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How Mark Stosberg Overcame Severe Back Pain

Updated: 2 days ago

Mark Stosberg's journey to veganism and becoming an endurance athlete is a powerful testament to the transformative power of lifestyle changes. Struggling with severe sciatica in his late 20s, Mark faced debilitating pain that left him lying flat on his back, unable to work comfortably. Desperate for a solution, he embarked on a holistic approach to healing, combining yoga, massage, stretching, and significant dietary adjustments.

Initially, Mark's road to a plant-based lifestyle began in college with the influence of a vegetarian girlfriend. Over the years, he gradually transitioned from vegetarianism to a fully vegan diet, inspired by the Rich Roll podcast and the realization of the health, ethical, and environmental benefits of veganism. He discovered that certain foods, such as eggs and dairy, contributed to inflammation, exacerbating his back pain. By eliminating these from his diet, he noticed a significant reduction in inflammation and pain.

Mark's commitment to healing extended beyond diet. He adopted various strategies to strengthen his back, including using a yoga ball instead of a chair for his 40-hour workweek. This change helped build core strength and flexibility, crucial elements in his recovery process. "I decided one day, I'm not sitting in chairs anymore. I sit on a yoga ball at work, and it made a huge difference," Mark shared.

Running became another pivotal part of Mark's recovery and overall well-being. Despite initial skepticism about running with sciatica, Mark found that staying active was crucial. His journey began with a spontaneous eight-mile run down a mountain and eventually led to long-distance running. He trained methodically, addressing issues like chafing, blisters, and dehydration to improve his performance.

The combination of a vegan diet and an active lifestyle enabled Mark to fully recover from his back pain. Today, he enjoys long solo runs, often exceeding marathon distances. His dedication to a plant-based diet and endurance sports not only alleviated his pain but also enhanced his overall quality of life.

Mark's story is a powerful reminder of the mind-body connection and the profound impact of dietary and lifestyle choices. By sharing his journey, he hopes to inspire others to consider the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle and the potential it holds for improved health and well-being. As Mark says, "Let's run this experiment of one. Let's try it."

For more inspiring stories and tips on embracing a plant-based lifestyle, visit Real Men Eat Plants and tune in to The Glen Merzer Show.

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DISCLAIMER: Please understand that the transcript below was provided by a transcription service. It is undoubtedly full of the errors that invariably take place in voice transcriptions. To understand the interview more completely and accurately, please watch it here: How Mark Stosberg Overcame Severe Back Pain


Glen Merzer: Welcome to The Glen Merzer Show. You could find us across all your favorite podcast platforms. You could find us on YouTube. Please remember to subscribe. And you could find us at My guest today is my good friend, Mark Stosberg. Mark has become an athlete in something approaching middle age. Mark, how old are you?

Mark Stosberg: 48 today.

Glen Merzer:  48. So you're beginning to get close to beginning to approach vegan middle age. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, halfway dead. 

Glen Merzer: OK, that's a nice way of phrasing it. And tell us about your journey to A, veganism and B, becoming an endurance athlete.

Mark Stosberg:  Yeah, so I've. I took a very slow road. In college, I had a California vegetarian girlfriend and she convinced me to be a vegetarian. But at the time there were two things happening at college. One was it was the meat they were serving was just industrial meat. Right. And then also by mandate, they were required to have a vegetarian option at every meal. Now, I had grown up. What's that?

Glen Merzer:  Really? A vegetarian mandate? 

Mark Stosberg: Richmond, Indiana in the 90s. I believe they were required to have a vegan option as well. 

Glen Merzer: Wow. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, I think they're also required to have potatoes at every meal too, which was we ate every different kind of potatoes there. But I grew up... 

Glen Merzer: Who ran this school? Dr. John McDougall?

Mark Stosberg:  I don't know. You know, to me, I was just like everything was new at college. So I was like, OK. Why not? 

Glen Merzer: Like I didn't think there were any vegetarian or vegan mandates in the nineties, but okay, go ahead. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. So I had grown up on a farm in Kentucky, like a log cabin in the woods, you know, the deer hunting on the farm, chickens running around the yard, you know, the whole Kentucky, farm experience. So, it was, it was a leap for me. but so yeah. That was the beginning of it. The relationship didn't last, but I stayed vegetarian. And then it's been like 28 years since then. And it just, I went low dairy after a while. And eventually it was only in the last like five years or so I went cut it all out. I had. That story intertwines with the running story because I had started listening to the Rich Roll podcast and that was one of my influences, I think, on both journeys. But I'll fast forward to a point in my late 20s where it was the low point. I had extremely bad sciatica. That's when you have pain that starts in your back and runs down your leg. And it was so bad that I had to take off work. I was just the only position that was comfortable was lying flat on my back. 

Glen Merzer: So then you had to look for a job where you could do it lying flat on your back. And that limits your possibilities. 

Mark Stosberg: Right. Yeah. I have it. I do computer work. So the first week was just miserable. The second week, we were in the middle of a project that I needed to go back to work. And so.I rigged up a situation where I could work lying flat on my back, where I would have the keyboard down on my lap where I couldn't see it, but I could type on it. And then I set my laptop on the floor next to me and would like turn my head 90 degrees to see a laptop screen. But then my neck would hurt. So then like later in the day, I would rotate it over to the other side.

Glen Merzer:  This does not sound sustainable. 

Mark Stosberg: No, I felt too young to be old. Yeah.

Glen Merzer: And what were your doctors telling you? Were they recommending surgery?

Mark Stosberg: I remember around that time I went to see a chiropractor and they took an x -ray and when they bring it, they show it to you, you look like a skeleton, you're already dead. You know, and they're like, look, you've got your, these discs are compressing your back. You need to sign up for five appointments right away. But basically you have some pain that you need to manage for the rest of your life. And it's only going to, it's deterioration. It's only going to get worse from here. So can I book you for another five appointments and we'll just take it from there.

Glen Merzer: That's very depressing. You're in your late 20s and you're suffering this kind of pain. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. So, yeah, so then to move forward from there, I fired the chiropractor, but also realized I needed I had a real problem. I needed to do everything I could to get out of that situation. So I worked on creating a back that was lighter, more flexible.and stronger and I used everything I knew at the time which I used yoga, massage, stretching. 

