Looking back on 42

42. That is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. At least according to Deep Thought, the supercomputer in Douglas Adams’ seminal work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it is. Those who have read The Hitchhiker’s Guide… will already be snickering with this reminder. Those who have not, should. Having recently completed my 42nd trip around the sun on this tiny blue planet, I’ve decided to have a look back on my Ultimate Year.

  • It was my first full year without my Dad. He died in 2016, and looking back, his death has had a huge impact on me. Most notably, the circumstances of his death had a profound influence on my mindfulness practice.
  • A year of seniors. My son is now a senior in college, my daughter a senior in high school. My, how time flies.
  • I ran my first marathon. And my second, and my third, and my fourth. I can be obsessive.
  • My first full year of eating a plant-based diet. Inspired by Scott Jurek and Rich Roll, I’ve got better health numbers now than I did in most of my 20’s and all of my 30’s.
  • It was a good year for my career too. I want to keep my career separate from this blog, but it was a good year following a promotion to a leadership position. I have a fantastic team full of amazing individuals. I wouldn’t trade a single one.
  • My mindfulness practice tipped – in a good way. I read several insightful books this past year, but two of the best were The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle and Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Gaining insights and simply fumbling my way through it, I have taken control of my emotions and want for almost nothing. I would by no means call myself enlightened, but it is a fascinating state of being.
  • I supportted my wife as she pursues her passion: a Master’s of Psychology from Harvard University.
  • I fell in love with trail running. Previously, I had only pounded the pavement. In my 42nd year, I ran several trail races locally and, perhaps most life-altering, I got the chance to run the petit balcon in the French Alps near Chamonix. This is where I took the lead picture of this post.
  • I was able to go whale watching. Surprisingly, this was the highlight of our trip to the Massachusetts beach house in Marshfield. I expected to like seeing whales. I didn’t expect to be mystified.
  • We finally took the trip to Montserrat. After years of traveling to Barcelona and always thinking about it, we finally took the day trip to Montserrat. The monastery houses the Black Madonna and my Mom was speechless. The views from the mountain are stunning.

As I wrap up this short post, I find myself in a state of complete gratitude. My wife and I both hail from small towns (I’m not even sure “town” is the right word for these places) in the Appalachian Ohio Valley, home of economic backwaters and the opioid crisis. Sometimes we look at each other and just shake our heads in awe of what the Universe has provided. The views at 42 were pretty grand.

The view from the Marshfield, MA beach house:

Whale Watching on Cape Cod

James and me (right) in Chamonix before heading up into the Alps

My homemade veggie paella

Looking down from Montserrat

Running Routine: Using a Scorecard to Get Back on Track

My dog is a very good dog. He’s loving, smart, obedient, careful with his 60 lbs size, and almost never makes a mistake. Today, he went out for his morning routine and found something new in the yard that was extremely smellyand then he rolled in it. The last time he did this a couple of years ago, it was a young bird that had fallen out of the nest and died. Now that he’s done this, I need to try to find the offending matter, remove it from the yard and then give him a bath so he doesn’t spread the stinky, mystery “juice” all around the house. This event now takes up the time that I had allotted to fix a healthy meal and then head out in my running gear for an already tight schedule. Oh Rusty, what have you gotten into?

Rusty post-bath
Rusty post-bath

The last several weeks have been a lot like this; our car was rear-ended by a person who has a complicated insurance situation, my wife had to have an unplanned surgery, add in a choir concert, a birthday, an awards ceremony, friends dropping in from out of town, and so on. In addition to disrupting my running schedule, I’ve also been eating “fast food,” opting for veggie burgers and fries instead of well balanced, whole food meals. My pants are tight, I’m grumpy, and I am out of my running routine. In less than 30 days, I need to run three legs of a 150 mile, 24 hour race. I’m the captain of the team so there’s no backing out. I’m not that far out of shape, and I can get there. But I honestly need some mechanism to help me get and stay on the path.

Self-Licensing

Why would a person who ran four marathons last year need a mechanism to get back on track? Moral Self-Licensing. Daniel Effron and his colleagues define this concept as follows: “past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral.” Of course, my issues are not so much moral or ethical in nature, but they certainly are problematic.

