August 23, 2015

Coca Cola. Merchants of Doubt?

Every once in a while I stumble upon an article that really gets my goat. And the only way I can get it back is to write about it. So here I go…

Early this month the New York Times published an article about how Coca Cola is funding a newly formed non-profit research group that argues the lack of exercise, not diet, is the primary reason folks are overweight in the US. The so-called independent group is called Global Energy Balance Network, and its website is

On most days I would have just skimmed over the article on my way to the sports page. But on this day I was vacationing in Europe and the only sports to read about was European voetbal (soccer), which I disdain.

So I read on. And on. Until a light starting blinking in my brain. “Bullshit!” Bullshit!” The more I read the brighter the light became.

The leaders of the Coke funded group are influential scientist in their field and they are pushing a message in medical journals, conferences and social media. This is a quote by the chief proselytizer, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, taken directly from the article: 

“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on….And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”
We’ve all grown up with Coca Cola and a lot of us remain avid consumers of the brew, particularly us ultra runners looking for that extra boost late in a race. I’m a big user of the Coca Cola and Mountain Dew once I reach mile 70. The stuff is like rocket fuel, I can feel its power within minutes of it touching my lips, especially this late in a race.
It’s disappointing, however, to hear the company is operating with smoke and mirrors when it comes to obtaining “independent” research which seems to always downplay diet as part of the obesity problem. It turns out Coca Cola has not only provided funds to establish the Global Energy Balance Network, its also been funding GEBN scientist’s pet projects for many years – to the tune of more than $5 million. The ultimate laugh, as I see it anyway, is that the Network’s website is not only registered to Coca Cola, the administrator of the website is Coca Cola.
We can’t overlook the fact that Coca Cola is the largest producer of sugary drinks in the world, and the company’s primary purpose is to sell more product and generate profits to its shareholders. I’m the first to argue that there is nothing wrong with making a profit! But Coca Cola seems to have crossed the line from making a healthy profit to systematically promulgating misinformation to intentionally dupe the public in order to sell more of its product.
It’s not surprising that this is happening at this time. After all, as the evidence linking obesity to the consumption of sodas and fast food continues to mount, there is rising pressure on cities to tax sugary drinks and on schools to eliminate them from their menus. In the mean time Coke’s sales are slipping.
Regardless of your position on this issue, what is telling is Coca Cola’s response to the New York Times article. In an OP ED published by the Wall Street Journal on August 19 (10 days after the Times article was published) Coca Cola CEO, Muhter Kent, stated that:
“I am disappointed that some actions we have taken to fund scientific research and health and well-being programs have served only to create more confusion and mistrust. I know our company can do a better job engaging both the public-health and scientific communities—and we will.”
“…We want to get focused on real change, and we have a great opportunity ahead of us. We are determined to get this right.”

He goes on to describe in more detail the changes that are underway at Coca Cola, including their efforts to sell low sugar drinks, diet drinks and water. While I applaud Mr. Kent’s words, the beast still has to be fed. Like the tobacco companies that need to keep selling nicotine to smokers, unfortunately Coca Cola needs to keep selling sugary drinks to diabetics and the obese.

Which leads me back to point made I made earlier with more emphasis. Companies like Coca Cola ($9.3 billion profit in 2014) and cigarette maker Philipp Morris ($7.7 billion profit in 2014) do not exist to serve the public. They exist to serve their shareholders by making money. Full calorie Coke is the largest soft drink sold in the world accounting for 17% of the total market share. The sad fact is, regardless of public relations, it’s just not in the short term or long-term interest of Coca Cola to get people off of what might be killing them.

Of course there is also an argument to be made that it really isn’t the company’s responsibility to ensure people act responsibly. In other words, if people - children and adults - drink too much of the sugary stuff, they should be prepared to suffer the consequences. Everyone needs to take individual responsibility. I whole heartily agree with this, and it’s really the parents that need to be responsible for the kids.

But this isn’t a case of individual responsibility. It’s a case of corporate responsibility. When I read the article, one of the most poignant comments I saw came from professor Barry Popkin from University of North Carolina. He described Coke’s use of prominent researchers as reminiscent of tactics used by the tobacco industry, which enlisted experts to become “merchants of doubt” about the health hazards of smoking.

I think I’ll stick with my Mountain Dew at mile 70 (and beyond).

Post Script: I need your help! As you can see, I don’t write this blog for money…hence no annoying pop up advertising. However I do write to encourage and inspire others. My only way to know I am succeeding is getting feedback from and building a following of readers. If you have found value in this blog post, please leave a comment below and follow my blog via email (enter your email at top of blog) or by Twitter here.  

