successful one at that.

For those that couldn’t be there in person, you missed a terrific event, but more importantly you were equally in the thoughts of the bride and groom and in those of the attendees. Many glasses were raised to those who the happy couple knew and invited but were unable to attend.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we enjoyed being there.

Congratulations Kelley and Tyler on a lifetime of happy experiences and great race results.

Pour some sugar on me!

Yes Tuesday evening, February 26th our very own Holistic Guru Christine Lynch discussed how to co exist with that sugary stuff without having to sign up for a 12-step program. Special thanks to Brett “Texafornia” Blankner host of Zen and the Art of Triathlon who confessed his addiction to pixie sticks and podcast the discussion and all of the documents mentioned here.

Christine at the 2008 Boston Build-up 10K

If you have follow up questions, or if you want to find out how much sugar we consume on an annual basis, please reach out to Christine directly at www.liveandeatbetter.com.

Back outside again

It’s been eleven days since I’ve run or worked out, due to this lovely illness I have. I’m still not fully over it as I still have these uncontrollable coughing fits and I’m still completely void of any energy, but I figured enough was enough. I did the dutiful and responsible thing for the past week and a half, and to tell you the truth I’m sort of surprised by the entire experience. I really wasn’t climbing the walls because I couldn’t go out and run. I guess that means either I’m not so addicted to running anymore or the illness consumed more than my lean body mass, it had me fighting and active internally so that I didn’t feel the loss of my workouts which are usually my first defense against wild blood sugar swings.

So it snowed here in and around New York City the night before last and then poured rain all day yesterday. The sun is just coming up and it looks pretty gloomy outside. My plan is an easy 10K around the neighborhood, but I guess we’ll see how it goes. It’s entirely possible that I’ll take a few steps, get dizzy and turn back around, content to try another day. Think good thoughts. I have my iPod shuffle – first generation, by the way – which has carried me so far and I’m looking forward to catching up on the podcasts I’ve missed. If you get a chance check out Brett’s most recent Zen and the Art of Triathlon episode “Rocky Raccoon Trail Race Podcast” which includes a the lead vocal track of David Lee Roth singing Running with the Devil. I listened to it last night while taking the train back from Manhattan and it is absolutely hilarious, especially for those who have never heard an isolated track like that before. I’m also looking forward to catching up to the most recent editions of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me with Peter Sagal. It has nothing to do with running except that Peter Sagal is a Boston Qualifier and the show is one of the smartest and funniest out there on the web (and on NPR if you are a traditionalist listening to radio). I actually wish Peter would include a few runners as his guests but alas, he seems to think that talking about running would bore the masses. F-them if they can’t get into tempo runs, blisters, and the snotten and spitting that goes along with any good workout.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to go do some snotten and spitting of my own. At least this time, I’ll be doing it because I want to.

Base Training

Rick Plank Winter Training

Our close California friend, Rick Plank putting in base miles at Rockefeller Park during his holiday visit to New York in 2005.

It’s base training period here in the Northeast United States. I haven’t posted for awhile mostly because after our experience with Wally I didn’t know where to start. I’ve decided to table that discussion for awhile, and for those who have shown so much interest and support, both Cindy and I thank you profusely. A proper acknowledgment will follow but for now, let’s get back to improving our daily performance on the roads, and hopefully that will also help us improve our performance off them as well.

Given that outside my home office window I am looking at a wonderfully wintery mix of white snow on top of ice, currently being covered by rain and sleet, I know you can’t wait to get outside and begin your base training.

The fun part of this post is that I don’t have to do much of the work. What inspired me to write this post was a perfect storm of inquiries from some of my friends and announcements from fellow bloggers and podcasters.

To begin with, Javier sent me a post from his blog Operation Ironman which included a post from his coach on the importance of base training. I provided him with some feedback as I felt that his coach may have been spreading on the peanut butter a little too broadly. That said, I emphasized that over distance or what we call Commute Pace training is extremely important at this stage as this is the time when we train our bodies to use fat more efficiently and develop the foundation for our spring running events.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

About Base training

The following is right from my coaches Blog( Johnhirsh.org) it is regarding the need to stick with Base training during the base phase.