There’s a sort of mental accounting going on here. For example, we got rear-ended through no fault of ours. The guy who hit us gave us a bogus insurance card. Without getting into too many details, he has a pseudo-company car and is insured by someone else. So we’re taking extra time to track it all down so we can get our car fixed without legal escalations. We’re doing all the right things, being professional, jumping through the various hoops, but it is taxing. So in effect, I’ve been giving myself “credit” for doing the right thing in these other areas and then opting for a glass of wine instead of heading out into the cold for a training run. I recognized this Self-Licensing behavior a few days ago and realized that I needed to make a change.

Developing the Scorecard

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. – Peter Drucker

I have used this principle countless times in business and in my personal life. In this case I knew that, at a minimum, I needed to get on track with my running. But there’s a balance here too. Run too much at the expense of other things and the wheels fall off. The obvious companion to running is my diet; I’ve got to cut back on the processed foods. I have also learned that I need to spend at least a little time on mediation as well as some creative outlet to help me feel balanced. So I developed a quick scorecard using Apple’s Numbers application that I can access from almost any device.

Designing the metrics takes a little thought too. I have done scorecards in the past where I simply assigned myself a 5 point rating, where 5 = “well done” and 1 = “ugh”. DANGER: Self-Licensing can come into play here too. For instance, I might assess my day thinking about all the toil and trouble I had and then give myself a bonus point because, really how much salt can be in that veggie burger and fries, anyway? Answer: A LOT, so I need to count it correctly. So I got specific. On first glance, the categories below might seem tedious. Well… I AM a Process Engineer, so I’ve timed it. It takes me no more than 5 minutes to complete the scorecard daily. Here are my scorecard categories I’m using for the 30 days’ preparation going into my team running event:

  • Diet: I eat a plant-based diet, so I’m simply breaking food into two categories: either came directly from a plant (raw spinach) or it was factory processed prior to me eating it (burrito shell). (e.g. 11 whole plant foods out of 20 total foods on the day = 55%)
  • Exercise: Expressed as a percentage of 60 minutes of activity that raises my heart rate (e.g. 30 min = 30/60 = 50%)
  • Meditation: Expressed as a percentage of 10 minutes of meditation (e.g. 7 min = 7/10 = 70%)
  • Gratitude: Expressed as a percentage of writing down 3 things that I’m grateful for (e.g. 2 items = 2/3 = 67%)
  • Creativity: Expressed as a percentage of 20 minutes of creativity: writing, photography, drawing, painting
  • The Feels: 5 point Likert scale where 5 is Amaze-balls, 3 is Meh, and 1 is the inside of a used Trash bag. I’ll use this to track how I’m feeling over each of the 30 days.
  • Notes: Very brief (10 words or less) observations or things I might want to work on tomorrow.

So… How’s it going?

Date Diet Exercise Meditation Gratitude Creativity The Feels Notes

Mar 14

55%

101%

170%

100%

200%

4

I felt great getting started with this!

Mar 15

50%

150%

120%

0%

0%

3

I had a good workout but feeling meh

Mar 16

42%

75%

150%

100%

0%

4

Too much processed food; but date night!

Mar 17

50%

113%

0%

100%

200%

4

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I have run 4 days in a row and I’m feeling quite good about it! I can tell that I’m already bridging some of my fitness gaps while maintaining a good balance with the rest of my healthy habits. Even though I’m only holding myself accountable through a digital scorecard, it has completely given me the motivation I needed. I don’t like entering zeroes.

How about the other stuff?

We’re chipping away at it all. My wife has turned the corner from her surgery and is back on her feet. I took my lunch hour on Friday and made several important calls. I have also observed that now that I’m getting back into a fitness routine, my mood is lifting and so sitting down to figure out “life’s current challenges,” is actually getting easier.

What I Learned From a Year of Going Vegan*

Before getting started, I want to explain the asterisk on the word “Vegan” in the title. In conversation, I normally avoid calling myself or my diet vegan because A.) of the politics associated with the word and B.) I’m not 100% perfect in eating absolutely zero food products derived from animals. With regards to the politics, I’m no extremist and I want to avoid being seen as one. With regards to my vegan imperfections, I’m respectful of the people around me. My wife likes to go on date nights (I’m lucky) and if my meat-free menu selection was cooked with butter or if the wait staff forgot to leave the goat cheese off of my salad, I eat it without tipping over any tables in a fit of rage. Having said that, I estimate that more than 95% of the food I eat is completely plant-based. Not bad for a guy living in a mid-sized city in the Midwest.

