Tag Archives: dumbed-down

Backwards Racing

How do many athletes race backwards? By first looking to the future, to an event they want to participate in, and then by signing up for that event and then go about planning the training to survive the event, is to backwards race.

Backwards racing leads to backwards training, or as I prefer to call it: cramming, no different than the cramming we all did at some point at school.

Backwards racing results in what you typically see at the finish line long after the pros and top age groupers have completed the event: athletes who are walking, crawling, hobbling towards the finish line in hopes that they will make the cut off time, that they will make it to the finish line, that they will survive to tell the tale of yet another near death experience. Its athletes who have bitten off more than they can chew, yet so sold on the meaning of the finish line that they refuse to acknowledge their lack of training, their lack of preparedness, their lack of real health. Their hope is that the finish line will prove their fears wrong, their hopes right: that they are indeed healthy and fit enough, to show up and complete any race they select.

[A study performed at Ironman Brazil revealed that 2/3rds of all triathletes took NSAIDs the day prior to the event, and 1/3rd took NSAIDs on the day of the event. If triathletes are so healthy, why the need to pre-medicate? If you have trained properly for the event, there should be no need for prophylactic medication. That is of course unless your standard of health has been reduced to the point that relying on medication implies nothing about your lack of health.]

Time after time, I hear of athletes who compete in marathons and triathlons, and despite months passing, still have not fully recovered, still are dealing with physical and mental repercussions of the effort put into completing the competition. Suffering from anxiety, depression, pain, immune system, sleep, digestion, and/or muscle and joint dysfunction, they refuse to acknowledge that their body malfunctioning is connected in anyway to the fact that they were not healthy enough, not fit enough, not sufficiently prepared to take on the challenge of competing in whatever event they signed up, yet proceeded to torture themselves through it anyhow.

Backwards racing is comparable to going to a loan shark for money: its using the threat of broken knee caps, swimmin’ with the fishes, or wearing concrete shoes to serve as a kick in the arse to force yourself to put in the necessary effort to payback the loan. There is no difference between a loan shark and backwards racing: (a) the piper always comes to collect, and (b) the piper will always collect even when you have nothing to offer… your health is always up for grabs.

What I do not comprehend is why do athletes, time after time, gamble with their health in this manner?  Why do they put health up as collateral, simply for a finish line medal or photo? Is that medal really worth more than your well being? What does a medal or finish time prove if in the process you hurt yourself, inflict pain, harm yourself with injury arising from overextending yourself attempting to accomplish in weeks what needs months or years of training.

Racing is supposed to be about testing the progress you have made to date in training. It has to be an honest test for it to have honest meaning. Backwards racing is not a test of anything, its a form of gambling: spin the wheel, pick an event, place a wager (by registering) and then hope that you can pull off the training that at best will allow you to finish the race standing, and at worst puts you into a med-tent or an ambulance.

Backwards racing sets the athlete up to lose, and continued losing. Albeit for the delusional athlete, over-reaching for an event that you have no business attempting, and then surviving in some strange way may serve as a win (especially when the agony of recovering for weeks or months is denied as being related).

If you are not improving as an athlete, then my bet is that you are backwards racing, and training backwards, aka cramming. In fact, you are probably not only failing to improve, I would bet also that you are regressing in some way… in flexibility and mobility, in fitness, in health, as cramming causes athletes to become more prone to injury, to illness, and susceptible to the systemic diseases of prolonged over-training, and over-racing.

In the moment, hyped up, delusional images of grandeur that arise by seeing yourself at a competition – hoping that you can pull it off with weeks or months of training – is just as it sounds… a setup for failure, where pain and injury are the likely outcomes, and health is the account into which you will dip to pay the piper.

If you need a race in order to get training, in order to get motivated, then you are not training, you are threatening, guilting, fearing, scaring yourself into doing what you say you should do, but are clearly not inspired or motivated to do without some sort of doomsday scenario playing out in front of you.

Do you honestly think that health, true health, can be based on emotionally manipulating yourself into training for an event?

Why do this to yourself? Why subject yourself to the pressure, the negative motivation, to the endless reverse psychology of overextending yourself and then hoping that you can cram in enough to pull yourself out of the trap you set for yourself?

Why not take the time to do it right? Start from scratch, learn how to train, learn how to plan to train, learn how to plan to race, and learn how to race so that you can make it a lifelong journey of enjoyment and exploration. Otherwise, you can continue with the hokey-pokey in and out of being active, suffering through training and a race one year, then waiting until you regain some mild level of interest to put myself through the torture of training and racing yet again.


OK… so some triathletes, some athletes race backwards… big deal. No, its not some, its the majority. How do I know? Two sources:

  1. Race Directors – just ask how many register, then how many actually show up to events, especially triathlons.  XTerra Race Director James Kowalewski shared in one post that triathlons – across the industry – have a 25% no show rate. Think about that… athletes shell out anywhere from $100 to almost a thousand dollars when entering iron-distance triathlons, and 25% of them don’t even show. Why? Because they booked their epic event first, and then second tried to figure out how to train to survive the event = racing backwards.
  2. DNFs – review iron distance triathlon results and you will be as shocked as I was at the staggering number of athletes who never make it past T1, past T2, across the finish line. In some age groups I have seen as many as 25% of all the athletes DNF!

So 25% don’t show, another 25% don’t finish… so approximately 50% never complete what they set out to do and then there is a significant number who crawl, stumble across the finish line either after the cut off time or perhaps before but finish their event in the medical tent because they overextended themselves well beyond their capacity. Why? Because racing backwards is the norm, and healthy training and racing is the outlier.

Final story… last year an athlete who went with a local triathlon club to Arizona for a spring training camp returned to share this story. While out on a ride, there was a crash, a serious crash with one athlete in particular suffering a severe concussion. Instead of focusing on the athlete’s well-being, the coach who was also riding in the pack (but did not crash) came to the injured athlete and immediately started to promise that he would get the athlete to their event (which was coming up in a number of weeks). Seriously! A severe concussion and instead of placing health as the priority, encouraging the athlete to recover fully, reminding the athlete that there are many many races available this year and in following years… hell no! Like Monty Python’s Dark Knight… “tis only a flesh wound [Dark Knight is missing both arms, and a leg], come back here, I can still fight you!”

Where does the backwards (cart before the horse) mindset arise from? Coaches who should not be coaching because they have no clue… about what is truly important in life. Find yourself a coach who values health – and your life – over their own ego. The above coach being so obsessed with their own ego could only see themselves as a failure if the injured athlete failed to compete; meanwhile the fact that an incomplete recovery and that a second concussion poses a threat of sudden death doesn’t cross the mind of the coach. Clueless!

Does Daniel Clarke Have A Death Wish?

After reading the title of Clarke’s Vlog #047 “Nutrition Breakthrough”, I wondered what was the epiphany this triathlon neo-pro had today. I don’t watch all of Clarke’s vlogs but once in a while I give in and think… why not. It tickles me now being in my 40s, with two kids of high school age to watch the arrogance/ignorance of youth, especially youth which has been put on a podium or puts itself on a podium.

Today, there was no tickling… I watched Clarke’s video and was gob-smacked.  He didn’t really say what I think he just said… did he? Hold on, let’s play that back and listen… and then I had to listen again. He did! He really did say what he said… and the thought crossed my mind…

Does Clarke have a death wish?

Below is a transcript of Clarke’s vlog #047 starting at 2:39, and here is the link to the Youtube video if you want to hear for yourself:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14LqTn0cglY

Daniel Clarke:

“Usually when I do longer harder workouts, I feel like literally everything has been drained out of my pores, I feel really weak, sometimes I would have headaches, there would be a little bit of dizziness, sometimes my vision would be a little bit blurry. I always in the past just attributed that to the fact that triathlon training, Ironman training its hard, its meant to be hard, you are pushing your body I just accepted that’s the way it is and I never investigated it further. The big takeaway… just because you are doing something one way doesn’t mean that its optimal for you. And because what I was doing wasn’t broke then there is no reason to fix it… but in Tremblant it broke and fixing it is something I needed to do.”

Clarke’s fix… salt pills.

—————————————————–

Cadel Evans, leader of cycling WorldTour team, TEAM BMC, winner of the 2010 Giro d’Italia, winner of the 2011 Tour de France, winner of 2009 World Road Race Championships shares in his book “Cadel Evans: The Long Road to Paris” that on one mountain stage he started to lose vision as a result of the effort he was putting forth.

Its one thing to be a GC (General Classification) contender, to be a leader of a cycling WorldTour team, to be leading a team of top professional cyclists with the expectation of winning the Tour de France, to be competing in the Tour itself, a race that lasts 21 days covers 3,500+ km of horizontal and 35+ km of vertical distance, to be on a mountain stage at altitude, in the moment of competition against the best of the best in the world of cycling, to be an athlete with over a decade of training and racing experience at an international level as a pro, to be an athlete who knows what they are doing to their body, who understands and is able to weigh the risks of their actions.

