31 December 2015

2015 Statistics

Today I had my last run of the year. After a very warm December that felt like late autumn, two days ago we finally got a dust of snow followed by frosty temperatures. It was a beautiful day today. Like yesterday, at -5 to -10C it felt a bit cold. However, it was sunny and calm with perfectly clear atmosphere. The thin frozen snow on the trails gave one of the best surfaces for running! So I enjoyed my run through the forest very much! Much more than I would have enjoyed skiing on mostly artificial snow and crowded slopes, just a little bit higher than my running route on Postavaru Mountain.

Here is a photo I took during today's running session with my poor phone camera:

As it was my last run of 2015, it is time to do some statistics. This year I logged all of my runs with the Strava app so gathering the statistics was very easy! This is what Strava reports:

3,664.7 km
Time410h 21m
Elev Gain170,388 m

I ran just a little bit more than last year but otherwise the year looks quite similar to the previous one.
So here is a statistics table for the last four years that includes strictly only running sessions.

Total DIstance1529291535993665
Total elevation gain [meters]150000*170000
Total running time156h 41m347h 32m433h 18m410h 21m
Average speed [km/h]9.68.398.318.93
Average pace [min/km]6:157:097.136:43
Average run length [km]13.916.818.318.7
* Estimated

What strikes me is the fact that I had the impression that I ran much slower than last year. On most runs I tried to be relaxed and keep my heart rate low. However my pace in 2015 was quite a bit better than in 2014! This may mean that I am in better shape... and maybe my pure vegan diet during the whole 2015 also helped. There is another possible explanation. Maybe I had a bit less accumulated elevation gain than last year - The figure for last year is an rather conservative estimate, while this year the elevation gain is taken straight out from Strava and Strava tends to overestimate it a bit.
Speaking on pace and elevation gain, one can notice that in 2012 I had a really good average pace... but that was my second year of running. Not only that I struggled to run fast that year, but most runs were on city trains with rather low elevation gain.

2015 is also the year when I did not purchase any new pair of running shoes... I had already too many. I however threw away three pairs that had lived their life... Things will change in 2016 as most of my running shoes are approaching their end of life.

So this is it for 2015!

Have a Happy New Year!

26 December 2015

One Year Vegan

It is exactly one year since I decided that enough was enough... Right, it was after a rich greasy overdose of traditional Romanian Christmas dishes. That Christmas meal drained all of my energy for almost a day until it was digested. So I wondered why should I put all that animal origin stuff into my mouth.

I was already eating very little meat but I still was a big cheese and diary products addict! I thought that they were nutritious and healthy... Now I know that in fact some meats may be healthier than milk or cheese or that the only healthy thing in yogurt is the bacteria that grows in it.