How I got here

In short, this started as an experiment. I like to run, and like many runner-types in America, I read Christopher McDougall’s super-entertaining Born to Run. In it, I learned about Scott Jurek and later found out that he had his own book titled Eat and Run. After reading Jurek’s inspiring book, I decided to give the plant-based diet a whirl. Over the years, I’ve tried various diets to see what worked for me and what didn’t. And when I say “tried,” I mean “followed at ~95% rigidity for 3-6 months.” My wife indulges me by figuratively patting me on the head with a reassuring “OK baby.” Again, I’m lucky. So… I started with week one in October 2016. After digging into the topic for a bit, I also discovered Rich Roll, whose excellent podcast and other offerings have kept me going. But that is a tale for another day.

Lesson 1: I rarely missed meat

As I mentioned above, I live in the meat-and-potatoes Midwest of the United States. I was raised on meat and potatoes as was essentially everyone around me. So the first question I get usually when discussing my shift to a plant-based diet is, “How can you live without meat?” In my youth, I was a full-fledged carnivore, so I thoroughly understand this question. I used to muse that if one day because of poor health I had to go without meat, I’d drive off a cliff. I wasn’t serious of course, but I will readily admit that there is a satisfaction that comes with chewing on the texture of meat and the fullness that comes from a hearty meal that includes beef or chicken or salmon or… So, you’re getting the picture, I’m not really a good *Vegan* with a capital V. Now for the interesting part, I have rarely missed meat since making the switch.

Maybe I had enough meat in my 40+ carnivorous years preceding. But once I made the switch, there are very few times that I can remember where I really wanted meat. It was more than a year ago the last time I got the urge of the carnivore. It was a cold January day and my body fat was in the single digits from the plant-based diet and lots of running. I distinctly remember walking out of the grocery store and getting blasted by a cold wind out of the North. I was probably hangry because it was just past lunchtime and I hadn’t eaten yet. Immediately following the arctic blast, I remember angrily thinking, “The only thing that is going to solve this is an entire pot of beef stew.” I did not have the pot of beef stew. I have since found plenty of vegetable stew and other recipes that provide the necessary heartiness to overcome the polar vortexes that we experience in Ohio. While individual tastes and preferences abound, I find that cauliflower in buffalo sauce makes great taco filler, Jackfruit in a barbecue sauce replaces pulled pork or chicken, and adding a few cashews or oyster mushrooms to a breakfast burrito filled with onions and peppers gives me the hearty textures that I want in my food.

Lesson 2: It is difficult to be a foodie in a mid-sized Midwestern city

Quite simply, there aren’t a lot of vegan restaurants or places with distinctly vegan options on the menu in Columbus, Ohio. I have found a couple of places that offer tasty options, but they’re generally a bit young and hip for my tastes. I like to sit down with my wife to catch up on the busy week and we find that we can’t do that very well over the din of Indy music, clinking beer glasses, and blaring TVs. So instead of being a “foodie,” which I’m defining here as one who keeps up with the latest food offerings at many trendy restaurants, I’ve turned into a cook. Recipes abound on the internet, and I got off to a great start by watching a few YouTubers, The Happy Pear being my favorite. I prepare the vast majority of our meals at home and the spill over benefit that I’ve learned is that it makes me happy. I know it sounds a bit woo woo, but I have a real connection with the food that I’m now eating. There is something very uplifting about tucking into a meal that I’ve just prepared.

Lesson 3: I have had no problem with endurance sports

As mentioned previously, I’m both a runner and fond of trying new things, diets included. I had previously tried the Paleo diet. I found it both tasty and effective as a weight-loss tool. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big guy, but I tend to carry 10-15 lbs of extra weight in spite of a fairly active lifestyle. I like to blame my 45-50 hour a week desk job and the occasional adult beverage. I lost all of the extra pooch around my mid-section with the Paleo diet, but I ran into a couple of other problems: 1.) I found that I had trouble sleeping and 2.) I couldn’t run more than 4 miles without my legs locking up. My muscles would just give out. Not really cramping, just more like them saying “Nope, we’re done” and then going out on strike. Since going plant-based, I again lost my mid-section pooch but had no trouble training for, and running four marathons over the course of one year.

