Saturday, September 27, 2008

endurance athletes (with 4 paws and fur and a wagging tail)

so as endurance athletes we tend to develop a certain pride in our physical conditioning. we find pleasure in the abilities we've built up, revel in the capacities we've developed, marvel at the things we discover that we can do. and from that, we find ourselves with a new-found awareness of just what is possible in life and living, an assurance that it is greater than anything we can imagine, and the confidence that it is all within reach of the human soul.

but then every once in awhile something happens to remind us to reconnect with our reality, and to remember that dreams need to be made manifest before they can become real, and that manifestation is a process that involves just a little bit of work--particularly given the tools of our species: the spirit may be limitless, the mind may be free, but the body only operates in so many ways.

and this, my friends, is one of these reminders:
yes. dogs. as in: furry and 4 paws and cuddly wuddly wuvvy lovey fuzzy lick-your-face-and-wag-their-tail oh-so-cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuute!!!

yes. dogs. who just also happen to be capable of running us human endurance athletes into a pathetic pile of pitiable putrescent whimpering crawling mush.

yes. dogs. endurance athletes. of the kind that put the human ones to shame.

the article is from LiveScience, and if the link doesn't work i've put the full text of the article at the end of this post.

the dogs covered in the article are the ones that run the Iditarod, which for those of you who don't know is an annual sled-dog race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska covering roughly 1,100-1,200 miles in frequently blizzard conditions with temperatures running as low as -40 degrees Celsius (yes, that cold). it honors the 1925 expedition that carried serum to combat a diphtheria outbreak in Nome. you can check out the relevant links:
the research presented by the article finds that the dogs have a unique ability to adjust to their endurance stress load. most athletes and sports scientists know that training is really a process of breaking down cells in the body, and then allowing the body to recover and repair the damage, with the end state of recovery being a body able to accommodate an increased stress load. for humans, this is a constant never-ending process, with the body always requiring a recovery phase to adapt to the training. the same thing happens in the process of a race.

dogs, however, only do this in the initial stages of increased stress. after an initial day of cell breakdown, their bodies adjust and they don't suffer the same level of breakdown again. this means that they don't need the same levels of recovery as they do at the start, and instead can maintain the same levels of stress load continuously throughout the course of training and racing. in short, they can don't need as much rest, and they can go harder farther and longer.


and that's not all. their metabolic rates are through the roof. the article states that dogs consume as much as 10,000 calories per day (!!!) on a diet with 60-70% fat (!!!!!!) with bodies weighing around 55 lbs. (!!!!!!!!!).

for perspective, the article puts this in context by comparing it to Michael Phelps' comments of eating similar amounts, but notes his radically larger body mass (and i should note, likely very different nutrition content). i prefer to refer to the caloric intake that most Ironman athletes take, which is around 6,000-8,000 calories on a long training day, and probably around 8,000-10,000 calories the day after race day--and with a nutrition content much closer to 20-30% fat.


and did i mention that dogs in the Iditarod are pulling a sled with food and supplies and a human being the entire time they're doing it?


yeah, those dogs.

looks like they're the real endurance athletes.


woof woof.

hug a dog today.

cuz they're likely to beat you on race day.

Iditarod Dogs' Endurance Secret Revealed
Jeanna Bryner
Senior Writer

Racing sled dogs could be considered the Lance Armstrongs of the canine world, for their strength and endurance. New research sheds light on how they do it.

Sled dogs are best known for "mushing" each March in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the world's longest sled race. The canine competitors cover 1,100 miles (1,770 km) from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, sometimes in just nine days.

The dogs often trek through heavy blizzards and endure temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees C). The chilly conditions are necessary for the dogs, which would overheat in balmier climes. That's because dogs can't sweat, except through their paws, and they generate a tremendous amount of heat purely from the burning of calories during the race.

Michael Davis of Oklahoma State University's Center for Veterinary Health Sciences has studied the sled dogs for the past 10 years. He runs check-ups on the dogs before and after races as well as during controlled experiments for which he sets up races with groups of sled dogs. The secret to the dogs' feats of day-to-day endurance lies in their ability to "reprogram" their bodies' responses to stress after just one day of competition, something humans can't do.

Davis plans to present his recent findings this week at a conference of the American Physiological Society in Hilton Head, S.C. If you were to attend a race, Davis said, you might be surprised that the dogs are not all purebred Siberian Huskies. Rather, they are mutts, with a mix of Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Pointer and other breeds.

Ultra athletes

Davis found that just like human athletes, conditioned sled dogs show body damage during their first day of exercise.

