Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wacky Wednesday- WTC Generosity?

The WTC is the World Triathlon Corporation. It is a for-profit company that holds the brand name Ironman to its chest like a treasured childhood toy. In the triathlon world, just the mere mention of the WTC sparks as many emotions as as dudes arguing over the best baseball team of all time. Typically everyone is right, regardless of their opinions.

One specific complaint by many revolves around the 140.6 triathlon. Any 140.6 race that consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run is typically called an Ironman. People that complete the race in the obligatory 17 hour timetable are also called Ironman. But, the title Ironman only applies to blokes that complete a WTC sponsored event. Should another, competing company host a 140.6, you do not have the right to be officially called an Ironman. This doesn't make you any less awesome. A rose by any other name is still an Ironman.

To further enragen the blood, the WTC started calling its half distance events "Ironman." Their website lists the 70.3 Ironman series. Now triathlon purists (I am one, I think) would never call these things Ironman. They are Half-Ironman events.

However, I concede the point. The WTC hosts the events, has paid money for the rights and privileges, and (quite honestly) they put on really good races. Do they hand out lots of swag? Nope. Do they offer benefits to people that race in their events? Not likely. Do they overcharge? Probably. Remember, they are a for-profit company. It's their job to make money. Will I be signing up for more of their events? Most definitely.

This year, I raced in 2 "Ironman" events, Ironman Lake Placid (a true Iron event) and the Ironman Syracuse (a fraudulent Half-Iron event). I thought I had been given everything that was coming to me within 15 minutes of crossing the finish line (a bottle of water, a finisher's medal, and a couple of cookies). I concluded my season and went on with the rest of my life.

Recently, the WTC sent me a package.

Sorry, I don't know how the girls on the internet take self portraits with amazing accuracy. Wrong shot. Let's try again.

I like the shirt. It is a comfy, technical material. It is a neutral gray. I could go without the orange fonts but since Syracuse University is an orange laden campus, it's not that bad. The problem is that I already have an (Half) Ironman t-shirt.

That's the original. The color is white. It is the same comfy, technical material. It has the exact same picture. Same fonts. Same orange. Same date. What gives? They didn't send along any reason for the additional fabric.

My original hypotheses went as follows:
-The WTC had too much profit from the race and decided to share the benefits.
-The WTC had found an extra box of unopened shirts and sent them out.
The WTC really prefers gray to white and, since we are all ambassadors of the sport, wanted us to advertise their preference.

Then, someone told me to look a little closer at the original. For your viewing pleasure, I have zoomed in on the main graphic.
See it yet? Don't worry, it too me a while too. Let me zoom in a little closer.
 In the original event, apparently we swam 1.2 miles, biked 56, and then again swam 13.1 miles. The infamous Swim, Bike, Swim. It all makes sense now... A half-marathon swim would better explain my performance in that race.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Weight Solution- Data

With Xmas officially over, the next annual benchmark in New Year's, or Resolution Season. The most popular New Year's Resolution? Start reading Tri-Banter more often. Lose Weight. If you read my weight loss series, you'd know that there are way too many unknowns for the average person to accurately know anything about their weight. But, you are not the average person. You read Tri-Banter. And with that literacy habit, I will now tell you how to drop the fat. Please note, this will take longer than the average infomercial.

Show Me the Data
One of the ladies that I coach, or used to as she has developed some sort of injury (which was not my fault, I swear), had just successfully finished her season. She was ready to move on to something new. I sat down with her, as I do all of my athletes, and discussed her schedule including what went well and what didn't. Then we talked about her next season and what she wanted to accomplish. She simply said, "I want to lose weight."

"Are you sure you want me involved in this goal?" I asked. She said yes. She and I both know that I would get her to where she wanted to be. "You know that this means that you will weigh your self daily and report to me your numbers. I will want you to..." She stopped me. As I predicted, she was already uncomfortable giving me these numbers. Maybe it was a girl/ guy thing. But, the moment she refused to share with me her data was the moment I told her to pick a new goal.

As in any form of goal setting, data should drive you and help you make decisions. I, as a teacher, know this all too well. Who will I ever know if my students are progressing towards their goals if I never measure, record, and analyze anything? Data helps me make informed, intelligent decisions. The same goes for my athletes. When we set goals, we need to collect progress reports in the form of numbers. And, the data needs to be related to the goals. The cartoon shows what happens when you collect too much data. For example, when I coach the weight loss lady above in her last season, she had a distance goal of finishing a 13.1 mile race. When I wrote her workouts, they were flexible and distance based. She had to report back to me how far she actually ran, when she ran, and how it felt. Speed was not important.

