Friday, July 10, 2009

The Pool Is Open

On Sunday I’m scheduled to go on my first Atlantic Ocean dives since June of 2007. I find scuba diving to be pretty much the antithesis of running insofar as the sport requires an enormous amount of expensive gear, considerable travel to get to the dive site, slow movements to conserve energy and total focus on the act of diving. On the other hand, both are intensely physical activities so maybe the difference isn’t as great as it first appears. I like to dive to get away from terra firma for a while. After pounding the pavement for weeks on end without a break, it is nice to float weightless in water, even if that water clocks in at a chilly 55 degrees Fahrenheit. A wetsuit keeps the hypothermia away, though just barely.

Diving in the Atlantic Ocean should not be confused with the sort of diving one watches in brilliant HD on the Discovery Channel. Tropical diving is a truly sublime experience, akin to floating weightless in outer space. Most time you don’t even need to wear a wet suit because the water temperature is in the upper 90s. Visibility is often unlimited, and sunlight illuminates the reefs and wrecks well below 100 feet.

In contrast, diving in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island is a decidedly more intense experience. For starters, the water is cold, and it’s liable to be dark as night at any depth exceeding 70 feet or so. Visibility can be as great as 80 feet, or as little as none, with the average somewhere in the 5-20’ range. You have to wear, at minimum, a 7mm thick wet suit, booties, gloves and a hood, and you should carry around a spare air tank in case something goes wrong. Despite or maybe because of the challenges, divers here in so-called Wreck Valley have the reputation of being the best trained and skilled divers anywhere in the world. I got into diving a few years ago and having experienced both environments. As much as I enjoy tropical diving, I have to admit I like the challenges posed by northeast conditions. Since my budget for travel to warm climates is decidedly limited, I think I’ll reacquaint myself with the Atlantic and get some chilly dark dives under my belt. The pool, as they say, is open.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


At lunchtime today I was watching the talking heads on CNN attempt to dumb down the health care debate, while grinding out my daily 5 on the office treadmill. Admittedly, healthcare is a complex issue, but to hear how the debate is being framed by the mainstream media, one could come away with the impression that if we allow Obama to push through a publicly funded plan, the government is going to come and take away our soda and cookies while taxing everything else in sight. This alarmist coverage is so far removed from what should be a sober debate on American fiscal priorities that I am compelled to conclude that the coverage is being scripted by CNN’s insurance company advertisers.

With the enormous wads of cash being thrown at the financial industry and the fact that the United States military is engaged in fighting two costly wars halfway across the world, the debate should be focusing on where else besides the taxpayer’s pocket the money to fund healthcare reform can come from. I have not heard a single media report that suggests that the money spent bailing out Wall Street bankers would be better spent on health-care. CNN and its corporate cronies have instead decided to frighten Americans by raising the specter of “socialized medicine” and tax increases that would be necessary to pay for it. As far back as the 1930s, conservatives have attempted to smear progressive national health care reform proposals by calling them "socialized medicine" or a step toward that inevitable result.

And what’s wrong with socialized medicine, anyway? To me it just seems like everyone chipping in through taxes to take care their neighbor. Insurance companies are only interested in making money, so they do whatever they can to deny people treatment. One of the worst things about the American system is insurers denying referrals to specialists, thus ensuring that preventable or treatable afflictions blow up into catastrophes. Countries with socialized medicine also have programs that provide numerous incentives to foster healthy lifestyles so that one doesn’t get sick in the first place. That is much more proactive than our culture can stand. Remember, America is home of competitive eating.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Running on Empty

I have been taking it easy lately, trying to build up a good reserve of rest before jumping into marathon training. I also haven’t been watching my diet as carefully, which is a problem since I’m still about 5-7lbs over where I want to be for the fall. Fourth of July was full of beer and bar-b-q; kind of a lost week-end insofar as fitness is concerned. Beer is especially troublesome since it takes a good five days or so for the excess water weight to dissipate. Meanwhile you carry that extra two pounds around. I feel like I’m sloshing every time I put my foot down. Stopping off at White Castle in the Bronx on the way back from Pennsylvania probably didn’t help any.

There are many opinions about the proper nutrition for runners; timing, composition of food, hydration, etc. In fact, there is a lively discussion on the topic over at The Well, the NY Times fitness blog. What I’ve been able to gather, is that aside from some areas of common agreement, i.e. the White Castle Bacon Double Cheeseburger is not a particularly desirable fuel source for runners, scientists and nutritionists are all over the map when it comes to this stuff.

When I started running 20 years ago I was a vegan. I lost a lot of weight, but I was also tired all the time and would feel like I was about to faint if I stood up too quickly. I think it was my vegan self-righteousness that kept me alive until I transitioned to a more normal ovo-lacto vegetarian diet several years later. Eventually, I tired of eating beans three times a day and switched to a more conventional diet, loosely based on the Zone diet, but less restrictive. My problem has always been volume. If my running exceeds 30 miles in a week I become an eating machine. I have been trying to figure out a way to prevent my weight from increasing along with my mileage, but so far I’m finding it to be a delicate balancing act.

People are different. It follows that bodies will respond differently to different fuel sources. Some people chug Gatorade at water stops with no problem, others end up heaving it up on the side of the road a mile later. The trick is knowing what works for you. My favorite pre-run drink on Saturday mornings is a large cup of coffee. Others prefer a smoothie. Vive le difference.