At the crossroads to the future – 岐路に立っていて

Today I had some really good meetings with the presidents of some sōmen noodle companies. We talked about what they are doing to reach other markets around the world, how to get people not used to eating cold noodles to try them and keep buying them, and we talked about how Japan has to tackle the next ten years as the average age of farmers here will increase from 66 years old now to even higher in the future. 

Japan is standing at a crossroads and I am excited to be here to help choose a direction.

今日は素麺会社の社長とても興味深い話ができました。海外市場への販路や、今まで冷たい麺に慣れてない外国人に試してもらうのにどうするのか、また現在66歳平均年齢の農家の今後についてなど、色んな面白いお話しをしました。

日本は今岐路に立っています。これからの方向一緒に考えて歩むのは楽しみになっています。

Daddy, do you know what this is called? – ダディ、これは何と言うか、わかる?

Me: Hmmm, it’s called a starfish!

Daughter (aged 7): No, it’s called art. 

私: ヒトデでしょう。

娘(7歳):いや、美術だよ。

What no meat?

On October 26th, it was reported that according to research carried out by IACR (the cancer research body associated with the WHO), processed meats such as bacon, ham and sausages are carcinogenic to humans. This puts them on a list of 116 items with such substances as tobacco, alcohol and asbestos, diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis, plus a wide range of pollutants.

We’re constantly hearing that this food is bad, oh hang on a minute, no, it’s good… Er, no, it’s bad after all. At this rate, there will be nothing left on the table to eat. 

And if we believe all this research, a so-called balanced diet with the right level of macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) is out of the window.

It seems like the World Health Organisation received quite a number of enquires on the subject. Here is a short statement from their media centre explaining that they stand by IACR’s findings.

A deeper look at the numbers paints a slightly different picture, however. The research ties the likelihood to colorectal cancer in particular. 

The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

50 grammes is roughly two sausages or 4 slices of ham.

The average person is said to have a 5% chance ot contracting this particular type of cancer. So doing the maths as we might say means that an 18% increase in likelihood of contracting this specific strain would lead to a mere increase in likelihood of 0.9% (5% x 118% = 5.9%). Cancer Research UK puts the baseline rate at 5.6% leading to an increased likelihood of 6.6%. Either way, hardly worrying statistics. Sure, I don’t want to put my head in the sand but I have also heard over the years that stress is a major cause of cancer. 

It’s all very well giving up everything that is bad for us, and this article points out some more worries about foods many of us enjoy. But for such a small likelihood, I would rather continue eating my bacon thanks! In moderation of course!

The slow cost of eating fast food

Thanks to this great article from the BBC worldwide website, I now have a handy cheat sheet from Harvard Health Publications that details how many calories I burn depending on different exercises. 

I weigh about 70 kg, which in “old money” in 155 lb. So looking at the chart, for a 30-minute run at 8 mins per mile (my average speed), I burn 465 calories. Of course, the major caveat with this type of chart is that everyone is different. Some people have a really quick metabolism and can burn three times as many calories as others. The same can be said of the food we eat. It’s not an exact science.

Not that I eat them very often, but according to the average burn rate for a person of my weight in the chart, I would have to run about 64 minutes to burn off a Big Mac Meal or about 36 minutes for a nice bowl of Japanese tonkotsu ramen (like the one in the picture). It really is true to say “A moment on the lips equals a lifetime on the hips!” Or at least by this calculation, 20 minutes in McDonalds and a noodle shop, 100 minutes running down the road.

 Harvard Health – calorie table

Eat and Run: Book Review

  

Whatever the problem in my life, the solution had always been the same: Keep going! My lungs might be screaming for oxygen, my muscles might be crying in agony, but I had always known the answer lay in my mind.

Not a bad solution to live by. 

Scott Jurek doesn’t do things by half. He gives his best and just keeps on pushing further and further. I first learned about AQ: Adversity Quotient (a theory developed by Dr. Paul Stoltz) when studying for my MBA a few years ago. Jurek epitomizes this never-say-die spirit.

We meet Jurek as he is vomiting, lying prostrate on the searing ground of Death Valley, his brain being cooked in the heat of one of the hottest places on Earth. He is attempting to run the Badwater Ultramarathon — 135 miles of pure scorching hell.

For those who have read Born to Run, you will know Jurek as ‘El Venado’ or The Deer. Jurek is one of the greatest ultra runners of all time. 

It is not often that he succumbs to the elements nor to his own inner monologue telling him to stop, asking why is he putting himself through it. And as we soon find out, this is not going to be one of those times.
We get an insight into the mind of an elite runner and learn that he is no different from you and me. He too gets that inner voice that says, “It’s ok to stop and have a rest. Just this once.”

The next morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I could hear music. It was the siren song of a warm bed, a cozy couch, a few hours of reading, or listening to music, or just being. No one was forcing me to run. No one said I had to. No one was going to die if I just relaxed a little. Those were the lyrics of the song. It was the catchy, terrible tune that had seduced so many runners to drop out of races. It was a melody I could not afford to listen to. The song was calling: Rest. You just ran one mountain. No need to do another.