For instance, when any athlete, canine or Homo sapiens, pounds the pavement or icy ground for miles, bits of muscle enzymes and proteins leak out from their cells. Scientists say this is a sign of cell damage.

Our cells do recover in a day or so, but as soon as we go for another run, the same damage happens all over again.

For sled dogs, that's not the case. "If you then take them out and do exactly the same exercise the following day and the day after that, and the day after that, you don't continue to get that leakage [of enzymes and proteins]," Davis told LiveScience.

He added, "In the course of just a day or two, they manage to adapt their system so that exercise that was injuring a muscle cell here and there on the first day is no longer injuring muscle cells."

Davis found the sled dogs somehow reprogram their bodies after that first or second day of training with an athletic armor of sorts to prevent other bodily stresses as well.

Hungry canines

The four-legged fur-balls also have appetites rivaling any human athlete. During race season, the dogs, which weigh a mere 55 pounds (25 kg), consume 12,000 calories a day, Davis said.

For comparison, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps reportedly eats some 10,000 to 12,000 calories a day during competitions. But Phelps boasts at least three times the weight of a race dog, Davis said.

"The challenge is getting 12,000 calories into a little dog like that and it has to be very calorie-dense," he said. "While they're racing, they're eating a diet that is pushing between 60 and 70 percent fat."

(Every gram of fat contains nine calories, compared with the 4 calories in a gram of protein or carbohydrate).

Whatever it is that allows sled dogs to chow down on so much fatty food and stay healthy could be beneficial to humans. And so results of Davis' findings have implications for humans who have become obese or developed Type 2 diabetes.

"If you feed a diet that's very high fat to a human, a lot of humans become obese and they develop type 2 diabetes. And the dogs don't," Davis said. "There is no such thing as an obese Type 2 diabetic sled dog despite the fact that they're eating a diet that should produce that."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

let it out (the documentary movie)

i came across something interesting while on a very random surf on the internet. and while it's tenuously triathlon-related, it is very much sports-related, as well as life-lessons-oriented, and so i thought worth passing on to everyone.

some time ago the Kleenex brand of tissues had a series of commercials featuring a faux-talk-show-host setting up a table and a couch for guests in random locations around the country. by random, i mean random, with the entire set placed in the middle of street corners, people's houses, city parks, highways shoulders, etc. the hook was that apparently random strangers walking by would be invited to sit on the couch and talk about something personal in their lives. invariably, in the course of conversation, the tears would start to flow and the host would predictably bring out the Kleenexes to wipe up the blubbery heart-string moments.

well it appears they revived the concept, at least on-line, and did so in relation to athletics. and they did it not as a commercial, but as an actual 40-minute documentary, with the focus on former Olympic athletes and their own personal stories of what sports meant for them and their families and how it altered their lives.

check it out when you get the chance:
i think this turned out rather well. i suspect this was actually produced in time for this past Beijing Olympics, as part of the drum-up leading into the games, since it carries a presentation style clearly intended to pull at the emotional appeal to great Olympic moments. on a more general level, though, the documentary does a very good job of delving into the personal nature of sports and the significance it takes on for athletes and spectators, and highlights some of the more admirable qualities and contributions of athletics. in doing so, it points out the capacity for sports to contribute to humanity and the human condition--and however maudlin and trite that may sound, i still think it's a commendable one. especially since it is well done.

i've written at various times on this blog about the various aspects of sports, and discussed its nefarious aspects as much as its transcendant ones. but i've always tried to treat sports--in my case endurance and adventure sports--as a mechanism for sublime human experiences, and a way of realizing higher truths and nobler ideals in life. as a result, i always gravitate towards presentations that promote parallel or matching messages. i think this is one of them.

and yes, i know, it's a promotional advertising tool for Kleenex. but i'm willing to look past this and see the documentary as a work of art by film-makers. because the message they give about sports and athletics still comes through.

try to watch the documentary in its entirety if you can. preferably in a block of time without distractions. i think you'll like it as much as i did.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

sunscreen (or the lack thereof)

ah yes, how lovely. apparently sunscreen doesn't work to protect you from the sun...or at least, most of it doesn't.

there was an article that was first run by the news media in early July on recent research that shows most sunscreens don't actually protect you as well as you think they do. the ultraviolet light from the sun that damages your skin comes in the form of UVA and UVB radiation. but the SPF labels given on sunscreen products only measure protection against UVB, and so give no real indication as to their effectiveness against UVA light. according to the research, most sunscreens--even the ones with SPF labels going 30, 50, or higher--don't protect you against UVA, leaving you completely exposed to their harmful effects.

