Thursday, June 28, 2007

the meaning of faith

we live in a world of empiricism, driven by numbers and units and quantities and measures and things we can see and feel or taste and smell. if we can't count it, if we can't grasp it, then it is something not deemed to be of this world.

we are taught that we need to live in the world of the real, and that the real is only that which we can hold in our hands and lift to our eyes and burden ourselves by its presence. anything else is discounted as imagination, coincidence, or outright fabrication. as such, it is not to be believed, and we are told instead that the only things we can believe are those things that lie within our reach.

and so we live within this paradigm, and follow it through our days, and it is reflected in everything we do, including the days we work, the quantities we eat, the nights we sleep, the distance of our swims and duration of our rides, the intensity of our runs and the volume of our weights, even so far as the length of our strides and arc of our strokes and cadence of our steps and rate of our hearts and chemistry of our bodies. all of it, a world of measures of quantities of units of calories of kilometers and kilograms and liters, so that we can arrive at a final single measure: the finishing time of a race.

so often, we are told this is the ultimate measure we can believe, simply because it is the greatest thing within our reach.

but there comes a time in every race when such things do not matter. there comes a point in every race for which there are no units or quantities or measures, and when the equations and values for distance, duration, intensity, energy, volume, velocity, and time are found to be nothing more than numbers...and the numbers are not everything.

it's when our muscles ache and burn and cramp and seize. it's when our sinews strain and stretch and rupture and pull. it's when the bones crack and pound and throb. it's when the joints split and grind and stab. it's when the sweat pours and salts the skin and soaks the clothes and stings the eyes. it's when the vision clouds, then blurs, and then turns to an abyss of black.

it's when, despite our hunger, despite our wish, despite everything we do, the limbs buckle, contort, and stagger, heedless to our desire or command. it's when the spirit flags, then drops, then wilts, and then crumbles on the path.

it's when the mind no longer calls, the body no longer answers, and the soul is left alone in the endless expanse of distance as eternal as only those things that lie beyond our reach can be.

it's at these times that we find that numbers and units and quantities and measures will not help us...they can't. they were only meant for a world of the empirical; these times, these moments, are a world of so much more.

it's at these times that we are left with nothing--at least, nothing that can be held in our hands or lifted to our eyes or burdened upon us by its presence. all we have is the belief that we can continue, even when there seems no way. all we have is the belief that we can move onward, even when it seems utterly futile. all we have is the belief that we can reach beyond ourselves, even unto the farthest reaches of the distance.

it's at these times that we learn just why it is we must believe: because there are times when it is all we have, because there are times when it is the only thing that will sustain us, because it is the one thing that will carry us through distances as great as all eternity.

it's then that we realize just what it is that is truly real, and just what it is that makes the world: it's more than just numbers or units or quantities or measures; it's things that lie beyond.

and among those things is faith. and the meaning of faith is to believe even when there is nothing to believe.

because it's the only way we'll ever be able to find the finish, with a meaning far more than just a time.

Monday, June 25, 2007

videos: vegan & vegetarian athletes

this is a follow-up on my post of videos on nutrition for athletes (ref: videos: nutrition for athletes).

some of my friends in athletics are either vegan or vegetarian. in some ways, it puts them at a disadvantage relative to other athletes, particularly in terms of locating sources of protein and useful oils & fats--i mean, a disadvantage in the sense that they have to put in extra work to learn where they can get the daily amount of each required for an active athlete (it's not something most people are taught in the course of growing up). in other ways, however, it actually puts them at an advantage in the sense that vegan and vegetarian diets eliminate a lot of the junk food that surprisingly permeates so many athlete diets.

i wrote in my previous post on nutrition that you'd be surprised at how poor the diets of most athletes are. part of it is laziness, part of it is arrogance, part of it is random paroxysms of disciplinary breakdown, and part of it is just self-indulgence and self-reward for perceived (or even real) sufferings and deprivations of training and racing. regardless, i commented then that my personal experience has been that the people you would most commonly associate with good nutrition are often the people with the worst nutrition altogether.

i am not vegan, nor am i vegetarian. i love meat. LOVE meat. meeeeeeeaaaaaaat!!! mmmmmmmmmmmm!!! yummy!!!

but i have to admit, i do respect my vegan and vegetarian friends. not just because of the adherence to their personal convictions, and not just because they are holding themselves to a diet much more innocuous to the planet than mine, but also because they are maintaining a nutrition regimen far more in keeping with the ideals of what constitutes healthy eating.

good for them...now let me have my elk meat and buffalo steak in peace--and can you pass the A1 steak sauce while you're at it? thanks. that's lovely.

