Getting Lost in Transition – Triathlon Nightmares.

Last night, I had my first Triathlon nightmare.


With Vineman only a couple of weeks away, I had a very vivid nightmare about getting lost during the swim.

The nightmare started innocently enough, with me dreaming about swimming in the pack.

Then my wetsuit starts to fall apart and disintegrate. Apparently, my dream had me use my old wetsuit that I bought when I was 212 pounds. And that old suit apparently started to fall apart.

So now I am swimming with this floppy suit that is creating nothing but drag, and I am thinking I need to get this off. But somehow I manage to pull forward and cover time very well.

And then, disaster. Apparently something happens that causes the race to stop. Meaning I lose all the time I put into the race and have to sit in the cold water freezing.

Then we get out of the of the water, and I am running towards the transition and manage to make a wrong turn. And in that wrong turn, can’t find the transition area … I am running with this floppy suit all over my body, and I can’t find my bike. And then I see all of these runners, and I realize that I took so much time to get from the swim to the bike that the runners started…

And then I wake up screaming: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!


I really need this race to be over.

Vibram Schadenfreude

Ever since Vibram settled it’s lawsuit, a slew of critics have emerged from the woodwork to express their glee at the fall of an icon in the barefoot running world.

For example deadspin had this article: 2014-06-28_1415

Some of my friends, have more or less quoted this article in full – perhaps forgetting that I am a barefoot runner myself…


Notice those barefoot shoes …

Or maybe they wanted to make sure I got my share of the 3.2 million dollars given that I have bought 5-8 pairs over the last few years. Do as much running as I do with my weight and you go through a pair every three months.

To be fair, Vibram did get sued for making absurd marketing claims that were unsubstantiated. And it is true that advocates of barefoot running have made claims about barefoot running curing global warming ..

But the delight, and mockery and sheer gleefulness in pointing out that this whole barefoot running thing was nonsense is surprising.

Because it’s complicated.

We should be applauding Vibram for breaking the stranglehold on running shoes that Nike had created. Nike had created the modern running shoe. The modern running shoe with it’s excessive cushion, tight toe box and padded high heel is perfect for people who want to start running without learning how to run. It allows a crappy technique that evolves from walking to be somewhat less painful until the faulty mechanics that Nike promotes cause real knee and back pain.

Here’s the sordid story. Basically Jogging was popularized by Bill Bowerman. He then had the idea of making the sport less painful with the invention of shoes with cushioning. Phil Knight and him hit on a brilliant product that took off. Soon engineering teams competed to make the shoes have more and better cushioning promising to make running less painful. And the truth is that they never did.

Because, we are designed to run. Our bodies are designed for running. If they weren’t we would have died off as a species. The idea that space age engineering is required to make running less painful is silly.

But why does running barefoot hurt?

1. Because running is different than walking.

Your muscles work differently. And if you have a shoe that doesn’t force you to run like you walk, then you have this wonderful experience of muscles hurting as they get used in new ways and because they hurt, they don’t support your body as well, and guess what that causes knee and tendon pain. Apparently if you do a new sport, and your muscles hurt and joints hurt, people are not surprised, but when this happens with running, we are.


Nike convinced you that running shouldn’t hurt, so we are surprised to discover that it does when you start.


This marketing triumph is staggering.

2. Because it turns out running on raw pavement barefoot does hurt.

This is actually a true statement. Having padding on your soles is good.


This marketing triumph is also staggering.


The barefoot looney tune advocates actually managed to convince people that running on cement hurts but it’s good for you.

When you read the frustration of podiatrists, their major concern was the idea of running barefoot on cement AND the unwillingness of their patients to slowly transition to using the shoes.

As for myself, I bought vibram’s because there weren’t that many alternatives when I started to Nike shoes. And for a while, I believed in the marketing nonsense.

And now back to Vibram

Vibram pioneered three fundamental changes in running shoes through their sheer popularity. Let there be no doubt, Vibram posed an existential crisis to the running industry. They were the dominant sole vendor, and if barefoot running dominated the market they could be bigger than any running shoe vendor ever.

They popularized big toe boxes, zero drop – aka no heel, and no padding.

It turns out, in retrospect, that the big toe boxes and zero drop were the key to better running. The no padding thing… well that was unnecessary. If you like to run on pavement barefoot, feel free, but those of over 40 and overweight prefer to have some padding.

In fact, when I finally dropped Vibram in favor of padded zero drop shoes with big toe boxes, a bunch of poor mechanics in my run actually improved.

Vibram’s position in the market eroded when more and more people figured out that they need zero drop and big toe box and could get that with padding.

Why is zero drop important?

The zero drop actually let’s your foot supinate and pronate and let’s your calf and glutes get involved with your running.

The zero drop makes it possible to have good posture while running. Something most of us who sit in front of computers and slouch don’t have.

Why is the big toe box important?

The big toe box allows your foot to have significantly more balance as you run. Try standing with one foot with your toes tight together, and one with your toes splayed and tell me what is easier to balance on. Running is a series of moments where you balance yourself on one foot at a time. And so better balance improves mechanics.

