Episode 4 | The Art of Stability: Joe Vicars and Running
Joe Vicars didn't start really running until he was 60 years old, his hand forced after a promise to a friend. At 70, he ran the Boston Marathon—the achievement of a lifetime. In this episode, he talks about how running has changed his life, gives us pointers on how to start running (the physical, social, and mental aspects), and gets personal.
His interview began with a surprise, an "interesting birth story." I laughed, thinking he had misspoken, but in fact, Joe was left as a baby in a basket, "the traditional abandoned child." His story is one of adoption and upbringing in Pikeville, Kentucky, includes exploring mountains, seeing prejudice up close, and becoming an engineer. It includes the loss of a loved one, finding love again, raising a stable family, making a lifelong career in IT as IT was just beginning, downsizing, and yes, chasing a dream (pun intended) in retirement.
As a millennial, Lindsey had the perspective of an 11-year-old news junkie at the eve of Y2K--it seemed like a silly would-be crisis. But Joe offers a more in-depth perspective on its importance:
Joe: A lot of people don’t really appreciate how serious that could have been. Just an aside—because computers were—you didn’t have the kind of memory you have… Your phone has a lot more memory than anything I worked on back then. And because of those kinds of memory issues, when you stored a date, you stored it as six characters—the way you might write it. Well, if you take the day, 01-19-99, and it’s stored that way 01-19-99, and you go to the next year, which would be 2000, and you stored say June the 16th, my birthday, it would be 06-16-00—well, the way date-matching works is a date has to be either greater or less than or equal to something, so if you match 99 against 00 it’s going to work the opposite. That would have just been chaos, so we spent billions of dollars and over a year reprogramming all the legacy programs at GE to have full dates so that they would match properly. We went through all that, and I retired just before the 0-hour of that change happening.
I got offered a really good package, and I was ready to go and just a lot of things made it happen.
Lindsey: So I think what the kind of perception is of Y2K from an outsider’s perspective is that, “Oh we thought that it was this big deal, but it wasn’t a big deal don’t worry about it” but it was actually all this reprogramming happened that prevented it. So it was avoided?
J: I think you have to give a lot of credit to American industry and government for seeing what a catastrophe could have happened and avoiding it. Everything would have—nothing would have compared properly, and that sounds so trivial, but it wasn’t. It literally took millions of dollars to reprogram all these, and some of them were in—some of GE’s systems anyway and I’m sure many others—were in languages that weren’t even in use anymore. So some of the systems had to be rewritten because the language that they used was either out of date and unusable or there was no one around that understood how to do it. You couldn’t use that. You had to get rid of it.
Lindsey asked Joe about his linguistics, as he's taken several classes in languages and is taking a linguistics class this semester. Here's his response:
"It’s just been a lifelong fascination maybe because I grew up in an area where there weren’t any foreigners and I really rarely, rarely ever heard another language spoken. When I finally did, it was just fascinating.
"The concept of how you communicate in different ways, as I learn how different they can be just is very interesting. One example I heard recently on NPR, there’s a language in Australia that doesn’t have a word for right and left. They use the absolute compass coordinates, and almost all languages have a way of saying, “How are you?” “I’m fine.” Typical. In Mandarin it’s 你好吗 and 我很好. This language, when you ask someone just that typical social greeting “How are you” what you say is “Which direction are you going?” Their response is the exact coordinates of where they’re going.
"It was a RadioLab show. 'Bird’s-Eye View' was the name of it if you want to listen to it. This woman who was living with these people got this ability after living with them after a while to actually see herself as a point on a map. And she told some of them, she said, 'This is incredible! When I’m talking about direction, this is what happens!' She said their response was 'Well, of course. Doesn’t have everybody have that?' And no they don’t.
"That’s the kind of things you see in language that just fascinate me. How does it work? How do you say—Two of our running team people that come every now and then, one’s Columbian and one’s Mexican. We were talking one day at Panera, and somebody said something about 'being between a rock and a hard place,' and they looked at us. 'What does that mean?' Well, it means you’re in a situation that you can’t get out of, you can’t go one way or the other. Then they said, 'Oh! We say between a sword and a wall.'
“'Between the sword and the wall.' And it means the same thing, but their way of stating it’s different. That fascinates me.
