Why we are addicted to Sugar: The Story of Three Hormones



Last week I wrote an article about our ‘bust the sugar craving challenge’ that we just completed with a group at our studio last month. The article was already long enough so I didn’t add the information about the big three hormones that tell the whole sugar story:  Insulin, leptin, and ghrelin. The story of the holy trinity of sugar/hunger hormones will lead you to believe sugar just might not be the best thing in the world for us.


But before we get into the whole sugar is evil thing – full disclosure: After spending the perfect day kayaking along the Grand River yesterday with my wife Tina, we decided (well I decided and she just went along with it) when we got back to Mississauga to go to Dairy Cream on the Lakeshore. Not Dairy Queen, the cream variety has been in the same location on Lakeshore since 1958. It is still a hang out for couples, bikers, hot rodders and families.


Dairy Cream on Lakeshore Mississauga

We decided this would be our cheat day and had a large soft chocolate, chocolate dip ice cream cone. To say this thing was large is a gross understatement. If you ever watched the Simpsons it was about as large as Marge Simpsons hairdo.  If you are thinking I am going to tell you it wasn’t amazing you are wrong. It was pretty damn good. Did I pay for it later. Yup. The rest of the evening I sat on the coach feeling like the python who ate the pig, and anytime I got up I felt really dizzy. I ended up going to bed at 10 pm (on a Saturday) and woke up with stomach issues today. But I did go for a 16 km run along Lake Ontario this morning which felt absolutely amazing and I am back to feeling really good. So, if it feels like I am preaching know that I am definitely not a complete health food Zealot. I do think all of us who eat healthy sometimes just have to say f… it!  I probably won’t have another ice cream for a year now but I got it out of my system and I never want to have the feeling of being deprived. Hey, next week when I am celebrating Canada Day Weekend in Port Dover at the absolute best parade in Canada for our countries birthday, I may just have a great big pizza. But after that for the next 6 days I will be back to my healthy, no hunger eating plan.


Yup – Marge’s hair is pretty well the size of the ice cream cone

Now back to the sugar hormones. You have probably heard of Insulin because I am sure you know at least a few people with diabetes as it is a North American epidemic. I have a friend who worked in the pharmaceutical industry a few years ago. One of the products that he sold was a device to monitor your blood. He told me he was getting a 10% increase every year on the product due to nothing but people who were newly diagnosed as having diabetes. Diabetes is just great for the pharmaceutical industry! Not so good for us, but at least we know the multi-billion dollar pharma corporations are making a healthy profit.  I don’t know what the actual stats are about new diagnoses, but check out these stats by the C.D.C. (Center for Disease Control) in the U.S. in 2014:

Total:29.1 million people or 9.3% of the population have diabetes.

Diagnosed:21.0 million people.

Undiagnosed:8.1 million people (27.8% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed).

Wow, I would say 9.3% is an epidemic!!

O.K. I will truly will stay on track now and just talk about the hormones.  Here is the definition of the three hormones we are talking about:

  • Insulin – hormone that lowers the level of glucose in the blood. Insulin helps glucose enter the body’s cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for future use. Insulin resistance occurs when the body doesn’t respond as well to the insulin that the pancreas is making and glucose is less able to enter the cells. Not a good thing.
  • Leptin – the “satiety hormone”, – helps to regulate energy balance by inhibiting hunger.
  • Ghrelin – the “hunger hormone” – regulates appetite, and regulates the distribution and rate of use of energy.


Every time I think of the hormone Ghrelin, I think Gremlin because if left unchecked it acts just like a Gremlin.

Now here is how these three hormones interact:  Let’s say you eat a lot sugar. Insulin comes to the rescue and gets released into your system to help lower your glucose levels in your blood to a safe level and helps to store glucose in the cells for energy. Let’s say like me last night you have the mother of all ice cream cones.  Your insulin level will stay elevated.  This is unfortunate because leptin ceases to work when the blood stream is flooded with Insulin. Usually leptin tells you when you are full by sending a message to ghrelin to cease and desist sending your brain messages that you are hungry.  But if there is too much insulin in the system, leptin doesn’t send the message and ghrelin just keeps telling you that you should go on eating, and eating and eating. Ghrelin is a good thing when your hormones are in balance. It let’s us know we are hungry so that we don’t starve ourselves. If we didn’t have the hormone ghrelin we wouldn’t know we were hungry and could starve to death.  But to people who eat too much sugar, ghrelin can be a pain in the ass (or stomach) because it’s not receiving the message from leptin, and it is giving us the message to gorge ourselves. And If you eat too much sugar for too long you will become insulin resistant and your body will be less able to store glucose as energy which leads to being diabetic. Diabetics end up having to take extra insulin because their systems don’t work like they are supposed to.

'I have your test results. Your sugar is too high.'

When we did the ‘bust the sugar craving challenge’ what we were really doing is finding a way to reset our system so that the big three hormones would be in balance. When we eat a healthy diet are hunger/sugar hormones are working correctly and we feel naturally full when we have ate enough for a healthy diet. We don’t have to deal with cravings for sugar, or cookies, or pasta, or bread or potatoes that all just break down into sugar in your system.  When we eat too much sugar we stop our systems natural ability to tell us we are full and we just keep eating and eating because we just can’t help ourselves. Think about it, ghrelin is a really a survival hormone. If you don’t eat you will die. This is the message it constantly sends to the brain when it is overrun by sugar. You really can’t blame yourself for eating when your hormones are telling you that you are going to starve to death! And to make things worse when we eat sugar, our blood sugar spikes and then falls and we are looking for more sugar to pick us up again so eat more. We set ourselves up to be in be in a non-ending loop of eating the wrong foods because our hunger hormonal systems are out of whack.

Our bodies are very smart if we treat them well. Sugar just makes our bodies stupid, just like alcohol can make our brains stupid (yes I have lots of experience with that too) and we lose the ability to make the right decisions for our nutritional needs.

To tell you the truth last night I really didn’t have a sugar craving for the ice cream, it was more of a fun event that I use to do, that I wanted to experience again.  I really have been amazed at how my cravings for sugar have pretty well subsided.  Give it a try. Let your body start working for you, not against you. And you will find it is really is a breeze. And when you want that funnel cake at the Ex this year, it will be because you want it, not because you need it.



Bust The Sugar Craving Challenge.


In the last few months we held a “Bust the sugar craving challenge” at our studio.  Goal #1 of the challenge was to systematically cut out all “bad” sugars and reduce other sugar intake to eliminate the craving for sugar so one would no longer have to rely on will power.  I don’t know about you but will power really hasn’t gotten me too far in the past when it comes to food.  Goal #2 was to train the body to become a fat burner rather than a sugar burner. When your body has a constant supply of “bad” sugars it ends up getting used to just burning sugar and not burning the fat stores  in the body. We wanted to change that equation and have the body look at those fat stores as available energy.  This explanation is very simplified but I will give you an example. Take our ancient ancestors back in the stone age who probably didn’t have access to three square meals per day. Some days they feasted and some days they went without anything to eat. In those days having a sufficient amount of fat on the body was vital for survival. If they were unsuccessful on their hunting expedition for the day their bodies just used the fat stores for energy.  Fat was and is a vital to our survival. We all have fat stores on our bodies. Some harder to detect than others. Take very competitive marathoners;  males will have about 8% and females 12% body fat.  Our ancestors were very efficient fat burners. They didn’t have cake, chips, bread, and pasta overloading their bodies with sugar. So they relied on their fat stores for energy.  Today, if we eat the right way we can tap into those fat stores too and keep our weight at a healthy level.



My wife Tina and I had taken on the challenge a few months ago. She didn’t have have far to go to eliminate sugar but I sure did.  Even though I thought my diet was very good I came to find out that I really did have a major sugar addiction. Not in the obvious way, needing to eat chocolate, cake or cookies. I was eating more of the foods that sugar hides in like breads, potatoes, and yes an obvious one; sugar in my coffee.


One slice of whole wheat bread breaks down into sugar and enters your blood stream faster than a snickers bar!

The reason I started to think of looking at my sugar consumption was for a few reasons. The first was to help not hit the wall in my next marathon. Last year I ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October and in the last six or seven kilometers I ended up cramping up in my quads, hamstrings, calves and hips. This is the point in the race that your glycogen (basically glucose stored in muscles for energy) stores have been used up and the body now needs to burn fat for energy. I obviously hadn’t trained my body too well to burn fat and I was suffering for it, as my seized up body willed itself to the finish line. I also found that I still had some belly fat and my body was holding on to some extra pounds, not wanting to relinquish them even though I was running major mileage each week. I thought that my metabolism was slowing down due to the aging process but what I eventually figured out was my body was unable to burn fat because I was giving it too much sugar!
I was shocked last summer when I saw my brother after about 6 months. He had shed about 15 or 20 lbs. He wasn’t sure exactly how much weight he lost as he doesn’t really weigh himself but he was extremely lean. He was never really fat but he had a little extra around the mid section like most of us in our fifties, and now here he was with a completely flat stomach. He told me he had just given up fast digestible carbs.  Other than that he didn’t worry about what he ate. His one cheat was he allowed himself a beer everyday. He explained fast digestible carbs are any carbohydrates that release sugar quickly into your system.  Obviously anything with added sugar but also included things like flour (whole wheat included), potatoes, juices, and highly refined foods.

Eliminating bad sugars from your diet not only will help you maintain a healthy weight but will help you to stay healthy!  Let’s start with maintaining a healthy weight though. Here are some very disturbing facts taken from “Sugar The bitter Truth” lecture in 2009 given by Robert H. Lustig, M.D., U.C.S.F. Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology.  (Link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM).  He cites U.S. data (Canadian data is thought to be quite similar):

  • We weigh 25 lbs heavier than we did 25 years ago.
  • Men are eating over 300 calories more than 25 years ago. Women 250.  All of the extra calories are coming from carbohydrates. Our protein and fat consumption is down.
  • In 1980 only 15% of American adults were clinically obese. Today it is 31%.
  • Research shows that nearly a quarter of our daily caloric intake comes from sugar – 512 calories.
  • On average each of us consumes 25 pounds more sugar than we did in the 70’s.  130 pounds of the stuff.  That is added sugar only.

You may be asking the question “what happened”.  Well, basically a few things:

  • Faulty science had governments recommend that we cut back our fat consumption.  In 1982 the U.S.D.A changed the food guide to reduce consumption of fat from 40% to 30% based on faulty logic from studies done by Ansel Keys. This caused carbohydrate consumption to go through the roof.
  • The invention of high fructose corn syrup.  We eat on average 63 lbs of it per year.  We were never exposed to it before 1975.  This stuff is in everything because it’s cheap. You may just see it listed as fructose. It can’t be processed by regular digestion so it heads straight to liver similar to alcohol. Here it gets converted to glucose and stored as glycogen (storage for carbs for later use) but any excess fructose gets repackaged as triglycerides (bad)  or fat (bad too).
  • Portion sizes went up.  Take a look at Coke for instance in this example:
  • 1950’s – 8 oz Bottle – 16 grams sugar    coke8oz


  • Coke today – 20 oz Bottle – 65 grams sugar  coca-cola-20oz-bottle


  • 7-11 Big Gulp – 44 oz. –  143 grams sugar SuperBigGulp

And do you want to know how much added sugar is recommended in our daily diet. Here it is:  Females – 24 grams,   Males – 36 grams.   Hey with one big gulp you get almost 4 to 6 days worth of your safe limit of sugar in one paper cup!

