Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Raw Journey

I haven't sat down and encapsulated my raw "journey" yet. Most of these "journeys " sound like some "born-again" christian testimonial. Like all testimonials, they start with the prodigal son story: The poor heathen living in sin, or in this case, fat and out of shape. Then in their darkest hour, they are saved, and live life righteously thereafter. Or, as it may be, a healthy life, with a purpose, and a nice glow on their cheeks.

I'm going to tell this story as a runner would, because that is who I see myself as today, a raw vegan runner. But, I had not been a runner for many many years, or as I will sometimes say, it was: "Many beers ago".

As a kid, I identified myself as a runner. That's what I did. That's what I did better than the other kids in the neighborhood. I ran home from school, and beat the buses home. I ran in the woods in front of my house, without shoes, so I could feel the forest floor on my feet. I was unbeatable at tag. I was in a constant state of movement.

When I got to high school, I ran cross country and track, and I did pretty well. I was good, but I wasn't great. I had laid the foundation as a kid to be great, but when my teens hit, it was hard to stay focused on running. I got severely depressed at times. I sometimes got involved with the party scene. Running became a chore. And even though I still ran, it was only because I was good at it, that I kept it up.

Still, I was good enough to win all but one race my senior year in track, and I came in third All Western Ma. in cross country. But, when high school was over, running was over too. I just quit. I used to say that I didn't like running, that I only did it because I was good at it. I've come to realize, that was a lie.

It's hard to believe that a person can live another twenty three years without the thing in their life that makes them feel special, and what gives them a purpose, but that's what I did. During that time, although I was a vegetarian, I was not a healthy person.

I moved to New York City in my early twenties to write plays and poetry. I was an all-in buyer of the bohemian, demon-filled writer guy, hell bent to ruin. I lived in the East Village, and I drank, and wrote at the darkest bars. My Dylan Thomas impression was spot on. I took my running ability and flushed it down a bar room toilet. I would have to live with the fact that I did not give my best to running, and that I "sacrificed the gift". Steve Prefontaine would not have been impressed.

Of course, most of that has changed as I have gotten older, I got married, had a kid etc. While still living in NYC I frequented the Village Zendo, and began a meditation practice which has become a very important ingredient in my daily life.

I support myself by working in the food industry. I trained on the job to be a pastry assistant twenty years ago. I have a degree from the French Culinary Institute. I have worked for the pre-eminent wedding cake maker, Sylvia Weinstock, as her head baker, and I am currently the bakery manager at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Ma.

I should say that my weight had always been an issue as an adult. I am a baker, for goodness sakes. I became a pastry chef because I like sweets, a lot! Still do. So, my weight, for the most part had hovered between 195 and 210. That's not great when you're only 5'9". Things only got worse when I got to Kripalu and had all of this buffet vegan food everyday. Yes, you can be fat and vegan at the same time, trust me. As time went on, I got up to 235 pounds. My blood pressure was high, and I just wasn't feeling that great. I should also admit that I didn't like being the overweight baker at a yoga center, where most people walking around, are looking more fit than me.

I became conscience of a raw vegan lifestyle about four years ago, from an article in a magazine. It was a Q&A with Juliano. I thought he was nuts, and I quickly dismissed the whole thing; but the seed took root somewhere in my head. I remembered Juliano talking about the amazing health benefits one got for being raw vegan. I started to do a little research, and everyone was saying the same thing. You'll feel great all the time. You'll have more energy. You'll get sick less often or not sick at all, as some would say. So, I was curious.

Then, two years ago, I said I would try it for a month. That's it. No promises after the month. Just a month. I was extremely skeptical that it would make any difference in my life. But, I was very serious about giving it a shot, for that month.

I still remember the first day I ate as a raw vegan. After lunch, I had more energy, rather than the sluggish feeling I had become used to after eating a meal. After a week, I remember feeling really good! Exceptional, as a matter of fact. I didn't have a blender, or a dehydrator or a spiralizer or anything at this time. I was just eating food in a totally different way: The way it was meant to be eaten! What a concept! Just don't cook it. Crazy, right.

Even before my maiden month was over, I knew I was never going back to cooked food. After seven months I lost 70 pounds, and I had never felt better in my life. Then almost a year ago, I was browsing YouTube for raw vegan videos, when I came upon, Tim Van Orden. He was like the Running Ghost Of The Past coming back to haunt me. It was like he was saying, "Michael, you can still do it. You can still be a runner". Then I thought, you know, I feel good, let's see what's possible. So, I set a goal. I would run the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot in North Adams. I had about three and a half months to train for it. All I wanted to do was put in a good effort. I came in third! First, in my age group.

Now I try not to put limits on myself, or say I can't do something. It's all possible, and now that I am training hard to get back to where I was twenty three years ago, I know I will get there. The "Prodigal Son" has run home.

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