I do want to say that in the very beginning of my plant-based adventure I was eating very little carbs and fats. While I could still run and run (~60 miles per week) with my super-trim phsysique, I had a short bout with insomnia and a tired libido. After about a week, I figured out that all I had to do was eat more legumes, nuts, and avocados, which brought back just a little body fat (still in the single digits) and a happy bedroom. In fact, after a year of eating a plant-based diet, my most recent health screening resulted in the best numbers I’ve turned in since I was in my 20s.

Lesson 4: My body’s response to fruit changed significantly for the better

This one is fascinating to me. I don’t know the science behind it, but at this point I don’t care. In years past when I was not at all careful with my diet, I had an interesting sugar spike response to say, eating an apple. It was so noticeable that over time I eventually steered clear of many fruits to avoid the rush and crash. After the first 2-3 months of eating a plant-based diet, I started to notice a significant difference. I can now eat an apple or an orange with absolutely no jitters or crash. These days, I carry two or three pieces of fruit with me per day and I eat them as snacks instead of chips or even nuts. I feel a moderate boost of energy with no side effects. So, I’m sure someone can tell me the science behind it, but I’m now looking at fruit much more favorably these days and I quite enjoy it.

Lesson 5: B12 makes me happy

It’s fairly well documented that people who eat a plant-based diet can become vitamin B12 deficient. Meat eaters get B12 from meat and – while I’m not expert on this – our purified water sources generally prevent us non-meat eaters from getting B12 from “nature.” So, people who eat a plant-based diet essentially need to supplement. Here’s the cool thing: taking a B12 supplement once a week is like a blast of sunshine, a cool breeze, and a group of non-allergenic puppies excitedly running around your feet – all at once. Seriously, this stuff is like happy pills. As with all good things, too much can be problematic. We don’t need a lot of B12 to prevent deficiency (think, teeny-tiny micrograms) so B12 is not your caffeine replacement. This is especially true since recent studies have linked high doses of B12 with increased risks of lung cancer – notably in men who currently or have smoked in the past.

Let’s wrap this thing up in a grape leaf

In conclusion, I’m an imperfect vegan and happily so. My plant-based diet has fueled me through 4 marathons in one year and has provided me with clean-burning inexpensive food that gets me through my work days behind the desk. I have found it easy to maintain a healthy weight even when I take a break from running. What started as the latest in a long line of dietary experiments has turned into a rewarding and highly maintainable lifestyle. 


Troy works and lives in Columbus, Ohio with his better half and their blended family of 6. He runs, reads, writes, cooks, travels, plays soccer, and has a fledgling mindfulness practice when he gets the chance. The picture featured is Troy’s not-so-world-famous homemade veggie paella.

A New Beginning

I originally started Quixote Goes as a travel blog. It was going to be a space where I wrote about planning, experiencing, and reflecting on travel. But shortly after I started it, my Dad got sick and went into the hospital for intensive care. After a 5-week battle with illness, he passed away. It wasn’t a total shock. His health hadn’t been the greatest over the past years. However, losing your father will cause you to reevaluate what’s important. At that time, keeping up a travel blog wasn’t near the top of the list.
More than a year has passed and I’ve been getting the motivation to write again. However, I’ve decided to expand the focus of Quixote Goes beyond travel. Since my Dad’s passing, I’ve become a different person. I still love to travel, but there’s more. In 2017, I ran the marathon that I contemplated in 2016 and then some. I also switched to a whole foods, plant-based diet. In addition, I began actively pursuing a mindfulness practice. As a result of these endeavors, I’ll open the topic list of this blog accordingly.

 

Over the past several weeks, I reflected on the name Quixote Goes. Does it still fit with this expanded subject matter list? Does the subject matter list even go together? How many Ohio-based, 40-something, office-working, imperfectly vegan, marathon running, fledgling zen buddhists who like to travel are there in the world, anyway? In the end, I decided to simply go with it. And like my beloved character Don Quixote, I’ll just have to see where the adventure goes.