Besides adding unneeded weight to your body, sugar causes all sorts of other not so lovely side effects on the body:

  • Heart disease – Causes the bad cholesterol leading to atherosclerosis.  Link between sugar and bad cholesterol levels and high triglyceride blood fats.   Fats were always thought to be the culprit but newer studies are showing it was the sugar in bad ‘carbs’ all along.
  • High blood pressure/stroke – Chronic high insulin levels weakens artery walls. Diabetes – Type 2 – Heart disease and stroke are the no. 1 causes of death among people with type 2 diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s / Dementia – “Type 3 Diabetes – Recent studies show people with diabetes are 4 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia
  • Inflammation – Arthritis
  • Liver disease – Fructose can cause fat around liver leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  Rarely found before 1980.
  • Depression – Study followed 9000 people for 6 years found that people who ate the most junk food had a 40% more chance of developing depression. Insulin resistance causes less dopamine to be released.
  • Appearance – lead to dry, brittle protein fibers in skin.  Ca cause premature wrinkles and sagging.
  • Others – Candida, Leaky gut syndrome

One of the reasons we can’t give up sugar is it really is a drug.  We self-medicate with it all day long. Sugar releases feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins similar to heroin and makes you feel really good. All you know is when you are feeling a little lethargic or depressed you have some sugar and your energy comes back and life is good again. The only problem is sugar is like a drug, you feel good for a while and then you feel worse, so you have more sugar and before you know it you are on the hamster wheel of addiction.


When I gave up sugar in my coffee I found that I didn’t want coffee as much as I used to.  I always thought it was the coffee I needed. It turned out it was the sugar. I used to get dizzy sometimes when I drank coffee, again thinking it was the caffeine. Now without the sugar I never get dizzy drinking my cup of joe.

When people talk about emotional eating, what they really are talking about is addiction to sugar. You feel bad, you have sugar and it makes it good for a little bit. But the heroin addict thinks the same way and look how it works out for them!


Above photo:  Brain scan that shows sugar stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain that cocaine does.

When I did the sugar challenge I went cold turkey. I eliminated all sugar including bread, flour, refined products, sauces like bbq sauce, potatoes, and fruits with one cheat – one banana a day in my protein shake. I have to tell you it wasn’t that hard with one exception: I felt like I was in a mental fog for about two full weeks and I lacked energy.  I actually didn’t run in those two weeks because I really didn’t have the energy. So I don’t recommend going cold turkey. Best to eliminate a little for the first two weeks, then go hardcore in the second two weeks. I found after reading many books and articles on the subject that J.J. Virgin’s book – Sugar Impact Diet was the best one to follow.

Here is a quick down and dirty way to do the challenge.

Day 1- Day 15 – Reduce & Examine Stage

Replace fast digestible/high sugars with medium digestible/medium sugars.

Examine all foods before they go into your mouth.

Day 16 – Day 30 – Transformation Stage

Replace medium digestible/medium sugars with low digestible/low sugars.

Avoid fruit other than avocado, gazpacho, Lemons, limes, olives.

No alcohol

Day 31 to the rest of your life – Maintain with ease stage

Add back 3 – 4 servings from medium fast digestible sugars. 1 -2 servings should come from fruit.

Add 1 serving of high digestible sugars.  If however this brings on cravings for sugar then eliminate

If you drink alcohol – 1 glass of approved alcohol per day.

General rules

1 Serving Protein with every meal  -Building blocks of lean muscle tissue, and supports feeling full by slowing down the pace that your stomach empties.  75-80 grams avg. female, 100 – 120 grams avg. male.

2 – 3 servings of healthy fats – Fats release chemicals in the small intestine that tells your brain that you are full.

2 or more servings of non-starchy vegetables

Up to 2 servings of high fiber starchy carbs like beans or quinoa

Sugar and starch end up as sugar when broken down in digestion

Fiber cannot be broken down. Try to get up to 50 grams per day. Average is 5 – 14 grams.

Not all starches are the same. Some release slow into bloodstream. Others are very fast.  Fast starches – Processed foods – flours and cereals, white rice, white potatoes.

3 Meals per day. Do not skip any!  Do not go hungry.

No snacking after dinner. The more time we can get fasting from dinner to breakfast the better for fat burning.

Drink lots of water

50 grams of sugar maximum (10 teaspoons) with at least 25 grams coming from fruits and veggies.

Give up wheat. Gluten (ex. – 2 slices of whole wheat bread will raise your blood sugar more than two table spoons of sugar.

Give up corn. Not a veggie, actually a grain.  Corn = sugar

Give up soy. Linked to impaired thyroid function.

Give up all sweet drinks and dressings

Give up alcohol (for 15 days). Inhibits fat burning, increases hunger.

Give up artificial sweeteners except stevia, erythritol, xylitol

We had the the group at our studio do the challenge as outlined above. We had three meeting dates. The first to launch the challenge, the second to introduce the second stage, and the third at the end of the challenge to outline maintenance. We lost 50% of our attendees by the last meeting.  When you are dealing with something as deeply personal as food this is expected. Of the 50% who stayed with the challenge each and everyone of them said they no longer had cravings for sugar.  What the group found was that they started to be able to taste the sweetness in foods that they had never felt were sweet before. I had the same experience as I had made salmon loaf (like meat loaf) with simply salmon, broccoli, cheese, and onions. When I started eating I couldn’t believe how sweet it was. I was tasting the sweetness of the onions, something I would never have thought was that sweet before.  On another night we went to a restaurant and I ordered the steak fajitas. I didn’t realize the steak would be cooked with barbecue sauce. When I started eating it tasted sickly sweet. I had previously always liked barbecue sauce but now I found it to be be almost inedible.  I also use to eat a potato at least 6 days per week because I thought I needed the carbs.  And after dinner I was always looking for something sweet.  I don’t even buy potatoes anymore. I replaced it with bigger salads with a whole bunch of extras in it adding seeds, nuts, feta or other cheese, and legumes along with a protein for dinner and I am full for the rest of the night.  These are a few examples of how your taste changes when you train your body to give up it’s addiction to sugar.


My brain gave me the silent treatment for two weeks.  But then it got better.

The group didn’t have the severe mental fogginess that I had going cold turkey.  They all found – Day 16 – 30 – transformation stage to be hard.  This is where you have to bear down and just do it.  In this stage you eliminate even your fruit just as a way for your body to rid itself of the sugar cravings. You can bring a lot of your fruits back after this stage when you get to maintenance but those 14 days are a little bit of a challenge.

When people get to the maintenance stage it feels easy. It is not a diet. You never, ever, ever want it to feel like you are on a diet.  If your daily eating feels like you are on a diet then you may just be doing yourself a disservice and lowering your metabolism because your body thinks it is starving.  Eat your proteins and your good fats as they do a great job in making you feel full.  Eat lots of vegetables but skip the potatoes.  Get your fiber by including those legumes. And add in your fruits,  just being careful to keep to the low and medium glycemic category.

Eat this way and you will have energy in spades.  Eat this way and you will never have to worry about your weight again. Eat this way and your body will thank you again and again and again.


All these people busted their sugar cravings.  Now don’t they look happy!




How Exercise Improves Brain Function Now & Later

The top reason I run, do yoga and workout is not for my body, it’s more for my mind. If I slack off on these activities I am immediately reminded by my brain in the form of mental fogginess, lack of energy, lack of focus, bad moods and a less sunny disposition.  A six pack is nice, but mental sharpness combined with energy in spades and a vibrant mental state beats the six pack every time. And hey with all that exercise a six pack just might be in the cards too.

There have been many studies released over the last few years on exercise and it’s positive affect on moods. These studies have shown that exercise is at least as good as an anti-depressant for most people suffering from depression. This is not to say that exercise will help all people suffering from depression as some have chemical in-balances that exercise can not help.

New studies are also now coming out linking exercise with growing your brain. When you exercise you stimulate the production of a protein called FNDC5 which in turn produces another protein in the brain called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which creates new neuron growth and also preserves existing brain cells. Basically without all of the above gobbledygook exercise grows your brain!


Here is a link to a great little 2 minute video from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explaining how exercise can help your brain as well as your body: http://www.cnn.com/videos/health/2016/02/10/your-brain-on-working-out-sanjay-gupta-orig.cnn/video/playlists/atv-your-brain-on/

Dr-Sanjay-Gupta  Dr. Sanjay Gupta

There are many new studies that have been released over the last year which now show how exercise can drastically lower your chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  Here is a really good link to an a CNN article explaining how you can grow your brain with exercise and keep your brain fit as you age:  http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/15/health/poor-fitness-smaller-brain/index.html

OlgaKotelko Olga Kotelko – World famous Canadian track & field star competing in her 80’s and 90’s.

I am a more living in the now guy. Exercise for me is all about feeling energetic, motivated, peaceful and happy right now. I also am old enough to know though that the years fly by faster and faster and before you know it I will where my parents are in their 80’s and wondering how the time flew by. I can take heart though from my parents very good example how people who exercise daily can have very rich and active lives as they get older. My parents are regular fixtures at the Y.M.C.A. doing cardio, weights and various classes. They seem as vibrant to me today as they did 30 years ago. They both came to serious fitness and a healthy lifestyle a little later in life. My Mom in her early fifties when she could be seen walking through the beautiful city of Richmond, B.C.  I remember going for a walk with her to another town (they were long walks) and bringing a friend with me who was in her early twenties at the time. My Mom left her in the dust and couldn’t fathom how this young person would need to stop so much to take a break.

My Dad came to a regular fitness program a little later in life in his mid-sixties. A great speed walker at first who could be seen daily at the Burlington lakefront outpacing some of the joggers. He combined walking with weight training in the basement which kept him in tip top shape. He now haunts the Burlington ‘Y’, and along with keeping fit has fostered a great social life there.

binge Don’t become like these people (unless you are binge watching Breaking Bad – then it’s ok).

As a person who loves the ‘now’ I can see how my parents ‘now’ has been incredibly enriched through exercise. They have used their bodies to enrich their brains and have a wonderful life.  I hope more people catch on to this ‘feel good exercise thing’.  It is a discipline that’s for sure, but one that will reap rewards for your whole life.

My First Full Marathon and Why I’ll Run More

I ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon last Sunday… Finally! I have been training to run it for the last two years. I was all set to run it last October but an ankle tendon injury one month before the marathon kept me on the sidelines. This year everything felt great heading into the weeks before the marathon. Then two weeks before the race I came down with a bad cold. Go figure. First cold in three years and it happens at the worst time. I think I was a little run down. I had just come off the peak in terms of training mileage, running 60 kilometers per week and had worked a lot of extra hours over the last month getting a new Yoga teacher training course started. In any case it took a toll on me and I landed up with the cold. I was into the first taper week for my running, meaning I was started to decrease the amount of running over the last three weeks. The idea is to run less mileage each week for the last three weeks until the race so that you will be well rested on race day and still be at your peak fitness level. I didn’t run for the first five days of my cold but on Thanksgiving Monday, six days before the marathon I thought I better get a run in to start moving my legs again. I ran down by the Credit River in Mississauga which normally is a great place to run as you can do a 13 km all through the trails along the river.


Running on a not so busy day along the Credit River

However on this day, a beautiful 21 degrees Celsius, it seemed like the complete population of Mississauga was out taking pictures of the changing colors of the leaves. I swear I see the same people twice a year down there; once on the first beautiful day of spring and then once again in the fall. After that, they cross their two days of outdoor activity off the list for the year and retire back to the couch. On top of all of these people the Salmon were starting to run and the fishermen were out in droves. At this time of year you have to be a really bad fisherman not to catch a fish. Basically there are so many salmon spawning that every time you throw your line in the water you hit one on top of the head. I am not kidding.