Thanks for your support. It keeps me motivated!!

August 20, 2015

What Are You Eating Today?

If you are interested in learning more about the optimal fat metabolism (OFM) diet and the benefits it can bring to your training and racing, take a look at Zach Bitter's 7 tips for OFM. Bitter is the world record holder for the 12 hour run and American record holder for 100 miles (11 hour 47 mins).

August 17, 2015

Berlin - Above and Below

Toward the Beer Garden

We pulled into the beer garden with more than just a few miles in our legs. If it weren’t for the guided tour, I would’ve easily spent of the rest of the day in this place of refuge, guzzling Berlin Pilsner and slugging down sausage and snitzel. But this was a serious bike tour and it happened, for us anyway, on one of the hottest days of the year.

Lila lays it down

Life events have passed massively through this narrow space. Roaming the streets of Berlin is like plunging into an abyss of the human condition, where the boundaries of shame and honor surround you wherever you might find yourself. If you are daring to look, the darkest of dark deeds of man are on searing display here, as are his finest moments of triumph and honor.

We stood in the building where Karl Marx penned the Communist Manifesto. As I listened to the narrative, it occurred to me that had he not written this political philosophy, it just might be that the Soviet Union would have never been formed and the Berlin Wall would have never been built. Call me a nut, but stranger things have not happened! Then we rode across the plaza where 20,000 books were burned by the Nazi’s.

The Wall by Noir

If history had a gateway to heaven and hell, it might have passed through Berlin. During WWII the Allies dumped 65,000 tons of bombs on the city. When the war was over, and the infrastructure and architecture was virtually destroyed, the city was divided into four sections and controlled by foreign powers. Then, on one morning in the summer of 1961, east Berliners woke up to a startling revelation: a wall was built around their portion of the city to prevent them from leaving.

But it is underneath this reborn city where the German people have confronted the truth. Where the past, the difficult and gruesome past, is on full display for all to see, if you dare to peek. Here, under the Holocaust memorial, sits the Holocaust Information Center. People don’t talk here, because there are no words that can describe.

Holocaust Memorial

It is here where I read this, as written by a 12 year old girl, held in a concentration camp, to her father on July 31, 1942: “Dear father! I am saying goodbye to you before I die. We would so love to live, but they wont let us and we will die. I am so scared of this death…Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly. Yours J.

Brandenburg Gate

We rode across the boulevard while gazing upon the Brandenberg Gate where, decades ago, JFK drove by during his visit to proclaim his enduring support for citizens of Berlin. It was this visit when America’s 35th president stated that “all free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin.” And it was here where he uttered the now famous German words “Ich bin ein Berliner!” which, I’m now informed by my 16 year-old daughter, was interpreted by some Berliners as “I am a jelly donut.”

Post Script: I need your help! As you can see, I don’t write this blog for money…hence no annoying pop up advertising. However I do write to encourage and inspire others. My only way to know I am succeeding is getting feedback from and building a following of readers. If you have found value in this blog post, please leave a comment below and follow my blog via email here or by Twitter here.  

Thanks for your support. It keeps me motivated)!!


August 13, 2015

Images of Holland (without Running Shoes)

The suitcase was finally packed. And it gave me no anxiety, which is odd because there are times when suitcases give me anxiety. Mainly from the things they don't carry but should. I'm not sure if it was subliminal or purposeful defiance, but I left my running shoes at home. For 10 days straight!

The Hague 

World Peace Flame

The Best...So Far

July 30, 2015

Secret Spot

Ran into an old friend John (John) D out of the blue last week. I saw him as I was driving up the street just a couple of feet from a secret trail I was looking for. We decided to do a quick hike together on the secret trail and came back to do it again this week, this time with another friend John W. What a trail! We gained 1,300’ in just 2.5 miles before we turned around and coasted back just in time for a quick Stone Pale Ale.

Looking forward to working this trail with these guys for many more hikes and training days ahead! 

July 12, 2015

The Ring of Fire

Fires are a fact of life here in California. There are more than 2,000 wildfires per year here on average. Last month a forest fire scorched 31,000 acres in the San Bernardino Mountains. The Forest Service has not determined the cause and has closed the entire area until October. The fire, dubbed the Lake Fire, started on June 17 near Barton Flats and pushed high up the side of the mountain, nearly reaching the 11,500’ summit of San Gorgonio. 

I'm definitely noticing forest fires more these days, probably because they are wreaking havoc on my little running world. The Lake Fire, for instance, scorched some of my favorite trails near Big Bear, CA. It also forced me to scrap my plans to the run nine peak challenge in the mountains this summer.