Glen Merzer: How do you create a back that's lighter? 

Mark Stosberg: Lose weight. You lose weight. okay. I didn't... 

Glen Merzer: Were you overweight at the time? 

Mark Stosberg: I was not particularly overweight at the time but I was like, look, I got to bring everything to this game. One thing that helped me at that time was I learned that even...Though I couldn't stand up for more than a few minutes without pain, I could ride a recumbent bicycle, which I happened to own at the time. Not the stationary kind, but the kind that moves. So I hobbled out to the garage and I got on my bike and I rode 30 miles to Oxford, Ohio at the time, went to a bike shop. But when I got there and walked around, I had to sit down immediately or pretty quickly, like you're just in the store because it hurt. But then once I was on the bike, I was okay. I rode all the way back home and just to get some exercise helped me feel more normal and to get, to get back to it. But yeah, I realized, I think at that point I thought of the expression put me out of my misery. And I was like, now I know what it's about. Cause at some nights I couldn't sleep. And so when I went back to work, I, That might've been about the time I tried the, what was somewhat new at the time, the standing desk, they go up and down. So I realized to get my back stronger, it would help if I didn't have a chair holding me up all the time. So I tried standing, which I couldn't do, which was uncomfortable for all day. I also got, I tried the yoga ball. And then nothing was comfortable for a while. I had to rotate between the sitting with the heating pad, standing in the yoga ball eventually. But yeah, it slowly, slowly got better. And then we'll just fast forward again. So things were like, okay, I made some changes. About six years later, I had sciatica came back again. And that was around the time where I was like, I got a lean into this harder and figure this out. 

Glen Merzer: Let me go back a bit. During those six years, it got a little bit better or it completely had gone away into remission or how much were you suffering during those six years in between? 

Mark Stosberg: It got to be pretty manageable, but it was sort of like, you know, we go to a church and say, my husband can't help you move. He's got a he has a bad back. Right. So it was as if I had a permanent condition. And I was just still, I was better, but it was just never, I wasn't, certain things just weren't going to be part of my life. I was a, I was a guy with a bad back and you know, my mid thirties or something. 

Glen Merzer: so, and then it came back with a vengeance.

Mark Stosberg: It came back. And so these trigger people have sad I could know this, like the first time it happened, I was juggling a neighborhood. birthday party for a kid. I threw I leaned over to throw a ball underneath my leg and I just had the shooting pain. The second time it came back, I'd like leaned over in the street to clean a drain out. And then it like there was a spasm. So you just have these small triggers and then you have these months long recovery. So, yeah. 

Glen Merzer: All right. And at this point, you're still eating the standard American diet. Well, I mean, I was eating. No, you would become a vegetarian. Yeah.

Mark Stosberg: And but I thought I'm vegetarian. I'm done. Right. Like, that's it. I'm that's all I'm good. So I wasn't really looking into diet. I thought I had solved it. 

Glen Merzer: You were still eating eggs. 

Mark Stosberg: yeah. Eggs and cheese. I might have been reducing some dairy by then, but I had at that time still believed a version of the protein myth that I needed, that there was value and nutrition in the eggs and the right and so forth.

Glen Merzer: So, you're on a vegetarian diet, you're in pain again with sciatica, and so what do you do? 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, I'm not going to get the timeline exactly right, but I do remember...that starting running and we were on vacation where I was stuck in a house in Vermont and I ran down a mountain and that was, which was great. It was really great going down. Well, I have to interrupt you again here.

Glen Merzer:  You're in pain from sciatica and you think this has come back. What am I going to do about it? I know I'll start running. Who recommends running for sciatica?

Mark Stosberg: I was doing some running, right? But I think it was I just needed to move. At that point, I'm not sure I had the recumbent bike anymore, but just sweating, being active helped. 

Glen Merzer: So had running ever worked before for sciatica? 

Mark Stosberg: No, I mean, I wouldn't. I'm really.The first, you definitely walk before you run, but at that point the sciatica could have been reduced, but I just needed, my screen just turned off. I needed to make sure it didn't come back. Right. 

Glen Merzer: So you decide, you just have this crazy impulse that I'm in pain, I'm going to run, I'm going to try to outrun my pain.

Mark Stosberg: Yes. I mean, I mean, 

Glen Merzer: I know doctor recommended to you,

Mark Stosberg:  I need to be active. 

Glen Merzer: And no doctor had said to you, Mark, you've got terrible sciatica.  Start running. 

Mark Stosberg: No, no, that didn't make sense. But OK,

Glen Merzer:  so you decide to run. 

Mark Stosberg: I ended up running longer than I intended because I had run down a mountain and then I had to go back up and. So that was the first time I'd run, I think, eight miles. I'd done some shorter runs before that. 

Glen Merzer: You ran eight miles with sciatica pain? 

Mark Stosberg: At this point, I'm in recovery from that, but just generally I'm stiff. I don't feel great. Yeah, I think. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: OK. How long ago was this? 

We're talking 10 or 12 years ago.

Glen Merzer: Ten or twelve years ago, you start running to help your sciatica. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, just sciatica just generally to get in shape. And around that time, as I mentioned, I was listening to I found the Rich Roll podcast and he was vegan, middle aged or he went vegan, right? He had this middle age crisis himself. Right. And. He got into veganism and endurance sports. And I was like relating to that story. 

Glen Merzer: Right. He also had a drug issue.

Mark Stosberg:  He had an alcohol. 

Glen Merzer: You didn't follow him on that, did you? 

Mark Stosberg: No, but I did learn about addiction from listening to his podcast. OK. But it was about this time where I'd only run eight miles or so. And I read this, read his book, Finding Ultra, and he was doing these runs that were 30 miles or 50 miles. And I thought, I'm going to do one of those one day. But I hadn't ever even run like a half marathon. But I just, I did stick with it and I did try running 13 miles. And that was probably one of the worst runs of my life because I had not run track and cross country in high school. I did not have a coach who really knew what I was doing and everything went wrong on that run. I was not generally prepared. I had chafing and blisters and dehydration and lack of nutrition and general fatigue and the wheels definitely fell off and I still had a ways to get several more miles to get home. But the way my brain works is after I recovered, I just started to work on like how to fix all the problems. Like, I would get shoes and I would deal with the chafing and the blister. And instead of thinking that was horrible, I should quit. I was like, I want to go back and try again, but fix all the problems that I had with that. OK. 