Here's step one in your weight loss venture: You have to collect weight data. Use your bathroom scale. Yes, I understand that this is contradictory to a former post. Your bathroom scale is completely unreliable in telling you how much you weigh. But, it is not unreliable in helping you gauge weight loss when you use it correctly. Most people jump on the scale, look and the number, react to the number, and jump off. This is not a very good way to go about things. Where's the objectivity? (I'm not referring to your waist line.) 

We need to record at the same time on a daily basis and chart it. We also need to refrain from making hasty conclusions on the data. Suppose you went running one day and had a crappy run. In 1 hour you managed only 5 miles even though you felt like you were pushing hard. Your HR was in Z4 the whole time. Last week, you did that same run in under 50 minutes with your HR in Z3. Would you conclude that you have gotten slower because of that one crappy run? Doubtful. You just had a bad run, for whatever reason. Now, if you repeated this over the course of a month, 5 times a week. The conclusion that you were a 5 mph runner would be much more accurate. Same goes for your weight. Don't focus on one individual number. Don't compare yesterday to today. Focus on the trend over the course of a long period of time.

The best time to gather your data is first thing in the morning. Wake up. Pee. Get on the scale. If you were really serious, you'd get on the scale naked. Your clothing is not necessary in this venture and possibly counter productive. You must jump on the scale, look at the number, NOT react to the number, jump off, and write it down. I record mine in Excel, but I am thinking on moving my weight loss numbers over to Garmin. The website were I record my workout numbers also allows my to record my weight. Garmin has even gone so far as to develop a scale that will record your weight and send it to the website wirelessly, for those too lazy to click the buttons yourself (which may also be at the root of weight loss problems). 

Now, and this is the toughest part of all but vital enough to repeat: Once you have recorded it, completely forget about the number. It is not at all important. It is just a number and not your real weight anyway. You need much more data before you can do anything with it. Again, physically write down the number in a place that you remember and leave it there. Do this again and again for a minimum of 2 weeks. In reality, you should keep recording the data until you no longer wish to have a weight loss goal.

How's Your Slope?
Once you have at least 14 data points, make a graph. Garmin will do this for you. So will Excel if you ask it nicely. Here's my graph starting from the day after Thanksgiving Break. I was, most likely, at my fattest.

Please notice how the numbers go up and down. Also notice that there is some missing data. I was not a good student last week. It was a recovery week in my training which almost always means that eating habits are steady with extra sleep thrown in. Extra sleep means extra rushing in the morning and I did not record. Bad Banter.

If you look at the slope, the line is obviously lower on the right than on the left. This is what the math geeks refer to as a negative slope, which is exactly what the line should look like if you want to drop weight. I do not expect your line to look like this. I honestly don't care what your line looks like at this time. It's just data. And, I've already started implementing the next few stages of weight loss. The slope of the line is really the only thing that matters. We need to know if you are gaining weight (positive slope), losing weight (see above), or holding steady (flatline). My guess is that a majority of people are actually flatlining. Careful as flatlining might mean you are dead. If that is true, you can stop reading now. You'll likely be losing weight in the very near future.

You are not done. You need to continue doing this daily. There may become a time in the future, when you no longer have weight loss goals, when you can stop. Until then, you need to weigh and record. It seems like a lot of work because it is. If your are like me (and I think you are), you'll take short cuts. Most of the shortcuts involve eating less and making smarter food decisions/ substitutions. If you start losing weight over the long term, as identified in your charting, there's a good chance that your changes are positive. If you are maintaining or gaining weight, there's a good chance a more invasive approach is needed. I'll tell you more about that in the near future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wacky Wednesday- Triathlete's Xmas Cards

I am a lazy, lazy man. For one, I refuse to spell out the word Christmas preferring to use the ubiquitous Xmas abbreviation. I'm not even sure why the 24th letter of the alphabet is an acceptable replacement for Christ. It just seems easier to write. Thank X for that.

For 2, I haven't sent out a single Xmas card in years. I did buy an entire box, count 20, a few years back and made a concerted effort to send them out to all of my friends. I still have 17 left in the box. It wasn't my most intelligent purchase.