but in support of my vegan & vegetarian athlete friends, i present 2 Youtube videos about vegan & vegetarian athletes (so that you know you're not alone):
note: observe carl lewis' comments about the nutrition of his athlete friends. you can see that he saw/sees the same thing i do: athletes tend to have the worst nutrition.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

seeking Ironman Sweden (En Svenskan Klassiker)

i am seeking Ironman Sweden...

i've been a bit wistful lately recalling the Svenskan Midsommar (Swedish Midsummer), which is a swedish holiday honoring the summer solstice as the longest day of the year. i'm just a skinny half-breed Swedish-Asian who left Sweden when i was 7, but i have some very fond memories of that country, and sometimes i get a little nostalgic thinking about my childhood...and among the biggest parts of my childhood was the holiday of Midsommar.

i won't discuss it too much here, beyond the fact that it involves odd sights like perfectly composed and dignified Vikings gathering with their children around a maypole and clasping hands and proceeding to dance while singing a song about a small frog. oddly enough, EVERY Swede does it--and every Swede knows it, since the song is taught to every Swedish child and the Midsommar is arguably the biggest Swedish holiday next to Jul, Christmas, and New Year.

if you're into culture, you can read my thoughts on the holiday at: http://jonathangetsalife.blogspot.com/2007/06/svenskan-midsommar-swedish-midsummer.html

it's such mopey pangs of yesteryear that make me look for excuses to go back and visit Sweden.

which brings up Ironman...as some of you know, i'm using Ironman as an excuse to travel and visit the world. basically, i figure to maximize my money's worth and combine my 2 greatest passions: Ironman and travel. the plan is to register for IM races in various locations around the world, and then use them to justify 2-3 week excursions in locales that i figure most people don't ordinarily get to see. it helps that: 1) a lot of international IM races are supported by Ironman-dedicated travel agencies, 2) there's such a tight-knit community of Ironman athletes at every race to provide support and advice, and 3) most IM races are in very pretty places

using this reasoning, i've set out a schedule over the next few years for trips to IM New Zealand, IM Australia & Western Australia, IM Korea, IM South Africa, and IM Brazil. i also figured it would have been really nice to satiate my nostalgia for my Swedish youth and register for Ironman Sweden.

well guess my surprise when i searched and lo and behold found NO IM Sweden. what the fubar?!?! boooooooooooooooo!!! the closest thing was an Ironman Scandinavia 70.3, which was only a half-IM and was postponed (ref: WTC IM Scandinavia 70.3 announcement).

i'm so bummed i'm actually considering writing a letter to the WTC about this issue. it seems that a land known for its history of raging bloodthirsty Viking warriors and with a reputation for generating rugged, fearless adventurers would get the honor of hosting its own Ironman.

i did manage to found out, however, that--believe it or not--Sweden does have its own endurance sports challenge, which i'm guessing is taken as their equivalent of Ironman. it's something called the En Svensk Klassiker (literal English translation: A Swedish Classic). it consists of 4 events:
to claim the title of "A Swedish Classic" and receive the Swedish Classic Circuit award, a competitor has to complete all 4 events within a single 12 month period. for more info, you can check out the following sites:
yes, i know, the events are not all on the same day, and so likely ripe to be pooh-poohed by all you Ironman athletes out there. but it's apparently a big deal in Sweden, and something considered to be quite an athletic achievement. and you have to admit: it still does involve a certain level of skill, effort, training, and work...you're not going to get away without having to sweat a little bit.

i'm actually finding myself considering doing this--one day. right now, the thought of having to live in Sweden for 1 year is a little bit of a conundrum finances-wise. that, and i don't know a single thing about cross-country skiing (my mom and dad used to do it, and they tell me it's quite a bit harder than it looks, especially over long distances). but i'm putting it on my list of things to do.

besides, it's the closest thing to Ironman Sweden...unless they eventually get around to having an Ironman Sweden.

there's a really good description of the Swedish Classic at: http://www.thelocal.se/7616/

if that doesn't work, the full text of the article is below:

Hardy Swedes gear up for classic challenge
Nicholas Chipperfield
Published: 15th June 2007 11:21 CET

Nicholas Chipperfield explains why thousands of people from dozens of countries are getting on their bikes by a lake in the middle of Sweden this weekend.

This Friday, as Swedes quietly leave work early to start furious preparations for midsummer – forming vast queues in Systembolaget and printing off song sheets featuring ditties for dancing like frogs around Viking fertility symbols – thousands of keen, sporty types will be gearing up for a 300 kilometre-long bike race, one of five events that form one of the sporting world’s most Swedish, and multi-disciplined achievements.