To conclude

Look, the mockery of Vibram’s marketing claims is well done and justified. However, the mockery of the claims should be made in context. This is an example of a vendor making unsubstantiated medical claims getting told to stop doing that. And we should punish vendors who do that.

But that doesn’t mean that we should run to the warm embrace of Phil Knight.



Running shoes improved because of Vibram and that is a good thing.

And if the mockery of Vibram results in some of these journalists and bloggers being motivated to spend time ridiculing the non-medicine industry (aka alternative medical industry) then that will be awesome.



Wolf calls

Today I experienced – for a moment – the annoying part of my gender.

When I finish my bike-run brick at night, I don’t bother putting on a t-shirt, I just go run in my bike shorts and heart rate monitor.

Because of my weight, in the dark if you’re far enough away, it looks like a woman in spandex shorts with a sports bar.

You know like her:



So while I am running minding my business some dudes decided to make some wolf calls. I was so tempted to thank them for their interest…


Week 72 – New equipment and weight problems

After 15 years of riding my Trek 5200, my wife insisted I get myself a new bike, especially after my cheap-as-dirt bike mechanic told me that he would have to replace every piece of cabling and shifting on the bike. My bike mechanic, who is AWESOME, likes to pride himself of being able to efficiently and cheaply take care of bikes. In my last repair, he admitted that the problems with the bike were legion and something had to be done.

My first reaction was – but I LOVE my bike. And then I remember an old friend who had a 20 year old bike that he loved, and when he got a new one he couldn’t wait to unload his old bike.

And still I resisted. Until I went to Hawaii where I rented a Roubaix … And the first moment I got on this new bike, I realized that the problems I was having with my saddle had nothing to do with the saddle, they had to do with the bike…

Here I am after my first ride:


Does this look like the face of someone who would be happy going back to his 15 year old bike? No, it doesn’t. I felt like some middle aged douche bag who touches a younger woman and then decides it’s time for an upgrade. But then I remembered, my bike is not my wife. Even if my bike is one of the few pieces of equipment that … well … okay you get the point. We are a SFW blog.

Then the debate began over which bike to buy … And unlike 15 years ago where there were only a few choices – racing and commuter – now bike vendors had more sub-genres than AI … (Really geeky CS joke about how all of Computer Science is really a sub-field of Artificial Intelligence)… And then once you get past the genres the equipment choices have exploded, it used to be the decision was shimano or campagnolo components with the only debate being what kind you wanted. Now we have things like electric shifters and disk brakes and life gets really complicated fast.

The first filter was whether I would get a Triathlon bike or we go for a replacement general purpose bike. I have been lusting after a Cervello P3 for almost a year now. The bike represents the future of how bike’s will be made, and has amazing performance characteristics. But it really only can be used for racing Triathlons and training for triathlons.

I agonized over this. If I had just ridden a Tri bike, I would have not agonized over this. Those bikes are so ridiculously stiff that unless you’re doing a Tri, you’re not riding them. To get an idea of how stiff, imagine sitting on a piece of cement that pounds your crotch area every time you go over a bump. Pounds. Yes, Pounds. That’s a Tri bike.

And when you consider that I can improve my speed significantly by losing another 20 pounds, until I lose 20 pounds this feels like wasted money.

Once we got past Tri, then it becomes about components. And I was lusting after the electric shifters until I thought about the following scenario: Bike freezes over night and battery dies so I can’t actually shift gears during triathlon … like last year in IMLT.  And that ended that debate. And again, if I had just bothered to try them I would have realized that although there is a legitimate performance boost, losing 20 pounds is cheaper and more efficient. What the electric shifters do is provide more precise and accurate shifting, and when the differences are measured in seconds this provides an undeniable advantage to someone using those shifters. Electric shifters are like power-meters, great gadgets that at peak levels of performance are absolutely worth considering…

Now the only question that remained was whether I go for the racing or endurance bike. And Bianchi resolved that debate. The recent introduction of the Bianchi Infinito CV made the choice easy. At my age, and with the intent to own the bike for 15 years, I was looking for something that would reduce the suffering on a long bike ride. And the Infinito fit the bill nicely. The bike  I tried the Cervello R3 and was impressed with the speed and lightness, but again if I just lose 20 f-ing pounds, any advantage will be eliminated and if I get to the point where seconds matter to me, I could always buy another bike …

And there was much rejoicing.

Until I started training.

See the problem is that my Trek 5200 was an ill-fitting bike. As my fitness has improved, the ill-fitting bike became a problem and in part motivated the purchase. However, my muscles were used to that ill-fitting bike. Especially my quads. And so now my frigging quads 6 weeks before my first half-ironman are in exquisite pain and misery. And I am thinking, what the hell was I thinking. Until I saw the speed improvements …

And all I could hear in my head was Phil Liggett talking about suffering …

The things we do for our craft.

Problems with weight loss.

The last month has been a mess. 2014-06-10_1847


What you’ll notice is these weekly peaks followed by a drop, followed by an increasing peak later on.

This is usual symptomatic of slow weight gain. Much like the reverse graph is symptomatic of slow weight loss.

What the hell?