Its one thing to be the leader of the Tour or to be going after the yellow jersey – because there are a select few times in life where it may be appropriate for an all out effort – BUT…

Its an entirely different thing for a neo-pro, who demonstrates little evidence of having enough knowledge or understanding of basic human body function, let alone advanced physiological and psychological principles and training concepts to push themselves routinely to extremes. Besides, Clarke is talking about training; he is not experiencing these medical signs and symptoms while competing in the race of his pro career, he is talking about headaches, dizziness and vision loss in regular training! Worse, he is talking about training during a long distance session… as in training which should be aerobic, not at or beyond VO2 max.

Clarke inflicts upon himself signs and symptoms that anyone else would seek medical assessment, emergency medical assessment if these signs and symptoms were severe.

[Honestly, tack on slurred speech and you have ALL the symptoms of a TIA or a stroke!]

Clarke, thinks its A-OK to repeatedly subject his body to stress & strain of such intensity and duration that pain, vision, and balance are compromised.

FYI… its NOT!

Hey, Clarke… ya think asphyxiating yourself on a regular basis to the point that you’re dizzy, to the point that you have visual disturbances is in an way healthy?  Can you consider that maybe you are so high on yourself that you falsely believe that the account from which you constantly overdraw from (i.e. your health) to bulk up your fitness is not endless and maybe, just maybe, one day the piper will come calling, and your debts will have to be paid?

Think about it…

Your brain – the most important organ in your body, the organ your body will defend to ensure that it gets the resources it needs – is FAILING IN ITS ABILITY TO FUNCTION… ya think that there may be an issue with what you think is “not broken”?

If your brain is going blue (as in blue from vasoconstriction), then how do you think your liver, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, intestines, all your other internal and vital organs are doing? If your brain is blue, how do you think your heart is doing? If your brain is blue, then what sort of training are your muscles, your nerves getting?  What sort of resources are they receiving if your brain ain’t getting what it needs?

What’s the plan?

Do Ironman entirely an-aerobically, holding VO2 max for 8+ hours?

Is this what you deem a smart race strategy?

Is that why you think what you are doing can in any way be called “training”?

I assure you… what you are doing is not training; unless your goal is near death experiences.

“No pain, no gain”, “PR or ER” are impaired mental states and not philosophies that consistent peak performers follow to achieve their fullest potential. These are sales & marketing ploys used by industry to sell you on narratives such as “Beast mode” and other absurd, juvenile, insane concepts of health and wellness.

Clarke, you needed things to break @Tremblant – i.e. you needed a crisis as a pro athlete – in order that your eyes and ears open to the fact that… you might not know everything there is to know about training, racing, lets not mention just basic human body physiology… so do tell… what happens when you are in your late 30s, maybe early 40s and all this catches up to you? I mean… surely you have stopped for a moment and considered what asphyxiating yourself will eventually do?  Right?  You have, haven’t you… stopped and considered the consequences, the side-effects, the long term risks of what you are doing?

What’s the plan? When you hit 40, or maybe ‘old-age’ doesn’t catch up to you til you are 50 and the headaches, dizziness, and vision difficulties don’t go away… then what?  Head to the doctor scratching your head as to why, or how, or what ever could be the source, the cause, the root of all these impairments?

You may not even need to wait til 40, as there are athletes of your age who as a result of their own or their coaches mantra to go hard, harder, go til you pee or cough blood led to them suffering heart attacks, developing heart beat irregularities, even brain aneurysms. I’ve met an athlete who had to have a defibrillator implanted into his chest. Imagine needing a device the size of a deck of cards to be implanted under your skin to make sure you don’t die on a daily basis. Sure, lifesaving device, but what if the need for that device was self inflicted, or perhaps coach inflicted from chronic overtraining, overstressing a young body, demanding that it puke up one more rep, even faster than the last, and then another and another?

Then what?

You are free to do as you please with your body and brain… they are after all your body and brain, but what I believe is 100% careless and reckless is that there are amateur athletes both age group (as in kids) and masters who watch your vlogs and will think to themselves… oh, you mean that’s how hard I have to push myself in training.  You mean that’s what I have to do to myself in order to be considered a ‘serious triathlete’, this is the expected ‘payment’ in blood that has to be made to call oneself a pro? And without any further investigation whether or not its the right way to train, whether or not its healthy… will monkey see, monkey do, and train in similar ways as you.

Clarke, are you prepared to handle the consequences of your “advice” falling on unsuspecting amateur athletes that wanna be like Clarke, who then do like Clarke, and train like Clarke… train til they cannot see straight or retain balance while standing? Are you prepared for the call when they are in a bike accident having pushed themselves til they can’t see straight… when they trained like they heard you train?

I worked in long term care, in convalescent care, in pre and post surgical units, with the chronically and terminally ill for over a decade. I can tell you one thing for certain… not one patient I ever met thought that when they were young that they were living ‘wrong’, unhealthy, in a way that would have consequences on their health as an adult. When we are young, all of us think we are invincible, immune to anything going wrong. When they were young (for example) smoking cigarettes was new, was cool, was the ‘in’ thing that all the ‘in’ kids did. Today, struggling for each breathe, able to function only because of the oxygen they inhale through nasal prongs, dealing with chest infection after chest infection… some will still deny that the pack a day, or two, for a few decades has anything to do with their lung disease, be it cancer, COPD, or however it manifested. Why? Because we do not believe, we cannot believe that we could inflict upon ourselves such injury, that we could ever cause ourselves harm, dysfunction, let alone disease.

Wakey, wakey… we can and we do it to ourselves all the time. We just don’t like to admit it.

Clarke, I hope you and everyone else who trains in a similar manner receive this blog not as a slight, but as a wake up call. Read it appreciating that I have true concern for your well being, for your state of mental and physical health, concern for you from the damage you are repeatedly inflicting upon yourself. Damage that unlike @Tremblant, I guarantee you do not want to ever experience, because if you do, it could very well be too late for a salt pill to make it all better.

We Are Wrong About… Fat [2]

In post [1], the concept of fat used by our body as an electrical insulator to protect all our vital organs from excessive periods of load and/or excessive electrical spikes of loads illustrated that the calories in vs calories out model is overly simplistic. A model based on calories simplifies the weight loss process to calorie restriction plus HiiT exercise, but when that process fails to deliver results we are left with either self loathing because we failed to eat less or exercise more, or denial that there is a problem at all. We end up back at square one, we feel like failures yet we fail to question if the model is accurate.

So why then does the calorie based model seem to work, at least on occasion or at least for some? Because it will when you become either neurotic or obsessive (i.e. when you create an anxiety about your weight) and use that chaotic energy to fuel a behavioural pattern towards achieving a desired weight loss goal. Problem is… when you ‘slip up’ even for an instant, when you ease up just slightly, when you loosen up the rules, fudge on the points or on the charts a teensy bit, it all falls apart.

Proof #1 that a calorie based model doesn’t work is that it is unsustainable. The closer you come to your target weight… the more compulsive, the more obsessive, the more excessive, the more neurotic you need to become in order to hold off whatever weight you lost.

Proof #2 that a calorie based model doesn’t work is that it is not scale-able: the process does not apply equally to the first 5% as it does to the last 5% towards the goal. The first 5% is relatively easy… do something different and the pounds fall off, but that ease doesn’t last long. Soon you have to restrict more and more calories, and you have to exercise harder and harder, longer and longer in order to see the gains that you made simply by getting off the couch a couple times.

We are marketed constantly that the calorie based model of weight loss is “the” model, especially since so called experts recite conclusions and data from research studies which all point in one direction (as if quantity of research trumps quality or real life applicability).

At some point, you have to lift your head up from blindly following the herd, look around, listen, and ask yourself… if everyone is doing the same thing, and if it isn’t working consistently for everyone, then either we are all doing it wrong (which advertising tries to convince us), or the model doesn’t work.

The model doesn’t work.

This is proven by the grim reality that our society is now 2/3rds overweight, obese, or morbidly obese, with juvenile obesity yet another epidemic in the making. If calorie in-calorie out worked, then we shouldn’t be becoming more overweight, more obese, more unhealthy… yet we are.  Either we are all stupid, or the model doesn’t work.  My vote is that the model doesn’t work, no matter how many Ph.Ds and their doctoral research state the opposite.


This post aims to provide another explanation for why we are becoming more and more overweight.

Adding to the electrical model (as described in post [1]), there is a mechanical model which provides another explanation as to why we pack and protect our vital organs using fat.  Best of all, the mechanical model does not conflict or contradict the electrical model in anyway, and can stand alongside the electrical model yielding multiple explanations for how and why we gain weight.