Salmon spawning Credit River
I wanted to get a feel for my race pace for the day of the race with my new Garmin G.P.S. watch which I finally broke down and bought. But with the throngs of people on the path I found I was stopping and starting too much to get a good read on my time. It seemed like some of the people on the path thought they were playing British bull dog. Do you remember the game as a kid? For some it was called Red Rover. You have a group on one side interlocking arms and one of the players from the other side runs at the group and tries to break through the line. As I was running and facing a straight line of six people who were not giving up any space to pass, I thought I heard them call “Red Rover, Red Rover we call Roy over”. I felt it would be kind of funny to run right through their line, but thought better of it as I knew I would have to go into a sprint as the group turned into a lynch mob.I decided I would just have to give it my best guess on my pace for the marathon.

After Monday, I didn’t run again until the race. I still had my cold and didn’t want it to get into my chest which is past weakness of mine.I thought smarter to get better than to wake up on race day with full blown bronchitis.

The alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m. on race day. Although I slept like crap, I really don’t feel like crap. That’s a good start. I still have a little bit of a cold but it is on its last legs and no longer in charge. Now I am back in charge! I make my usual morning power smoothie: Water, hemp protein, ½ avocado, baby kale, banana, frozen fruit, and a scoop of Greek yogurt. I also spread on some all natural peanut butter to a piece of whole wheat toast, make a coffee and I am good to go. I still have 3 hours before the race so plenty of time to digest this energy producing meal. I have read and talked to many people who have changed their diets on race day or the days prior to the race and end up having gastronomic distress during the race. I can think of nothing worse than dealing with hitting the wall (sudden fatigue and loss of energy which is caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles) and also trying to keep your breakfast or last nights dinner from coming out of either end in the last few kilometers of the race.

I make sure I have everything and off I go with my loyal wife Tina who is charged with picking up the pieces of what is going to be left of me after the race. I had fretted a little about what I should wear as the temperature at race start time at 8:45 am was only going to be 2 degrees Celsius. I decided on shorts with a thin long sleeve shirt and a pair of thin running gloves. I also decided to wear a sweater over top so when I was waiting for the race to begin I wouldn’t freeze my ass off. I could just throw the sweater away before starting or after a few kilometers into the race. No-one thinks of this as polluting because all discarded clothing is picked up and then donated to charities.

We drive a half hour and park about two kilometers away from the race. We walk down to the race but stop in at a Tim Horton’s before getting there. Tina has a coffee but I decide best not to because I don’t want to have to stop during the race to use the bathroom. Tim Horton’s is filled with Runners trying to stay warm and eating a little snack to hopefully squeeze a little bit more glycogen into those muscles before the race.


My loyal Support Person – Tina, and I before the race
After 15 minutes we head over to the race. I take a last pit stop at the portable washrooms and find as usual hundreds of people lined up waiting to use them. There are thousands of people running the marathon or half marathon and all need to use the bathroom sometime prior to the race. It takes about 20 minutes of waiting and then it is my turn. It’s not so bad waiting because that’s where you meet people as you stand there waiting for your turn. Everyone is in a good mood and talk about this race or past or futures races. You can also tell though that everyone is just a little nervous before the race starts, me included.


Still Feeling good – before the start of the Marathon
I had made a decision to run with a Pace Bunny. A pace bunny is not a left over from the Playboy days. They are volunteers who generously give up their race to help others keep at the pace that they want to run. A pacer would be able to run a much faster race but they volunteer to run at a slower pace to help out others. I followed one last year in a 30 k.m. race which worked out great, so I think it is the way to go for this one too. I wanted to follow the 3 hour 50 minute pacer but there wasn’t one. I had a choice of 3:45 or 3:55. I decided to follow the 3:45 pacer as I thought 3:55 would be a little too slow for me. Even know I feel the 3:45 pace would be too fast I secretly think but what if… I have a good run? My more realistic thoughts are “if I follow at this pace for as long as I can and if I have to drop back at the end then I will be within my goal of 3:50.”
I head to the correct corral before the race and find the 3:45 pace bunny. I let him know that I will be following him hopefully for the whole race. It’s easy to have bravado before the start of the race. I also thank him for doing this for us. As it turns out I would have been lost without him as I couldn’t get my Garmin watch working correctly at the start of the race. Probably nerves as I didn’t have a problem with it in the few weeks that I had it before the race.
The gun sounds and we are off. I have my IPOD with me but I decide not to turn it on for the first kilometer or so because there are thousands of runners (both the half marathon and the marathon start at the same time) and we are packed together like sardines. I want to be able to hear what’s going on beside and behind me. There are about 4,000 people running the marathon, and over 10,000 running the half marathon.

More than 22,000 runners take to the streets of Toronto for the 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (October 16, 2011), raising more than $3.5 million for charity. (CNW Group/Scotiabank - Sponsorships & Donations)

Start of the Marathon

After about a kilometer I turn on the IPOD to my traditional first song. The Black Eyed Pea’s – Let’s get it Started, blasts through the speakers. “And the base keep runnin’ runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and…” Perfect song to set the intention for today because that’s what I’m going to be doing for the next four hours! As we run up University Avenue it seems a little strange running on a downtown Toronto road that is usually clogged up with traffic. I feel a little bad for all the drivers on other streets at the moment that are backed up because of this marathon. I know athletes are not too popular with a lot of Torontonians who have already had to endure traffic woes all summer long due to being the host of the PanAm games.
I am feeling good and keeping in step with the pace bunny. I don’t feel lethargic at all which is great after a mostly two week down time. We head west on Bloor and then south on Bathurst. There are people lining the streets cheering us all on. It is much appreciated. People are holding signs specific to their friend or family member or just holding up general ones to cheer us all on. Some are motivating and others are funny signs like the guy holding up a sign that said “Worst parade ever” and “You trained for this longer than Kim Kardashian was married”.


Comforting!!    (Go here to see some funny ones: http://www.runningyogitrainer.com/my-top-20-race-signs/) .
At the end of Bathurst we turn on to Lakeshore road. I am feeling fast as we run downhill but soon we are going to have to come right back up the same hill as we turn around and I am sure I won’t be feeling fast then. The front runners have rounded the bend and are heading east now. From the looks of it they are mostly Kenyans. When I check later I find that I am right. The top four winning runners are indeed Kenyan, followed by a guy from Ethiopia, then a Kenyan again, and then the top Canadian – Eric Gillis. Since the Nineties, about 75% of the winners of most long distance races have been won by the Kenyans. Why do the Kenyans always win? Well for years a lot of people have said it was because many of these Kenyan runners ran to school 20 miles each way every day. That turned out to be a myth that didn’t hold up to scrutiny as many of the Kenyan winners in a study found that most either took the bus, got a ride or walked to school. Many of the winning Kenyan runners came from a part of Kenya that had a high altitude. This was thought to give them an edge which may help a little, but the common thought is that you should sleep at a high elevation and train at a low one for the best results. So this wasn’t the cause either. A European study found that it was probably their body mass index and bone structure that helped them win. The Kenyan runners that they studied had less mass for their height, longer legs, shorter torsos, and more slender limbs then other runners on average. (Here is a good article on the subject.


Ishhimael Chemtan went on to win the Marathon

As I watch the front runners sprint  by I notice how slender they really are. I read somewhere where they have between 6 and 10 percent body fat. I couldn’t even see one percent on these guys! The body fat percentage in North America for both males and females averages between 28 and 40 percent. Big difference! I also saw how short they were. Many people probably think that tall people would have an advantage in long distance races because they have a longer gait. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Almost without exception male Marathon winners are 5’7” or shorter. Meb Keflezighi who won the Boston Marathon in 2014 is 5’4’’.

I am amazed at the focus of the front runners. Many of the runners around me are cheering them on. The front runners never look over at all. They just stare ahead with a determined gaze taking care of the task at hand.

We turn the bend at Lakeshore road and start heading east up the not so steep hill. I am still feeling good and keeping right up to the 3:45 pacer. This is where I see the 3:40 pacer behind us still heading west on Lakeshore. What the hell? Are we running faster than a 3:40 pace? One part of me wants it to be true, the more conservative part of me thinks if we are running faster then I might burn out before the race is over. I run on hoping this mystery will be solved soon.
We come up to the 20 km mark. This is where the marathoners and the half marathons part company. Two years ago I had run the half marathon and I remember at this point of my race thinking to myself that I was incredibly glad that I only had 1.1 kilometres left and not 22.2 kilometres left like those running the full marathon. This time I keep going straight through following the full marathon sign and know I am in much better shape than I had been two years ago.

We veer off of Lakeshore and now are on Queens Quay. Our Pacer seems to slow down. I think maybe he has been running too fast for a 3:45 pace and he is trying to get back on track. I decide to pass him thinking I still feel good and maybe I can bank a little time and finish up with them at the end (you know what they say about best laid plans). We are now running north and going up hill. My legs start to cramp a little. The 3:45 pacer now passes me. I try to keep pace but my legs are now starting to feel like concrete. The 3:45 group starts to get further and further ahead of me. I try to will my legs to go faster but they have decided not to cooperate. My mind is not in control anymore, my legs have staged a coup and there is nothing I can do about it. The 3:40 Pacer and his entourage now pass me. I ask him why he is behind the 3:45 pacer. He laughs and says that he mistakenly started in the wrong corral so his group started 10 minutes behind ours. “Damn”. My pacer was going at the right speed. My original goal was 3:50 so now I keep my eye on this goal. But I am without a pacer now and I am too tired to try to get my Garmin watch working correctly so I just soldier on.


There are more hills in the marathon than the half marathon I find out. I shouldn’t complain because as far as marathons go this one is considered to be one of the faster ones because it’s so flat (they say). I am thinking the second half is not too flat at all. These hills are now taking more of a toll on my legs. I now have cramping in both my calves and hamstrings and one glute. My hips are not cramping but they are definitely complaining. There are three ladies on the side of the road yelling encouragement and giving out high fives. I feel like I need that high five energy right now so I pass by them with my hand out thanking them for their encouragement and I start to feel better.  The feel good moment lasts about 12 seconds and I am back to feeling like one blob of pain.

I am now at the 36 kilometre mark and only have 6.2 kilometres to go. My quads are now cramping so now there is no part of my legs that aren’t. I know I am slowing down even more but I continue to run. I see people walking now. I think what the hell are you walking for? We are now at the 39 km mark! Why would you walk when you have come this far?  Then I find out why.  One quad starts to go into a spasm. Have you ever had a full on thigh cramp?  Not pleasant. I change the way I am running to try to ease it off. It works but I think I probably look like one of the zombies on the Walking Dead. One of my calves now goes into a spasm because of the adjustment in running from the first cramp. I adjust again and somehow keep both spasms at bay. There is no way I am going to walk with less then 3 kilometers to go! And besides I know if I start walking everything is going to seize up and there is no way I will be able to run the rest of the race.