you can see the WebMD article summarizing the research:
if the link doesn't work, i'm including the full text of the article at the bottom of this post.

i also took the effort of digging up more information on the research:
there's also a full list of sunscreens and their individual ratings:
of course, the sunscreen i use (Coppertone Sport, SPF 50) is among the list of those that are labeled as "high hazard" of not working (ranking a beautiful "7" on a scale of 1-10 of ineffectiveness, with 10 being the least ineffective). meaning that all this time i've pretty much been wasting my money and effort, and moreover, turning my skin into a nice UVA crisper. and with all the hours that you spend training outdoors in endurance sports (and you have to in endurance just don't do 8-hr. bike rides and 3-hr. runs inside, or you can but you risk going insane from the stir-crazy confines of whatever gym you're using), there's no telling how much damage i've done to my skin.

ah yes, how lovely.

i'll make it a point to think about this next time i go looking for sunscreen...hopefully one that actually works.

Group: Effectiveness of Sunscreens Hazy
Advocacy Group Says Many Popular Sunscreens Offer Inadequate Sun Protection, Calls on FDA to Implement Label Changes
By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News

July 1, 2008 -- An environmental research and advocacy group claims that four out of five brand-name sunscreens either provide inadequate sun protection or contain chemicals that may be unsafe, but industry representatives strongly dispute the charge.

In a report released Tuesday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) calls on the FDA to implement promised changes in sunscreen labeling that would require manufacturers to provide more detailed information about the level of sun protection their products provide.

For the first time, manufacturers would have to test and label their products for protection against ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, which does not cause sunburns but can damage collagen and cause wrinkles and sunspots. Research suggests that UVA is a cause of skin cancer.

The labeling upgrade was proposed by the FDA last August, but the changes have not been finalized.

The current sun protection factor (SPF) labeling system, which was implemented three decades ago, measures only protection from UVB rays -- the ultraviolet rays that cause sunburns.

"You can buy a high SPF product and still have no assurance that you are being protected from UVA, as well as UVB rays," EWG research director Jane Houlihan tells WebMD.

In their newly published analysis of more than 900 brand-named sunscreens, EWG researchers concluded that 7% of the products with SPF ratings of 30 or higher did not protect against UVA rays.

Only 15% of the sunscreens met the group's criteria for safety and effectiveness by providing broad-spectrum sun protection (denoting protection against both UVA and UVB radiation), remaining stable in sunlight, and containing only active ingredients considered safe by the EWG.

The top-selling sunscreen brands tended to be the poorest performers, with none of market leader Coppertone's sunscreen products consider to be both safe and effective by the EWG.

Just one of 103 products from the second-largest seller, Banana Boat, and the third largest seller, Neutrogena, were recommended by the EWG.

Here are their top picks:

  • Keys Soap Solar Rx Therapeutic Sunblock, SPF 30
  • Trukid Sunny Days Facestick Mineral Sunscreen UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum, SPF 30+
  • California Baby Sunblock Stick No Fragrance, SPF 30+
  • Badger Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Marie Veronique Skin Therapy Sun Serum
  • Lavera Sunscreen Neutral, SPF 40
  • Vanicream Sunscreen, SPF 35
  • UV Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
  • Sun Science Sport Formula, SPF 30
  • Soleo Organics Sunscreen all natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+

Among more widely available brands, Blue Lizard, California Baby, CVS, Jason Natural Cosmetics, Kiss My Face, Neutrogena, Olay, SkinCeuticals, Solar Sense, and Walgreens made the list.

More on the recommended brands along with the complete list of rated sunscreens can be found at

In a statement issued to WebMD on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Coppertone manufacturer Schering-Plough disputed the report's findings with regard to its products.

"All Coppertone products are photostable, provide UVA/UVB protection, and are routinely evaluated for safety and efficacy by independent dermatologists and scientists," Julie Lux of Schering-Plough says.

"Coppertone is committed to the science and safety of sun care and is concerned that reports like this one released by the Environmental Working Group will inappropriately discourage consumers from protecting themselves from the sun."

A spokeswoman for Neutrogena parent company Johnson & Johnson also defended its sunscreens.

"All Neutrogena products undergo extensive testing to ensure safety and efficacy," Iris Grossman says in a statement.

Banana Boat issued a statement saying that all Banana Boat products "use only ingredients that are safe and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other worldwide regulatory bodies," that their products won't break down in the sun, and that the Skin Cancer Foundation officially recommends Banana Boat as an effective UV sunscreen.

The EWG analysis suggested that nearly half of the products contained ingredients known to become inactive in strong sunlight.