The physical/mechanical model to explain the use of fat by our body to protect our organs starts by reviewing the relationship between temperature and pressure. Gay-Lussac’s Law states the following:

That is, pressure and temperature are directly proportional to each other. As temperature decreases, pressure decreases, and as temperature increases, pressure increases (where k is a constant).

With this relationship in mind, lets return to the concept of the abdominal cylinder and piston as was both described and illustrated in the posts titled “Worst Innovation in Triathlon“. Below is the image of our abdominal cylinder: the diaphragm forms the top, the pelvic floor the bottom, and the abdominal walls and spine and ribs make up the sides.

Recall, that our vital organs (i.e. liver, kidneys, pancreas, bladder, stomach, intestines, uterus, spleen) are incompressible, meaning that under pressure they do not squeeze smaller.

Recall also, that our vital organs along with our breathing (provided it is diaphragmatic) move in a rhythmical pattern that can be referred to as the abdominal piston (see images below).


Click Image to Enlarge
Piston Gif Attribution: R. Castelnuovo

To review… when you inhale the piston head (vital organs) shifts down and when you exhale the piston head shifts up. This is proper use of your anatomy, this is proper and healthy breathing biomechanics.  The result of these healthy biomechanics is that you do not create excessive intra-abdominal pressure, you do not compress and stress your vital organs (e.g. stomach, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, spleen, bladder, uterus, ovaries), you do not stress your pelvic floor, you do not pinch or compress blood vessels and nerves which travel through your abdomen. With healthy biomechanics – i.e. with proper use of your musculo-skeletal system – you do not lock, brace, make rigid any of the musculo-skeletal structures in your core. With healthy biomechanics you do not stop the abdominal piston from moving… not ever.

So what happens when you do stop the abdominal piston?

When you lock your abdominal piston, that is when Gay-Lussac’s Law comes into play…

When you lock the piston, you build pressure in your abdomen, and along with the pressure you build temperature.

Do you really think all your vital organs respond well to being ‘pressure cooked’?

Do we really need to wonder why our body starts to bubble wrap all our vital organs in a protective layer of insulating fat [fat insulates against cold, it equally insulates against heat and as in post [1], against electrical activity]. If we are constantly subjecting our vital organs to pressures and temperatures that are best left for making diamonds out of coal then why wonder why your body takes protective steps to ensure your survival?

We need to stop seeing fat as unhealthy, and start seeing the lifestyle that causes our body to create a protective layer of fat as what is truly unhealthy.

Layering ourselves up with fat is the byproduct of excessive intensity or duration in stress, or an individual who lacks the capacity and/or strategies to engage stress.  Either way… the issue is not fat, the issue is stress, or stress management.

If that wasn’t enough, do you really need to be shocked when you find out that you have developed food sensitivities, intolerances, blood sugar issues/symptoms of early diabetes, other digestion issues including diarrhea, constipation, or that your blood pressure is increasing, that your resting heart rate is anything close to resting, or that your kidneys, your liver, your reproductive organs are unable to operate when being ‘pressure cooked’ on a daily basis?

We lock our abdominal piston because we have too much stress in our lives, we take on too much stress, we fail to properly train to physically have the capacity to endure stress, we fail to properly study technique and strategy to have the wisdom to engage and manage stress, we fail to learn how to express ourselves honestly so when we are stressed instead of flowing and using healthy emotions to fuel us, we absorb, retain, repress and suppress toxic feelings.

The fact that we are still alive after repressing emotions, after subjecting our organs to temperature, pressure, to spikes in electrical activity is what should be surprising… not that we are overweight or obese. Becoming overweight or obese is simply millions of years of evolution programmed into us trying to keep us alive, trying to help us survive until the stressful period passes us.

As Ferris Bueller said… “life moves pretty fast, if you dont stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I encourage you to slow down, take inventory of what is truly important to you, and evaluate whether you are on the path that you want to be on, today, for the rest of your life. If your path has taken you away from taking care of yourself, from health, then perhaps this is the moment to get back on it.

Worst Innovation in Triathlon [1]

Short cuts, short cuts, and more short cuts… unfortunately the sport of triathlon has become more of a sport of short cuts, then a sport recognizing proper training, proper skill, tactic, strategy and execution.

Instead of years building a base, nope… short cut… go straight to HIIT, to all-out efforts.

Instead of learning how to move with ease, with agility, balancing and coordinating the entire body, doing so effortlessly so as to maximize efficiency, nope… short cut… go straight to swimming, cycling and running at peak effort, peal power, max speed.

Instead of starting with entry level equipment, and learning to differentiate between gains made by training, and those available through equipment and technology, nope… short cut… go straight to top of the line equipment.

Well, the short cuts are finally starting to catch up with triathletes, and if the double pronged and/or cut out seat is not the worst short cut of them all, then I do not know what is.

The double pronged or cut out seat were created it seems for the sole purpose of solving the numbness and the pain experienced by those riding in a time trial [TT] or aero position on a triathlon bike.

To solve the problem of pelvic floor pain and numbness from an engineering perspective: eazy peezy, find the bones in the pelvis, support those bones, cut away everything else and boom… an evolution in seating! But did anyone stop to ask an health professional? Did anyone stop to ask if this problem is a problem that should be solved in this manner? No way, there are just too many triathletes and cyclists with painful pelvic floors, so stop talking and start selling a short cut that is sure to make millions.

But what if you are an athlete who has even the slightest interest in…

  • retaining urinary control in your later years (not becoming incontinent),
  • retaining the ability to have an erection without it being chemically induced,
  • not having a prolapse of the bladder, urethra, or rectum,
  • not having a prolapse of the uterus or vagina,
  • not experiencing pain during sex as a result of pelvic floor dysfunction,
  • not having to endure any form of treatment or surgery to repair a damaged pelvic floor,
  • not causing and then having to live with damage [that you did to your own pelvic floor] as a result of poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique, then I suggest…

(a) take your pelvic floor pain and numbness issues seriously. They indicate that something is wrong, so seek appropriate, trained, experienced assistance from a registered health professional to heal and recover fully, then

(b) take yourself to a coach who is knowledgeable in anatomy, biomechanics, and physiology, and is experienced in teaching and progressing athletes in cycling technique and take the time to actually learn how to ride with proper technique, and

(c) either get the appropriate bike for your skill level plus a bike fit or if your bike is suitable then get a bike fit with the technique focused coach present during the fitting, so that the fitting reflects your current level: your current flexibility, mobility, and current level of cycling technique and skill set.

Cycling is as technical as swimming, as running, as Olympic Lifting, as any sport. Coaches who do not know the technique of cycling, or don’t have the slightest clue how to teach technique… dumb-down the sport to their level of ignorance teaching that cycling is simply grinding or pounding out power readings.

If you truly are in sport to learn, to discover, to explore your potential, to regain health, to live an active lifestyle, to model healthy living for your family, then start at the beginning… start with technique.


Abdominal Anatomy and Biomechanics Basics

Here’s why and how poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique can lead to pelvic floor damage and eventually dysfunction.

The diaphragm (top black line) is your primary breathing muscle. The pelvic floor (bottom black line) is made up of a collection of muscles which create a concave shape mirroring the shape of the pelvis with a primary role of supporting the internal organs.

Anatomy of the Abdominal Cylinder

Click Image to Enlarge
Image Attribution: GilbertoASanchezA

Between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor are all your vital organs.  Your organs do not compress which means that in order for you to take a proper diaphragmatic inhalation, your organs have to shift downwards when your diaphragm contracts. When your diaphragm contracts it moves downwards expanding the thorax so as to expand the lungs causing air to rush in.

Click Image to Enlarge

When you relax your diaphragm, it recoils back to an ‘up’ position as shown in the image above. Meanwhile, your lungs compress, pushing air out of them, resulting in exhalation while your organs shift back into their ‘up’ position.  This up and down shifting can be called the abdominal piston (see gif image below). The abdominal piston and the breathing cycle are synchronous in an healthy individual. An healthy individual is healthy because they have a proper and healthy breathing pattern, and have proper neuro-muscular awareness, tone, and control of their all their abdominal muscles (including those of the pelvic floor).

An healthy individual is healthy because their abdominal piston moves smoothly, easily, effortlessly throughout its full range of motion.


Click Image to Enlarge
Piston Gif Attribution: R. Castelnuovo

To review… when you inhale the piston head (vital organs) shifts down and when you exhale the piston head shifts up. This is proper use of your anatomy, this is proper and healthy breathing biomechanics.  The result of these healthy biomechanics is that you do not create excessive intra-abdominal pressure, you do not compress and stress your vital organs (e.g. stomach, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, spleen, bladder, uterus, ovaries), you do not stress your pelvic floor, you do not pinch or compress blood vessels and nerves which travel through your abdomen. With healthy biomechanics – i.e. with proper use of your musculo-skeletal system – you do not lock, brace, make rigid any of the musculo-skeletal structures in your core. With healthy biomechanics you do not stop the abdominal piston from moving… not ever.