The Classic comprises cycling, swimming, running and skiing events, all of which are tough competitions in their own right;

This weekend’s Vätternrundan, a 300 kilometre race around Lake Vättern, will see 17,800 cyclists from a record 34 countries assembling at the starting line in Motala.

Vansbrosimningen, a three kilometre swim, is set to attract some 3,100 people to the waters of Vansbro, south of Mora in Dalarna, on July 8.

September’s Lidingöloppet, a 30 kilometre run through woodland on the island of Lidingö in Stockholm, was established in 1965 and had some 13,000 competitors in 2006.

Engelbrektsloppet, a 60 kilometre skiing race held in February, or Vasaloppet, again in Sweden’s heartland, Dalarna, a 90 kilometre cross-country skiing competition or its Öppet Spår course, held in the first weekend in March.

Those seeking to attain Classic status are required to complete these events over the course of 12 months.

According to the latest count, 27,802 people – 4,751 women and 23,051 men – have achieved a Classic since its inception in 1971.

If many of those who have obtained a Classic see the accomplishment as the realisation of a one-off, life-long ambition, there is a select band who surely deserve to be feted in their own right. These are the eight people who have attained the honour 25 times, and a further two individuals who have done the Classic a total of 30 times.

A version specifically designed for female athletes – Tjejklassikern – was established in 1992, and has been completed by 11,827 women.

”What makes the Classic so unique is that it’s a competition open for both professional athletes and people who simply enjoy exercise,” Åsa Larsson, spokeswoman for A Swedish Classic tells The Local.

The Classic was founded by Mats Qvarfot from Vansbro, who wanted to encourage people to exercise continually through the year in different disciplines, rather then focusing on one specific event for a limited period.

Qvarfot brought together representatives from Sweden’s major sporting events. The group decided that an individual who completed Vasaloppet, Vätternrundan, Vansbrosimningen and Lidingöloppet in a 12 month period would be honoured with the title ‘A Swedish Classic’.

”The Classic has a unique link to the Swedish countryside and many competitors are as interested in experiencing nature during the races as their performances in each event,” Larsson says.

Vasaloppet, one of the world’s biggest ski races, attracting 15,800 skiers this year, is also steeped in history. The race commemorates a journey made by a key figure in 16th century Swedish politics, Gustav Eriksson Vasa.

In 1521 Vasa travelled to Mora in a bid to convince the local people to join him and fight Danish King Kristian. Vasa was unable to rally support and fled – on skis – pursued by the Danes.

The inhabitants of Mora however, then decided to back Vasa. Two of the town’s fastest skiers were dispatched to catch up with him. The pair found Vasa in Sälen, 90 kilometres away, and convinced him to return.

Vasa led his country to victory over the Danes and in 1523 he was proclaimed king of Sweden.

Vasaloppet runs in the opposite direction of Vasa´s original journey, starting in Sälen, with the finish line in Mora, as it has done since the first race was staged in 1922.

Sweden’s history, natural beauty and a healthy dose of typically Swedish clean living and efficient organisation have made the Classic popular in amateur and professional sporting fraternities throughout the world.

Three hundred and forty Sweden-loving sporty foreigners from 15 countries including Australia, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the US, have achieved the Classic.

”I think our overseas competitors are fascinated by the Swedish countryside and that the events are so extraordinarily well-organised and such fun. For many it’s a lifestyle choice, and many participants have become life-long friends through A Swedish Classic,” Larsson says.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

back to basics (or, racing destroyed my fundamentals!)

yeah, well, i've come to the conclusion that racing destroys my fundamentals.

it's weird that way. you'd think that races are the main events for us to showcase everything we've learned and trained so hard to obtain, and that as such they'd serve as the finalizing capstone to a training cycle and another step up in athletic progression. you'd think that after a race we'd retain everything we displayed on race day, and build upon it on our growth to smooth-running idealized sports machines.

but it sure doesn't seem that way.

if anything, it seems like everything just goes to hell in a hand-basket (with the baby going out with the bath-water...).

i've been making my way back from IMAZ this past April, and in the time since the race have been gradually nursing my body back to health and reclaiming all the expended fitness from that race. it's been a bit of a struggle, but somewhat easier--and faster--given that this is the 2nd time i've done this. i knew it was going to be a little hard, both physically and mentally, to recover and then get myself back in the training cycle, but i figured if i just kept to a solid training regimen that everything would come back on its own.

well, it's turned out to be not quite everything.

the fitness is coming along. that is definite. i'm hitting 8 mile runs with reasonably moderate effort, and i project that my customary 10-mile trail runs aren't too much farther along. ditto for swim and possibly bike.