If I ever did change my humbug ways, or went out and got some friends, I might be inclined to purchase some of these. 

These and many fine other triathlon related paper products can be found here. A very Merry Xmas, or whatever you happen to celebrate, to you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Weight Problem- Part 5

It's here: the last installment of the "Why am I so Fat? Series. That could only mean one thing, I am eventually going to tell you what it takes to start dropping pounds. But not today. I have to close the door on the problems before I get to the solutions.

Despite the fact that we want to lose weight, we know next to nothing about it. We don't know what our actual weight is, we don't know how many calories we are eating, we don't know how many calories we are burning, and we don't even know how many calories we actually need. When it comes to the Calories In: Calories Out, those problems are academic. The last big problem is the real reason we put on excess pounds more efficiently than take them off.

Your Body Actually Wants You to Put On Weight
The fourth big problem on the list to the BIL, but the 5th and final in the series, is that it is significantly easier to consume an excess number of calories to induce weight gain than it is to shed the equal number of calories for weight loss. One pound is roughly 3500 calories. If your daily calorie intake is 2000 calories (which you can't know anyway), it is much more comfortable to eat 2500 calories a day resulting in dietary satiety. However, put yourself at 1500 calories for an entire week and your body rebels. Your stomach growls. You get headaches. Your energy wanes. If you eat, you feel better. A 500 calorie reduction will inevitably result in binge eating.

Here's the thing: your DNA has evolved safety switches to protect itself against perils. Pain is your body's way of telling you that something on the inside isn't working. Hunger is your body's way of telling you that something on the inside is empty. Life for Homo sapiens hasn't always been kind as it is today. Food was hard to come by. Animals were reluctant to be eaten by weird looking bipeds who were slow runners and smelled funny. As you probably know from experience, most plants out there are not as delicious as the vegetarians would have you believe. Mind you, there are a lot of delicious plants. Its just that they are less plentiful than the non-delicious ones. So when people found themselves in a situation that allowed for gluttony, they took full advantage. Their bodies, just like yours, had a system to storing excess energy as fat because that food wasn't going to stay around forever. 

Then, about 10,000 years ago, people decided to stop chasing animals and developed agriculture. 10K in years isn't that long to a strand of DNA. Some hypothesize that our DNA hasn't changed much since then. The abundance of food has changed dramatically. We are surrounded by ample supplies of high energy morsels of goodness that has made us picky beyond belief. You and I have both done the look-into-a-fridge-full-of-food thing only to announce that we 'have nothing to eat'. The reality is that we are spoiled rotten little brats when it comes to nutrition.

However, the abundance of food hasn't changed how our body responds. You eat. You are sated. You wait for a couple of hours while your innards breakdown, rearrange, distribute and store the excess. Once space opens up in the warehouse, your stomach sends a signal to your brain that says, "Feed me" and it's off to the grazing lot known as your kitchen. Your brain isn't wired to recognize IF the entire system actually needs the calories. It only obeys the chemical messages sent and responds by reverting all attention to finding food. It still believes that there is an inevitable famine heading our way and wants to prepare. Bam, you and I get fat.

Here's where the Calories In: Calories Out formula comes back to haunt you. It is way easier to tip the scale to the left hand side of the formula. You can trump the CO side by thousands of calories on a regular basis without consequence (well, except for the rise in blood pressure, risk of diabetes, risk of pancreatic cancer, and the like, but those don't count right now). You body accepts an excess of additional calories with open, and sometimes pudgy, arms. The exact moment you try and decrease your CI, or even increase your CO, even by just a little bit, your body starts up the Emergency Preparedness Plan. 

Warning alarms sound. This is not a drill. Button down the hatches and damn the torpedoes. And, seriously, somebody get me a sandwich. And a donut. No, I do not want an apple nor a salad. I want pizza. Your body sends out different chemical signals when eating high energy 'comfort foods' than when eating intelligent 'nutritious foods'. High fat and high carb meals send signals of satiety. Mmm, crisis averted. Aside: I have always found it astonishing that our systems have no alerts for vitamin and mineral deficiencies yet the lack of calories sonar comes through loud and clear. End Aside.

The result is that we put on pounds much easier than we take them off. Your body does not have an upper limit as to how much fat it is willing to accept. Plus, the change is normally slow enough that we don't see it on a daily basis. We follow our survival instincts, which means that we eat when food is plentiful. But, when food is always plentiful, there's no off-switch for the hunger. Eating begets more eating. Our stomachs are willing to expand to match our growing waistline and most people don't even know it is happening. 