What Happens When We Use Our Anatomy Incorrectly?

Click Image to Enlarge

We have conscious control over our diaphragm even though breathing to a large extent is controlled subconsciously.  We can allow our diaphragm to be used by our body as the primary breathing muscle, or we can use our diaphragm to do something that it was not designed to do… that is to act as an immobilizer of our lower thoracic and lumbar spines, and as a result an immobilizer of our abdominal piston.

Our body was designed to be dynamic: stable yet simultaneously mobile at all times; never fixed, immovable, or rigid. Elasticity – as in flexible movement – prevents injury. Rigid immobile structures bear load until load exceeds their tolerance and then the only option for those structures is to fail.

Fixed bridges do not bend, they either take the load or they fail and collapse under the load.

Your core is no different. When you brace and lock your core (i.e. your spine, back muscles, gluts, hamstrings, obliques, etc…), you stop the abdominal piston. When your core is locked, when the piston is stopped, your core structures can tolerate a small amount of load. Beyond that point, one or more structures will fail. Which one? The weakest link in the group fails and results in injury to one or starts of a cascading effect where more than one structure ends up strained, sprained, or worse, ruptured. In one person the injury may manifest as an inguinal hernia, in another its spasms in their back muscles and/or gluts, in another it results in a bulging lumbar disc placing pressure on the sciatic nerve. Injury with a locked core, injury with a stopped abdominal piston is not only predictable, it is inevitable.

When you lock your core, the first question is how long will be it before something gives?

The second question is how much damage will you cause to yourself as a result of locking your core?Third question is how extensive will the clean be, how long will it take to clean up the mess, then to heal, then to recover and then to start rebuilding?

Is this what you want? Is this what you signed up for from training, from starting an exercise program, from hiring a trainer or coach?

If all an athlete does is heal from an injury, or worse jumps back into training never retraining how to use their core, then re-injury is as certain as the initial injury. Once an athletes starts on a vicious cycle (aka negative training cycle or doom loop) then they are stuck alternating between being injured and not training or training but in pain, never fully healthy, never truly recovering, never truly rebuilt; that is until they take the time to properly retrain themselves.

Your core is not built or designed to function like a fixed bridge, its built like a suspension bridge with distinct support structures, and structures which have the capacity to move and are supposed to move resulting in a bridge that can bend, twist, adapting to extreme loads (e.g. as with high winds in the image below). Imagine if this suspension bridge was fixed, unable to swing, bend, move… then like the stone bridge or the wooden railroad bridge it would fail when stressed. Suspension bridges will fail at some point as well, but their failure point requires far more load, far more stress, far greater forces in order for that to happen.So, what kind of core do you have? What kind of core is your coach training you to have? Is your coach training you to lock and brace under stress, setting you up to inevitably fail; or is your coach training you to be dynamic, flexible, mobile, able to yield and prevail under extreme stress?

Think about it… competition is a form of extreme stress, business and life both can exert extreme loads and forces upon us, what are you training to do under stress? What is your coach or trainer teaching you do under stressful loads? Prevail or lock up and collapse?

If your children are enrolled in sport… what are their coaches training them to do? Are your children learning skills while practicing their sport which translate to competition, and more importantly into academia, into relationships, into life?  What are your children’s coaches training them to be able to do… prevail or lock up and collapse when stressed?


Attribution of Abdominal Anatomy image from Wikipedia:

  • Link:  https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Abdomen_Anatomy.jpg
  • Author:  GilbertoASanchezA
  • Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca

Attribution of Piston gif from Wikipedia:

  • Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piston.gif
  • Author: R. Castelnuovo
  • Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca

Worst Meme in Triathlon

Preface

Who crawled is not the point, it is “the crawl” itself and the meaning that has been attributed to it that is the focus of this post. From a business perspective the event known as “the crawl” was undoubtedly the best thing to happen for the Ironman brand and the Corporation. From a health perspective, I will argue that it is the worst thing to happen to the sport of triathlon.

“The Crawl”

In 1982, a college student by the name of Julie Moss had a senior project to complete in order to be able to graduate from Cal Poly. ABC’s telecast of the Ironman race from Hawaii (back then there was only the one original Ironman event in Hawaii) served as the inspiration for Julie to sign up, as she proposed the event as a study in physiology to her college advisor.

Back then, there were no sources for ‘how to’ train to complete an iron distance triathlon event.  With a nascent sport, there were neither coaches specializing in it, nor were there former athletes who converted into coaches to guide novices. In short, with no formal coaching, using a couple marathons as test events in the months leading up to the Hawaiian Ironman, Julie Moss completed the race but not before stumbling and staggering from exhaustion, ending with “the crawl” to the finish line. It was “the crawl” that was televised to the world, and was televised year after year, for years, and on occasion still makes it into the annual broadcast of the Ironman World Championships.

“The original Hawaiian crawl by Julie Moss set Ironman triathlon as a mainstream sport and launched the race as a must-do event in the minds of a generation.” IM website

Discussion

College is a period where most teenagers have their first true freedoms in life: freedom from home, from mom and dad, free to suffer the consequences of their decisions without a life line to dig them out.  That is part of what makes college or university life what it is, making decisions without the safety net of parents. As with all things that we are new at, few of us get all the decisions right the first time, and sometimes we make decisions which are simply irresponsible.

Julie Moss’ decision to compete at the Hawaiian Ironman was and should have remained as one of those “what was I thinking” college decisions, one never to be repeated (along the lines of partying the night before final exams). It should have served as a warning, a caution to anyone contemplating racing an iron distance triathlon that these events are not to be taken lightly, training is a must, proper preparation is needed if you do not want to end up crawling to and across the finish line.

Instead, the crawl became a defining moment in triathlon that led to the rise in popularity of the sport as the thought of an endurance event being so difficult that competitors are brought to their knees became an experienced that those watching, wanted for themselves.

It was a defining moment for the sport of triathlon as it changed the sport from one challenged by athletes, to an ‘experience’ pursued by thrill-seekers, a bucket list item for those willing to risk their well-being, their health by “winging it” in hopes that they too can cross the finish line. The risk of ending up like Julie Moss for thrill seekers is no risk: the story of a near death experience is exactly what they’re after. Whereas thrill-seekers are willing to “ER or PR”, true athletes are unwilling to take such risks. True athletes do not take such risks.

As a case study in business, the images of Julie Moss’ struggling to make it across the finish line are undoubtedly revered as pure gold in advertising and marketing. For those seeking to emblazon a corporate brand, a corporate identify into the minds of millions… this was and still is the jackpot.  It must still be recognized as a stroke of pure genius to re-frame what was nothing more than a student’s attempt to complete a college project into a metaphor for the struggle of life. To parallel the enormity of an iron distance triathlon and the obstacles and challenges we endure in life by suggesting that completing a triathlon is proof of your ability to conquer in life… must be a MBA course in itself in how to herd the masses into a meme.

What business would not want its brand associated with such a message? To own a piece of a brand that communicates that you are a winner? A conqueror of life? A champion? Who doesn’t want that? All it takes is a sizeable fee and crossing one of their corporate finish lines!

Its no wonder why Ironman races [the ones with easy courses] sell out in no time, or why triathletes get Ironman tattoos… its the message behind the brand: cross the finish line and you are branded a champ, a winner, a conqueror, not only of triathlon, but life itself.

Prior to “the crawl“, the Ironman was reserved for those who chose for themselves what it meant to cross the finish line. It was reserved for athletes. It was reserved for those who had a respect for the event, for themselves, for training, for competing, who respected the effect the effort would have on mind, body, and soul, who competed in the spirit of John Collin’s triathlon manifesto.

Post “the crawl“, Ironman became a magnet for thrill-seekers: those who think they are athletes because they complete or survive the event, failing to understand that the becoming occurs in the process of training over years and years, not in the fleeting moment of crossing some arbitrary line temporarily lit up with sponsor banners, spectators, and cameras.

Another byproduct of “the crawl” was that ill preparation, insufficient training, ambition, sheer excitement and enthusiasm were pronounced as “enough” to get you to the finish line. Crossing the finish line became all important, not how you crossed the finish line. Instead of advising years of preparation, individuals posing as coaches saw an opportunity to ‘sell’ iron distance triathlons to be within anyone’s reach, with as little as a few months of “training”. Why not? If a college student could take a stab at it, and after crawling end up not only celebrated but on the podium, well then… how hard can it actually be, right?

In the not to distant past, the good ol’ mid life crisis was solved by a Harley Davidson and a ponytail. Today, iron distance triathlons are the solution… having sacrificed health as a desk jockey in pursuit of fame and fortune, completing an iron distance triathlon has become the ticket to regaining an image of vitality, longevity, health, wellness, and anything else you want thrown in. Whether you achieve any of these is not the point, its looking as if you have that matters to thrill-seeking bucket listers.