the form, however, is not coming along. if anything, it seems to be atrophying. or at least, persists in being woefully non-existent.

by form i'm talking about technique. as in about conforming to the usually standardized schools of thought as to what makes a good running form, good swimming stroke, and good cycling motion. as in being the pleasure of every coach, the admiration of every other athlete, the object of worship of every mortal on the street. as in being, in short, sexy--or in Muhammad Ali's vintage parlance: "pretty."

my run, in particular, seems to have completely disintegrated in the wake of Ironman. i noticed it recently while running along, and realizing that i could hear my footsteps as dull, solid thuds galumphing along the trail. usually, if you're running right, the footsteps should be barely noticeable, should feel light, and should have an air of smooth rhythmic propulsion forward. instead, my running form was, in the words of another competitor i met at IMAZ, "like an old warhorse" (meaning running like a clod).

i was so horrified that i checked my swim stroke and cycling form, and found to my shock that they'd deteriorated as much as my running. my swim stroke had gone from being a hydrodynamic aquatic wonder (or so i thought in my dreams) to being a churning paddlewheel. my bike form had gone from being a bio-fueled perpetual-motion spinning machine to being a leg-powered potato-mashing kitchen grinder.

ugh. not graceful. not beautiful. not at all sexy, and most definitely not pretty.

so we all know what this means...

back to the basics. back to the fundamentals. to regain the technique that i've somehow lost.

which is why you've all probably noticed my recent surge in posts on proper running technique--it's been on my mind. as has the swimming and cycling.

i'm wondering if what happens in a race (or after) is that our minds expunge themselves of all mental concentration and energy, and so once the race is completed and we claim our rightfully earned recovery modes our minds then follow our bodies and just completely shut down, vaporizing whatever mental control we might have subconsciously developed during the training cycle to control our technique. perhaps our minds are subconsciously in their own recovery, and thereby simply not recharged enough to restore our idealized racing form. this would explain the post-race disappearance of my form, and would also promise its return given the proper progression on a training regimen.

who knows.

all i know is, i'm in training, it's the meat of the typical outdoor racing season, and i'm having to go back to the basics to bring my sexy back (oooooooh, yes, i know, Justin Timberlake reference, so bad, so sad, so sorry, so sorry, it was just too easy to ignore...quoting the line from My Fair Lady: "so horribly dirty...so deliciously low." but i won't do it again--or maybe i will. whatever.).

racing destroyed my fundamentals.

and the solution is back to basics.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

videos: running drills (part 2)

i'm posting some more YouTube videos of running drills.

you can reference my previous post of running drills at videos: running drills (part 1). you can see these videos as adding to the previous drills--in many ways, they're just variations that end up focusing on the same body parts. just like the previous videos, these videos have the same ulterior purpose of developing running technique that will allow superior running speed and greater injury prevention.

these videos are largely addressed for middle-distance and long-distance runners (although, i should point out, they're useful for any type of runner as a cross-training device...in fact, all the drills i've compiled in this post and the previous post are useful for all distances, and i've seen sprinters doing these drills just as much as the middle-distance and long-distance athletes).

unlike the previous post, these videos do not all come from a single YouTube user, but are just random videos i compiled. as a result, they tend to present different themes and discuss running from different approaches. but this can be a good thing, as diversity can allow you to see things from different perspectives, thereby expanding your knowledge.

check them out:
on a slightly different tone, but with the same focus on running, there's a couple of videos from Powercranks on using cycling drills to improve running. obviously, they're promotional videos for sales purposes, which is why i'm somewhat reserved in presenting them. but they do present ideas commonly espoused by cross-training advocates and articulated by triathletes: training in one sport can help development in other sports.

take a look:
i should point out that you don't have to use Powercranks to do the above drills. Powercranks are just bike cranks that allows a person riding a bike to get information about their speed, power output, and cadence. they're frequently used as a training aid to help cyclists better track and follow specific training workouts on a bicycle. you can do just as well using a stationary bike in the gym, assuming that it provides you with requisite information regarding RPM, power output, time, resistance, and heart rate.

hope you find these videos useful. cheers.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

videos: running drills (part 1)

i found a series of very useful--and very well presented--running drills. they're from a YouTube user named "crazyfastproductions" who appears to be a middle-distance and long-distance running coach somewhere in the US.

these drills are labeled as "warm-up and circuit" drills. they're called that because they're the drills that most (if not all) track & field runners are taught (especially middle-distance and long-distance runners) to use for warm-up before running workouts.