Three kilometers turns into two, and then one. I know time is relative but the last couple of kilometers feel like they have taken an eternity. Every time I come up to a one or two centimetre ledge in the road, I feel like my hips don’t have the energy to get my legs over it. Somehow I clear this ‘huge’ height and continue on. Then I see the signs – 500 meters. Now people are lined up along the route and cheering us on. I have taken my IPOD off to take in all the energy of the crowd which I so desperately need.  400 meters, then 300, then 200 (longest of my life), then 100 meters. People are sprinting past me with their arms in the air. All I can think is “have it at Hoss”, I don’t have the energy to sprint or lift my arms in the air, or let out a victory cry or even whimper for that matter. I hobble in with all the dignity I can muster and come to somewhat of an anticlimactic finish. I don’t know what my finish time is yet because they just show gun time at the end. Gun time is the time that the elites went off at. All the rest of us go by chip time. We have a micro chip attached to our race number which keeps track off our time when we go past the start and finish line. It will be a little while until I can check my official time.
The volunteers give me a mylar blanket to wrap around me for warmth, and my medal. The medal is just for finishing. I didn’t place. By the way what would the medal colour be for finishing in 1,444th place out of 3822 runners? Well whatever colour that is, that’s what I would have got. I have my cell phone with me so I call Tina. “Where are you? Did you see me at the finish line?” “No. why not?” It really is hard to find anyone at the race because of the thousands of people running. We plan to meet at the food tent and I try to make my way there. Everything is seizing on me. I can barely walk. How can I not be able to walk if I have just been running for almost 4 hours? When you stop running your body just quits. And believe me it really does quit on you fast when you finish. It’s probably says something like “I gave you almost four hours you lunatic, now I’m done”. I walk at a snails face to the food tent and find Tina. She gives me a big hug and congratulates me. I am now leaning on her because it’s much easier that way. We decide I need food and water to deal with the cramps. We are given a food bag complete with banana, cookies, granola and some Greek yogurt. I eat the banana slowly as I sip a bottle of water. I know if I eat or drink too fast I won’t be able to keep it down. Runners are in groups recounting their battle stories. We decide just to head to the car two kilometers away.


After the race. Even the water bottle feels heavy!

I am shuffling along like a 98 year old holding on to Tina and thinking two kilometers feels about as far as going to the moon. Tina suggests I should put on a pair of track pants that she brought as I am now getting cold. I try but bending my legs more than just a little starts to give me severe cramps everywhere. Tina helps dress me like I’m three years old with out me having to bend too much and it works out. Some people walking by give me a weird look. I am too tired to care. We finally make it to the car and Tina drives us to our traditional after race breakfast place in Etobicoke. Having my helper after the race is much, much appreciated!!

I have a huge clubhouse which makes me feel a whole lot better. Carbs are your friend and a health food right after a big race! At least that’s what I tell myself as I fill my face. I check my finishing time on the race site with my cell phone as we eat and see that I finished in 3:52. Two minutes slower than my goal but I am not unhappy at all. In my head I am already revising my marathon running plan for next year. I am starting earlier in the year, building up slower, and getting some longer runs in. It’s amazing what an after marathon clubhouse can do for your state of mind!

You would think that one would sleep like a baby the night after a marathon but no such luck for me. Everything hurt and the pain woke me up hourly. The next day I had cancelled my early appointments. Good thing because I could barely walk. By mid-day I was moving pretty well which was good because I had a full night of private training, group training and classes. I was able to get through these but by the end of the night starting to feel feverish. Two days later though I felt back to myself again. My legs felt rested and most of the soreness was gone. They say you should take a week to two weeks off running to rest and heal after a marathon. By Friday I was feeling really good. I am amazed at the bodies’ ability to not only heal but build back stronger.

If you asked me if I would ever run another marathon as I crossed the finish line I don’t know if I would have answered yes. They say running a marathon is similar to having a baby in the sense that you don’t ask your wife if she would like to have another baby ten minutes after the delivery. And you don’t ask yourself if you will run another marathon at the finish line. Wait until the memory of the pain subsides and maybe you will get a yes. For me the answer was yes by  lunch after the race. The cramps had subsided; I was on my second cup of coffee and the third section of my clubhouse. Life was good.
I don’t run to be the fastest. God knows that won’t ever happen. Not even for my age. There are some amazing fifty something year old runners out there who have phenomenal times. There were six runners over fifty that amazingly finished in the top 100 of all runners in our race of almost 4,000 runners. I run because I love it. Do I love the actual race? Not really. Maybe the first three quarters, but I could do without the hitting the wall part. It is the whole training cycle that I love. Building up slowly all year long to get to the race. I race against myself. I want to keep getting more fit, healthier every day. I know that training for the marathon will ensure that I stay on the straight and narrow. I will eat well, drink less, and do more Yoga and strength training. I will be happier, more focused, better for myself and for others.
My goal for next year is to run a 3:45 race without hitting the wall. That means I will have to train harder and smarter than I did this year. I also want to get faster as I age. I hear people every day talking about getting old. This can be from people who are ten or fifteen years my junior! I don’t have a Pollyanna attitude; I know age eventually will catch up to all of us. But people get old way too soon. They get old in their minds first. They slow down because they think they have to. Their body knows nothing else but to follow and slow down too. Then they really do get old!  There is very convincing research out there that shows regularly exercising drastically reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia (Good article here – Can Exercise Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk?

Body and mind are connected. If one gets old the other will follow in step.
George Sheehan was a physician, marathon runner and the author of wonderful running books dating back to the 1970’s.  Sheenan ran the fastest marathon of his life at age 60 in 3 hours and 1 minute. He ran his first marathon when he was 46. He got better every year for 14 years from age 46! I want that for myself too. To get faster every year. Not in a way that is unhealthy or risks injury. I want to get faster because I am more fit, more healthy. Faster because my Yoga practice keeps getting me looser, more aligned, fighting less against my body. Faster because I love the feeling of simply having my body go faster. George Sheenan wrote about running being like play. He felt as adults we just don’t play anymore. Running is like that for me. It feels like playing again.

Remembering the Tough Mudder

My wife Tina and I own a Yoga, Pilates & Fitness Studio. A few years ago one of our long time clients and friends – Elaine O. got it in her mind that wouldn’t it be fun to get a team together and do the Tough Mudder.  She told us her 19 year old son was thinking of doing it with some of his friends, and maybe we could get our own team together.   What is the Tough Mudder?  Well I have copied the blurb on their website (https://toughmudder.com) to give you the answer:  “Tough Mudder is a team-oriented 10-12 mile (18-20 km) obstacle course designed to test physical strength and mental grit. Tough Mudder puts camaraderie over finisher rankings and is not a timed race but a team challenge that allows participants to experience exhilarating, yet safe, world-class obstacles they won’t find anywhere else.”

We went on the computer and looked up the website. We watched the video of some of the previous Tough Mudder’s but one thing stood out for me. There was a reward for all your hard work: If you finished you would get a Tough Mudder t-shirt (not bad), and also a beer (that clinched it).  I was in.  Tina didn’t drink beer but she saw that she would receive a pink t-shirt, her favorite color. She Was in!  And besides it was January and the race wasn’t until May.  When something is 5 months away it never really seems like a bad idea until you wake up the morning of. Then maybe that’s when you might have some second thoughts.

We started to think of who we could get for our team. We had three so far; Elaine, Tina, and I, but we needed some more adventurous souls.  I have some guy friends that I asked and they all thought I was nuts. Being 51 at the time, some of my guy friends thought a round of golf with a cart counted as a marathon activity.  I tried to use the t-shirt and beer enticement to convince them, but they are not as simple minded as I am and it didn’t work.  We decided to poll the stronger sex and see who we could recruit. We asked a bunch of people, and like my male friends they thought we should maybe get some psychological help.  In the end we recruited two more hearty souls; Dulce and Cathy who also did classes at the studio. We had about 4 months to train so no problem with us all being ready. We had our team and we felt pumped up and motivated.

Fast forward to day of the race. It’s very early the morning of Saturday, May 11th. It’s still pitch dark and I check the forecast. Perfect, it’s going to be a beautiful Sunny day. Only one problem, it’s presently 2 degrees Celsius (35f) and by the time we start the race it may only warm up to 3 degrees with a high of about 8 degrees Celsius (46f).  That wouldn’t be so bad if almost half of the 20 obstacles didn’t involve being immersed in water. I had planned to wear shorts and a t-shirt. Plans change. I now have to beg my wife to lend me a pair of her black leggings that I can wear underneath my shorts. Not winning any fashion statements on this day. And I go with an Under Armour long sleeve shirt underneath the t-shirt I was planning to wear. Now I’m ready.  We drive to the pickup place for the event which is about an hour away. It’s in a farmers field, but there are thousands of cars. Is all of Ontario at this event today we wonder? Then we are loaded up into buses like cattle and are carted 30 minutes away to the small ski resort where the event is being held. We find out that the running part of the event which is 18 kms (12 miles) is mostly straight up and down the ski hill. Are you serious?  Not the best thing for your knees. Not the going up part but the coming down part. Oh well have to make the best of it. We wait for the event to start and we are all shivering like we have just been dropped off at the top of the Arctic circle in just our bathing suits.


The Team from left to right: Cathy, Roy, Tina, Elaine, Dulce   – Before the start of the race. You can tell it’s before the race because we can still muster a smile and some bravado. 

Most or maybe all of these photos were taken by Deji, our good friend and Elaine’s husband.  He is an wildlife photographer among many other things, who has taken amazing photos on his many safaris in Africa.  Taking the pics of us wasn’t much of a stretch for him.

At the start of the challenge you have to scale at 6 1/2 foot wall to get to the start area. We interlace our hands together and help each other over. I decide I don’t need the help. I am the last to go over. I haul myself up and I can’t get over.  I think “now this is embarrassing”.  I try again. It’s a no go.  Third try is always lucky and this time I get enough momentum and I am over. I am thinking this may not be a good omen of things to come.


Start line – Boot Camp Sarge on the ladder is whipping the crowd into a frenzy with the help of Eminem’s Lose Yourself blasting in the back ground.

And we are off running. Twenty yards of flat then straight up the ski hill. I am glad to get going because if I don’t start moving soon I am sure I am going to get hypothermia or at least chip a tooth from all of this chattering.  We take on the ski hill like seasoned warriors. The pack of runners are making hay out of this ski hill … until we get about 1/3 of the way up the hill.  Things slow down very quickly.  The vast majority of participants are now walking. A fast walk but a walk non the less. 2/3 up the hill it turns into slow country walk. Finally the peak. The first obstacle at the top of the hill escapes me now. I think it was some kind of scaling over walls. It’s soon over and now we are directed to run straight back down the ski hill.  I had a premonition of things to come. Up and down the ski hill all morning.


A throng of competitors running (soon to be walking) up the ski hill

By now we are starting to warm up and thinking we just may finish this day without all coming down with Pneumonia. At the bottom of the hill those nice thoughts vanish.  Staring at us is a large vat about 10 feet long filled with water to about 5 ft and thousands of pounds of ice cubes floating throughout the water. Each of our brave participants in order say “I am not doing that”, “I am not doing that”, “I am not doing that”, and “I am definitely not doing that”.  When we see others in front of us diving into the vat and then swimming under the bar and victoriously emerging out the other side it shames us all into giving it a go.


This is the ice vat. Not one of our team mates but she sums up the nice feeling you get from being part of  a 7-11 slushy.

It’s now warmed up to a balmy 4 degrees celsius (39 f) as we all emerge unscathed but dripping wet out of the vat of torture. All the inflammation in our bodies has mysteriously disappeared. Back up the ski hill. As we go up we see a guy on the side of the hill in a lot of pain. He is sitting down and his team mates are rubbing his calves as he moans. We would see this many times during the event.  Going from cold water in cold temperatures and running up hills was a recipe for wicked cramps.  Luckily our team remained cramp free during the event.

Many of the obstacles during the event were of the climbing variety. Here are some of the pics:


Elaine and I after scaling a wall and jumping into a deep pond.  And yes that is a bit of a belly sticking out (me, not Elaine).  About 15 lbs heavier then I am today. Maybe the reason why I had a hard time scaling that wall at the beginning of the event.