With the fitness craze just starting in the ’80s, “the crawl” was the PED triathlon needed to vault it into the dreams of all those aspiring to the extremes of endurance sport, to the persona of athlete without having to put in the years and years of commitment, effort, dedication, sacrifice.

Echos of “the crawl” can be read online at triathlon sites today where amateurs ask pros what it would take to beat them (cause it cannot possibly have anything to do with training). The belief that “the crawl” instilled is that pros win because they have better equipment, more aero or hydrodynamic apparel, or their sports nutrition (i.e. adult candy) is more ‘dialed in’. With pharmaceutical and mechanical doping now verging on commonplace amongst age groupers, the reverberations of “the crawl” continue, echoing the desperation of the masses to regain the health of their youth, or at least look the part as ‘cosmetic health’ passes equally in our society for true health.

In fact, “the crawl” has perverted training to the point that proper training, training that builds unshakeable physiology and psychology and which takes years to develop is looked down upon. Its all about short cutting the process to a minimum. The mindset has been corrupted to where those who train least and still manage to cross the finish, irrespective of how, are the ones celebrated as champs. Training technique, training skill, gaining aerobic and anaerobic capacity through energy system development… has become the losers approach to sport.

As an athlete, a coach, and health professional it both saddens and infuriates me what the sport of triathlon has become. Being involved in the sport in its early years was a time when the joy of training was found in the simplicity of the challenge of excelling in three distinct disciplines. There was a child-like excitement at the opportunity to enjoy a new sport, to play in a new way. Now, to see the sport become a contest between credit cards – i.e. carbon fiber equipment – and impoverished training reveals a desolate landscape where the innocence and beauty of a sport has been strip mined for every possible ounce of profit. It should not be a surprise to anyone that the sport is losing participants and interest… how long could “the crawl” remain significant? Today, Ironman Corp is launching a reality series in hopes that it will revitalize interest, spark another wave of athletes. Will it?

As a parent, I believe the glorification of thrill-seekers is irresponsible. What are we teaching our kids?  That ill preparation, slogging through relying on NSAIDs and painkillers, suffering to glorify excessive effort has anything remotely to do with mental or physical health? That gambling with your health, rolling the dice on life are acceptable in the process of striving, achieving, and living? Its not just careless, its downright irresponsible for a generation to be so consumed with itself that it fails to realize the imprint they are making on those watching. You really think your kids admire you for coming home injured, ill, broken, ‘destroyed’ after a workout? Do you really think the medal matters when your kids just want to be with you, spend time with you, enjoy a bike ride or run at a reasonable pace where you can talk about life, enjoy each others presences, and the beauty that surrounds. If the medals are that important to you, don’t worry your kids will be sure to bury you with them when you pass on.

I believe the sport needs to return to its roots. Back to a time when equipment was secondary, and the basis of competition was identifying the athlete who was able to master all three disciplines, and able to deliver on any given day. It was the demonstration of sheer brilliance in physiological supremacy and psychological superiority that was the inspiration. It was a time when an athlete’s effort would leaving all those watching, and those competing motivated to seek a new level within themselves. It was a time when we played triathlon (as in the words of triathlon pro Eric Langerstrom).

Finish lines are sought after today as some sort of ‘holy grail’, that once obtained will release the finisher from their inner turmoils and distress, proclaiming to the world that they are ‘good enough’. It doesn’t. Its an illusion. An illusion sold because it profits business. Don’t believe me, then read the memoirs and the autobiographies of Olympians who stood on the podium crying not in joy but disappointment that with gold medal in hand while their national anthem played they remain unfulfilled, realizing their pursuit was empty from the start. Finish lines pursued with the wrong motivation always feel that way (problem is, if you don’t believe anyone telling you different, you have to experience it for yourself to awaken to the truth).

Think it was last year when CNBC polled to find out how much money was “enough”. Those with $1million stated $5million in the bank would be enough to feel safe and secure. Those with $5million had no plans to stop working as they responded $10million was needed. Guess how those with $10, $20, and those with $50million responded? Consistently, the need was for double of what was their current bank balance. Yet double was never enough when they got there.  How can the solution be more, if more never satisfies?

If you are not enough to start, there are not enough finish lines in the world to make you enough. Those that realize this after crossing a finish line, but are unable to accept it, deny it and either change sports claiming that triathlon wasn’t challenging enough, or live in denial. To avoid the lingering emptiness, upon completing one goal they immediately sign up for another and another hoping that next time… will be different. It never is.

Training, triathlon, sport in general are all beautiful when used and pursued properly, when the starting point is a search for enlightenment into oneself, as a form of self expression.

When abused, when pursued by thrill seeking addicts, sport becomes ugly. It loses its value as a source of inspiration, motivation, because turned into a battle of conquest, there never are winners.

There is an healthy way to train and compete, and there is most definitely unhealthy ways to train and compete.

Today, triathlon has become u-g-l-y, ugly and it has no alibi. It doesn’t need cosmetic surgery, it needs a fresh start, a do over where fun, play, learning, and training are the starting points, and where thrill-seeking is left to amusement park rides and bucket lists are for those who are dying, not living.

Reference and Links:

Self Harm: End Game of Mindless Training

Gutierrez: “I have been hospitalized 11 times because of self-harm”

By Adam Baker from Houston / Moscow / Toulouse (travel a lot); cut by user:Tekstman – cut from Stand, CC BY 2.0

Iván Gutiérrez is a former pro cyclist, was the U23 World Time Trial Champion in 1999, a 3x Spanish Time Trial (TT) champion, a silver medalist at TT Worlds, rode on the UCI WorldTour Team Movistar (2011-2014), competed in all three of the Grand Tours, including 10 appearances at the Tour de France.

The story of Iván Gutiérrez is not an isolated one. The list of pro athletes sharing their struggles with physical and mental challenges is growing, and the pace of growth is accelerating. Once upon a time, the life of pro athletes was once portrayed as a glorified existence which alternated between fame and fortune; now, the true extent of the strain and the consequences of the strain are being revealed.

In a courageous interview, Gutierrez opens up sharing the challenges he encountered in his years as a pro athlete including how at the age of 35 “facing his decline as a pro”, “he attempted suicide for the first time.”

Click here to link to full article @cyclingnews.com


If you train in a manner where you have been taught to inflict self-harm (i.e. endless amounts of mindless HiiT) then what happens when you hit an impasse in training or racing performance? If mindless HiiT training is what got you to this point, if mindless HiiT training is the process you have been taught as the rungs in the ladder that you climb in search of your potential, then its no stretch of the imagination that when reaching for the next level of performance, you will do even more mindless HiiT training.

If you have been taught that progress is made by inflicting greater and greater amounts of harm to yourself with the goal being  to learn to “take the pain”, then to cause yourself the ultimate pain… to destroy your reputation, your identity by cheating, by doping or by committing suicide is nothing other than an extension of this line of thinking.**

What saddens and infuriates me is that the typical coach today believes that the entire goal of being a coach is to hurt people, to inflict as much pain as an athlete can tolerate, and then push them to ‘take’ more. What passes as coaching today is not coaching, its ignorant individuals suffering with unresolved pains who believe that teaching others to suffer and endure pain (instead of healing those underlying issues) is the foundation of health, healthy exercise, of training for sport, for performance, for life. These coaches inflict onto others, the pain they refuse to heal.

Its the equivalent of an alcoholic trying to solve their problems by wanting everyone else to become an alcoholic. Its a drug addict who believes that if everyone else just did their drug, then all life problems would disappear. Its an exercise addict who gets their fix from HiiT and believes that everyone else’s health issues would be solved if they just shut up, grew a pair, and sacrificed themselves in a HiiT session… just like them.

To harm yourself, especially in the belief of “no pain, no gain” is not an indication of health or wellness, but the opposite: of mental impairment.

The fact that we encourage people to harm themselves, creating narratives around it to make it acceptable, reveals our collective mental dysfuction.

To harm yourself is unhealthy. It is not what sport is about, its not what training or competing, or pursuing your potential is remotely about.

The media feeds this frenzy for agony, disappointment, suffering, even despair by focusing on and repeating images of pain, while streaming narratives which should be reserved for periods of great societal tragedy, for times of mourning, not to describe athletes striving for a finish line.

Despite there never being a time when we had more access to health clubs, training facilities, to coaches, trainers, even to pro athletes, or information on the subject… as a society we are the sickest we have ever been collectively. We are the most medicated, most diseased, most overweight, most diagnosed and treated population ever to exist. Many look healthy, but their combination of pills, HiiT and protein shake smoothie routines have resulted only in cosmetic health as they suffer in silence with their physical, mental, and emotional ailments.

Its time we stop the madness, re-evaluate how we are training, and consider that although our intent may be appropriate, our approach is anything but.