however, they're also used as technique drills to help develop the following:
  • run-specific muscle strengthening
  • run-specific connective tissue strengthening
  • motor coordination
  • flexibility and elasticity
  • proper running form & technique
the overarching purpose of all these is 1) superior running speed, and 2) injury prevention.

because of the above benefits, you'll see runners doing these drills for more than just warm-up, but as actual main sets of workouts or total workouts altogether. in particular, some run workouts will be scheduled as easy training days and targeted primarily at doing these drills to help reinstall or rebuild proper running form & technique.

check them out (note: the 1st one's a little slow to start, but just wait and let it go):
the YouTube URL for "crazyfastproductions" is: http://www.youtube.com/crazyfastpresents

i should point out that these aren't the only running drills in the world. there are many others. but they all, in varying degree, are geared towards fulfilling the same objectives as those itemized above.

i should also point out that these drills just shouldn't be seen as "basic" (as in reserved only for newbies). in fact, you'll often see advanced runners doing these even more than beginners. which is sad, because it's beginners who could stand to benefit from them most, particularly since they offer so many results in improving running speed and efficiency while simultaneously promoting injury prevention. this is the main reason advanced runners make such an effort to do these drills on a regular basis--if not at every workout, then at least on a periodic schedule.

do these drills look weird? do they look silly? do they even look embarrassing to do in public? of course they do. but that's because so few people do them, and so few people understand their value. people who do understand their value (i.e., advanced runners) do them, and they do them often.

for newbies who might be scared off from trying them (either because they're afraid to "try the advanced stuff" or "try the weird stuff"), they should take note that one of the reasons advanced runners became advanced runners is because of drills like these...and that maybe the way to get better is to start giving these drills a try as part of a larger training regimen.

go ahead, give them a chance. they'll make a difference. trust me on this...they helped me--and i'm just a dork. if they helped out a loser like me, just imagine what they'd do for you.

Friday, June 15, 2007

endurance sports and kung fu (part 4) - technique work

anybody who's ever gotten coaching in any sport knows about technique work--the sets of exercises that are frequently prescribed to ingrain into muscle memory the sport-specific movements optimizing injury mitigation, power, and efficiency for a chosen sport. there's technique work for just about every sport, focusing on helping the athlete develop what is considered good form.

technique work is usually mundane, often tedious, sometimes monotonous, and occasionally embarrassing to perform in public. but it is always considered important, and taken as a fundamental element of any training cycle. as a result, it is invariably taken seriously and with concentration by any athlete dedicated to improving competitive performance.

triathlon is no different. if anything, it's even more awash in technique work than other sports, because triathlon is composed of 3 separate events, each of which requires its own sport-specific tailored technique. as a result, triathlon training often features constant technique drills and technique exercises interwoven through all its workouts, and it sometimes becomes very rare to ever have a training session that does not contain at least some attention to technique.

for all this, however, i'm finding the technique work in triathlon insufficient. i'm finding it insufficient in that it's still not resolving some problems i'm having in terms of pain--pain, which while expected, is actually great enough that it's affecting my performance, and hence something that i really do want to see resolved.

which is where kung fu comes in. i'm finding that kung fu has its own technique work, and that for some reason its technique exercises seem to be helping my problems in ways that triathlon (or sports in general) technique exercises do not.

to see what i mean, you can check out my cross-post on my kung fu blog:
http://jonathanonapath.blogspot.com/2007/06/commentary-endurance-sports-and-kung-fu.html

what i'm finding is that the technique work for kung fu, while radically different (or perhaps because it is radically different) from triathlon technique work, still seems to help in developing better performance for each of triathlon's various disciplines of swim, bike, and run. i don't think it supplants the sports-related technique exercises, but i do think it should be considered as an additional option supplementing them. in fact, i'd go so far as to say that the technique work for both triathlon and kung fu can complement each other, and that superior results might actually be found by using them in conjunction.

i don't have definitive evidence, but what i've found in my own experiences is encouraging, and to me warrants further investigation and analysis.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

naked cycling

this isn't really triathlon related. but it is bike related, and just oddball enough that i felt compelled to write about it...just to break the monotony of training, if nothing else, and maybe lend some moral support to fellow cyclists.

in case you don't know, this past June 9 was World Naked Bike Ride Day.

apparently, it's a world-wide event to protest various issues, and basically consists of people around the world riding their bicycles naked.

i mean naked. as in stark raving nekkid. bare skin. bare bottoms. bare privates. on bike seats. in public. in open daylight.

check out the BBC and CNN news items:
oh the horror, the horror.