Cathy on the downward descent after scaling a 10 foot wall.


Tina hanging on for dear life as she scales yet another wall


As mentioned there were a lot of obstacles with a water theme. Here are a few:


This obstacle involved swinging from one rung to the next while you dangle over some nice refreshingly cold water. That’s me  on the far side about 3/4 of the way over. Two seconds later I was yet again immersed in water. Damn those 15 extra pounds.


Dulce didn’t fare much better than I did. She didn’t have the extra 15 pounds as an excuse.


Tina and Elaine “Sisters in Iron” as they emerge out of the plastic water cylinders.

I can’t remember how long those cylinder were but they were long enough. The cylinders were also filled with water. I had to crawl along on my side because one week before the Tough Mudder I tore a hole in my belly button again re-injuring it. I had been given the green light to train and do the Tough Mudder by the Doc who had done my belly button hernia surgery but it didn’t hold up. Why? Yes, you guessed it – it was those 15 extra pounds. By the way I cancelled the next surgery to get it repaired after I lost the weight and it healed by itself.

And it wouldn’t be called the Tough Mudder if there wasn’t a lot of Mud:


This is a stock photo from another Tough Mudder but similar to ours.

There was mud every where.  Even at the bottom of the ski hill there was a few kilometers of just running through mud. People ask if I would ever do the mudder again and I always say no.  Mostly because of the mud.  You could make the case that you could get injured on every obstacle but I think if you are careful you would be o.k. barring a freak accident. It was running through the mud that was the most treacherous.  We heard of people breaking or spraining their ankles that day because as they were running through the mud they would hit a deep depression (unseen of course because it was covered in mud) and injure themselves. I stepped in a few divots myself but was lucky enough not to twist my ankle. Being a runner I value my daily runs too much to risk a frivolous injury. I also run a studio that counts on me being healthy and whole so the conservative side of me stays with caution. Now for someone else – I say go for it if a cast halfway up your leg doesn’t interfere with you making a living.


Cathy and Tina crawling through … yes more mud.

The reason they are so low is that hanging off those wires that are more wires hanging down (hard to see in pic) that have an electrical current going through them. If you lifted up just a little you got a shocking reminder of why that wasn’t such a good idea.

The above obstacle wasn’t the only one that involved electricity. The last obstacle of the day involved running through a muddy swamp with live wires hanging down. If your wet feet weren’t enough of a conduit for that electricity to go through your body, they had a guy spraying you with a hose.


Our team braving volts of electricity that are hanging down to waste height as we run arm in arm through the last obstacle.

As we were running I got zapped the first time and thought this is not so bad. In my mind I was thinking they really wouldn’t put much current through these wires as you never know if someone has an un-diagnosed heart condition. Then I thought “but they did make us sign those death waivers.” No sooner did that thought enter my mind that I felt like I was hit with a sledge hammer in the middle of my chest.  The rest of the group got zapped at the same time as we of course had our arms interlocked.  Happy to say our hearts held up as we got through the heart paralyzer and were finally done. 

They had this really cool looking contraption set up at the end of the race that looked like a car wash but for people. You walked through it and it was filled with soap suds. The idea was it was supposed to clean you off. I walked up thinking wow this is going to feel great – warm jets of water with soap suds cleansing my body. I was in for a shock. The water was freezing cold and the soap suds were covered in everyone else’s mud. I excited quickly and went to get my change of clothes. I was thinking that I wasn’t really that tired until I sat down. The adrenaline drained out of my body and I had a really hard time trying to take off my wet clothes and put the dry clean ones on. I dug down and envisioned that cold beer (actually by this time all I really wanted was some warm cider) and I was finally dressed. Off to find the team and over to get that well deserved drink.  We got our drink ticket out and mosied on up to the outdoor makeshift bar in the middle of the field. A 12 ounce plastic cup of draft was given back. “I did this for 12 ounces of beer in a flimsy plastic cup” I thought. “Couldn’t it be at least a pint?”  Though after almost 4 hours of trials and tribulations I felt the affects of those 12 ounces.

Tough Mudder kiss

Tina and I. A congratulation kiss at the end. Our lips are numb and blue but we manage.

The Tough Mudder took our group about 3:45 hours to complete. The motto was to never leave a member behind and help each other out.  That’s exactly what our group did. We helped each other with each obstacle, gave encouragement when energy was starting to lag, and laughed all along the way. Every time I think of that day I smile looking back at a great adventure with some wonderful friends!



What The Ancient Yogis Knew About Hormones & Happiness


I don’t know if you do Yoga or not. Even if you don’t practice you probably have talked to people who have and you hear them talk about how great Yoga makes them feel. You will hear things like “Doing a Yoga class after my work day just melts away all the stress of the day”, or “My Yoga practice has really centered me and helps me to focus”, or “I am just happier when I do my regular Yoga practice”. And yes I know, if you don’t do Yoga you are probably secretly thinking I wish this person would choke on their granola and just shut up. The reason these annoying Yogis say these things is because they really are true. I write a lot about how running positively affects my sense of well being, but so does Yoga. Running for me is really like Yoga in movement anyway. Today’s topic is Yoga though, so we will put running on the back burner for today.


There are all types of Yoga that we in the west know nothing about. We mainly just know the physical Yoga which is Hatha Yoga. There is also Jnana Yoga -Yoga of the mind, Bhakti Yoga – Devotional Yoga, Karma Yoga – Yoga of Action, and Raja Yoga – The eight limbed path of The Yoga Sutras and compiled by Maharishi Pantanjali some two to three thousand years ago.

This article will deal with specifically Hatha Yoga – Yoga of physical discipline. Actually Hatha Yoga involves more than just postures (asanas). It includes breathing techniques (pranayama), detoxifying methods (shatkarmas), concentration and meditative techniques. In today’s modern practice we are mainly exposed to just the postures of Hatha Yoga.

Hatha Yoga was introduced through The Hatha Yoga Pradipika written in the 15th century. It is really the basis for what we know as modern Yoga today. The Pradipika is more of a practical physical Yoga guide where as the older Yogic texts written a few thousand years ago like the Yoga Sutras or The Bhagavad-Gita are more philosophical in nature. The eight limbed path in the Yoga Sutras gives eight steps to leading a fulfilled life and obtaining an enlightened state. It lists the eights steps in order of practice starting with the yamas and the niyamas which are ethical guidelines on how to live your life. They are similar to the Ten Commandments in Christianity and Judaism. The yamas and niyamas talk about attitudes like non-violence, non-possiveness, purity, austerity, surrender and more, but you get the picture. Where Hatha Yoga differs from the older Yogic texts is that it believes we should start with the physical practice of Yoga first. Swami Muktibodhananda, the author of the Yoga Pradipika felt that if people tried to practice the ethical guidelines first it could lead to a schizophrenic personality; one side of the personality always trying to do good, while the other side sabotaged those efforts. Then, inevitably the self blame and self hatred leading to a type of split personality. For those of you who are old enough to have grown up watching the Flintstones on T.V. it would be similar to when Fred Flintstone was faced with a moral decision. He would have a little Fred angel talking into his ear on one side, and a little Fred devil squawking into his ear on the other side. One side wanting to do good while the other side just wanted to have a little ‘fun’. I always sided with the little Fred devil growing up. It made the show so much more entertaining!  If you are a little younger The Simpsons borrowed (stole) the idea from the Flintstones.

fredangeldevil        Simpsons good angel bad

I mention all of this because Muktibodhananda believed that if we discipline the body first, the mind will just naturally follow. Why? Good question. The Yogis believed that when we practiced Hatha Yoga our energy and moods would be greatly enhanced which would make it much easier to live an ethical life. First of all, when I talk about Swami Muktibodhananda, you have to see him not as the inventor of Hatha Yoga but the compiler of hundreds and maybe even thousands of years of practical experience from generation upon generation of past Yogis. Yogis weren’t about reading books (just blogs – they are much more important). The ancient Yogis were all about the practice and the experience. Hatha Yoga was and is experiential. Do it and see what happens to your body, to your mind, to your sense of well being. The Buddha (yes, a great Yogi) did not talk about God. You may find that confusing being that Buddhism is one of the world’s great religions. The Buddha probably would have never wanted anyone to think of what he taught as being a religion. He was a true Yogi in the sense that it was all about the experience. Don’t read about it, experience it for yourself. You don’t need to talk about God, do your practice and find truth and freedom within.


You are now probably asking yourself about now “I thought this article was supposed to be about hormones and feeling good and all it has been so far is about a boring Yoga history lesson.” And you would be right. But I had to give a little background to get you thinking that practicing Yoga might just be more than just an exercise to make you more flexible. It may just be a great tool for your mind too. The ancient Yogis knew that once we started to practice Hatha Yoga that the body would start to detoxify and purify. The body would get stronger on the outside, but more importantly it would get much stronger on the inside. All of the bodily systems like the nervous system, digestive system, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, etc., etc., would start to come back into balance and work correctly again. The person would start to feel better physically but also better mentally. How many sick people do you know that are happy? Not many I bet. If you are sick your energy level is down and your happiness quotient takes a big dive. When you have energy in spades you usually are much, much happier.

The mind would also feel much better because Hatha Yoga is probably the best way to regulate hormones. The first thing that comes up for most people when you talk about hormones is at it relates to women. You know “better stay away from Mary today, she is PMS-ing” or the thought of fluctuating hormones with women who are experiencing peri-menopause or menopause. Hormones affect all of us regardless of sex or age. If your hormones aren’t balanced your mind most likely won’t be balanced and you won’t be feeling so good.


Hatha Yoga brings hormonal levels back into balance, stimulating all the good “happy” hormones, and keeping the “unhappy” hormones at bay. Hormones are regulated by the endocrine system; a collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, mood, sleep, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, among other functions. What most interests me with the endocrine system is the potential to extremely affect your moods. Yogis like to live in the moment. So do I. And there is nothing like living in the moment if you are in a good mood. If I am in a bad mood, I would prefer to live in any other moment but now. When you feel good, anywhere you are is perfect. When you are not feeling so good, like let’s say the next day after a few too many glasses of that amazing wine that you just discovered, then even sitting in your favorite comfortable reclining chair listening to your favorite music will feel like it’s a chore. Yogis of the Hatha Yoga tradition found that practicing Yoga regulated their hormonal levels and lead to a happier, more balanced personality. They also believed it would it make it much easier to lead a spiritual life. Bring the body into balance and your mind will naturally follow.

So what type of hormones lead to good moods or bad moods? Doing a regular Yoga practice will increase the following wonderful hormones and neurotransmitters and have you smiling in no time:

Serotonin – A mood enhancing neurotransmitter. Most of the antidepressants that people take work on increasing serotonin levels. Studies show that Hatha Yoga super charges this hormone.
For a little more information on Yoga and Serotonin read this interesting article by Sara Gottfried. M.D. Author of The Hormone Reset Diet and a running yogi.


Interesting for runners in the article, Dr. Gottfried states that high impact running will increase cortisol levels (bad hormones that give you belly fat); but that Yoga will keep cortisol in check and help regulate it. As a runner and yogi myself I have always felt that the two are perfect complements to each other. For me, I really don’t think I would have been able to run again if it was not for Yoga.

Dopamine – Another feel good neurotransmitter that is stimulated through Yoga. Did you know that overeating can stimulate more dopamine production? When people talk about having a love affair with food, it could really be that they are having a love affair with dopamine. Dopamine levels can be increased by eating delicious fatty foods. This can lead to two problems; Unhealthy weight gain, and the reduction of natural dopamine production. An analogy would be a body builder who uses steroids to put on muscle. If he is on the steroids for a while his body will start to produce less testosterone. When he goes off the steroids he will have all sorts of issue with mood, sexual performance, etc. This is why most body builders end up doing a complicated cycle of going on and off the steroids, and using other supplements to stimulate testosterone production. Seems exhausting and not very healthy.