There are two predominant schools of thought on training:

  • MINDLESS HiiT / EXERCISE ADDICT: train hard, then harder, then harder still with the goal to force yourself to hold a particular pace, to endure the pain of holding that pace, where success is measured by how long you can “take the pain”. It starts backwards, by the athlete identifying a pace they want to hold, and then trying to hold that effort for longer and longer periods. To force themselves to achieve, these athletes are taught that the outcome is binary: “ER or PR”, as in either you set a personal record, or you end up in emergency room from trying… anything else is a cop-out, a failed attempt, evidence of a lack of drive or willpower, with this metric applied universally to training and racing, to life.
  • MINDFUL TRAINING: train smart, then smarter, then smarter still with the goal being to learn the fundamentals of movement, upon which sport specific technique is built, with all aspects of movement which inhibit flowing fluid movement trained individually by gaining flexibility, mobility, then agility, balance, and coordination. It starts at the beginning, from the skill level, capacity and knowledge level of the athlete today, and builds up. These athletes are taught that the outcome of any effort is always a lesson which points to what else can be improved so that the process continues, unfolding in a never ending progression of discovery.

Athletes who are shown from the start that performance in sport is based on developing the skill to move the most efficiently, maintaining the focus on technique and encouraged to enjoy the process, to have fun and play, are the ones who rise to the level of legendary status.

Each sport has its handful of legends (e.g. Bruce Lee, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Chrissie Wellington). The fact that there are so few, points to how few truly train smart, mindfully. It also reveals how many fail to rise to their potential because they were seduced by the belief that to truly succeed they need to train hard, really hard, no I mean taste blood in your mouth hard.

Learning how to wound yourself, over and over again, physically, mentally, and emotionally is not training. That we fail to connect the resulting pain and disappointment with the pain that we self inflict is a testament to how mindless exercise, training, racing, sport in general has become.


** Autobiographies of pro cyclists who admit to doping all follow an eerily consistent pattern… an athlete who was stoically opposed doping in their early career (e.g. David Millar, Team Garmin) are applauded by their team manager and team doctor. That is, until they start to have difficulty in delivering results. In a depressive low typically after a string of sub par competitions, where the athlete is unable to conceptualize “hurting” any more yet knows that more is needed in order to meet the expectations of the team… all of a sudden, the team which stood by the athlete’s opposition to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) offers them a pill packaged and sold to the athlete as “help for them to recover”. In that moment the athlete bends, because to hurt any more without “help” is inconceivable to them.

When all you know is to hurt yourself, or when the joy that you initially found in sport is lost because the focus on results has become obsessive and hurting yourself to achieve those results is made acceptable by your coach, by your training partners… then PEDs, suicide… its all on the table because its just another form of hurting yourself.

When you have hurt yourself for so long that you are numb to it, then hurting yourself ultimately – as in where the consequences are career or life ending – do not register as irrational. They cannot impact one who has numbed themselves to the point that inflicting self harm has been normalized as “part of the job”.

On the other hand, read the autobiographies of those athletes who started, were trained, and remained in love with the sport because they were mindful of how they trained and raced and those are the athletes who in addition to enjoying consistent success in sport, are also able to transition to life after retiring from sport.

Mindful Training vs Exercise Addict

It is recommended that both posts titled “Simon Sinek: Understand the Game” are read prior to this post as the addictive nature of aspects of our nervous system is important to grasp so that you can appreciate the significance of how the industry markets exercise to us, and why.


In general, we are not encouraged to train towards a goal mindfully. We are not encouraged to evaluate our starting point: our cardiovascular and respiratory capacity, our flexibility, our mobility, our skill level.  We are not encouraged to establish proper baseline measures against which to assess progress, to assess improvement in any real aspect of health, or function; instead we are told to pick a goal, preferably an epic event, then follow a plan which will take us to the finish line.

We are encouraged to create an addiction to exercise, not for exercise to be added as a balanced aspect of life. We are encouraged to over-reach and over-train all in the pursuit of finish lines, participant medals, and t-shirts, as if any of those are measures of wellness, function or health. We are encouraged to participate in sport, as if its an experience no different than wine tasting… something you casually do on a weekend with friends which requires no development of ability, capacity, or skill.

This is how dumbed-down training for performance, for the pursuit of health, of peak physical and mental function has become.

Its been dumbed-down not for your benefit, not to make health more accessible, more available, but for the sake of corporate revenue and profit.

The major sports product and service companies, from footwear, to apparel, to event management and so-called sports nutrition (i.e. candy for adults) have diminished sport telling everyone and anyone that a 10k, a marathon, a triathlon, a grandfondo, any and all finish lines are just on the other side of acquiring all the right training equipment, outfits, technology and tracking devices, and of course, all the sports nutrition your two hands can carry to the check out.

Training… oh, don’t worry about training, all that it takes is a few weeks where you train at your limit (hopefully without a resulting injury or illness) learning to “take the pain”. There is no technical instructional, there is no learning of skills; instead mindless all out effort has been branded “training”. If you aren’t coughing up or peeing blood… you ain’t trainin’.

The industry makes it sound like anyone can participate in any sport, and if you are not, then the final attack in their strategy is emotionally manipulating us to believe that our lack of participation is due to a lack of willpower, a lack of discipline, or evidence of inadequacy as an human being that holds us back. The corollary being that we will no longer feel inadequate and all our life issues will disappear if we only sign up for their event, wear their gear, use their equipment.

Consider the recent announcement by World Champion and 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist in the sport of triathlon Alistair Brownlee:

  • He announced that he will be training and competing in iron distance triathlons, moving up from the sprint and Olympic distance triathlons for the next two seasons. His goal is to qualify and compete at Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, but he believes that the two year time frame is likely too short of a time span to achieve that goal.

We are not talking about an athlete who is just starting out. This is an athlete who has been training since elementary school age, who has been competing at the highest level of sport for over a decade, and who has stood on the podium at Worlds, European Champs, and the Olympics, both as a Junior and Amateur athlete…

We are talking about an athlete who peaked for competing in Rio in an Olympic distance triathlon by putting in 35-40 hr training weeks, swimming 20-25km, biking 500-700km, and running 120km per week…

…and he doesn’t think two years is enough to prep properly for an Ironman triathlon.

Please stop there, re-read this point, and allow enough time for the significance of it to sink in.

How many who have spent the last decade or more sitting behind a desk and behind the wheel commuting 6-8+hrs a day, who have little background in formal training for sport, who have a ways to go to regain health let alone starting on fitness are sold that all it takes is a few months and you can… run a half or full marathon, race in a triathlon, or better yet complete an iron distance triathlon, or cycling grandfondo?

How many coaches are selling aspiring athletes that two years is more than enough time to prep for an Ironman? Really. Its not enough for Alistair Brownlee, two time Olympic gold medalist in the triathlon (London 2012 & Rio 2016), and four time ITU World Champion, but its more than enough time for everyone else? How exactly does that work?

How is it that pros who have decades of training under their belts, train as many hours per week that you work your job need years to prep while everyone else is packaged and sold that training and competing in sport is no different than packing a suit case and going for a cruise, or an overseas vacation? Just have the right luggage; that’s all it takes.

National & Olympic Swim Team Coach Paulus Wildeboer

The health and fitness industry are lying outright to you in order to monetize your fears, and turning profits to the tune of billions and billions of dollars in so doing. Meanwhile, you in an honest effort to become healthy have become addicted to excessive and insanely intense exercise at that, which after yielding some temporary positive results now leaves you jailed with unending aches, soreness, pain, injury, and illness. Plus, the all out efforts and subsequent days of discomfort add to a growing animosity towards the gym, fitness clubs, and the entire thought of training. It builds an inner turmoil fed by the guilt the industry sows to make it seem that if you don’t work out then you are inadequate because you obviously lack the willpower, desire, and ambition to drag yourself back out for another session of self inflicted harm.

So what do you have to do to keep it going?  We sign up for some extraordinary epic one of a kind event. An event that we pray will motivate us to continue to hurt ourselves day after day until we are healthy (or die trying).

The industry cares not whether you get healthy, all they want is to pry from you every penny you’ve got and once drained, drop you moving on to another whose fears of being overweight, obese, stricken by anyone of the lifestyle diseases (e.g. heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzhiemers, diabetes) or due to the desire to be identified as an athlete fall for their trap of “only 10weeks to look and feel your best”.

You have not been and you are not being encouraged to engage in mindful training.

Mindful training is where you regain flexibility, regain full function of all your joints, muscles, and with that mobility, leading to agility, balance, coordination, and dexterity. Mindful training naturally leads to an appropriate body weight, and retrains the mind to remain at peace, focused, and objective when stressed, and precludes getting injured or ill. Mindful training is not a destination, its a process.

Sport is about the beautiful movements that the human body is capable of creating, not mindless extreme effort.

The problem for industry is that mindful training cannot be sold in quantity. So the solution is to dumb-down training and competing in sport so that they can achieve sales quotas.

Mindful training comes from a caring, compassionate, knowledgeable and experienced coach and health professional, preferably done one on one, but doable in small groups.