this year's event was to protest automobile usage, bike accidents on the road, and oil pollution. based on the info from the event's website, it's been going on for several years, with 2007 being the 4th annual event. from the looks of it, it is indeed global, with coordinated events in 70 cities around the world--although it's clear that the event is celebrated more heavily in some locations than in others (UK seems to be the hotbed, although the US is doing its share, and the Spaniards appear to be doing fine, with the Germans holding their own).

i'm not going to comment on the politics, because i don't want to focus on this. i do want to focus on the event itself because 1) it is just plain hilarious, and 2) i think it says something about the extent of the global community of cyclists.

i'm looking at this as an example of the scale of the population of cyclists that exist in the world, and just how widespread bicycling is--contrary to the sense of automobiles as having overwhelming domination of the roads. cyclists have rights to be on roads, and there is nothing wrong with using bicycles to travel from one place to another. even in fully industrialized and automated and post-Industrial societies...or maybe especially in fully industrialized and automated and post-Industrial societies.

i'm sure each and every one of us reading this post has their own story of a bike accident caused by obnoxious motorists, or abuse from callous law enforcement, or ridicule from ignorant pedestrians. and i'm sure these stories are not just of friends or relatives, but also personal.

would i participate in this event? uh...no. i'm a little too prudish for this sort of thing. would i watch? uh...i don't know. prudishness aside, i'm a little leery of public political protest, but i have to admit to a certain macabre voyeuristic curiousity--just to watch the comically absurd spectacle that can only be found from performance art such as this.

but with this news item, at least i can feel that there are other cyclists in the world. and it's okay for us to ride bikes to get around. and we're not just a bunch of freaks (er...well...maybe we are...).

we all are gonna ride our bikes, dammit!

the official event websites are at the following:
and as you probably suspect, there is indeed amateur video on Youtube from several of the past years, including 2007. i took the liberty of compiling a sample of ones from around the world-- should warn you: hide the kids, and don't be squeamish, cuz this stuff is...well, unedited, if you know what i mean:
there's others, i'm sure--i saw a few from Germany, Netherlands, Japan, and South Africa. but i just picked ones for 2007.

cheers, mate! and don't forget to wear some sunscreen and bodyglide!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

the anguish of failed expectations

we undertake races with the greatest of expectations. we go in thinking of target times, target paces, and target finishes. we hold in our minds visions of achievement, of success, of glory. and we go into competition with dreams of victory.

for these dreams, we commit so much of ourselves. minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. sweat and toil, muscle and blood, energy and effort, mind and body, emotion and soul. we become distracted from work, we turn away from family, we lose touch with friends. everything in our lives becomes an all-consuming avalanche of training, training, training, and more training, with everything outside our lives becoming eating for training, resting for training, dreaming of training, living for training, and then returning to training for more training.

everything, for the sake of dreams that we seek to see made real. everything, for something we tell ourselves is a reward so great that it will justify our sacrifice. and the greater our sacrifice the greater our desire for reward.

but sometimes there is no such reward. sometimes, there is no victory, achievement, success, or glory. sometimes, you show up on race day, and you don't make your target time, you don't hold your target pace, and you don't make your target finish. sometimes, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, all you can do is fail, and find the dream you sought to see made real turn out instead to be the nightmare of supreme futility and the anguish of failed expectations.

that's when you'll find yourself thinking it was everything was for nothing.

everything. the time, the toil, the sacrifice, the training.

for nothing. for depleted energy, spent emotion, lost soul, weakened mind, broken body. devastation and desolation. and a hole inside you that you don't think will ever be filled.

so what do you do then?

there's always the usual slew of temptations, in various degrees some stronger than the others--the whispers to quit, the allure of fury, the seduction of self-pity, the call of sorrow, the loneliness of dejection, the companionship of bitterness, the embrace of despair. all of it laced with self-doubt and second-guesses and questions and confusion and fear.

it's easy to give in to these temptations. indeed, most everyone, at some time or another, always does.

but there's something you need to know: if you give in to them, and allow yourself to harbor them, they're going to grow. eventually, they'll feed the hole inside of you. and if you're not careful, that hole will ultimately consume you.

in which case, it truly will have been everything for nothing.

there is a better way, but it can be a difficult thing to do: let it go. the time, the toil, the sacrifice, the training. the depleted energy, the spent emotion, the lost soul, the weakened mind, the broken body. the devastation and desolation. you have to let them go. it's the only way you'll ever truly avoid the temptations of self-inflicted suffering and the hole of inevitable self-destruction. it's the only way you'll every truly be able to move on--free of the burdens that keep you from the dreams you seek to see made real.

and you must move on. because one of the mysterious truths of life is that it goes on. even when everything seems to be nothing, life goes on--and you are ultimately, fundamentally, quite simply, life.