"It may seem counterintuitive, but of the 17 'active ingredients' that FDA has approved for use as sunscreens in the U.S., at least four of them break down significantly when they are exposed to sunlight," the EWG report notes. "They lose their ability to absorb the sun's harmful rays and stop working effectively in as little as 30 minutes, ranging up to several hours."

Products containing the sun-stable and UVA filtering ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide were more likely to score highly in the group's analysis.

The report also criticized what EWG analysts called "over-the-top" marketing claims that they contend would not be allowed under the proposed FDA guidelines.

"There are more than 1 million skin cancers diagnosed in the United States every year," Houlihan says. "Sunscreen is a very important part of sun protection, and it is important that consumers know what they are getting."

Two spokesmen for the sunscreen industry called the EWG claims unfounded and erroneous.

Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) general council Farah Ahmed calls the contention that 7% of high SPF sunscreens do not protect against UVA rays "highly inaccurate."

"It is very clear to me that they have a very low level of understanding of the way sunscreens work and the way they are regulated by the FDA and tested by the industry," Ahmed tells WebMD.

Personal Care Products Council chief scientist John Bailey, PhD, says sunscreens are both safe and effective and highly regulated by the FDA.

Bailey noted that the agency already has the authority to bring action against any manufacturer that makes unsubstantiated claims about a sunscreen.

"The contention that (sunscreens) are too loosely or ineffectively regulated is just not true," he tells WebMD.

Bailey also strongly disagrees with the suggestion in the EWG report that the FDA is moving too slowly on its promised sunscreen label changes.

"The idea that FDA is somehow in cahoots with the industry and that we have fought to delay the process is inaccurate," he says. "The agency has received thousands of comments (on the label change), and they are in the process of reviewing these comments."

Both Bailey and Ahmed expressed concern that the EWG report could cause people to stop using sunscreens.

"I would hate to think that there are parents out there not using sunscreen on their kids because of a report like this that is not based on real science," Ahmed says.

In a statement issued Monday, American Academy of Dermatology President William Hanke, MD, said people should choose a "broad-spectrum" sunscreen as part of an overall sun protection regimen.

"The FDA is currently addressing requirements for UVA coverage in sunscreens and considering sunscreen labeling changes to help the public make knowledgeable decisions about protecting themselves from the danger of the sun," Hanke said. "The American Academy of Dermatology currently awaits the FDA's final ruling."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

playlist: a place i'd rather be (hawai'i)

there is a place i'd rather be.

it's somewhere very far away. somewhere that i cannot recall, somewhere that i cannot name.

but somewhere that i know from whence i came. and somewhere that i can still place just the same.

perhaps a different world, perhaps a different life, perhaps a different time, perhaps a place that is still mine.

i think of it now and then, at moments when i'm alone, at moments when i'm lost, at moments when all is lost. at moments when i stand at the precipice and look out upon the abyss and see the face of chaos and hear its roar and feel its power and know the darkness that seeks to consume this world.

at moments when what i need the most is a spark of hope that starts a flame that brings a light that opens day that rests in stillness that finds the serenity that is the truth of eternity lain out all before me like a map to the meaning of the soul. and reminds me that there is good in this world.

there's a place i'd rather be.

it's somewhere very far away. somewhere that i cannot recall, somewhere that i cannot name.

but i know where it will be.

and i know that i can find it.

because, you see, it's in me.

keali'i reichel "kawaipunahele":

keali'i reichel "maunaleo":

keali'i reichel "in my life":

jake shimabukuro "hula girl":

kina grannis and david choi "my time with you":


carl ray villaverde "he'eia":

note: yeah i know 2 of the groups above aren't really from hawaii or hawaiian. but they involve ukuleles. that and the music fits. so i figure it makes them close enough.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

kung fu fighting (everybody was...with videos!)

some of you have been wondering what i've been doing with my cross-over into kung fu, and i guess this is a good time to show you a little bit of what i've been doing (with pics and videos!).

originally, i started martial arts training with the idea that perhaps it might serve as physical therapy, helping me cross-train in different ranges of motion using different muscle groups to improve physical coordination, correct muscular imbalances, ease repetitive motion injuries in connective and skeletal tissue, and give my mind something new from the monotony of miles. i also had the idea that maybe it might actually help me understand what to do in terms of defending myself (if the event ever arises). that, and maybe it would help me learn more about a different culture, particularly for traditional Asian martial arts.