Mindful training focuses on learning how to move, from which joint and muscle group to generate power, resulting in speed, endurance, and ease in movement. None of which can be done via Skype or by downloaded spreadsheet.

Mindful training does not depend on premium equipment, the latest technology, laboratory developed nutrition.  If it did, then why do Olympians arise from poverty? Hmm?

You have been encouraged to get addicted where your supplier and enabler is the health and fitness industry.

You want your health? Then break free from the mainstream definitions of exercise, of training, of competing, of nutrition, and especially of health.

Addicted living is not healthy living.

Find someone in your community who coaches healthy mindful training.

Those depending on HIIT (hi intensity interval training), bootcamps, Tabata, CrossFit or any other insanely intense and excessive form of exercise are selling short cuts to cosmetically change you to look healthy, they are not truly helping you to change to be healthy.

Find someone in your community who is teaching how to move, how to regain movement by acquiring skills in movement, and who will help you one on one figure out what is holding you back, what you need to do to get healthy, who are willing to walk with you each step of the way.

Find a sport or a performing art that speaks to you on a deeper level… it can be ballet, hip hop dance or jazz, or it can be any sport that you fancy. If its fun, if you are challenged by it, if you can commit to it, if it requires you to practice, to train, to learn, if you can start at an appropriate level and progress at your speed and skill, then its the right activity for you no matter what it is.

In The Lab vs Out In The Real World [2]

This post is not a review of the Ventum One. The purpose of referencing the review of this TT frame is to draw the parallel to training and racing concepts formulated “in the lab”.


ventum-one01According to the company, the Ventum One frame is so fast, so aerodynamic that when testing was performed in the laboratory setting of a wind tunnel, the wind tunnel engineer himself did not believe the results.

“In the lab” against top frames from other bike builders, the Ventum One tested to be the fastest.

“In the lab” results pointed to the Ventum One being the bike upon which athlete after athlete would rewrite record after record of bike course splits in triathlons.

Then the bike was taken out of the lab, out of the wind tunnel, and exposed to reality…

In reality… to compensate for a stable two triangle frame being replaced with a Z frame shape, the reinforcements of the chainstays, the seat tube, and toptube add 1kg / 2.2lbs of weight. Considering that athletes seek to shed ounces and grams of weight, adding back a kilogram to overall weight may not hamper wind tunnel tests, but in the real world that load matters, alot.

In reality… wind never blows head on for more than a few moments (as it does in a wind tunnel), and even when it does athletes do not hold a straight line, resulting in the front end of the bike veering to the left/right or being angled to the left/right changing constantly the airflow over the bike. As a result, reality diminishes the value of eliminating the downtube, especially when firmness and stability get compromised. The lab fails to offer these insight. Despite all of the technology of the lab, you have to leave the lab to learn the true nature of the frames performance [important to note that the same applies to you and your performance].

In reality… if the frame is unable to handle the torsional stress of a rider climbing, because the rear wheel rubs against the frame, you have to ask yourself… do the lab results really matter? If so, how much? Perhaps the frame is fast… but the conditions to when it is faster than another frame need to be accurately and honestly disclosed (e.g. on a dead flat bike course, and only if the rider doesn’t stand to attack for any extended period of time).

The point of this post is not to review the Ventum One, the purpose is to highlight again that “in the lab” matters only if bikes were raced in a lab, only if triathlons were raced in the lab, only if life was lived in a laboratory.  It isn’t. None of it is, ever. No competition is held in a lab, nor in lab-like conditions, so there is no point to lab results unless they are balanced with real world testing, then testing to assess whether or not the results apply to the athlete: to you.

This applies to aerodynamics, and it applies to everything else: training concepts, sport specific technique, nutrition and hydration strategies, competition tactics, recovery tools, …everything.

Lab results dumb-down reality [to a single variable].

In the lab, the goal is to hold all but one variable constant so that changes in that one variable can be isolated and measured. In reality, never does everything remain constant. In reality, everything is changing, and constantly so. Therefore taking lab results and applying them indiscriminately to all athletes, all conditions, all the time is simply dumbing down sport, training, racing as if all that has to happen is that one number, one set of conditions must be met for everything to work out perfectly, all the time. If it were that simple, then winning Olympic gold would already be written into an algorithm and sold as an app available to all. It ain’t because success does not follow a cookie cutter pattern. You cannot download a one size fits all spreadsheet detailing your path to success.  Success is individual.

Athletes and coaches must appreciate that training and competing can only be based on ongoing evaluation of every aspect of performance because the only experimentation and the only results that matter to the athlete, are the athlete’s own.

Training and competing need to be approached as one ongoing experiment, where the athlete is n, n=1, and all that matters to n are the results of n. Lab results, studies, research findings are great starting places but they are not definitive for anyone or anything. Everything has to be applied to n, to evaluate if there is a net benefit to n, and if so, how much, under what conditions, with what consequences in the short-term, and in the long-term.

Its no wonder that amateurs and professional athletes train in circles, failing to improve despite countless hours in the pool, on the road, in the gym. If “in the lab” results are indiscriminately applied to the training and racing of an athlete – in a flavour of the week fashion – then failing to improve, failing to progress, failing to achieve results should be expected, not a surprise.

In reality… when the Ventum One was tested against an Orbea frame, the Ventum One did not only underperform, it was slower. This comes as no surprise to those who take “in the lab” results for what they are: a starting point for further testing and experimentation. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here is the entire rundown of the Ventum One provided by Procycling Magazine.

In The Lab vs Out In The Real World

I was recently 2015rio-road-race02reviewing the Rio 2016 Olympic Men’s Cycling Road Race, with the intent of studying the various strategies and riding styles. It just so happened that I came upon this tidbit of information…

Former pro cyclist and World Tour team Cervelo-Garmin rider Christian Vande Velde was a commentator for NBC’s broadcast of the Rio Road Race. At 56.8km to go in the race, these were his words:

“Chris Froome was in 2nd place earlier, [where] you don’t get as much draft especially off a small rider like  Jonathan Castroviejo.  So its better to let yourself go back, so now Chris Froome is back in 6th or 7th place… now that’s a better draft.  See now Vincenzo Nibali does the same thing… you don’t want to be sitting there with all that wind in your face.”

2015rio-road-race03Vande Velde says that drafting wheel to wheel behind another rider is not enough, especially if that rider is smaller than you. To maximize the draft, to minimize the effort, to hold an easy position, pro cyclists wants to be at the back of a pace line, at the end of a row of 6 to 7 riders.

On the other hand, pro triathlete Lionel Sanders argues that 10m of dead and empty space between riders is still insufficient, that there is a draft effect, and that a proper draft zone needs to be enlarged to 20m to eliminate drafting entirely.

Vande Velde states that pro cyclists want to be shielded, fully, not partially by one single rider, and definitely not by a rider who is smaller than them.

Sanders says that there is a significant draft even when there is 10m between riders, even when those riders are cutting small cross sections with aero frames, aero helmets, and riding aero, making minimal turbulence.

To put 10m into perspective, I measured my road bike end to end: it measures 66″ or 1.67meters. A gap of 10m is equivalent to the space that 6 road bikes, wheel to wheel take up.

How is it that for pro cyclists a few centimeters in stature, a few kilograms in size, and a few centimeters in distance is enough to diminish the draft effect that its value becomes debatable, but to a pro triathlete 20m – as in meters – is needed to diminish the draft. That’s a factor of 100x between what pro cyclists and pro triathletes consider significant drafting.

Something does not add up. Let’s consider another scenario…

In cycling races, when the riders are preparing for the final 500m sprint to the finish line, a lead out train (i.e. a pace line) will form to get the team sprinter up to max speed, with the intent of firing them like a rock out of a slingshot past competitors to the finish line. Watch any race where Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Griepel, and Peter Sagan are racing and you will see how in the final kilometer these sprinters are paced and then fired off towards the finish line. A determining factor in this stage of the race is often the extent a sprinter is able to catch a draft off another rider. To lose a draft – i.e. to loss the wheel of another rider by as little as a few centimeters for even a second – can make the difference between having the speed to finish first or second or completely out of contention.

Again, to pro cyclists centimeters matter, not meters.

Sanders may have a point, but lets consider the setting when an empty gap of 10m between riders may offer a statistically significant draft effect: conditions would have to be perfect. The wind would have to be blowing exactly head on, without any variation in its direction, the road would need to line up perfectly with the wind, without any changes, no inclines, no declines, no turns. The riders would have to be perfectly lined up, one behind the other, without any deviations in their lines, for periods long enough to impart a real value in the draft. There would have to be no trees, bushes, houses, nothing that would alter the direction of the wind, the road and riders would have to be completely exposed. When exactly does this happen? When it does, for how long? Long enough to give an athlete the advantage to win an entire iron distance triathlon? That’s a stretch by any imagination.