GABA – A neurotransmitter responsible for elevated mood and better sleep. Boston University School of Medicine did a study which showed that Yoga is a better anxiety reliever and mood lifter than other exercise after a study compared GABA levels of yoga practitioners and walkers. Depression and anxiety are linked to low GABA levels.

If you want to read the study follow the link:

Oxytocin – A neurotransmitter and a hormone, oxytocin is often called “the love hormone.” Research shows that raised levels of oxytocin lead to a much higher satisfaction with your life. Many studies have shown that practicing Yoga significantly increases this hormone. Having higher levels of oxytocin will also reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels. Wouldn’t it be nice walking around all day feeling like you are in love! And the best thing is it is not dependent on the ‘other’ person. Is that cynical? Not from where I am standing.

Fishes in Love

If you want to read more about Oxytocin and Yoga follow the link:

Testosterone – This male sex hormone present in both males and females (much lower in females) is a hormone responsible for sexual function, red cell production, and maintenance of muscle mass, increased energy and improved moods. As we age, testosterone levels start to fall leading to a lower sex drive, sense of vitality, decreased energy, and reduced muscle and bone mass. Doing a regular Yoga practice will increase your testosterone. In William. J. Broads book The Science of Yoga, he points out a Russian study where subjects who had never done Yoga were put through a six month Yoga program. The subject’s testosterone levels were measured before the program started and also at its conclusion. Amazingly the levels rose 57% on average. If you have a grumpy couch potato husband at home, you may want to get him into a Yoga program. It will be get him more active and quite definitely improve his moods.

Good thing we can affect testosterone levels as the below chart shows how much it drops as we age if we don’t intervene. (http://vitalityhrt.com/testosterone.html).


Doing a regular Yoga practice will regulate the following problematic hormones and neurotransmitters and keep you smiling:

Cortisol – Studies show that high levels of this hormone can cause depression and can lead to weight gain. Yoga is a great way to lower cortisol levels.
In his book The Science of Yoga -The Risks and the Rewards published a few years ago, The New York Times author lists what he sees as the risks and rewards of doing Yoga. He tries to make the case that Yoga reduces your metabolism thus leading to weight gain. No argument that Yoga will regulate your metabolism to natural levels. This is a good thing. At the same time though the reduction of cortisol will help to reduce weight, and increasing dopamine levels will keep food cravings down. The end result is a healthy weight. Studies have also shown that people who practice Yoga actually lose weight.

Follow the link to a good study on how Yoga decreases cortisol levels:


Estrogen / Progesterone – Estrogen and progesterone balance each other in the body. If they are out of sync it can lead to very unstable moods. Yoga helps to bring these female sex hormones back into balance.

Follow the link for a study on how Yoga affects estrogen and progesterone:


There are many more hormones and neurotransmitters to talk about that Yoga will have a positive affect on but it’s enough for one article. The ancient Yogis wanted us to practice. Just start doing and see for yourself. Don’t give it just a week or a month. Give it a good go. Go on faith or go on science, no matter, just do as the Buddha would have counseled. You will experience it for yourself. One day you will wake up happy wondering why. And when you remember, you will go back to the mat and practice.

Woman meditating in side balance yoga position on the top of mountains above clouds at sunset. Zen, meditation, peace

Woman meditating in side balance yoga position on the top of mountains above clouds at sunset. Zen, meditation, peace

This Is Why I Love Running (In Pictures).

When you talk to people about training for a marathon, many feel that besides being painful in their view, it just takes up too much of their valuable time. To me, the hours I spend running are some of the favorite and most worthwhile of the day.  I decided to take some really fast pics as I did my long Sunday morning run this week. My rule was I could take 10 seconds at the most along the route to snap each shot. So basically I just held up the camera, aimed and snapped.

I started out on this morning at about 8:30 am. It was a beautiful sunny and cool September morning. The temperature was about 9 degrees  (48 F) when I started and warmed up to a beautiful 17 degrees (63 F) by the time I finished my run.  Absolute perfect temperature for a 3 hour morning run.

Here is my run in pictures:


Started out in Mississauga at Brueckner Rhododendron Gardens.  The Rhododendrons have had their day and about to fall into a fast sleep for the winter.  I like to start at a park because you can park your car and use the washroom before a long run.  When I get up to the bathroom door to find it locked. Too early.  Need to walk into the woods now.


I run along the waterfront trail that goes from Mississauga into Toronto. A great trail for long runs as you are mainly running along the lake and through park land for the majority of the run.  You can run up to about 50 k.m. if you start in west Mississauga and run to the end of the trail in east Etobicoke and back.


This is one of the first views of the lake that I get when I get out of Rhododendron park and onto the lake trail. It’s beautiful on this morning.  Very quiet as the world is just starting to wake up.


The geese are awake in one of their favorite spots a J.C. Saddington Park. I would rather them swim in the pond then walking in the park. You get to work on your agility skills most of the time dodging what the geese leave behind.


I weave in and out of this crowd gathered at the light house in Port Credit for the 35th annual Terry Fox run.


As I run over the bridge at the lighthouse I can see an 8 man skull team practicing along the mouth of the Credit River.


Running along the lake front in Port Credit. Usually there is a guy doing Tai Chi here. Not today. The water is a very clear blue and you can see the sandy bottom below with some small fish milling about.


The sun rays are bright and blinding as this barn does its best to keep me shaded as I emerge from a wooded path.


A raccoon totem pole. There are a few of these totems spread throughout the waterfront trail.


Too early yet for sailing lessons in the lagoon.  They will be out in full force on my way back.


I pass through 3 marinas on my run. I love running along this suspension bridge that goes over a little inlet at the mouth of the lake at Lakefront Promenade Marina.



The swans are preening in the morning sun directly under the board walk as I run by.


There are two diamonds for the Mississauga Majors baseball teams that I run by. Usually they are playing. Today the field lies empty.  It’s fall and the boys of summer are done, giving way to football.  This is the second diamond. Usually adult soft ball is being played when I run by.  Judging by the smell of hops and sometimes a little herb being smoked I think the baseball is secondary.  Today beside the field I see someone sleeping on the picnic table. There is no one else in the park. It looks like he has probably been there all night. Later when I am running back I see that he is up and walking. He looks to be in his late teens or early twenties. He seems really stiff and cold. Wonder what his story is? I hope he has better days soon.



Running up along Lakeshore road now. This is the only stretch of the run (about 500 meters) that is actually around a busy street. Usually there are lots of cyclist groups decked out in their bright spandex riding by. Today it’s very strange.  There are very few cyclists or runners out at all this morning. Is every one sleeping off the effects of a big party that I didn’t get invited to last night?


Off of Lakeshore road and back through the wooded paths. I call this path Coyote lane. One early morning I was running through here and twenty feet in front of me was a coyote.  I stopped and we stared at each other for about 20 seconds. I was hoping that I didn’t look too much like the road runner.  He wasn’t moving so I clapped my hands and he sauntered back into the vegetation. As I ran by where he entered the bushes, I saw him about one foot in peaking out at me.



A cannon stands on guard in Marie Curtis Park.  That’s where the budget for the Canadian military went!  It’s much warmer now at about 13 degrees (55 f). I am glad I wore only a t-shirt and shorts. I am starting to sweat and feeling good.


After Marie Curtis Park I am on the road for about 1 km and then back through another park. I’ve nicknamed this one Willow trail. There are many majestic willows lining the path as it winds it’s way along the lake.


Running through another marina – Lakeshore Yacht Club.


I am out on a long narrow point. Two kayakers are peacefully gliding through the water as I run by.  About few weeks ago on this same point someone had set up a make shift home made up up drift wood, plastic and rocks. It looked large enough to house about 8 people.  It actually looked kind of cozy. It is gone today. Didn’t think the park authority would let it stay for very long.


Back off the point and as I run past a little pond I see the most peaceful scene with swans, ducks, and aquatic flowers.  This cell phone pic does not do this scene justice. Every time I run past this spot there is always photographers set up taking pictures.


I’ve hit the end of the trail!  Time to turn around.  The trail ends at rotary park on 9th street in Toronto.  Next weekend I am going to have to start further west in Mississauga so I can get 34 k.m.s (21 miles). I am not that much of a road running guy. I so much prefer running through the trails and parks along a lake or river. I am lucky to live in Mississauga with Lake Ontario so close. My other favorite spot to run is along the Credit River.


Back through the point. This time I am taking a smaller path. Just disturbed a couple of bird watchers who were intently peering into a tree with binoculars.  I probably scared away a rare bird that they had never seen before. Better run faster in case they decide to pelt me with stones.


Back through Lakeshore Yacht Club. I can start to feel my hips and Achilles Tendon stiffen up after about 18 k.m.s. but still feeling good as the wooden planks of the bridge rattle below my feet.


A nice little gazebo overlooking the water as I come back into Willow tree lane again.



This is the 3 level back yard (pic does not do it justice) of an immense house off the Lakeshore. The only problem is right around this particular area there is always a sewage smell coming off the lake. Unfortunately for this family it just happens to be at their house. I have never seen anybody sitting outside as I have run by in the last three years. Wonder why?


Another gorgeous house from a lake view as I run by. Luckily there is no sewage smell in this area.  In the few kilometers that I am actually running on the road there are beautiful homes all around on the Lake shore.  There is one lone small war time built bungalow remaining on the lake side on this stretch of the lake. I always wondered why the owner didn’t sell or tear it down and build a bigger house. The property alone would be worth millions. Then one day I saw the owner. An old guy, looked to be in his late eighties contentedly working in his garden. I am sure he loved the location and loved his house and couldn’t be bothered selling or renovating.


My eyes have gone blurry with the need for this washroom! There is actually four equally placed on this route. A great place also to fill up my water bottle as one is not nearly enough for a run of this length. I bring an electrolyte tablet to drop in my water bottle as I fill it up again. I don’t know exactly when but they will be closing all of these washrooms for the season sometime in the fall. I guess no one needs to use the facilities in the cold weather.  As usual I ask myself what will I do when they close for the season?  But somehow every year I seem to manage.


The flowers are soaking up the sun. The sun is now overhead and it is getting warm. Probably up to 17 degrees now.  Can’t believe how much better I feel at this point then I did two weeks ago when I was running in 30 degrees. The heat really does take it out of you.  Researchers have found that the optimal temperature to run a marathon is about 6 degrees Celsius or 43 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you ran a marathon in 30 degree heat it would most likely effect your end time by about 7 – 10 minutes if your an average marathoner.


Not a great pic, but every weekend there are guys who bring their mini electronic sail boats out and sail them through a few obstacles out on the lake. Most of the guys are seniors.  They have a great time together sailing these boats.


Running past the lake lagoon with not too much longer to go.  Sailing lessons are in full swing now.


Running past Snug Harbor Restaurant and the marina. They have a great patio to sit out on. Always busy in the summer.  Snug Harbor was my son Cole’s first job at 14 as a bus boy. One of our Yoga instructors at the time was a floor manager at the restaurant and got him the job.  The money wasn’t bad for a 14 year old.  Kept up the tradition in the family. I started working part time at the same age.