The difference is that he didn’t succumb. He doesn’t succumb. 

Jurek didn’t start out as an athlete. At school, he was a bookworm and spent most of his time studying. In fact, his route into running actually came through skiing. At his high school graduation, he gave the valedictory speech and left his peers with four key messages:

  1. Be different
  2. Help others
  3. Never let others discourage you from achieving your dream
  4. Do things while you are young

Good advice indeed from an 18-year-old. Sounds more like something a 41-year-old might say to his kids! He took his own advice, even if he admits that at the time of his speech, he didn’t know what his dream was. 

As an adult, Jurek remains an avid reader and a student of life. Through various encounters during his time as a runner, he has shaped his own development.  His visits to Japan and to his bookshelf exposed him to the principles of Bushido. He likens the emptiness of the warrior’s mind in battle to the importance of remaining in the present when running a race. A wandering mind loses focus, and in a 100-mile race that can be dangerous. 

His studies do not rest solely with philosophy. He also studies the effects of the foods he puts into his body. He started out as a meat-eater, became a vegetarian and is now a vegan. Jurek cites studies that link the Western diet with the three most common causes of death in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer and strokes. He has studied through trial and error and lots of reading the effects of various foods on his performance. This book is not just for runners, but for those who care about what they put in their body. He ends each chapter with a recipe that he himself cooks up for himself or for his friends.

The healthier I had eaten, the faster and stronger I had become. Was it a coincidence that sick people were being served starchy, crappy food?

If you like running, Eat and Run will give you lots of practical tips, from how to breath to what training to focus on. If you like Born to Run, you’ll love this book which has more of a flowing style. If you care about your body, you’ll learn some quick and practical recipes, including a good one for chia seeds. And if you like autobiographies, Jurek gives you a clear insight into his mind.

Carb-loading

Are you one of those people who gets annoyed by social media posts of food? I am!

Today I’m going to break my own rule and risk alienating my small blog audience with a quick rundown of my carb-loading ahead of tomorrow’s run in Kyoto – Japan’s former capital. With a full marathon ahead of me, I have been piling in the carbohydrates today to get my energy reserves ready for the big day tomorrow.

Carbohydrates are really important for distance runners as they fuel the body with energy. Foods such as pasta, rice, fruit and potatoes are rich sources of carbs. Of course for couch potatoes, carbs are the enemy, but the opposite is true for long distance runners.

Breakfast
Today was our children’s nursery happyokai (発表会) – literally “announcement meeting”, where the children show off on stage with all sorts of performances for their parents. They’ve been practicing for months and today was the culmination of all their hard work. It’s a bit like me with this marathon, I suppose! The happyokai meant an early-ish start as we had to be there around nine to meet the kids’ grandmother visiting for the day from Osaka.

My breakfast consisted of a peanut butter and banana toasted sandwich and a cup of coffee. Peanut butter is said to be one of the best foods for a runner because it packs a lot of calories and gives a real boost to the muscles. This is perfect for me as I have liked peanut butter ever since I was a kid. Bananas contain lots of carbohydrates as well as potassium and so are also a great food for runners. Finally the bread is also an excellent source of carbohydrates.

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Lunch
Today I’ve had two lunches: a fairly light social lunch at the family restaurant Gusto with my wife, kids and mother-in-law; and a second “bento” on the Shinkansen heading down to Kyoto. We ate fairly early (just before noon) after the happyokai.

As is usually the case when we give the kids a choice of where to eat, they say Gusto. It’s not a bad place – fairly cheap and cheerful and it keeps everyone happy. I chose steak and avocado with salad on a bed of rice – quite a balanced meal. The rice in particular contains plenty of carbs. Avocado is quite low in carbs – somewhere around 9g per 100g serving. Meat doesn’t contain carbs, though there are plenty of calories with the protein and of course the fat. Gusto doesn’t publish an exact breakdown of the nutritional information but the meal is listed as 970kcal.

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I opted for more meat and rice for the Shinkansen: Iberico pork on a bed of rice. As you can see from the label there are lots of numbers written all over it. It contains 111 grammes of carbohydrates (炭水化物), 67.9g of fat (脂質), 20.4g of protein (蛋白質) and a whopping 1152 kilocalories. The price is fairly whopping too at 1100 yen, but I feel I deserve it! This meal alone is just under half the recommended daily amount of calorific intake for an adult male.

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Dinner
Sitting on the Shinkansen as I write, I plan to eat a dinner of ramen noodles in Kyoto some time between 7 and 8pm.

Addendum: Here’s the photo of the noodles – complete with the touristic gimmick nori seaweed on top:

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Other snacks
Today is Valentine’s Day and my lovely wife and daughter made me some nice biscuits to munch on for my trip. So I will be partaking of these in between meals.

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I also have a few muffins (again excellent carb sources) to choose from in between should I get peckish. These muffins from Bagel & Bagel are devilish. I probably won’t eat all three of these before tomorrow’s run but they should restore me nicely after I finish the race tomorrow!

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