Sunday, September 26, 2010

around the world in 80 diets (the book)

for those of you who've engaged me in discussions about nutrition over the years, i'd like to recommend one to add to your library. it's entitled What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, and it's written by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. it was published this year, and has been gradually making its circuit in press reviews.

you can check out the reviews from the LA Times and NPR:
in past i've written, and some of you have responded, and we have conversed, about the nature of nutrition and what comprises "good" nutrition versus "bad" nutrition. we've discussed this in terms of physical needs, personal lifestyle, societal context, as well as in more scientific terms of caloric requirements, nutrients, ratios (protein v. carbohydrate v. fat), glycemic index, insulin, timing, frequency, volume, ingredients, recipes, cuisines. we've also compared notes on different diets of different athletes in different sports relative to different sedentary or active modes of living in different societies.

one of the things i've realized over the years as a result of all this discussion is that as much as we end up believing that there are very specific and strict guidelines regarding the nutrition that is "good" for our lifestyle, there is in truth quite a bit of flexibility and freedom. even for athletes, i think there's more freedom than we think.

nutrition does have to fit within certain guidelines, but those guidelines allow for a fair amount of permutations in terms of the types of diets that can be enjoyed--and the key word is enjoyed. nutrition doesn't have to be boring. it doesn't have to be fixed. it doesn't have to regimented. it can be exciting. it can be diverse. it can be varied. it can, in short, accommodate our curiousity for things different and our desires for things new while still satisfying our needs for things healthful.

this book, i think, serves as a measure of proof for this. it presents the dietary habits of people around the world, and shows the range of calories and nutrients that are consumed. while some of it is not by choice, a fair amount of it is chosen by people based on their lifestyles in the context of their societies. the result is an amazing array of human dietary regimens. and what becomes clear is that as much as our food affects the nature of our living, so too does the nature of our living affect our food.

it makes for an interesting read. not just in terms of what it suggests about the nature of nutrition, but also for the education it gives regarding culture. in short, highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

the ontology of competition

the word ontology is used in philosophical discussion to identify issues as to "what" is being studied and the meaning for that "what" existing. in other words: what is it that we wish to know and what is its significance?

we're often told in sports that the nature of sport is defined by competition, and that whatever purposes we think are in sport invariably arise from the primacy of competition. competition, we are taught, is the basis upon which athletics proves itself in sport. unfortunately, however, we never really think much beyond such instruction, and allow ourselves to miss its implications in the urgency of training schedules and race seasons.

competition is not without its meanings. but its meanings are not without their consequences. and so as much as its meanings are a matter of our own choice, so too are their consequences a product of our own decision.

competition, in the sense of struggle against others, can be done for glory, for pride, for vanity, for material gain. all of which can benefit the self, to the extent that proof of being better than others can reap greater rewards to the self at the expense of those we defeat. but all of this is tied to the depths of our desires. and our desires, despite our best intentions and our best efforts, tend to be insatiable, so that the more we feed them the more they grow. and if allowed to grow unchecked, their appetites will demand every sacrifice we can offer and then ask for even more, until they consume everything in our lives and then finally turn upon the only thing that there will be left to take: ourselves. and in the end all there will left is a record of our brutality and the pain we brought to the world.

in which case, was it really worth it to leave the universe worse than when we entered? what purpose was there to our lives then? especially when all that we did was bring about our own self-destruction?

competition, however, in the sense of struggle against the self, can be done for no other reason then to be better than we were yesterday. and as much as this is an expression of desire, it is checked by the attendant realization of what we were. and what we were was something less when placed in the context of our stature in the greater realm of existence. and no matter how much better we become, the memory of that will always remind us of just how far we--all of us--have to go. in which case, our desires become transformed, so that they are no longer merely about the self, but instead about what the self can do for the one thing to which we want to give the most: others. so that in the end when we are done there will still be left a record of our compassion and the comfort we brought to the world.

in which case, it will be worth it to leave the universe better than when we entered. and this will be what gives us purpose to our lives. especially when all that we do gives to others what we give to ourselves: something better.

Friday, September 17, 2010

the deep 6 relay (or, a real pleasant weekend frolic in the ocean)

i'm going to pause my usual posts for a current event news item that at the time of this writing is ongoing. it's the Deep 6 relay trying to set a world record for an open-water relay swim.

i won't go too far into the details. you can reference them in the LA Times article here:
there's also a video at Swimming World magazine that interviews the team:
for pictures, you can check out the gallery of photos (one of them above) taken by the Ventura County Star newspaper:
in short, Deep 6 is a team of (you guessed it) 6 swimmers from Ventura County, all middle-aged men with a fairly extensive background in swimming. they're trying to cover 202 miles of open ocean, with a route following the Southern California coastline starting from Ventura Harbor to Santa Barbara and then back down again to La Jolla. each man takes a 1-hour turn before taking a rest on an accompanying charter yacht.