Glen Merzer: What was your wife saying? 

Mark Stosberg: She was tolerable. I think I'm a less irritable person when I run. So she's she's a she's a fan of me leaving the house and coming back a happier person. 

Glen Merzer: OK. Yeah. My wife is a fan of me leaving the house and, you know, coming back in a long time. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. Yes, my same. Same. Yeah. I worked up to run longer and longer. And the day I said I want to run 50 miles, she said, when will you be home? That was the only question she had about my health and safety and well -being about an extremely long run was like, how long will you be gone? Yeah. yeah. So, at this, at this era, I have, I have kids now and the kids want to do things too. And, they want to know, like, you know, can you carry this for me? Can we go, can we go on a backpacking trip or a bike trip or whatever? And I want to be able to have the help to do that. one of the things.I did that, that worked in terms of the sciatica part was I eventually just completely gave up sitting in chairs. I decided one, I'm not, I mean, like, you know, I'll sit in a chair if I go out, but, right now I'm sitting on a yoga ball and my 40 hour work week is now 100 % on the ball. and does it, I don't even, doesn't bother me, but.When I was coming out of sciatica, I literally wasn't strong enough in terms of my back muscles to do that for the whole time. So I would rotate between different sitting options. And what I understand now is that because I move around a little bit on the ball and hold myself up, that I've strengthened my core back muscles. And I honestly think that is a huge driver in what helped me the sciatica in particular. And so I either stand at my desk, because I still, I do have the sit stand desk that I can raise and lower, or I sit on the ball. But now I run so much that when I'm at my desk, I'm usually just, I sit on the ball. And I knew I had completely solved it when we, I took the kids on a camping, a big hike on the Knobstone Trail, it's like in Indiana, it's 42 miles, they call it the Little Appalachia Trail. And they were, I'm gonna say eight and 11. But I had to carry what I call the Papa Pack. I had to carry all my gear, but then I had to carry a certain amount of gear for the children because they couldn't carry all the weight to support themselves. And I was able to do that. And I was like, okay, I think I'm...I think my back is recovered now. And I wasn't sure I'd ever get to that place in my life. 

Glen Merzer: So you were hiking with a heavy pack on your back for how long a distance? 

Mark Stosberg: Well, three days. We actually planned a four day trip. And again, the kids are eight and eleven. And I think we planned, you know, eight to ten mile days. But there was some bad weather coming in and we planned. I don't know, eight or 10 miles, we're going to stop and camp. But the kids, we got to the point. I was like, do you want to camp now? The weather might come in, we'll finish tomorrow. Or do you want to keep going on and then we'll go ahead and get Thai food and donuts and sleep in our bed tonight? And they were like, let's keep hiking. So on the third day, we did like a 16 mile day, which was a long day for the children with a they were cool with it. And it was something I was able to do because I had a healthier back than I used to. 

Glen Merzer: Wow. So you attribute the healing of your back to sitting on the yoga ball and just generally not sitting in chairs very much. 

Mark Stosberg: Yes. But as I've learned more about nutrition, I understand certain foods contribute more to inflammation and certain foods contribute less or maybe even help remove it. And it seems to be that things like eggs and cheese and dairy are more likely to contribute to inflammation. So I also believe I have eat a lower inflammation diet as I move only to vegan and whole foods, but to reduce the processed foods as well.

Glen Merzer:  I wanted to get to that. At what point… In addition to the sitting on the ball, did you start eating a vegan diet and how did that relate to your back pain being reduced?

Mark Stosberg:  Yeah.

Glen Merzer:  So when did you go vegan, Mark? 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, I had stopped using dairy milk at home and using some other vegan, like substitute products, but definitely like I was eating baked goods and whatever they had in them wasn't asking questions and even vegetarian when I went out because it was just simpler. but the more I learned a lot again, through the podcast was like, okay, there's a climate change reason. There's ethical reasons. There's, there's health reasons. And a big thing for me was, so it can be a win -win for performance that some of the best endurance athletes are performing well or performing better on a vegan diet. And I was like, for all these reasons, I got to just do this. And it's going to be, I thought it's going to be harder. I'm going to end up cooking more of my own food at home because my family's vegetarian, not vegan. So I'm going to have to like deal with things that work in restaurants. That's not going to be completely comfortable. But I think there's a lot going on in the world that I feel like I don't have control over the climate change. And, That's something I want to do about. So I felt like, you know, this is something I can do on a daily basis that contributes to what feels like an ethical outcome, less harm, better for the planet and potentially better for my health. So I thought, let's run this experiment of one. Let's try it. 

Glen Merzer: How many years ago was this that you went vegan?

Mark Stosberg: You know, some people have a date for that, but for me, it was such a, it was just like the last pick. If there was a moment, I think it was probably the moment where I told my wife, like, look, I'm just going to be strict. I'm going to be strict at home. Today's the day. I'm just, this is the moment. I didn't put a date on the calendar or anything, but I'm going to say it was around five years ago or so. And I assumed I was prepared to do whatever I needed to do to eat more strictly at home, but she's been supportive and meals now are like vegan, vegetarian, optional. They're either vegan or they have a, you know, cheese or whatever on the side. 

Glen Merzer: So, so in the last five years, you've gone vegan. And how did that affect your back?

Mark Stosberg: You know, something like that recovers super quickly, but definitely it's completely recovered now. Now, you know, people ask me to help them move. I can run as long as I want. And it's I've got other kids. It's not a concern anymore. So and then then during these last five years, you've become, you know, kind of a maniac runner. Tell us about some of the long endurance runs you've done. 