"I hope through this class to learn a lot more about the idiosyncrasies of language, how it works. Why do people do different things? Can other species communicate or is it just humans? And so on and so on."
Like Bob in Episode 2, Joe and his wife went vegan after retirement. They're on the Esselstyn diet, which is actually vegan and no oil. Here's an excerpt from our conversation about that:
Joe: It’s getting close to 5 years now, for a variety of reasons, Judy and I were going to the same doctor and he recommended that we consider the Esselstyn food plan. Esselstyn is a doctor in the Cleveland Clinic who believes that our diet has a large effect on our physical health. His food plan is vegan, no oil. Judy and I decided to give it a try, and it has made a huge difference to me. Last year, my race times were better than they’d been in maybe 8 years. I’ve lost weight, I’m healthier, the diet basically—Dr. Esselstyn believes you can reverse cholesterol build-up in your arteries and several other, you can really reduce inflammation by the way you eat. So we switched to vegan, no oil—vegetarian is easy, vegan is hard, vegan, no-oil is really hard, especially if you go out to eat. Because you have to figure out what to substitute for things you would have used olive oil or some other cooking oil, you have to substitute. But that has been a big life changer for me at an older age.
Lindsey: You’re actually the second person I’ve talked to for this that has gone vegan after 70, or around 70. He didn’t vegan no oil though, so I’m interested, after cooking and eating the same way for seven decades, how do make that transition? Was it easy—you know, like the first couple months are hard and then you’re like, “This is great”? How did you find recipes or places to eat or know what to eat?
Joe: Well, the Esselstyn book is full of recipes. They’re not hard to find. They’re on the Internet.
My mother was a dietician. We talked about that earlier. We lived in a place that had a fairly large garden during my teenage years. She fixed really healthy food. She did cook the old-fashioned Southern way—fried chicken with lard and all that sort of stuff, but I don’t know that I ever ate really badly. . . . But over the last 20 years maybe, Judy and I have migrated away from heavy meat eating and really rich foods and into healthier foods. The step to veganism, if you can call it that, that’s a big step. It’s really difficult to get it out of your head that you’re not going to get enough protein if you don’t eat meat. That’s absolutely not true.
I think it follows the same theory that if you do almost anything for, I think it’s three months, that it changes from—you change into that being the normal way you live, and not the old way. If you do it for a month, you’re not going to be there. It’s just too hard to purge all the old fatty things out of your system. But 3 months, as I remember it—and the weight was coming off me—Judy was actually scared of losing too much weight. It just fell off. I have the right belt on here, I can show you one of the most dramatic changes. [Takes his belt off]
I bought this belt at the St. James Art Fair. It’s one of my little idiosyncrasies. So you can the ridges on this belt that’s how much I—
Lindsey: Oh, from the last one to the first one?
Joe: Yeah. That’s how much of my waist line I lost. And that was in a year.
Lindsey: Wow. Man!
Joe: It was not only a weight loss, it was an inches loss. If you want to see the real affect of this, take a 10-pound or 12-pound bowling ball and see how far you can run with it. That’s what I was carrying around. And I was not a big person. I probably was a little overweight, but not—maybe I wasn’t even a little overweight. I hope this is recording. But it made all the difference in my physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing—it’s just. I don’t like to get evangelistic about it, but it’s really been a big change for me. I took a class—do you know who Jeneen Wiche is?
Lindsey: Uh, Fred Wiche.
Joe: Okay, Jeneen is Fred’s daughter. She’s a sustainable farmer, and she teaches a class at U of L that’s called Food and the Body Politic. I took that a couple years ago. I’d always said I’m a health vegan, I’m not a moral vegan; now I’m a moral vegan.
Lindsey: Really? But after you’d made the—
Joe: Yes. But I saw through her classes how food is raised now. You see this all over the place all the time, but she really brought it home. I just don’t want to eat meat anymore because I know how a lot of it’s prepared, and it’s just not—it’s wrong morally, and it’s not good for you physically. If we switched—and again, I don’t want to be an evangelist, that just turns people off—but if we were all to switch to plant-based eating, the environment of our world would be so much better. The amount of resources put into growing meat so that we can eat it is just unbelievable.