this means that the one thing you must do is the one thing life was meant to do, and that is to let go of the suffering and self-destruction, move past the sense and state of failure, release the offerings of sacrifice and desires for reward, and just go on...to dreams that are greater than any victory.

and only then will it become everything for something.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

videos: nutrition for athletes

following my previous post on nutrition (reference: the nutrition gap ), i came across some random Youtube videos regarding nutrition for athletes.

i found them pretty interesting, especially in comparison to the comments i previously made about how athletes sometimes had the worst nutrition imaginable. which is ironic, seeing that the common perception is that athletes are the most well-conditioned physical specimens, and hence the healthiest, and therefore in possession of the best diets.

there's 2 assumptions being made: 1) that being well-conditioned means being healthy, and 2) that being well-conditioned means following a good diet. that's not necessarily true. well-conditioned means having high physical capacities, but that doesn't relate to a person's well-being or their internal physiology. granted, a well-conditioned athlete has a high probability of being healthy, but then again, there are innumerable stories of athletes with health problems (i.e., heart conditions, joint deterioration, high blood pressure, etc.). similarly, conditioning is related to physical capability, which is a function of several variables, all of which can make up for a poor diet. obviously, a good diet helps in developing good conditioning, but it is not a sole determinative factor, and there are many examples of athletes with superior talents whose diets were rich in foods like cheeseburgers, pizzas, etc.

having said that, a diet for an athlete isn't like everyone else's. an athlete expends a greater amount of energy and exerts a greater amount of effort relative to the average human. as a result, the caloric needs are higher and the nutritional requirements are different. even by sport, the dietary guidelines are different, with endurance-related sports requiring more carbohydrates relative to short-duration ones (i.e., a marathon runner has to have more carbohydrates relative to a 100 meter sprinter).

you can check out the following videos. i found them pretty useful:
i should point out none of these are really triathlon-related, especially for longer distance triathlons. the one that comes closest is the running one. but still, i think they're good in that they introduce concepts about calories, nutrients, food types (i.e., carbs v. fats v. protein), and proportions (i.e., ratios of carbs to fats to proteins) that at least get you thinking about food in useful ways appropriate for sports nutrition, and they can be adjusted to better match the needs of a specific sport.

the nutrition gap

there was a pretty interesting article from Reuters recently regarding the apparent gap between public knowledge about nutrition and their actual dietary intake.

the CNN post of the article is at:
http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/diet.fitness/05/31/diet.health.iq.reut/index.html?section=cnn_latest

the basic argument is that the American public tends to admit to understanding nutritional guidelines, but displays an inability or unwillingness to actually follow those guidelines.

this isn't really surprising. i'm sure everyone has seen it in most of the people they know--i know i have. everyone says that they should eat healthy, and for the most part they know this means monitoring fat, carbohydrate, protein, and nutrient intake. sometimes, they even know enough to distinguish between the good, bad, and innocuous kinds of each. a few even take the time to read the nutritional information on food containers for them. most, however, rarely make the effort to consciously choose to follow a diet in foods that would good for their health.

this extends to athletes (including triathletes)...if anything, it especially extends to them. i have friends who are outstanding athletes (try annual Kona qualifers for the Ironman World Championships), whose diets are heavy in cheeseburgers, french fries, burritos, potato chips, muffins, pies, and ice cream. this, despite the fact that they've diligently completed the education that should make them know better (one is even a medical doctor!).

i don't think it's laziness (i mean, anyone who has the discipline to follow an Ironman training plan is unlikely to be too lazy to control their diet). i don't think it's ignorance (it's extremely unlikely that with the amount of knowledge an Ironman has to develop about training that they would neglect something as important as nutrition). i don't think it's apathy (an Ironman, or triathlete, or any athlete, is about competition, and you can't compete if you don't care about things that will affect how you or your competition competes).

i suspect that with athletes there is a carryover effect from the self-confidence and sometimes outright arrogance that comes from the knowledge of having a highly conditioned and supremely capable physical body. i mean, it's entirely conceivable that a world-class athlete at the height of physical ability would feel omnipotent and invincible to anything in the world. if anything, this attitude would be expected, as it's the kind of mindset that would spur an athlete to overcoming ever greater challenges (i.e., they can overcome challenges because they believe they can). an athlete living with this attitude would consider themselves impervious to anything or anyone--including a steady serving of cheeseburgers and french fries.

of course, all this belies the scientific findings that things eventually catch up to you...even the cheeseburgers and french fries. in fact, especially the cheeseburgers and french fries.

which just goes to show you: everybody suffers from the nutrition gap, and it's not really surprising.

but that doesn't make it right, and it shouldn't be acceptable. we can do better--our lives depend on it.

in case the link doesn't work, the full text of the article is as follows:

Study spots gaps in Americans' diet, health IQ

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Ninety percent of Americans say breakfast is an important part of a healthy diet, but just 49 percent manage to eat breakfast every day, a new survey shows.