Glen Merzer: Yeah. So I'm a different type of runner in the sense that my favorite runs are not races. I like to do long runs by myself. When I say long, I'm saying marathon distance or longer. For example, in 2020, I wanted to kick off the year with some quiet reflection on New Year's Day. I thought, let's just spend the day of reflection thinking about things. So I planned a 31 mile run to just go out and reflect. And I thought, I'm willing to go and do this if it's 18 degrees or warmer, right? But so I picked out my outfit and clothing for that. But thanks to climate change, it was low of 28 degrees that day. And I went out and I did it. I picked some tough trails, some scenic views, saw a sunrise. It was a good day. I didn't know what 2020 had in store though in terms of the whole world going off the rails then. But It went well enough that I signed up for a 50 kilometer, it was 31 mile trail race in mid -March and started training seriously for that. But that is, the world went off the rails then and that race was canceled. But since I had trained for it, I decided I wanted to do something anyway. So, I decided to run to another town, Nashville, Indiana, and about 20 miles, eat lunch and run back. And that's 40 miles, not 31. But I thought, it's an easier course, right? It's flatter, there's more road, less trails, less elevation. 

Glen Merzer: So how did you do on the 40 mile run? 

Mark Stosberg: What's that? 

Glen Merzer: How did you do on the 40 mile run?

Mark Stosberg: Good. So it definitely helped to take a break in the middle.

Glen Merzer:  And your wife just asked you in the morning, will you be home for dinner? 

Mark Stosberg: And that's it. Yes, that's pretty much. Yeah, she's happy. Yeah. That's about the only question usually. Yeah. So I ate Mexican food, which is maybe not everyone's choice to eat in the middle of a 40 mile run, but it's not a big town. 

Glen Merzer: And I don't think Rich Roll ever recommended eating Mexican food in the middle of a 40 mile run. 

Mark Stosberg: No, it's like a thing college students would challenge each other to do. In fact, people at my college did do that. The challenge was to run across town to the Mexican restaurant, eat and see if you could still run back. So I'm careful about what I order. I think I got the veggie fajitas with less oil. 

Glen Merzer: Well, if you order the wrong thing, you'll actually run back faster. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. So and it's...It was hard on the way back and hard leaving the restaurant, but I made it home and had a good time. I called that the Nashville lunch run. And I think I've done it. I did it like three times. 

Glen Merzer: this is becoming a tradition now. 

Mark Stosberg: Well, I have what I call the annual engine check where around my birthday in the spring, I just go out and check the engine. And with a good long run like that. But a couple of years ago, I was like, you know, I've done that lunch run three times and I'm afraid if I do it again, it's just not gonna be as fun or I'm gonna try and like race my old time and I just wanna go out there and focus on like being out there all day. So I looked around for other towns I could run to to get something to eat, but there's not a ton of ones that are a good distance, but I did find Martinsville which instead of being a 40 mile round trip would be a 50 mile round trip. And I'd never run more than the 40 mile distance, but I thought, well, let's try that. What's an extra 10 miles? Yeah, right.

Glen Merzer:  What's an extra 10 miles? 

Mark Stosberg: So the method for these, so the thing if you sign up for a normal race, you get whatever weather they have on the race day. But when I'm doing these runs that are just for me, I declare what my perfect weather is, which for me is about 45 degrees and fairly a constant temperature all day, not too hot, not too cold. And then I take off work when the weather is good. And then I go have a run when the weather is perfect. And then, yeah, I don't worry about running too fast. I just go out there to have a good time. But I don't know, maybe I got ahead of myself because I picked a day in mid -February. It just snowed, but the temperature had warmed up just enough. And I thought, well, the forecast looks right. I'm going to go. And I did go, but the other thing about my method, which is unusual perhaps, is that I hardly, sometimes when on these runs, I don't leave the house carrying any water at all, or I carry like 500, like a half a liter. And so what I do is I take a water filter, a little flask, has a small water filter in it and I plan my routes along where I can filter water along the way. So there's a lake or a stream or something. 

Glen Merzer: You're kidding me. You filter your own water during your runs? 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. And I'll stop. I've timed it. I can stop for about 30 seconds long enough to scoop up, scoop the little flask through the water and then...While I'm running, I'm holding like one flask above the other and squeezing and so it's filtering the water like while I'm in motion. But water weighs like eight pounds per gallon. It's sort of heavy. So this is just a way to be lightweight. But it also puts you more in tune with your environment. You know, there's no other animal out there that's carrying a water bottle around they're just relying on what's in the environment. So it helps me tune in to the season, to the water, to the... So I appreciate that part of it too.

Glen Merzer:  It's a good thing you don't live on the coast or you'd have to carry a desalination plant on your back. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. So this time in February, there was water in the streams because it had recently snowed and was starting to melt a little bit, but...I was going through some unknown territory where I didn't know all the little creeks and so forth. So I was looking at the things I could find on the map, which were lakes. As I arrived at the lakes, they were frozen, which presented the challenge. But I only needed like a half a liter of water. And I did find a place around the edge that was not frozen where I could get some water. But my other miscalculation was that I was

Go ahead. 

Glen Merzer: Well, if you were to take a solar powered hair dryer, you could then melt the lake and get some fresh water that way, which you could then purify. That's what I do. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, so I do. I have a carry everything in my running shorts, so I have limited room to carry hairdryers. 

Glen Merzer: So you're running in your shorts in 45 degrees.

Mark Stosberg:  Yeah, running in shorts. Other people use a what they call a running vest. It's kind of like a very small backpack. I don't even have that. I just have running shorts plus what's called a hydration belt, kind of a special belt with a lot of pockets in it. And that's all I've got for like the whole 11 hours of running. Yeah. So I was running north and it had snowed more, which hadn't occurred. You know, like it does. It is colder in the north. So when I got to these trails in the Morgan real forest, I found that they had four inches of snow on them, which the only footprints in them were like raccoons and coyotes and deer. And so I was running for a while through like deep, you know, substantial fresh snow. But eventually popped out by a gun range onto a road again. I'm using, navigating using like a little one inch screen on my watch because I've never been on these trails before. I only found them on a map. 

Glen Merzer: Do you find that when you run by gun ranges you run faster?