If triathlons were raced under laboratory conditions, then maybe Sanders has a point. Maybe.

In The Laboratory vs Out in the Real World

Why would a pro triathlete and a pro cyclist differ so greatly on the topic of drafting. Here’s my take using clinical trials of new drugs as an analogy…

In a lab, an experimental drug can work ‘perfectly’, delivering the desired end result. Just because a drug works in a lab does not mean it works in ‘real’ life, does not mean its ready to be sold to the public. Experimental drugs have to go through numerous sets of clinical trials to prove that they in fact work, over time, consistently, in different scenarios, with different people. A lab experiment proves only that the drug is ready for testing beyond the bubble of a lab, out in the real world. How many drugs make it past clinical trials? Not many, usually because bad stuff happens, like people die as a result of taking the drug (despite it working ‘perfectly’ in the lab).  When a drug does pass trials, almost all come with long lists of side effects ranging from nausea and anal leakage, to cancer, to the risk of dying. That’s life in the real world; it ain’t all neat and tidy like a lab where conditions (and results) can be faked.

Triathlon seems to want to prove that it exists in a bubble, that the real world doesn’t apply, that the laws of physics apply differently to it than the standalone sports of swimming, cycling and running. Instead of leveraging decades of history, of experimentation, of tried and tested training and racing results, of real world experience which exists in each of the sports, triathletes are in the lab starting from scratch. Why waste training and racing to relearn what is already known?

Case in point… how long has the meme been in force that swimming in triathlon is different than the swimming that occurs as a standalone sport?  For this to be true, this would mean that the physics of movement, the laws of motion, the density of water, the forces of buoyancy and drag change. The laws of physics do not change, that is why they are called laws. So why not consider the training performed by top swimmers? Nope. Instead, a pro triathlete or a triathlon coach decided to dumb-down the sport by starting the meme that triathletes need to ‘save their legs’ for the bike and run, and triathletes obeyed en masse repeating the mantra “save the legs, do not kick in the swim”. In the lab it may make sense, it may even be proven in a lab to be true, but in the real world, “save the legs” makes no sense whatsoever. With races held out in the real world, not labs, guess what research truly matters… real world experimentation, not lab results.

The kick is integral to balancing body position, to maintaining and changing posture to achieve the highest level of efficiency: the ‘pull’ of the swim stroke leverages the power of the kick to maximize propulsion.  You know what happens when you don’t kick… you weaken the pull of the stroke, you eliminate the torque generated by the hip drive, you make swimming incredibly inefficient, maximizing the amount of work needed to swim.  Don’t kick, ‘save your legs’ but destroy your cardio-respiratory system and burn through two, three, or four times as much energy? Penny wise and dollar foolish. Meanwhile, triathletes are surprised how gassed, spent, exhausted they are after every swim, returning to coaches who prescribe more pull sets, adamant enough pulling wasn’t done, and that kicking and kick sets are a waste of time.

Now the sport has a pro triathlete who wants to dumb-down the sport even further, where racing has to occur under idealized conditions so that their idealized laboratory training will deliver them to the podium. If triathlon keeps dumbing itself down to whatever nonsense dribbles out of a pro or coach, then eventually the sport will be one no one wants anything to do with anymore. Triathlon will no longer be perceived as the challenge it once was, it will no longer stand as a metaphor for overcoming obstacles in life. Keep dumbing-down the sport, and sooner or later, iron men and women won’t be crossing the finish line, it’ll be iron babies.

It is not different, because its in a triathlon.

Here is a short list of the dumbing-down in iron distance triathlon over the years…

  • Swimming has been dumbed-down to paddle and pull buoy sets without a kick set in sight because of the ‘save the legs’ meme, resulting in widespread dependency on wetsuits. Instead of learning proper technique, athletes are taught to drag themselves thru water, to fight water, turning the swim portion of triathlons into MMA battle royales where athletes switch between fighting water and pummeling one another.
  • Cycling has been reduced to generating numbers on a power meter, as if the majority even understand how the number is obtained, what it means or how to improve it other than to hammer harder on the pedals. Cycling has become a contest of FTP maximums, not actual riding ability. Bike handling skills have been replaced with the belief that there is only one aspect of cycling that matters: being aero, where aero arises from spending money on aero stuff, not actual training to develop the flexibility to be aero.
  • Running, well there is little running in triathlon as the majority swim-bike & walk. Loads of shuffling, trudging, even crawling, because training has been dumbed-down to nothing other than HIIT workouts, to the point athletes are too injured to run and are so under-trained that few have the capacity to make it to the run portion of a triathlon, let alone run.

When training gets dumbed-down, racing also gets dumbed-down. Pro triathlete Cody Beals states that there’s been a progression of dumbing races down these days, so that they are easier and easier. What’s next… races that are only with the current, only with tailwinds, and all downhill? We are already on our way! Any race which has a challenging course is being cancelled or rerouted to be made easier. That’s progress? That’s not evolution, its de-evolution.

What made triathlon great was the complexity of mastering all three sports.  It was the fact that you could not master the sport in a year. It was the fact that it took training across three distinct disciplines which served as the basis of John Collins’ original question… who is the ultimate athlete?

Sanders is a pro triathlete who admittedly does not train outdoors. He trains almost exclusively indoors in fixed conditions, in a fixed position and state; Sanders trains in the equivalent of a lab. He has been riding for no more than a few years, so his experience in cycling is limited to say the least. He admits to having next to no bike handling skills. He trains solo, without worthy training partners or competitors to challenge him. His total outdoor mileage cannot be far off his total racing mileage.  In summary, Sanders’ appreciation for ‘real world’ conditions is immaterial; his cycling experience is predominantly theoretical, and no more than that of the average German child who rides to and from school. And the sport of triathlon is going to listen to him expound on anything that has to do with cycling?

The result of this type of training: Sanders’ ability to translate training into racing is predictable. Under ideal (i.e. lab comparable) conditions as at Ironman Arizona 2016 he can deliver a world record performance. Under non-ideal conditions (e.g. Ironman WC 2016) Sanders has difficulty, instead blames the real world for preventing him from achieving the results his lab predicted.

Lab rat training creates fair-weather athletes: athletes capable of performing only when real world conditions match those of their laboratories.

On the other hand, consistent peak performers, year after year champions are capable of performing no matter what is thrown at them. Michael Phelps’ goggles filled with water in the finals of the 200m FLY in Beijing 2008. No matter, he wins Olympic gold and sets a WR.  Silken Laumann while warming up at Worlds, weeks before Barcelona was hit by another boat, which ripped her calf muscle clear off the bone. Multiple surgeries, hospitalization, rehab, no problem, 10 weeks later she stands on the podium with an Olympic bronze medal. Chrissie Wellington in 2011 found herself 21mins+ behind Mirinda Carfrae coming out of T2 at Ironman WCs. No worries, she runs to win, remaining undefeated at iron distance triathlons.

What do you want you to be? A lab-rat/fair-weather athlete or a consistent peak performer?

If triathletes train like lab rats, then what is real training?

Simple, take the training of a typical pro cyclist: they start riding young, riding to and from school on a handed down or beater bike, accumulating a mileage log resembling that of a long haul truck odometer before starting any ‘serious’ training, before upgrading to anything anyone would consider top equipment, before any FTP or VO2 max efforts.  It is with such a base that pro cyclists progress to training in every climate, every terrain, in every set of weather conditions conceivable. They train at altitude, in the mountains, on snow covered peaks, in freezing temperatures, challenging their energy systems, pushing their energy systems to the limits while delivering peak output, while executing specific race strategies. Pro cyclists train together learning how to pace, draft, work as a team, to read one another & the peloton, learning when and how to attack, how to handle their bikes in the rain, the sleet, the snow, desert heat, and rainforest humidity. Pro cyclists learn to ride with tailwinds, and against headwinds and crosswinds that would send an average rider off the road, they train echelons, holding and rotating positions developing uncanny efficiency regardless what the environment throws at them. Pro cyclists learn the tactics of how to ride when spectators are in your face, cheering, booing, running alongside, getting in the way. Pro cyclists develop such a wide range of skills that they are equally capable of racing individual and team time trials [TT], and many also compete in mountain bike and/or cyclocross events to further develop their skill set.

I can only imagine a pro cyclist being asked what they think of a 20m draft zone… I bet we couldn’t get a straight answer because they would be rolling on the floor laughing that a pro triathlete needs 20m to prove themselves as a cyclist.  To athletes for whom centimeters matter, asking if 20 meters matters is like asking if they are going to ride the Tour de France with training wheels on their bike, or on a tricycle.

To triathletes… its time to get outside, time to train like an athlete, not like a lab rat. Get out of the laboratory, off the labtop, put down the spreadsheets, walk away from the online training websites, skip the hamster wheels of trainers and treadmills… get outside and have some fun, start to play, learn how to move, learn how to train, get out into the real world.