Run up the bridge at the light house in Port Credit where the Terry Fox Run started.  Most of the people have left now but someone has written in chalk a quote from Terry Fox: “Even if I don’t finish we need others to continue… It’s got to keep going without me.”  If you are Canadian, Terry Fox is a national hero.  35 years ago in 1980, the 22 year old started on his journey running across Canada to bring awareness for cancer research. Terry Fox was a cancer survivor who had lost one of his legs in his battle with cancer.  He started running with use of a prosthetic leg in St. John’s Newfoundland, the eastern point of Canada. After 33 days without a day off of running in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Fox was taken to the hospital after exhaustion and intense coughing had forced him to stop. After tests Doctors had found the cancer was back. Fox was forced to end his run. He died about 11 months later of complications from his cancer. Every year since there has been a Terry Fox run. $600 million has been raised in his name.


Right across the street from the Port Credit Light house is my favorite after- running breakfast place.  Over the last couple of years my wife has accompanied me on our Sunday runs and we usually eat at the Sunset Grill after the run. We run separately, but start together and meet up at the end. She has taken a sabbatical over the last month so there will be no breakfast at the Sunset Grill this morning. I am wistful as I run by. Goodbye spinach omelet with feta cheese. See you again sometime soon.


Back at Brueckner Rhododendron park. I am breaking my self imposed no – selfie photo rule! Please forgive me.  A 20 meter walk to the car and it looks like I will drive home and cook my own spinach feta omelet at home today. Never tastes as good as the Sunset Grill.

It is now 11:30 am and I feel like I have already had a complete day. I love these Sunday runs!

Exercise Without Nutrition Is Like Holmes Without Watson


A few weeks back I was having a discussion with someone who had recently taken up Yoga. He has been in the midst of a complete lifestyle change over the last couple of years and has become vegan. Not a choice that I would make for myself but I admire people who do take on this way of eating as it takes an amazing amount of discipline to adhere to. Veganism for anyone who is not 100% sure about it is basically not eating anything that comes from animals or animal byproducts. No meat, fowl, pork, dairy or eggs. Along with going vegan, he also gave up smoking and alcohol. He felt the change had completely changed his life for the better. He felt better physically and was more at peace mentally. The only thing that he lacked was energy. He felt lethargic, stiff and not like he did when he was more active. Thus his interest in taking up Yoga.

I laughed and told him that I had the exact reverse situation to him a few years ago. For years I had been incredibly active and had the benefit of a massive increase in energy and well being, but I still had some physical issues that had crept up, mainly being the start of an inflammatory situation in some of my joints including knees, hips, shoulders, and ankles. At the time I thought it was just the norm with aging. Then I took a look at my diet and although not bad, admitted it wasn’t great. Too much animal protein at one sitting, too much dairy, too much wheat, and too much alcohol. When I cut back substantially on all of the above and increased my intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, I found that the inflammation disappeared. It was amazing. I’ll give you an example: My shoulders one day started to hurt, then they just proceeded to get worse day be day for about 4 months. I thought it was from overuse. I was in constant pain as I went through my day training clients but I didn’t say anything. Some people saw me wincing a few times as I picked up a weight or I showed them a yoga pose, but I tried to keep it private. I would go home, take a long shower, smother some liniment on my shoulders, and take a Naproxen (anti-inflammatory – which I hated doing) and hope for the best. That’s when I thought about my diet. It had been nagging in the back of my mind for a while. I had considered seeing a doctor but I knew what the advice would be before I went – “Take a stronger anti-inflammatory and rest your shoulder”. The nagging thought was I really did know how to heal myself. I just had to apply what I knew deep down to be true. It had to be my diet. I would use myself as an experiment with an anti-inflammatory diet. Within a month my shoulder inflammation had completely subsided. I did not decrease the amount of activity that I was doing at all. I just changed my diet. This was a great lesson for me.

I also have found that what you eat, massively affects how your body reacts to exercise. For me personally I find that good nutrition is paramount in being able to recover from all the exercise I put my body through in a week. As a very active owner of a Yoga, Pilates, and fitness studio, I teach Yoga and fitness classes, and work everyday with many clients doing privates in Yoga and traditional personal training. In addition to that I have my own workouts, and also a lot of running training for the upcoming marathon. If I slack off on my diet, I may pay the price in having what should be a normally pleasurable run turn into a torture session, or a feeling of exhaustion coming over me as I go through my week. If my diet is disciplined I usually sail through my workout and my week with ease.
I notice this with clients also. If they have been away for a week living it up down south washing down their nachos with mojitos with a tequila chaser, they will have a few very tough workouts when they come back and think of me as the anti-Christ. And forget about Christmas time! Working out is a struggle for everyone when all caution is thrown to the wind and we see how many desserts our stomachs can hold with an already belly full of wine. I am not judging. I have been there too (my Mom makes the best shortbread cookies, Nanaimo bars, and Christmas pudding). The feeling is probably similar to what a lawnmower must feel like when it’s started for the first time after a long winter.


I also see it in a lot of Monday workouts with clients. You would think that after the weekend that they would be rested and have a great workout. They probably are rested but not the case with feeling like they have had a good workout. Usually they find the Monday workout the toughest one of the week. The one thing that changes with most people on the weekend is their diet. Most of us can be pretty good at what we eat throughout the week. On the weekend it can be a different situation. We have more time at home so we may nibble at some not so healthy snacks, or we are out at restaurants, pubs, night clubs, eating and drinking probably not the most healthy stuff in the world. I always tell people not to weigh themselves on Monday morning after the weekend if they are sensitive to their weight or if weight loss is a goal for them. They may weigh in up to 5 pounds heavier on a Monday morning due to the excess amount of sodium they took in which caused them to hold on to more water, or just due to the fact that they ate more food and it is still going through their system. I tell them that Wednesday is a much better time to weigh themselves and that the 5 pound gained on Monday morning will probably magically disappear.

I write a lot about how exercise can really affect your mental health positively through more energy, better moods, less stress, and a greater sense of well being. This is true for diet also. Overeating or eating very heavy foods can just plain rob you of your energy. I used to love the analogy given for the macrobiotic diet. I know most people will probably be unfamiliar with this diet as it was very big in the 1960’s through the 1990’s but hasn’t had a lot of press in recent years. The macrobiotic diet is about eating locally grown fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts. Very close to vegan actually. The reason I bring it up though is that the proponents of eating a macrobiotic diet feel it not only makes you more healthy and fit but it very much improves your moods also.

WeighScaleOld Fashioned Weigh Scale

I attended a lecture many years ago on macrobiotics and I loved the analogy that they used. Picture an old fashioned scale. You know the one you would use to weigh gold. On one side you would put the gold and on the other side a measured weight. You keep adding or subtracting weights until the scale balances and you know what the weight is. The proponents of macrobiotics feel that there are foods closer to the mid point of the scale like veggies, fruits, and grains. If you eat this way the scale basically stays balanced and you stay in a healthy balanced zone. If you eat things like meat, sugar, alcohol – these would be more extreme foods and would be at the end of the scale so they would put the body out of balance. Then to bring the body back into balance you would have to eat the opposite extreme. A good example would be if you were out at a party and had a lot of drinks one night. When you wake up in the morning all you want is a greasy breakfast like bacon, sausage and eggs. You definitely would not want a salad! The reason for this according to the macrobiotic diet is the alcohol would be on the extreme one side of the scale where as the bacon, sausage and eggs would be on the extreme other side of the scale. You needed the extremes to bring the scale or your body back into balance. The problem with this is they were both unhealthy choices to begin with. The Macrobiotics people say that extreme eating goes hand in hand with extreme moods. If you eat more balanced foods your moods will be balanced. I tend to agree with this through my own experience and the experience of family members. I also see it in others.

All Day Deals!

There are so many studies now linking foods to our brain chemistry thus affecting our moods. Think about that mid afternoon crash that so many people get. Years ago when I was working corporate, I would go to the cafeteria and buy a chocolate bar and a coffee to get me through the last couple of hours of the work day. It was like being on a roller coaster, ups and downs all day. A sugar and caffeine addict and then go home at the end of the day and bring myself down with the wine. I remember hearing about the last days that Elvis was alive. His ‘people’ would give him uppers to help him get the energy to go on stage, and after the show it was alcohol and tranquilizers to knock him back out and help him sleep. Not to far from what a lot of us do everyday.


I find now just like the vegan who has taking up Yoga has found too, that physical activity combined with a good diet is the perfect concoction for leading a healthy, happy life. Maybe if Elvis had got on board we would still be seeing him on T.V. (not just above the waist) gyrating and belting out with gusto “Everybody in the whole cell block
was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.”

Physical activity can affect amazing changes in people’s lives. I see it everyday. But you still need diet on the other side. If you have both, you have a recipe for an amazing healthy, balanced life.

The Placebo And The Nocebo Effect – Lessons For The Power Of Our Minds To Heal


Most people have heard about the placebo effect (Latin for “I shall please”) but most have no idea about the nocebo effect. A placebo is part of a research experiment where one group gets the real drug and the other group receives an inert substance. The placebo is a harmless substance like a sugar pill or saline solution injection. In a research study 50% of the group receives the real treatment and the other half receives the placebo. Tests are developed this way so that researchers can determine the effectiveness of the drug and check for side effects.  The nocebo on the other hand (Latin for “I shall harm”) is an inert substance or form of therapy that creates harmful effects in a patient. The nocebo effect is the adverse reaction experienced by a patient who receives such a therapy.


In this blog I am going to point out numerous studies which show that other than just being a control for a study, people actually improve their health or condition when exposed to a placebo. Why is this when a placebo is just an inert substance? Researchers have found that when people think they are getting a drug or therapy that is going to cure them, their bodies have the ability to end up healing themselves. The placebo effect is so huge that anywhere between 35 and 75 percent of patients benefit from taking a placebo pill in studies of new drugs.* Similarly if people think that a drug is going to harm them, they end up experiencing the symptoms they think they should get even though what they have taken is harmless.

There are not very many nocebo studies as the medical system obviously has a problem with the ethics of causing harm to someone. However there have been some studies done. A good example of a nocebo study was one conducted in Japan.** In the 1962 study, researchers selected children that were highly susceptible to poison ivy. In the study the children were told that the leaf that was being rubbed on them was poison ivy although it was a harmless leaf. All of the children developed a rash. The researchers then told them that they had tricked them and just rubbed the harmless leaf on their arm. They then took real poison ivy and told the children that it was harmless and rubbed it on the other arm. 11 out of 13 children did not develop a rash. The thought that the harmless leaf really was poison ivy caused the body the same reaction as if it was poison ivy, but when the mind now thought that the real poison ivy was just a harmless leaf the skin did not react. Interesting on so many levels!

In Bernie Siegel’s book – Love, Medicine & Miracles he cites a study where a group of patients were given either chemotherapy or the placebo. 30% of the placebo group lost their hair, a common side effect of chemotherapy, even so they were just injected with a saline solution.


The nocebo effect can work like voodoo. If you believe it can harm you, it will. Voodoo practitioners have used this knowledge for centuries. Create the belief in a person, play it out with ritual and sit back and watch the negative results. Anthropologist – Walter Cannon, a pioneer in biological psychology wrote a detailed report on Voodoo***. In the report he gives examples of people who died because a voodoo curse or hex was place on them. One Maori woman who ate fruit and realized it had come from a voodoo place which had been deemed off limits by the tribal chief ended up dying after a day by eating the cursed fruit. Similar to this, Cannon mentions a young African man who accidentally ate a wild hen although it was forbidden on pain of death. When he realized what he had done, he fell sick and was dead within a day. Cannon found that most people who were exposed to a voodoo curse and died, usually died within one or two days. They also had a knowledge of the curse, which was supported by all those around them. This really exemplifies that our personal sense of reality is incredibly affected by our own perceptions and the perceptions of others around us, and of society as a whole.