Mark Stosberg: Yes. Yeah. Yes. There's a sign there that says stay on the trail. You might die. And I did heed that warning and stayed on the trail. They have since closed that section of trail because some people did not stay on the trail. I didn't hear that they got shot, but the gun people who own the gun range were not happy to see the hikers wandering around in the wrong area. Yeah. So. So I did that and they just were building an interstate and I was able to, they hadn't put up the fences that year, I guess. And this time I tried Chinese because it was close to the route. So I crossed the interstate and had Chinese, but again, was very careful what I ordered that year. It was the kind of a just veggies and tofu and a white sauce. And I'm happy to report that I ran back faster after eating Chinese than. than I ran there. It did settle well. 

Glen Merzer: So. Now you recently ran in a competitive race, didn't you, with about 50 runners? 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. So I did the Dances with Dirt Trail Marathon here just last weekend, and I actually did place second overall. 

Glen Merzer: Second out of 50 runners? 

Mark Stosberg: It might have been less than even less than 50. I have to go check.

Glen Merzer: And how many were 48 years old or they're about like you? 

Mark Stosberg: These distances are popular for this age group, but in my age group, there were five ish in that age group. 

Glen Merzer: OK, and how many were younger? Everyone else? 

Mark Stosberg: There's definitely more younger people. I'm sorry. 

Glen Merzer: A lot of runners in their 20s and 30s. 

Mark Stosberg: I was definitely beating some younger people.

Glen Merzer:  Yeah. So, well, you came in second.

Mark Stosberg: Second overall, and it wasn't my fastest time and it wasn't a super fast race, but you know, it still feels pretty good to finish second overall, even in a slower race. So I'll take it.

Glen Merzer: Ahead of a lot of runners in their 20s and 30s, right? 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. I'll say when I go to these events and I ask, talk to the people in the front, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of vegetarians and vegans at the front of the pack. When people perform well and running, one of the questions I like to ask is what do you eat? I just asked neutrally, but a lot of times they are eating better. And that's part of the part of why they're performing better. 

Glen Merzer:All right. So no back pain anymore.

Mark Stosberg:  No, no back pain anymore. 

Glen Merzer:And the doctors or at least the chiropractor, I assume you also went to conventional doctors at the time.

Mark Stosberg: No, I don't know that they were much use. My question is the doctors and the chiropractor, they said you were just going to have to live with this, right? 

Glen Merzer: the chiropractor definitely did. Yeah. What about any other conventional doctors? 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, I didn't think they had much to offer me. 

Glen Merzer:Did anyone suggest surgery?

Mark Stosberg: No. No. Yeah. So I'm just. Pain killers. Yeah. I mean, while I was recovering, I did a certain amount of the Advil and stuff, but I tried to not do too much of that. Yeah, I tried acupuncture and yoga and everything helped some. But I eventually, you know, you wrote the book Own Your Health and that was part of my attitude is like. I'm number one here. I'm in the driver's seat to take care of this. I read a book called John's by John Sarna, which I was going to look up the title before this, but his book was about the mind body connection between back pain and your brain. Apparently some of the certain conditions happen more to type A people where they just hold themselves tight like a TMJ for jaw pain. It's not something I had, but apparently so, that sciatica that struck at a stressful time of my life as well. And I did make that connection. so one of the deals I made with myself was, if I feel like I'm getting a little off course, a little into pain, a little out of sync, I'm going to correct the course sooner. I'm not going to say that's okay. And, so I have, I have become a better, like self advocate for self care. And I think that's partly what my regular running habit is now. It's about staying close to balance and just instead of saying, you know, work is my priority. I'm going to really make a killing, right? Throw yourself at it until you just at the limit of what you can stand and then you'll recover later. I don't do that anymore. 

Glen Merzer: Well, a lot of people make deals with themselves, especially around New Year's Eve and they make, New Year's resolutions and they don't keep their deals. But it seems to me that there's something about your personality that when you make a deal with yourself, you're ready to hire lawyers to hold yourself to it. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. I also, like I said, I've been a slow change person. Of course, once I got here, I would love to see other people change quickly and receive some of the benefits that I perceive I've gotten. but I do have to remind myself that I got here very, very slowly. It didn't stop with going vegan though, in terms of my food evolving. I met this group in town, which was a whole foods plant -based potluck group. And that group has had some more speakers and I've met more people and ran into more books. And then I was learning like, okay, there's vegan, but there's also like this healthier vegan and like, why are some people cutting out oil? Why are that? What's the focus on whole plants? What's the importance of fiber? So I've continued to evolve and learn and read more and tweak my diet more to not only be vegan, but to try to be a healthier version of that. And I'm con -I'm continuing on that path still today. 

Glen Merzer: All right. So let's see what we've learned here. If one has terrible sciatica pain, one possible solution. Well, there's a group of possible solutions. You can sit on a yoga ball. You could get a standing desk. 

Mark Stosberg: Standing desk. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: You can run. 20, 25 miles to a Mexican restaurant and then run back. You could also try that with a Chinese restaurant, apparently. Which do you think works better, the Mexican or the Chinese, Mark? 

Mark Stosberg: I'm going to go for the Chinese. 

Glen Merzer: Chinese with tofu in a light white sauce. Make sure it's vegan.Also, you have to focus on the mind -body connection. And when you focus on the mind -body connection, how do you do that, Mark?

Mark Stosberg: I think you just sort of reflect, like, do you sit with your body? Do I feel stress? How do I feel now? And then you like do an inventory and you just kind of be honest with yourself. One way we have stress is that we don't feel like we can do anything about it. So there's no external thing we can do about the stress. And so we hold it inside like a deadline at work where it's just, you can't stop it, right? It's just happening. And so. That was the sort of thing where I internalized that. But then I did not listen to the signals that were that I needed some some course correction. 

Glen Merzer: OK. And then the other thing you have to do to overcome the sciatica pain is to go vegan and on a healthy whole foods vegan diet, preferably without oil. What about what about salt and sugar? Do you try to avoid those as well? 