It is also the fourth forest fire in several years to pummel my running plans. The first was the Westville Fire in 2008 (and dozens of others that burned nearby) that forced the cancellation of the Western States 100, which would have been my first 100 miler. The second was the Santiago Fire that burned 28,000 acres in the Santa Ana mountains and caused us to divert our annual Saltwater Course due to closed mountain trails. And the third was the 2009 Station Fire that burned more than 400,000 acres and forced the cancellation of the Angeles Crest 100 miler. Even though I wasn't signed up for Angeles Crest that year,  my training partner was and I felt his pain.

So what does all this mean? This is a question I've been asking myself a lot lately and will continue to ask unless I get a lobotomy or start drinking the cool aid. In the mean time, I'll leave you with this graph which I find interesting if not revealing.

  Check this out. Half a million acres just went up in smoke in Alaska in one day. 

June 25, 2015

My Instinct

I’ve been writing in this blog for nearly 8 years now. I started with the idea that I would transcribe some details about running ultras that I thought might be of interest to someone out there. I’ve written things that I regret, but mostly I’ve written things that I really felt on my journey along the way. As much as I try, I don’t always write about running, and when I don’t, I can only suggest that running really isn’t about running. It’s more about what happens to me when I do it. If you are a runner, you will know what I mean. If you’re not, I hope you have something similar, anything that releases you from the tentacle.

This is the first time in 8 years I’m not signed up to run an ultra. My instinct has wandered from a yearning to submit myself to the test of running 100 miles as well and as fast as I can, on someone else’s course following someone else rules, to just running for the experience of being somewhere I want to be, like high in the mountains, possibly when the weather is turning harsh. Where I only have myself to rely on.   

It’s been a whole year since I began the first of the four grand slam events last summer. There isn’t any peculiar day that I can recall.  In fact it was many days that melted together that kind of became one. I think about it now as if it were just one day. Because it feels that way. Like when the tide goes out. I don’t really notice it, but when I do, it seems so obvious. To see all things when they happen is impossible, I suppose, particularly when I’m not looking for them. 

June 15, 2015

Doping Wars - Enter Distance Running

I used to think that distance running was immune from doping. But after reading the news this last month, it appears my naiveté has been exposed.

Apparently Alerto Salazar, former University of Oregon star, three-time winner of the NYC marathon and current head coach of the Nike Oregon Project (NOP), has been gaming the system. In this article by Pro Publica and the BBC, Salazar is accused of pushing a doping rigged training program on his athletes with a “win at all costs” approach to coaching.

I won’t go into the details here because they are well laid out in the article. There are also interesting interviews and comments from former coaches and athletes of the Oregon Project, including this interview with former NOP coach John Cook, who describes the sport as essentially tainted and beyond repair. He thinks the honest coaches are "fooling themselves" if they think they can outwork the doping plague with old fashioned hard work.

Seems Nike is in the middle of all of this. Wait, who was Lance Armstrong’s biggest sponsor?

May 19, 2015

The Grand Canyon - I Will Remember

There are times when people ask me why I run. Heck, there are time when I ask myself the same thing. Then I remember...

April 29, 2015

10 Songs I Remember Listening To In the Moment

Most of these are live performances, so take some time and pull up on your big screen and really listen. Let me know which ones you like best!

1. Banco De Gaia - Desert Wind (Sunset Mix) – (Sitting in my car after finishing a long run to the top of Saddleback Mt.)

2. Robin Shulz - Prayer In C Radio Edit (during long run listening to Banco De Gaia radio. Song came on...what a cool beat!)

3. Chevelle – The Red (on my elliptical after blowing out my calf and trying to blast my family out of house and home)

4. System of a Down – Spiders (Driving home after my last long run with Larry R and Travis C before AC 100 in 2011)

5. New Order – Ceremony (driving home from work to a party at my house in Washington DC in 1988 while singing at the top of my lungs).

6. Foo Fighters – Everlong (The final miles of my second 50 mile race in 2007 that qualified me for WS 100).

7. Neil Young – Cowgirl in the Sand (laying on my back on a concrete bench at University California Irvine after working on my presentation to investors sometime in the mid 90s).

8. Radiohead – There There (Climbing Coyote Canyon during long run. Inspired me to write There There).

9. Kitten – Cut it Out (solo mile repeat workout at Orange Coast College track on a cloudy autumn weeknight in dimming light).

10. Doves – Kingdom of Rust (roaming the mountains of Colorado before and after the Leadville 100 in 2014).