Pear tree bloom
Well, there is nothing unusual along my path of becoming a vegan. Like most people when I got  more serious about running and endurance spots I started to be more interested in the foods that promote better performance, quicker recovery and better health overall. After a year of searching and documenting I realized that the answer is so simple and clear! It was all the time in plain view, but I refused to see it! I do not want to list here all the pro vegan arguments. There are many books, web presentations, web sites that explain the science behind it. So if you think you have an open mind just look for it.
I would just say that there are three main reasons to be a vegan all of them supported by solid science. Each one of them is strong enough to convince anybody who wants to listen. Here they are:
  • Health and quality of life
  • Ethics & Animal Rights
  • Environment Conservation. More precisely, it is about saving our planet!
My home grown cherry tomatoes
So what do I eat? A much wider variety of foods, tastes and flavors that I imagined there are! In four words: Whole plant based food. That's it!
I better tell you what I do not eat:
  • No Animal products of any kind 
    • No meat of any kind, including poultry fish, 'sea fruits', worms, insects
    • No eggs
    • No milk, cheese, or any diary products
    • Well, I have to admit that from time to time I eat a bit of honey
  • I avoid as much as I can refined foods:
    • Refined grains: White four, white rice
    • Sugar/ I eat almost 0 grams a day of refined sugars or any other refined or artificial sweetener
    • Free oils and fats. No extracted vegetable oils except sometimes when I use a tiny bit of high quality olive oil as dressing on salads
  • No fried food
  • Almost no little exotic stuff promoted as 'health' or 'supper' foods
  • I try to avoid as much as I can food additives, preservatives and other chemicals...
So what are the benefits for me? Here are in random order:
  • Better health overall
  • I feel more energetic
  • Faster recovery after running
  • No colds or sore throat in the last year. Well I can tell when I catch a virus, but I do not develop the cold. It is all gone after a day
  • No more ear infections
  • No more greasy skin and hair
  • Better joints mobility
  • Shopping for food is so much simper and easier
  • I have discovered so many foods I had no idea existed!
  • Food safety. Cooking and handling animal products is hazardous stuff! I am not kidding!
  • I cook most of my meals so I know what I am putting into my body
  • Cheaper. Although heavily subsidized in many parts of the globe, animal and junk foods are more expensive than vegetables and legumes
  • Less health-care costs
  • I have to answer the same silly questions that myself I used to ask vegans... you know, about protein or calcium... By the way, where do the elephants or cows get their protein and calcium?
  • Food is delicious and overeating can increase my size... not by body fat but by bloating ;-)
It is now clear to me that a vegan lifestyle is another step towards a simpler and more meaningful life. I also hope that my vegan life stile results in less harm done to animals and has a little contribution to the health of our environment.

I encourage everybody to give it a try. It does not have to be "extreme". At least start by trying not to eat meat or diary products every meal! Believe me, it is good for your health!

20 December 2015

To Compete or Not to Compete?

To Compete or Not to Compete...
That is the question that I had in my mind for the last year or so. My previous blog post about slowing down already hints the solution of my dilemma.

I started to be serious about trail running a little bit more than four years ago. I grew as a trail runner during the very time when this sport became more and more popular in Romania and the number of trail-running competitions exploded. I got carried by the wave and participated in many competitions, and this was great! A competition is the best way to measure one's performance, and mine was steadily growing for at least three years in a row. Competitions are also great places to meet other runners and share stories and experiences.

This year I participated in only two events, two mountain marathons, and I felt that it was the right amount for me. As an amateur trail runner I think that I reached a level where is not much room for improvement. I am not a professional athlete so I really do not see many reasons why I should try to get an even better and faster trail runner as I realize that this would put too much strain on my body. Instead I am focusing on keeping my very good fitness level while enjoying trail-running even more than ever.

You see, less competitions give me more freedom as I do not have to constantly train for specific events. It is clear now to me that my goal is just to keep myself fit and enjoy running in the nature as much as I can. Keeping fit means to find the right balance between too much and too little training and this is much easier for me without the pressure from competitions.

Then there is one more reason I prefer not to run in a competition... Trail running competitions take place in nature, often along trails that take you to the mountain summits. There are always amazing views  and landscapes to enjoy. However, when I am running in a competition I am so concentrated on the trail and on my run that I cannot afford to look around. I cross the finish line and only then I realize that although I enjoyed running in the nature with all my senses, the pace was too fast and I missed so much... There were places where I would have stop to admire the landscape, to listen to some bird song, or just let all my senses to be tuned to the nature around me.

There are also a few practical things to consider... Competitions have registration fees. It is true that most of the times is money well spent as you get a marked route, well stocked hydration and food points along the way and a bag with a few goodies; most of the times a T-shirt... But I have already collected too many T-shirts!

At this moment I run slower than I used to until not too long ago. I am keeping my heart rate in the aerobic zone for most of the time. As a result, instead of feeling exhausted after a long run, I fell really well. The slower pace is much better for my body as there is less stress on it. It is true that on steep uphills I find it hard to keep my heart-rate low, but well, one also has to train harder from time to time, so the uphills fit just perfectly into my running routine... Then there are the downhills. On the steeper ones there is not much stress on my heart, but on my knees... So I have to be careful! Some knee injury that I had this autumn reminded me that I might do it too hard and that I should be more careful when running on steep downhills...