Mark Stosberg: Somewhat, yeah. You know, now I'm in a house with two teenagers and they love the kind of ready made foods that I loved when I was a kid, a little healthier now than it used to be. But on my own, I would play the not in the house, not in the mouth game. That would be my way to manage the diet. I lived on my own. But when I go up, when I go to the kitchen, there's often chips, vegan ice cream and other temptations in my house. 

Glen Merzer: So I have to use the mind body connection to avoid eating those things. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, I do try to deploy the willpower when I can. 

Glen Merzer: But I could do that pretty easily, but  I can't do the 40 mile run. Yeah, what I have done, I don't like to brag, but there have been times when I have driven 20 miles to a restaurant, eaten and driven back. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, there's some good restaurants 20 miles away. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: Now, you have teenagers. Tell us about parenting as a vegan. 

Mark Stosberg: yeah. So. When people knew us as young parents, they would have identified us as a biking family. We biked everywhere. And as I mentioned, I think when the kids were eight and 11, we did this hike. Before that, when they were just turned five and eight, we did a week long bike tour where I had a cargo bike with like 30 pounds of gear and then a 30 pound child has also been carried. So We rode with them about seven days, I think, like 270 miles, it was around Southern Indiana. So they've been an active family. So during that 2020 season where I kicked it off with a 50K, because of the pandemic, a lot of people did a lot of running that year, and I ended up doing 14 runs that were 26 miles or longer. I did a series of…

Glen Merzer: Yeah, 14 runs, 26 miles or longer. Yeah. How much time? 

Mark Stosberg: What's that?

Glen Merzer:  In how much time? 

Mark Stosberg: throughout the year. But I was here in the spring when the weather was good and nothing else was going on. I ran five marathon distance runs in five weeks, and I did not plan that. It was just that I found that by Tuesday or Wednesday, I felt recovered.And I was pretty amazed by that. And then I would plan my next adventure and I plan another one because there's a pandemic. There's not everything else is closed. And I was I was wondering aloud, like, how am I able to recover from a 26 mile run enough to do another one? And then I was getting faster as I went. The further ones were faster than the slower ones. And I was like, what's going on here? And I thought that was a fluke. That'll never happen again. But then in the fall, I did. six marathon distance runs in six weeks, including a 50k race in the middle, which I placed well at. And I was like, what's going on? And I have to think the diet plays a part of that. And my belief is that there's less inflammation in my diet. And that allows me to recover faster and do some of this more adventures. 

Glen Merzer: It's it's clearly the diet.

Mark Stosberg: with because. But yeah, so that's like that's like what that's like me for fun now this spring. I'm older, right? So I should get slower and be doing less. But the weather was good. So like I this spring I did four marathon distance runs in five weeks. One week I was I don't know, busy. It didn't work out. But the weather it was just the season when the weather was perfect. So that's my thing. When the weather's great, I go out and do long runs and they all just happened to, it all happens in like one season. So they're kind of back to back, but each time I'm not planning out a sequence. I'm just like, do I feel good? Can I go? Let's go. And the, and I'm able to recover and like three or four days and go again. I'm not putting in like the absolute all out, you know, Boston marathon race effort for these, but I honestly still don't know other people around here who are running that distance at all and recovering and doing another one. So, yeah, I'm definitely giving some diet for credit, some credit for that. 

Glen Merzer: And how about biking? Do you go on extremely long endurance bike rides?

Mark Stosberg:  Yeah, I used to do more bike touring. One of the last, when my daughter was 11, I had my wife drop us off in Louisville on a tandem. With a tandem, we were supposed, we were biking back to

Bloomington. There'd been some climate change induced flooding then. So the first day went fine. The second day we ran into some flood flooded rivers. We couldn't get around and had to get picked up.

Glen Merzer:  Wow. So I went by a helicopter, I hope.

Mark Stosberg:  Yeah, no, we had a special car that make sure we could fit the tandem on the back of the car. But one thing that happened in 2020 was my kids saw me doing this. And this is just dad being dad. And the beautiful thing about parenting is that for a while, whatever you do, your kids will think is normal. You get to create the normal. So the normal thing was dad went out for running for, you know, 26 miles every weekend. 

Glen Merzer: Well, you really fooled them about what's normal. 

Mark Stosberg: So I think in 2021, my son wants to start running with me and he sort of normalized what I'm doing. So I think one day. I knew he'd done this 16 mile hike previously. I was like, hey, do you want to go out on an eight mile run with me? And I was on a trail and I thought, look, you're not in great shape now, but if it doesn't work out, we'll just hike. I know you can hike that far. It'll be fine. So he did that and he, it wasn't super fast, but he did like an eight mile run with me. And he was, he sort of had my attitude when he got home. He was like, well, that wasn't as fast as I want. I want to go out. And pretty soon he was like, I want to go back and do it again, but a little faster. So we did that a couple of times. And pretty, pretty soon I was like, do you want to sign up for a race? Because you can clearly run eight miles. 

Glen Merzer: Now, what about the diet and parenting? What do you say to your kids about your vegan diet? Do you recommend it to them? What's their diet like?

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, that's a good question. So we don't have rules about what they eat or don't eat. We have the food we have in the house and we don't have a house. And they have been vegetarian by choice since birth. We don't have rules. 

Glen Merzer: That was unusual for them at birth to make that choice. How did they express that? 