It’s important to note that base training contains two critical factors.

  1. run at your Commute and sometimes frustratingly slow pace. During base a much higher percentage of your runs should be at this pace, as high as 90%, and
  2. frequency and consistency is more important than duration or intensity. The second part of this, “intensity” was handled in the first point, but understand that this is the time to train your body to build the aerobic power centers of your muscles. Going out to run once or twice a week at Commute pace is not going to help create the benefits your seek. More runs, more frequently and more consistently at a slow relaxed pace are prescribed during this period.
  3. I know I said there were only two points, but given that this is my blog, I’ll use my creative rights to add a third which applies to the multi-sport junkies. This period is also the time to focus on your weaknesses, not your strengths. If you are a superb runner, focusing on running during this time is not an effective investment. Use this time to focus on developing technique and skills on your weaker disciplines so that when you emerge along with the spring weather your weaknesses have become your strengths.

Continuing on, Dr. Monte Ladner called me up to do an interview on cross training for his wildly popular podcast Fitness Rocks. That interview is up and entitled, appropriately Fitness Rocks Podcast 076, Cross Training with Coach Adam. If you can get past the annoying “um’s” that I use all too frequently, it’s actually a pretty good refresher and completely applicable to base training period.

Sat, 15 December 2007

Fitness Rocks Podcast 076

Cross Training with Coach Adam
This week on Fitness Rocks Podcast 076 we talk to Adam Krajchir, the founder of Race With Purpose, about cross-training. Adam is an exercise physiologist with a great deal of experience training elite athletes and ordinary athletes like the rest of us.

Lastly, another familiar podcaster Steve Runner took the week off and let John Ellis of the Bill Rogers Running Center take over his Phedippidations podcast and discuss, you guessed it, Base Training.

Phedippidations 126: Base Training

This week’s guest host: John Ellis, back at the Bill Rodgers Running Center back after a successful winter of base training yielded a 3:35 performance at the Boston Marathon in 2005.

The basic concept of base training strikes many runners like a brain-teaser game: how can running slowly now help us to achieve better performances later in the year? It is particularly challenging to go from the relative intensity of pre-race workouts to a speed and pace that is much, much slower. However, if you come to the realization that many runners stagnate on a plateau of performances because they run too few miles, and these miles that they do run are are run too fast, then you open yourself up to the possibility of significant running improvement. Proper base training requires patience and discipline, and this week’s guest host, Steve’s running advisor John Ellis, explains how the hard part of this period of training comes with the dedication to running “easy.”

If you’ve been reading my blog or have been around Race with Purpose with any consistency, you’ll already know that I’m of the belief that training is about 60% science and 40% art, although many coaches and programs would lead you to believe the proportions are much more weighted to the science side of the equation, in part because they have invested lifetimes and careers in studying said science. As an exercise physiologist, I can debate the research with the best of them, but at the end of the day, what matters is what happens when an athlete toes the line at a race, and in optimizing that experience, I believe that whatever we so-called-experts say or write needs to be tailored to the preferences, physiology, personality, lifestyle and experiences of the individual athlete. Blanket scientific theories will help to explain a lot, but it is in the sharing of the supported opinions and experiences of all of us that we improve. And in this virtual community internet world of Web 2.0, it is the sharing of our own experiences that individuals living thousands of miles apart, can see there own issues through the lenses of others.

Therefore without further ado, I point you to these three terrific resources and encourage you to read Javier’s About Base Training post first, then listen to Phedippidations Episode 126: Base Training next and finally if you’d like to round it out with a few cross training “how’s”, listen to my Cross Training with Coach Adam interview with Dr. Monte on Fitness Rocks to help you personalize the experience for yourself.

Enjoy and remember to wear bright clothing so you don’t blend in with the snow. Most importantly, when you do need to drive, please drive slowly and remember that animals were here long before us and they can’t read street signs.