At first I blamed my vacations and weddings. But after last weekend, I had to face the reality that something was broken.

What I noticed was that over the last month, I had bonked twice while running. The reason I had bonked was because I had refused to eat gu, preferring to eat a little bit more and then burn off the excess during my running or biking. And as a result I was eating more to avoid bonking. And whereas that fine balance of eating more outside of workouts while I was getting to 200 pounds had worked, at 200 pounds I had not found the right equilibrium between eating outside of workouts and exercise.

What was happening was on the weekend I was eating a lot, then I ate less on Monday and got my weight back down, then on Tuesday I ate more to compensate for eating so little on Monday, by Thursday I was eating a lot but that was okay because I was going to bike it off and run it off and so on. And it was not working.

My new plan is to just eat while training and consider the two calorie budgets as distinct. I eat enough to lose weight outside of training and I eat enough to not bonk while training and don’t try and resolve the equilibrium.

We’ll see how this works out this week.


Triathletes not Futbol Fans

Okay, well this is unfortunate.

Turns out that the world cup final is the same day as Vineman. Who the heck schedules their event on the same day as the World Cup Final? A bunch of US triathletes who confuse a soccer ball with a massage ball.

This is going to be the first final game I will have missed since 1982 when Germany lost to Italy.


I was looking forward to seeing Brazil win in Brazil!

Delusions, data and improvement

Extracting the last 20% of performance is about technique, and technique is about understanding how your body moves in detail and fixing things that come naturally to do things that come unnaturally. Even when you know something is broken, it takes a lot of intellectual discipline to admit to it. And sometimes the path to improving your technique forces you to do something uncomfortable and can delay improvement. And then when the data is staring at you in the fast you’re like Luke Skywalker in Bespin screaming: That’s not possible.

Over the last year, I have spent an amazing amount of time on fixing my swim technique. And the improvements have been dramatic. Unlike my running where I have seen marginal performance improvements, more or less inline with weight loss, in swimming I have dropped 2 minutes over 500 yards.

One thing I did notice is that when I breathe on my off-side, my technique improves, but I ascribed that to luck, not to actual improvement in technique.

Because I love to swim, and because I obsess over details, I have been trying to get MAOR speed.

One trick to explore how broken your technique is, is to breathe on your off side. The theory being that your normal side is so broken, that you’ll get a big boost from going on the offside because it has no bad habits. Especially for someone like me who when I started my swim training I couldn’t actually breathe on the offside without almost drowning. But because I almost drowned the first few times I tried to swim on my left side, it’s not fun to do that.

This past week I had 25 yard sprints. And so I did 10 of them on the off side and saw my times were between 10-15% faster than on my right side. And my brain said – Nah, not real improvement, just you getting in shape. And then I remembered my wife who said that if you want to conduct an experiment you need 10 samples of each side, so I decided to do the next 10 on my right side. And lo-and-behold, I was 10-15% slower than my left side. I did that for about 5 sprints. And then said: It must be because I am tired, let me try a left side sprint to prove that. Nope, I was 10-15% faster again. The result was so incredible, that I repeated the experiment three more times because it was not possible.

I really felt like Luke Skywalker in Bespin being delivered information that made no sense.

If I had done 500 yards in 8:58 seconds on my right, assuming the improvement held over 500 yards,I would do about 7:40-8:04 seconds on my left.

Once I figured this out and was able to adjust my right side swim stroke, I got the 10-15% improvement on my right side.



Week 71 – A down week, a bonk and a wedding

After getting back into blogging, I had a down week … fortunately because I had a wedding to attend.

Unfortunately, I had a really tough workout day involving 1:30 run in the morning and a 1:30 bike ride in the evening.

The run was a mess. It was super hot, so I demonstrated aptitude and learning because I didn’t die of dehydration. However, I also showed that I can screw up in new and exciting ways.

I bonked. OMG. Bonk’s suck. When you bonk every step, every movement is excruciating. And I was in excruciating unbelievable pain.

What’s stupid is that I had GU in my gym back. I just forgot to take it. And I thought, whatever, 1h30 minutes is not that big a deal. Except it was just before lunch. And I barely make it to lunch without eating. I tend to crap out from hunger.

So what was supposed to be this easy, pleasant run turned into something epic.

mud race3

I felt like this dude from tough mudder. Crawling towards a finish line that is almost too far away.

And then I had a 1:30 bike ride in the evening. On my new shiny bike, mind you. And this time I said – damn it I will not bonk. So I ate power-bars and was fine… Except I wasn’t … Because once you are bonked, forever will it dominate your brain and you will keep eating past the point of hunger.

And then you have this feeling of disgust, not from the food volume, but because a Power Bar tastes like partially de-hydrated sweat. And when you are not hungry, it’s really really gross.

But that’s okay, because I had a couple of days to recover. And go to a wedding.

And the weight update


We moved in the right general direction this week. There was a sudden dip on Wednesday probably caused because I was super anxious about putting on weight at the Chinese banquet. And lo-and-behold in spite of my best efforts, I ate a shit load of food. I mean 2-4 pounds worth of food.

But this was a wedding banquet I had been waiting on for a very long time. So it was okay.