Mark Stosberg: Well, as soon as they were able to make choices for themselves, we've never said, you know, you have to eat this particular way. OK. But the...Like if they go to a party or a restaurant, whatever, they can get what they want. But they don't, they're not interested in that. I was a little concerned for them. Once we went to this, after we rode our bikes, like 270 miles, we got to a holiday world, which is a theme park. And it was hot that day and we were going to, we were going to use all the endurance we built up biking to run around the theme park all day and get the maximum number of rides in. But it was going to be hot. And I was worried they weren't going to get enough to drink but they had these soda fountain stations all through the park that had like, let's say, Pepsi products, like every 50 feet. And I was like, boy, here we go. They're all gonna, this isn't gonna work out. But the problem was not what I thought, not that they got addicted to soda that day, it's that they didn't want that junk. I was like, look, just have their crappy lemonade, right? But they were like, that's too sweet.  And I was like, you need some electrolytes. You're going out in the sun all day. They just wanted to drink the water. That's good. So so after your kids at birth made the decision to go vegan vegetarian, then as they got older, did they discuss why they're vegetarian and flirt with going vegan and talk to you about why you're vegan and and You know, does this become something that they discuss and think about?  Like, I think the thought of meat is gross to them. They also. I think it is just super normal in our house, so we talk about, you know, some factory farming and some of the things, and I think for all the reasons they're not interested in that. But in terms of going from vegetarian to vegan, I mentioned some of the reasons, but ultimately I want them to make decisions on their own. So I'm not forcing anything on them. I think, you know, they'll be their own people. But the reality is the menu and the food we're having in our house has dramatically shifted. My daughter, one of the weird swaps we made, I think we have less cheese and more purple cabbage. My daughter likes purple cabbage. It's something we put on like tacos, for example. And yeah, 

Glen Merzer: I have a theory that purple foods are the healthiest foods and the most delicious foods. You got purple cabbage, you got purple grapes, purple sweet potatoes, Japanese eggplant. All my favorite foods are purple. 

Mark Stosberg: I don't think we used to stock purple cabbage in our house at all, but now it's like a problem if it's not in the fridge. So we have, I had purple cabbage on beans and rice yesterday. It's just like colorful and crispy. It's not at all like, like a one -to -one substitute for cheese, like a fake, like these oil -based cheeses. But it's something that we include a lot. So yeah, so what the kids are actually eating is definitely vegan a lot of the time.

Glen Merzer: Now have your kids talk to you. It sounds like they have been very decisively vegetarian since birth, but have they talked to you about the peer pressure, the other kids at school, they're going out for cheeseburgers, they're drinking Pepsi, or there are pizza parties with dairy pizza. Have they talked to you about...the pressures they may be under as teenagers. 

Mark Stosberg: Today, being vegetarian is not a social much of a social issue. Any pizza party will have a cheese pizza or they won't mind getting one. I think being vegan and today for a kid would definitely put them in another category of being more socially isolated. And that could be one reason that they make the choices that they do.huh. Yeah. But I think for a while, or maybe still currently my daughter has some lactose intolerance. 

Glen Merzer: so good for her 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. So like a cheesy pizza wouldn't like, wouldn't necessarily work for her either. but she still likes the, some of those flavors. So she still tries to have some in smaller doses, 

Glen Merzer: but I think probably having lactose intolerance is a good thing.

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, I'm kind of above that mine. Yeah. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: Now, when you cook, you like to use the Instant Pot, is that right? 


Glen Merzer:  Tell us about your Instant Pot use. Do you carry an Instant Pot for like on your 50 mile runs? Have you ever done that? Stop after 25 miles, cook something in the Instant Pot and bring home leftovers. 

Mark Stosberg: You're You're pretty close to the truth there, Glen. 

Glen Merzer: You're kidding me. 

Mark Stosberg: Well, you will. We will. We will take instant pots on car trips because, you know, they didn't they didn't stock one at the hotel. And you might see me show up at a potluck on a cargo bike with an instant pot hung off of each side of the each side of the back of the bike. That's that's pretty typical for how I roll into a potluck. 

Glen Merzer: Wow. You know, the term potluck isn't supposed to mean instant potluck. You've misunderstood. Yeah. So you bring an instant pot to a potluck.

Mark Stosberg:  Unless I'm having a potluck at my house, I had a potluck called the plants under pressure potluck because I just thought there weren't enough potlucks dedicated specifically to cooking vegetarian vegan food and instant pot. So I made my own.

Glen Merzer:  All right. Well, Instant Pot is not funding this podcast, but go ahead. Tell us what you love about the instant pot. my gosh. 

Mark Stosberg: So as a man in the kitchen, it was my gateway appliance to just cooking everything. So I started the day with making oatmeal in instant pot. 

Glen Merzer: How long does that take? I've never done that. 

Mark Stosberg: Two minutes of pressure. I love adding some apples, which turn to almost apple sauce with some walnuts. Add some cinnamon. I'll put in a little turmeric in there, maybe some ginger, maybe some raisins or nuts. And that's an awesome way to start the day. I love an instant pot at work or work from home because I can put on some brown rice, go to work, come upstairs or whatever, wherever the kitchen is. And then I've got some brown rice waiting for me at lunch. Something else we have in stock, it's at our house like all the time is I created a Chipotle black bean recipe and we make it in large batches and that lasts a week or two. It's a bulk recipe and then I keep it in the fridge. So when I come upstairs to have my lunch, we're having the brown rice that I made the instant pot. I'm usually taking some of these Chipotle black beans, which is what I had for lunch yesterday. and then dump it on the brown rice. And then I add some whatever veggies, sometimes they even add fruit or mango, whatever I have in stock. And that's a typical lunch for me. We use the Instant Pots at dinner for green beans. They're great for side dishes. The family likes white rice as well. We use it for that. So it's not uncommon. We use in our Instant Pot two or three times a day. I now own this four of them. 

Glen Merzer: You own four Instant Pots?

Mark Stosberg:  Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: Why do you need four? 

Mark Stosberg: So I have the one that gets the most use is the three -quart. That's for individuals side dishes. The six -quart for a long time was a standard size. And then we have the eight -quart, which is like for double batches. And the reason we have multiples is that we'll often have not often, but sometimes using two or even three at a time. You could use them. You might have a rice and one and a side dish and another. They replace multiple appliances. So we got rid of two or three slow cookers and then two or one or two rice cookers as well. So instead of having these single purpose appliances, a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, And yeah, a slow cooker, we have three, or in this case, four that we can use for multiple different purposes. Yeah.

Glen Merzer:  Well, I will have to contact Instant Pot and see if they're willing to sponsor this podcast. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. My favorite Instant Pot cookbook has been The New Fast Food by Jill Nusinao And it is a Whole Foods plant -based cookbook that focuses particularly on easy, fast recipes in the Instant Pot. And I've hooked a number out of there. We now use it so much for so many things that a lot of the times we're using it. We don't, it's not for recipes anymore, just for things we've remembered. But in the winter, I love it for all kinds of soups and stews 

Glen Merzer: So now when you don't have your yoga ball, have you tried sitting on the instant pot? 

