Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fuel for the week: Dr Mark Westman shares a recipe with a compelling story behind it

Dr Westman shares his  recipe with the team from the Veterinary Faculty Office.

As many readers will know, we’ve teamed up with colleagues Deepa Gopinath and Asti May to compile The Vet Cookbook. So today we’re sharing one of our recent submissions, a recipe from Dr Mark Westman, inspired by his friend Jessica Robinson.

Even if you don’t cook these treats, you might be interested in the story behind them. This is Dr Westman's submission.

Veterinarian with a special interest in shelter medicine (nine years working for RSPCA NSW, four years working for Animal Welfare League NSW), animal welfare (memberships with the ANZCVS) and virology (PhD in feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukaemia virus). Co-founder of Pets in thePark, a charity concerned with caring for pets owned by homeless people around Australia. 

About this recipe:

During my mid-twenties I started getting fat. Not obese fat, but isn’t-life-great-pass-me-a-second-dessert fat. I am tall (6”4) and consequently I think I was able to conceal my excess weight pretty well. Until one day when I saw myself in my sister’s wedding photos with a gut, and a short time later a brutally honest nurse at work said very gently “Mark you’re getting fat”.

Like any typical male middle-class Caucasian faced with the reality of getting fat, I reached for the sweatpants and headband and started running. I used to hate running. I thought runners were idiots. As a kid I lived by the ‘I’ll only run if I’m chasing a ball’ mentality. But I persisted, because I thought it was the most efficient path to weight loss. And I started enjoying it. My aim was to be able to run 10km without stopping, three times weekly.

One night after running 10km with a friend at a slightly slower pace than normal, I realised I wasn’t tired. I decided to go out and do another 10km loop. It was the first time I had ever run 20km. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was on my way to becoming one of those people I used to despise. An ultrarunner.
Eight years later and running is now an essential part of my life. I run five times per week, and to date I have completed thirteen marathons, two 50km runs and five 100km races. Running keeps me physically fit, but even more importantly running helps keep me mentally strong and resilient. Life is always better after a run. I run when I am sad to make me happy (or at least less sad), and I run when I am happy to make me ecstatic. Even during the chaos of my PhD thesis submission, I still stopped and made time for a late night hour long run before sitting down for an intense writing session. Running reminds me that no matter what happens, the sun will rise the next day.

Two years before writing this entry I was involved in a fairly serious motorcycle accident. I broke a stack of bones, including multiple vertebrae, and was lucky not to be paralysed. One of the hardest realities I had to face was that the neurosurgeon who fused five of my vertebrae together told me I would never run long distances again. I accepted this and tried to be grateful to just be alive.
The biggest lesson I learned during this period was this: It is easy to be positive and optimistic when everything is going well, but it is infinitely harder to be positive and optimistic when you are being pushed in a wheelchair and shitting the hospital bed because you can’t go to the toilet on your own. The challenge during this period was to be that positive and optimistic person that I wanted to be, and always hoped I was, when everything wasn’t going well.

Dr Westman (in hospital with friends) spent a long time being a patient.
I was reminded during my recovery of a quote that I saw during Year 7 on a friend’s Slazenger pencil box, and later appeared under my profile in the Year 12 yearbook: ‘Now that the roof to our house has burned down, we have a clearer view of the moon’. My efforts to be positive during this period were assisted by messages of support and encouragement from friends and colleagues in the veterinary industry (including Dr. Laura Taylor, pictured), and even Phil 
Fawcett took time out to send a card of encouragement and photo of himself.

Twelve weeks after the accident, as soon as my boot was removed (I had multiple right leg fractures), I started running on a treadmill. Six months after the accident I entered and finished my first 10km race with my aunty. Ten months after the accident I completed a 50km run, and less than one year after the accident I finished a brutal 100km ultramarathon through the Blue Mountains. I sent my neurosurgeon a bottle of scotch and card to thank him for his excellent work.

Two years after the accident I am fitter and stronger than ever (20kg lighter than when I was at my heaviest). I have set new personal best times for every race distance from 5km to 100km. This recipe is for the bliss balls that help me through my ultramarathons. I recently attempted my first 100 mile race, and was on track until I got lost at the 83km mark. Unfortunately I didn’t realise I was lost until I had reached 93km. I didn’t have the willpower to run 10km back to the 83km checkpoint, which would have added 20km to the total race distance for me (I figured 175km was enough without adding 20km). Although disappointed, at least no animals or people were harmed, and sure enough the sun still rose the following day. A minor setback which I will one day be able to rectify.

Instructions for recipe:
Mix the following ingredients in a food processor/blender/Nutrabullet type contraption (my apologies -amounts are vague because as you may be able to tell from my getting lost story, I am a bit of a vague, imprecise runner sometimes)
  • -      Dried Turkish apricots (75% of total dry volume)
  • -      Pitted dates (15% of total dry volume)
  • -      Handful of desiccated coconut
  • -      Half a handful of cacao powder (cocoa powder for the poor students)
  • -      Zest from two lemons

Take spoonful of mixture, press it into a ball, and coat with desiccated coconut.
Repeat until the mixture has been completely used.

Eat, enjoy and run ultramarathons.

Thank you Mark for letting us share this. You can read more about the Vet Cook Book here, follow us on facebook here and send submissions to vetcookbook [at]