In short, I am running slower, but just hard enough to keep my fitness level so my body can benefit most from it. This way of running also gives me more time to admire the landscapes. I also adapt the length and intensity of my runs depending on how I feel during the run. Sometimes I change the route while running, making it longer or shorter depending on how I feel. I may start thinking that I am going to run 15km and end up with a full marathon; or I might go out for a run on the hills and end up on the top of Postavaru Mountain, 1200m higher than my home. On the other hand I might run a shorter run than my initial plan if I feel that I am struggling too much...

I am not sure if I will compete in any trail-running race in 2016 although my competitive spirit is still alive. So I might take part in April in Brasov Marathon, a great race on the trails around my city, a race where so far I participated in all four editions that were organised so far.

14 November 2015

Slow Down

Late Autumn, a good time to slow down, to recover from the summer running excesses that I feel in my knees... 

Late Autumn, a good time to slow down, to look around at the naked beauty of the forest and enjoy every bit of the scarcer sun rays.

Late Autumn, a good time to slow down, and listen to the sound of my steps plowing deep through the deep carpet of golden leaves.

Late Autumn, a good time to slow down, breathing deep the fresh air looking for the first scents of the approaching winter.

Late Autumn, a good time to slow down and look at the passing clouds wondering what might they bring.

Late Autumn, a good time to slow down and look at the distant mountains wondering whether they've got the silvery coat yet.

Late Autumn, a good time to slow down and prepare for the wonders of the winter when the running steps metamorphose into a magical flight trough the deep powder snow...

31 October 2015

Running on the The Twin Peaks of Brasov

Today, with another Mihai, an experimented trail runner I finally did a run I planned for a long time. It is becoming a classical route, completed by many experienced trail runners.  The route reaches both peaks of Brasov mountains; Piatra Mare (1844m) and Postavarul (1799m) peaks. The two massifs are separated by the deep Timis Valley at about 800m altitude. It is not an easy route and I do not recommend it for solo runners as part of the route, especially the south side of Postavarul Mountain, passes through quite wild forests.

While the two peaks are not too high, both climbs of the route are quite steep and take you more than 1000m higher than the starting point. The accumulated elevation gain of the route is a respectable 2300m.

Today, the last day of October, was a perfect autumn day: Perfect Blue skyes, cool, calm and dry weather; just perfect conditions for running. I do not want to imagine how it is to climb on the south side of Postavarul Mountain on a hot summer day!

Here is the GPS recorded route of today:

The views and the clarity of the atmosphere were stunning as it is often the case in late autumn and winter. Below are some photos I took today. The full album is here.

Close to Piatra Mare Peak - Looking East

Piatra Craiului mountains (in the distance), seen from Piatra Mare

The Mighty Bucegi Mountains

Looking west

View towards Muchea Cheii (Cheii Ridge) from Tamina valley

Crossing the valley and the railways in Timisu de Sus and switching mountains...

Autumn Colors on the climb to Postavarul

Postavarul Peak... still a long way to the top!

Bucegi again

The beautiful Muchea Cheii (Cheii Ridge)

The beautiful Muchea Cheii (Cheii Ridge)

On Postavarul Ridge

Piatra Craiului Mountains seen from Postavarul Ridge

Autumn leaves

Brasov... home sweet home!

25 October 2015

Magical Autumn Colors

It always happens so fast during October... a few cold nights and the forest changes the color from green to the amazing autumnal palette of colors. So I slowed down today... I had to take photos! I took my camera and did a tour on the hills around Brasov through the magical forest.

For the next week, maybe even longer, the weather forecast looks really good! Sunny weather, deep blue sky and amazing forest colors! I just can't wait for the next trail runs!

Here are some photos from today's walk in the forest. The album can also be seen here.