Mark Stosberg: No, I, I, it is heavy enough. You'd have a handle kind of like a kettlebell. You can do some instant pot lifts and you can fill it with a different amount of water to create different weights and then kind of like use it more like a barbell. 

Glen Merzer: That's what I'm suggesting.

Mark Stosberg:  Yeah, that's a good yeah. The lid does not make a good frisbee, would not suggest that. OK. 

Glen Merzer: Do you work out in a gym? Do you do weights?

Mark Stosberg:  No. I've been trying to do some push -ups at home, but trying probably is the key word there. No. My daughter has told me to stretch more, but I tell her that today's run stretches out yesterday's run, and that's pretty much my method.


Glen Merzer: Do you stretch before you run? 

Mark Stosberg: maybe five or 10 seconds. But I just try to run this first mile slower and not just be hot out of the gate. Just warm up a little bit while I run. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: What is it about running that you enjoy so much? Do you get into a state of meditation when you're doing a 50 mile run and you're on mile 17? What are you thinking?

Mark Stosberg: yeah. So my day job is computer work, and it's all very abstract and in my head and in the computer. So being outside and like moving is the great antidote to the absolute opposite of my daily job. So I do just try to just tune in and be present for that. It can be that you know, once I get to mile four or five or six, I'm like, okay, let's put on a podcast and tune out a little bit. But mostly I'm trying to just tune in and be there. If I do listen to something, it's usually a podcast and usually only in just one year, I always like to hear what's going on around me. 

Glen Merzer: Well, what you can do in the near future is you could go on a long run. while listening to this podcast and you'll be listening to yourself talking about running while running. You could write a book about that. 

Mark Stosberg: That's meta.

Glen Merzer:  I wonder if you would run even better while listening to yourself talking about what you're thinking about while you're running.

Mark Stosberg: Might be difficult to keep my balance if I was doing that, but it's definitely a thought to keep in mind. Yeah. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: So do you, as you're running, do you ever come up with great ideas for your work or for other aspects of your life that, you know, come up with Eureka insights as you're on mile 23?

Mark Stosberg: Yes, sometimes I do. I've started pulling out my phone and taking notes while I remember them. Yeah. Let's see. I wrote down a note just yesterday. 

Glen Merzer: Were you running yesterday? 

Mark Stosberg: Every day. Most every day. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: So how far did you run yesterday?

Mark Stosberg:  gosh. Well, I ran this morning, too. 

Glen Merzer: You ran this morning already? We're recording this in the morning. You already ran today? 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. I have...I've been trying to run about an hour before breakfast lately. But yeah, I only got in a couple of miles this morning. Yesterday it was five or six. 

Glen Merzer: This is a slow day for you when you get in two miles. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah, it's kind of like a rest day. 

Glen Merzer: See, for me, a two mile run would be a big deal. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. Well, hey.

Glen Merzer: Yeah. So now you take notes as you run? 

Mark Stosberg: I've been started jot down ideas. Yeah. I was thinking about, I looked into natural vision healing, right? 

Glen Merzer: Natural vision healing. 

Mark Stosberg: I'm not sure if it' or not.

Glen Merzer:  For those listening to the podcast rather than watching on YouTube, Mark is wearing glasses. Are you trying to not need glasses?

Mark Stosberg: Well, so there's things you can control and that you can't control. But part of what you can control is your eyes have muscles and those muscles, if you just stare straight ahead all the time, you're not they're not really getting used. Right. So some of the What can be done, part of what you can control is just making sure you take breaks to look far as well as near and look around at your different range of motion and what you can do with your eyes. In the end, whether it can be effective, I will not form a strong opinion about that. But something stuck in my head from a page I wrote. It was about. practicing at the edge of blur. Like that was where you wanted to work on that, right? And I was thinking, yeah, that's sort of how my running has been. It's that I didn't go from zero to 50 miles, but I was always just at the edge of blur. Kind of a way to describe incrementalism. I don't push myself to the point of pain and suffering, but I do push myself a little bit. And that little bit and little bit has added up over time. So, The note I wrote down was like, progress happens at the edge of blur. If you do too much, like you have to take a huge break, you get injured. But if you're just at the edge of the difficulty, that's hard, but you can do it. That's where progress happens.

Glen Merzer: All right. So you're trying to heal your eyes with this method?

Mark Stosberg: Not seriously. But you know how your brain latches onto something you haven't really thought about in a long time? Like you dream of someone that you haven't seen in years and you're like, why did I dream of that? So I don't know why that phrase popped into my head while I was running, but that's why I stopped and wrote it down. But that's sort of a metaphor for my food change as well. Is it? there wasn't a huge change for me. I know some people can just go cold turkey and make a big change, but that's how my food change happened. It was like progress happened at that. The edge of blur, just where things started to get difficult. That's where I made change in my house. We changed one ingredient at a time, one recipe at a time. So my, my wife liked her milk creamer and that was one of the things she was having. But one day she tried one brand of non dairy creamer. It might've been a soy creamer. She was like, that's it. That's great. I'm switching. And that ingredient was swapped on that day. So, yeah, for some people, that's just a better approach, just small steps. 

Glen Merzer: All right. Well, there is a new philosophy out there. It's called progress at the edge of blur. And I think it's I think it's a good philosophy. I can see a lot of progress being made just as people hit their limits and concentrate on understanding those limits and working through them. 

Mark Stosberg: Yeah. And for those of us who've already are further along our food journey, I think it's also having the grace to understand that people who or want to head this way, maybe, may also need to take smaller steps and it can take a while.

Glen Merzer:  Yeah. All right. Well, Mark, it's been a pleasure speaking with you. And I know you have a day of work and probably a few more runs ahead of you today. So we'll talk soon. Thank you for joining us. And everyone out.What's that?

Mark Stosberg: Thank you for having me. 

Glen Merzer: Sure thing.

Mark Stosberg:  Everybody out there, please subscribe and we'll see you soon.

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