And only 11 percent know the amount of calories they should consume daily to maintain a healthy weight, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation's second annual Food & Health Survey. "The only good thing is more people tried to guess than last year," Susan Borra, the president of the Washington, DC-based IFIC Foundation, told Reuters.

IFIC commissioned a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, this March to better understand people's beliefs and behaviors regarding healthy eating. The survey identified a number of "diet disconnects" between what people intend to do and their actual habits, according to Borra and her team.

Among the most striking "disconnects," Borra said, concerned knowledge about good and bad fats. While current guidelines recommend people consume more polyunsaturated fats, found in fish and some whole grain foods, and monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, avocados and vegetable oils, she noted, 42 percent of those surveyed said they were trying to eat fewer polyunsaturated fats and 38 percent reported trying to cut down on monounsaturated fats.

However, 70 percent of people said they were trying to cut down on saturated fat, more than last year's 57 percent. Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy foods, and coconut and palm oils, among other sources, and have been tied to an increased risk off heart disease and stroke.

While 84 percent said they were physically active at least once a week for health benefits, only 44 percent said they "balanced diet and physical activity" for weight management. "That concept of calories in, calories out isn't quite making the consumer radar screen," Borra said. "That's another big disconnect."

And while most people surveyed knew about the benefits of functional foods; for example, 80 percent knew such foods could benefit the heart, just 42 percent actually ate such heart-healthy foods.

"Consumers are interested in health, they want to have a healthy lifestyle, but they're just having a tremendous difficulty achieving it," Borra said, adding that people's "hectic, crazy lifestyles" and the confusing mix of information out there don't help matters.

Borra recommends people stick to good sources of information on diet and health, such as IFIC's Web siteexternal link; the federal government's mypyramid.govexternal link; the American Dietetic Associationexternal link; and the American Heart Associationexternal link .

She also urges people to make incremental changes in their lifestyle habits, rather than trying to do everything all at once, and recommends IFIC's "Your Personal Path to Health: Steps to a Healthier You" as a good source for identifying ways to make these small changes.

"If you just make a couple of small steps a day, you're doing a lot to achieving a healthy lifestyle in the long run," Borra said.

Copyright 2007 Reuters.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

the waiting game

i am freakin' going nuts.

it's so weird that in the days after a major race like Ironman you tell yourself that you'll never EVER do that race again, but then after about 1-2 weeks you gradually find yourself drawn back to it again. it's like there's a post-race funk and then a return of some strange wonderlust, compelling you to go back for more suffering--not matter how good or how bad a race you had.

that's kind of what i'm in right now.

i'm planning on a family vacation centered around a trip to Ironman New Zealand 2008. but registration hasn't opened, even though they originally said that it would start in the middle in April. the race is March 1, so it's quite a ways away, but Ironman races sell out pretty fast, and given the amount of planning this is going to take (it's not just me going, but also my parents), it's going to be a lot easier (and a lot cheaper) to get the travel plans made as early as possible.

i--and my parents--have never been to New Zealand, and we figure it would be a good adventure. of course, they're not going to do the race (they were never that athletically minded), but want to see me in it (they've never seen me race).

still, that's not really the point.

i've got Ironman in my blood now. i've done 2. and now i want to try and do 1 per year for as long as i can. i figure i can make it a good excuse to see the world: i figure i can do each Ironman race, and use it as a way to spend 2 weeks each year in countries and places i might not otherwise get to see.

that, and other races just don't seem the same since i've started doing Ironman. they just don't have the same sense of meaning or fulfillment. i mean, yeah, they're fun--as in ha ha, fun fun, yuck yuck. but i don't get the same sense of invigoration that i get from Ironman. there's just something about Ironman that fills a part of your life. you think thoughts and ponder things and learn mysteries and uncover secrets about life that you just don't get with other races...and every Ironman has its own lessons and stories. it's just not the same.

which is why i want to do it again.

because i think--i know--there are lessons and stories i need to discover.

and i guess being registered lets me know that this is set to happen, even if it is a year away. it gives an endpoint for another year's worth of lessons, and a publication date for another year's worth of stories. to borrow academic terms, it gives an ontology to the tautology and epistemology of creation's great discourse.

so just when is this registration going to open?