apart from the fact that they're setting out to obliterate the old relay record of 78 miles (set in freshwater Lake Taupo in New Zealand), here's what i find amazing:

according to the requirements maintained by the Federation Internationale de Natation (in English: the International Federation of Swimming), the swim has to be done without wetsuits. meaning that the men are swimming completely exposed to the waters of Southern California. for those of you who don't know, the waters off California originate in Alaska, with the summer California water having been Alaska winter water 6 months before. currently, water temperatures off Los Angeles County are below 60 degrees F--and those kinds of temperatures are the kind of cold that you can feel penetrating your skull.

add to that the danger of stings from jellyfish, bites from sharks (including the breach attacks of great whites), and collisions with random pieces of human pollution from passing ships and Southern California cities, and you have yourself a real pleasant weekend frolic in the ocean.

they started this past Thursday and are supposedly set to finish by Monday. i hope to catch the news of their completion, since i want to know their condition and see the photos. it sounds like they're having an adventure, and they'll have definitely done something very, very few people can even think about doing.

that, and they'll have had a real pleasant weekend frolic in the ocean.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

(just a little short of) 100%


as in perfection. as in maximum. as in the best. as in a scale from 0 to 100.


it's what we always strive for. what we always try to reach. in training, in racing, in living.


it's more than just a number. more than just a goal. it's what our life is supposed to be.


truth is, however, things are never ideal. life is never the way it's supposed to be. what we want is always beyond our reach. and we never quite make perfection. we are, in fact, never at 100%.

as in quite at. as in a little less than. as in a little short of.

because things just happen. either by intent or negligence or mistake or accident or causality or chance. things happen that do not always set us right. nutrition is lost. workouts are missed. recovery is curtailed. priorities are misplaced. plans are abandoned. people are forgotten. issues are multiplied. stress is magnified. equipment is damaged. the body is broken. conditions are horrific. and whatever we were in training, we're certainly not that in racing.

on the face of it, the temptation is to despair. to surrender, give up, quit.

but before we do, there are certain things we need to consider:

1) it is most certain that we are never in control of our surroundings. it is very likely that we will invariably lose control of our equipment. it is even possible that we will not always control our bodies. but as much as we cannot control any of these things, we can control our minds. and that means we can control what we think and we can control what we decide. and we can decide to set our minds at 100%.

2) it still helps to try. sometimes effort is the one thing that makes any difference in life. no, it is not a guarantee of success. but it at least gives us a chance. and the more we try the greater our chances. and some chance is better than none. which is what we have if we do nothing at all.

3) we may not ever reach the ideal. perhaps no one ever does. but through the struggles of our endeavors we sometimes manage to get ourselves a little bit closer to it. and a little bit closer means a little bit farther. and a little farther is a little bit better than we where we were before.

4) it may not seem that our aspirations amount to much. but by getting closer, by putting forth effort, by committing to try, it means we didn't quit. we didn't give up. we didn't surrender. which means we didn't lose, and in some ways perhaps even won. and that itself is a form of victory.

it is a truth that in life we are never at 100%. we are always short of perfection. which means all we can ever do is to make the most of what we have in hopes of being better.

but that, ultimately, is perhaps what it means to be human: a little short of perfection, a little less than ideal, but forever doing what we can to get a little bit closer.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Olympic advice

i came across an interesting series of articles in the New York Times archives recently that i think is worth sharing. originally, it was supposed to have been a 5-part series of Olympic athletes providing advice on training and technique in their respective sports, but it seems to have grown to a semi-regular feature currently at 9 articles and apparently ongoing.

you can check them all out at the following link:
be sure to go through all of the media tied in with the articles, because they're also fascinating. the article with Sara Hall, for example, features the following:
i find it interesting to observe the regimen of elite (especially world-class) athletes, not just because of the potential tips and insights into athletic development, but also because of what it reveals about the lifestyle of the athlete in particular and who they are as people. invariably, i find that while all athletes are different, and approach their lifestyle and their sport in different ways, that there are inevitably some constants:
  • discipline (over yourself and your surroundings),
  • diligence (effort and hard work),
  • commitment (persistence),
  • faith (confidence in yourself and what you are doing),
  • mindfulness (awareness of details and what is happening),
  • intelligence (an ability to question and reason out how and why things are done...and if necessary, to consider alternatives), and
  • ambition (goals set as objectives of effort).
i think you can see all of these qualities reflected in the articles in this series. yeah, the athletes are ostensibly only talking about training and technique, and really only in their own sports. but i think there are additional things that come through, and if you ponder the mindset and manner behind what they say, you can ascertain various expressions of the above qualities.

i think this is useful, because it serves as a reminder that no matter how elite the athlete, whether celebrity professional or unknown amateur, that there are still certain characteristics that are associated with sports and fitness. you don't see improvement in athleticism with a requisite set of factors, and all the genetic ability in the world (or lack thereof) won't make up for a lack of the fundamental components in character needed to develop and utilize that ability--and for certain, for those of us who lack any athletic ability altogether, we'll never even get out of the starting gate without such components in character.

i should note most of these articles are not really related to endurance sports or triathlon. the exceptions are the articles with Christian Van de Velde (cycling), Sara Hall (running), and Ryan Lochte (swimming). but i think you can peruse all of them and see a consistency in the themes i'm talking about.