Physicians can unknowingly use a kind of voodoo on their patients when telling them they have a terminal illness. The patient takes that information and in many cases gives up. I don’t believe in not telling the patient either. A generation or two ago, doctors sometimes would tell the family that their poor Mother had a terminal illness but wouldn’t tell the patient because she wouldn’t be able to handle the news. I don’t have personal first hand experience with a terminal diagnosis received by a family member or friend, but I have read and heard many accounts of people being told matter of fact something like this: You should get your affairs in order, this type of cancer has a 99% fatality rate over a two year time frame. The news is given in such a way that there is absolutely no chance for recovery and the patient would be completely naïve to think otherwise and believe in a possible recovery. This type of news delivered in this way is similar to voodoo. The patient having respect for the doctor and medical community just gives up. They are faced with something so overwhelming that they just play their part and die.

I knew a lady whose father was diagnosed with Leukemia. He was told to get his affairs in order and most likely would have about 5 years left. He was working exhausting hours in a stressful job he hated. Upon hearing the diagnosis he decided to simplify his life. After talking to his wife and family, he quit his job, sold his home and moved from the east coast to Ontario to live with his son. His stress disappeared, he started to enjoy his life and something amazing happened. His white blood cells started to normalize. He is still alive and thriving today after 20 years. The only times his blood counts became worrisome was a few times when a major stressful event happened in his life. After the event died down, the blood cells once again normalized.

There has been many, many documented cases of spontaneous remission and full recovery from people diagnosed with terminal illnesses. In Lissa Rankin, M.D.s book – Mind over Medicine she mentions an online data base called the Spontaneous Remission Project that lists 3,500 documented from more than 800 journals of explainable spontaneous disease remission****. If you want to read about this topic then pick up one of the many books written by Dr. Bernie Siegel. Dr. Siegel is an internationally recognized expert in the field of cancer treatment. I read his book – Love, Medicine and Miracles way back in 1988 when it was just released and was blown away by what he was saying back in a time when no-one talked about this stuff. In the book Siegel mentions many patients over the years that he treated who survived and thrived against all odds after being diagnosed with a terminal diagnosis. Dr. Siegel feels the power to heal stems from the human mind and will. He believes that the power of love; to love and accept yourself, and to love others and life is a miraculous healer.

Let’s get back to the placebo effect. In world war II, Dr. Henry Beecher, a Harvard trained Surgeon was on the front lines doing the best he could trying to save lives with limited supplies. Near the end of the war there was a shortage of morphine. Beecher was about to perform surgery on a soldier when he found he was out of morphine. He worried that without the morphine the pain would be so great that he would put the patient into cardiovascular shock and kill him. His nurse filled a needle with saline solution, told the soldier it was morphine and injected him. The soldier felt relief from the pain right away and the surgery proceeded without incident. Dr. Beecher used this form of placebo whenever the morphine stock was out and recorded the results. He found that 40% of his patients experienced easing of their pain when injected with the placebo.


In Lissa Rankins book, Mind over Medicine, she mentions many studies showing the power of placebos. Here are just a few mentioned:
• Nearly 50% of Asthma patients get symptom relief from a fake inhaler or sham acupuncture.*****
• 50% of people with colitis feel better after a placebo treatment.******
• 40% of infertility patients get pregnant while taking placebo “fertility drugs.”******

The placebo and the nocebo studies illustrate how our minds can be powerful healers. When you start getting into the research you come out the other side changed knowing that we have an amazing untapped resource in our minds that we are only beginning to realize can help heal our bodies.  I have only scratched the surface about the lessons of placebo and nocebo in this article. If you want to get deeper into it and learn what you can do to help your mind heal your body than start with Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book, You are the Placebo, or Lissa Rankin’s – Mind over Medicine, or anything by Dr. Bernie Siegel. Once you read a few of these books, I am sure you will be asking yourself  “Just what am I really capable of?”

* Margaret Talbot, The Placebo Prescription, January 9, 2000 – New York Times
**Y. Ikemi and S.Nakagawa, A Psychosomatic Study of Contagious Dermatitis, Kysosho Journal of Medical Science, Vol. 13.
*** Walter Cannon (1942). Voodoo death. American Anthropologist, 44, 169-181.
**** Dr. Lissa Rankin – Mind over Medicine – Page 17
***** Micheael E. Weschsler -Active Alburterol or Placebo -New England Journal of Medicine 365 (July 14, 2011) pages 119 – 126
****** Margaret Talbot, The Placebo Prescription, January 9, 2000 – New York Times
******* Shirley S. Wang, Why Placebos Work Wonders, January 10, 2012 – Wall Street Journal

Turning The Impossible Into The Possible, Hari-Kari, And The Marathon Monks Of Mount Hiei


Everyday I come across articles or books on runners or other athletes who have done what we would all think of as virtually impossible. I have also met people who have gone far beyond what we would think was a possibility based on the average person. These athlete’s stories can take us so much further in our beliefs as to what is really possible for us as human beings.

roger-bannister2 Roger Bannister about to break the 4 minute mile

Let’s take a step back to 1954. One of the most coveted running goals was to break the four minute mile. The myth goes that the four minute mile had been attempted for 1000 years but nobody had come close. Enter Roger Banister on May 6, 1954 in Oxford, England. When he crossed the finish line the crowd erupted into pandemonium as they witnessed that Banisters finishing time did not include a 4 but saw instead a time of 3:59.4 minutes accomplishing a feat most thought could never be done. Today there is a high school one mile record time of 3:53. Not University or College but High School! And the world record today sits at 3:43, 17 seconds faster than Bannister’s time.
Sixty years ago running a mile under four minutes was considered impossible. Today the fastest marathon time (26.2 miles) was completed in 2:02.57 or an average mile of 4:41. Twenty Six miles at an average pace of 4:41, which is pretty close to the first recorded world record for just one measly mile in 1865 of 4:36 by Richard Webster in England. My best one mile time was five minutes and I felt like I was running so fast that I was shot out of a cannon. I don’t think I could breathe for about a minute after. It’s pretty depressing to think that I would be laughed off the track at a high school track meet today with that time.
When I was growing up the marathon (26.2 miles or 42.19 km) seemed like an absolutely amazing feat. Now we see races of 50 km and 100 km commonly. And if the distance is not enough why not have the participants run up a mountain or trek through the dessert. Take the Marathon des Sables, a six day, 154 mile run through the Sahara Dessert in southern Morocco. Imagine running on the beach in deep sand for 6 days in 100 degree weather but without a beach or a lake or an ocean to cool off in! Or what about the Fat Dog 100? A 120 mile (not sure why it’s not called the Fat Dog 120) course about 2.5 hours north of Vancouver. The course has an elevation gain of 8673 metres, just short of Mount Everest at 8848 metres. Of course 120 miles is chump change, might as well add in a mountain or three and maybe some elevation sickness to boot.

FatDog 120

As I was training for my first marathon last year I wondered just how much the human body could handle when it came to stress on the joints from running. The common knowledge is to take at least one week off after a marathon because it takes so much out of you. As detailed in many of my blog articles I upped my mileage too quickly last year two months prior to the Toronto Waterfront Marathon and landed up with an ankle tendon injury which kept me out of the race. I thought about some of the above races and came to the conclusion that maybe the people who run these ultra races are just genetic freaks. I wondered if maybe we really were not built to run marathons.
I started reading more and found other people who had run much longer than 50 or 100 km’s. I came across a guy, Stefann Engels who had run 365 consecutive marathons in 365 days. And then I found more people who had done it too: Janette Murray-Wakelin and Alan Murray, Annette Fredskov, and the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei. And others too which are too numerous to mention.

StefaanEngels Stefaan Engels after finishing 365th marathon

Stefaan Engels, age 49 of Belgian was the first article I stumbled upon. He broke the continuous marathon record in 2011 by running 365 consecutive marathons. Yes, that’s one marathon everyday for 365 days without taking a break. By the way Stefaan Engels is an asthmatic. I have asthma too, and so does at least 8% of Olympic athletes so don’t let asthma get in your way of becoming an elite athlete. In a Time article* The Time reporter asked Engels “Did people around you try to convince you not to do this?” Engels replied “Of course. Nobody said to me, “Oh, good idea. Go for it.” My friends, my family, doctors — nobody believed in this project. Nobody. They said it is not possible. You’ll damage your body and your mind and after two weeks you’ll crash. I was really alone.” If he had have asked me at the time I would have agreed with the rest. But then I found more people who did what he did but they were either much older or had more severe medical issues or both! I found articles on a senior of 68, a cancer survivor of 64, and a lady who had Multiple Sclerosis! They all ran a marathon a day for a year after Stefaan Engels completed his. I started to change my thought process and started to think that just maybe we are built to run great distances after all.

run-raw-10K Janette Murray-Wakelin and Allan Murray

The first story after Engels was about an Australian couple, Janette Murray-Wakelin, 64, and Alan Murray, 68 who ran a marathon a day in 2013. They did it while maintaining a raw vegan diet and eating up to 30 bananas each per day! Janette’s back story is that she was diagnosed with a highly aggressive carcinoma breast cancer in 2001 and given six months to live. Unwilling to accept this sentence, Janette made changes to her lifestyle. Within six months she was given a clean bill of health and established a RAW Vegan Restaurant and Centre of Optimum Health in Canada. I personally haven’t yet read her book ‘Running out of Time’ as to all the details of her cancer and diet change but I am sure it is an amazing read.

Then I read about Annette Fredskov whose recipe for alleviating the devastating effects of multiple sclerosis was to run a marathon a day for 365 days, and on the 365th day she decided to run two marathons. Why not? She couldn’t have been the least bit tired! **Fredskov says her decision (to run a marathon a day for a year) was empowering, helping to reinforce her viewpoint that she could retain an important element of control over her disease. Most people would just accept the fact their physical lives would start to become limited over time with the diagnosis. In Fredskov’s case she decided to go the other way. Take control and not look back.

marathon-monks.jpg.  Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei

And then I found The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei who run a 1000 day challenge called the Kaihogyo which takes place over a 7 year period. Here is their gruelling schedule as detailed by http://www.brianmac.co.uk. :
• 1st year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2-mile marathons, beginning at 1:30 a.m., each day after an hour of prayer
• 2nd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons
• 3rd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons
• 4th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice
• 5th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice
• On the 700th day, the monks undergo a 9 day fast without food, water, rest or sleep – a mind-boggling feat which would result in certain death for most human beings, before having a short rest of a few weeks and increasing their gruelling schedule
• 6th year: 100 consecutive days of 37.5 mile marathons
• 7th year: 100 days of 52.2 mile marathons and 100 days of 26.2 mile marathons.

If the Monk is unable to complete the 100 day ritual he is duty bound to take his life either by hanging himself with his belt or through ritual disembowelment. Talk about a strong motivator! In the last 400 years, only 46 men have completed the challenge. Many others have attempted it and failed and can be found by their unmarked graves on the hills of Mount Hiei. I think I much prefer today’s view on running marathons. If you don’t finish the race this year, oh well there is always next year.
I love reading about these extreme athletes because even if you don’t want to come anywhere close to doing what they do, it makes us think that so much more is possible then what we limit our beliefs too. As I pondered whether my body could stand up to a marathon, I was presented with these Outliers who changed my perception on what the human body and spirit are capable of. Many would consider these athletes crazy extremists. I on the other hand consider them to be pioneers taking us to places not dreamed of before; lifting our spirits and showing us that yes – so much more is possible.

* http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2048604,00.html