to those ends, i started with a kung fu class here in Los Angeles. i've written a number of blog posts already on the cross-overs i've observed in my time studying kung fu, and you can read what i have under the following posts (admittedly, i've been a little lackadaisical in writing more about it, but hopefully that will change):

this past weekend (August 30-31) was the inaugural Las Vegas Kung Fu Championship Tournament. it was sponsored and organized by a colleague of my kung fu instructor, and so our school organized a group trip to go, with a number of us entered in various categories. i was originally entered into the beginner sparring competition, but had to withdraw since it conflicted with my duties as referee in sword sparring. but i managed to make a number of videos and take some pictures so everyone can see just what a kung fu tournament, and kung fu in general, looks like.

i wrote a lengthy post, with all my pics and videos, on my other blog, and you can check it out:

as you can see, it's quite a different world from triathlon, or sports, in general. there's quite a bit of culture and history involved, with traditions that are observed endemic to Chinese history. the videos show a number of traditional and modern styles, from the well-known Shaolin to the modern gymnastic-style wushu. my school is more traditional, and holds to more self-defense related aspects of kung fu, and so not quite as showy or crowd-pleasing as the others.

for anyone interested in seeing more, you can check out my Youtube channel that i use to store videos from my kung fu class:

in addition, i conceded to making 1 video of myself doing a form from a kung fu style known as baguazhang. i'm only a beginner, and my instructor says i need a lot of work (apparently, despite the physical coordination that i have from athletics, i still have built up a lot of habits specific to triathlon...which is fine, but not entirely advisable in a martial setting). but you can get a feel for it yourself (and yes, it's on a different Youtube channel that i use for triathlon-related videos):

is all this really helping my triathlon? well, the jury is still out. it seems to be, in the sense that i've eliminated a lot of chronic repetitive motion injuries that i had before. but it's been quite a process having my body unlearn and relearn different modes of movement, and there's been an adjustment (talk about soreness!) in utilizing different muscle groups and different joints in different movements. having said this, it has managed to achieve a lot of the original goals i had, so maybe you could say it's an overall success. still, i'm going to continue with it and re-evaluate as time goes along. we'll see.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

coming out of retirement

i haven't done a race since Ironman New Zealand.

not a one.



i know. considering all the training i've been doing since then, you'd figure i'd get off my fat lazy rear end and put all the effort to good use and sign up for a race and live out a purpose for all the exercise. as several professors of mine told me at different times in different ways (and in a very different context): there has to be an end point for a journey undertaken (or, to use their academic lingo, there has to be an ontology for the epistemology).

me personally, i've never looked at things with quite such a paradigm.

oh, i've set goals and sought purposes and looked for meanings as much as anyone--in school, work, athletics, traveling, paying bills, looking for places to eat, figuring out what to do on weekends, talking with family and friends and utter strangers off the street, and generally living out the bizarre state that we call life in the absurd context of the profound mystery that is the cosmos and ultimately infinite.

but i've never insisted that everything has a point (again, an ontology). i've entirely recognized that it's entirely possible there is no point. no goal. no purpose. nor meaning. borrowing the biblical tone ascribed to Moses in his conversations with Yahweh on Mt. Sinai, maybe things are just because they are, and nothing more. maybe it was just an act of agnostic chance. or an act of divine curiousity. who knows. nobody knows. at least, i don't know.

in which case, i've been willing to recognize sometimes it's really just about the journey itself. the experiences on the way. the things that happen. the discoveries you make. the lessons you learn. the memories and objects and people and animals and earth and sky and water and tastes and touch and sounds and smells and sights and insights and thoughts you accumulate as you go.

all of it. all of it in and of itself. and your self. the self. you. as much a part of everything around you as you go.

which means that the journey is really about you. and discovering and learning not just about the world and life and all that is within and without it. but about you. and what it means--what it truly means--for you to be alive.

so i've been living.

and taking a journey.

and in the past few months there's been quite some changes in my life. and i suspect that there's going to be quite some more. and it's given me more than enough to deal with to occupy my time and energy. enough that i haven't even been able to think about doing a race, and been very much content to hold to my training routine.

but having said all this, it looks like i'm coming out of retirement.

my friends and i do a charity race every year: the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. it raises money for the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation. we use the race as an excuse for us to hold an annual reunion and catch up on each other's lives (since most of us are now living all over the country). that, and it's for a good cause.

i had originally not planned on doing the race this year. to focus on my career and save money in a tight job market (and yes, even for those of us looking for a tenure-track academic job, the job market is still tight). but my friends insisted on all of us doing this race, and shelled out the money for my entry fee, and for good measure actually went ahead and submitted a race registration on my behalf.

so it looks like i'm going to have a race after all.

and i guess my journey continues.