So there you have it. Taking off weight is seriously hard. The odds are stacked in favor of packing on the jiggle. All hope is not lost. In my next post, I'll start sharing how to bring yourself down (to a better weight, I mean).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wacky Wednesday- Ode to Recent Movies

As training gets into the full swing of things, I have been spending a lot more time in the basement. As a longtime member of Netflix, I am allowed to stream unlimited numbers of bad movies via my Apple TV. It's a great relationship until, for some reason, the streaming stops working. Not to worry, I have a few DVDs in reserve. And I stress FEW. I have all 6 Star Wars, of which 3 are mostly ignored. I have the Princess Bride. I have the first 6 seasons of the Simpsons (only 14 season to go to make the series complete for any would-be Santa's out there). That's it.

A friend of mine sent me this link: which contains witty satire in the form of science, mathematics, and geeky kind of stuff. Translation, I'm a fan. How's this relate to the sparse DVD collection? Well, the xkcd people have taken it upon themselves to mock my movies. Jerks.

For those of you who haven't seen the Bride, here's a summary:

Here's some mocking of Star Wars:

Here's a take on the relationship between technology and my chosen profession:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Weight Problem- Part 4

I'm roughly 80% of the way through this series. I firmly understand why fat gain is more the norm than fat loss. There are so many problems on the way down. Whereas most people understand the concept that an excess of calories yields an overall bulge in your midsection, the actual measurement of said calories is seriously complicated. We can't really know how many calories go in nor can we accurately figure out how many calories come out. Now, I'm going to add one more layer of complication to the Calories In: Calories Out Equation.

How Many Calories Do You Need?
The fourth big problem (this was originally 3rd on the list to the BIL) is that few of us know how many calories we need to survive without gaining or losing weight. There is something very real called our "basal metabolism rate". This is basically the number of calories you need to consume for normal, everyday life without wasting away. See, your body has some basic functions which require energy. Maintaining a constant body heat of nearly 100º is one of your biggest calorie burns. Brain activity is another. You want your heart to keep pumping and your lungs to keep breathing, right? These things take energy.

Once you have met your BMR needs, the other stuff that happens in your life, such as exercise, starts to use up your calories. But, do understand, the number of calories you burn during the rest of your life pales in comparison to your BMR calories. For example, if you burned 2000 calories total today (which, of course, you don't know so please ignore that fact for now), about 1500 of that was most likely from your BMR, maybe 300 from your exercise (again, you don't know this either but this is a hypothetical situation so relax, ok), and 200 from the other crap that you do (such as work and reading boring, nonsensical blogs). If you really wanted to lose weight, you would start by satisfying your BMR needs via food, the tack on a few extra calories for the crap, and hold out on the rest. The pounds will just melt away.

But, do you know how many calories your body requires to do these most basic aspects of life? Nope. Me neither. There's a very high probability that less than 1% of the population (and I'm estimating high) has the means and knowledge to calculate their real BMR. This is most unfortunate as your BMR is the single highest user of your calories. The energies that go into maintaining homeostasis are very high, using more than 60% of your daily energy usage. The number may be as high as 75%. However, in terms of the actual number of calories being burned, well that number is as elusive as the Banter putting forth a decent Ironman marathon run.

Further, there is no good way to physically measure your BMR. That sucks. There are a few estimate charts out there but they are as reliable as the 220-(your age) for calculating heart zones- completely unreliable. Just to prove the point, I calculated my BMR using a few of the online calculators. Most of the calculators follow the same principle. They have a formula developed by some scientist that includes a multiple number of variables. Apparently, the most important aspects of BMR are your gender, current weight (which is impossible for you to know anyway), height (a little easier to know), and age (which you should hopefully know). The formulae are complicated. They multiple those numbers by some constants, such as how many hairs you have growing on your left arm, and added them to some other constants, such as how many viable sperm or ova that currently reside in your body (It's amazing what scientists can glean from minuscule bits of info). I plugged in the exact same numbers in each situation. Here are the results:

Bachelorette #1 tells me my BMR is a third of the way through the 1700 calorie arena.  Bachelorette #2 tells me I need to consume 200 calories less than #1. Almost as if she was listening to the whole conversation and really wanted the date, Bachelorette #3 decided to take the middle ground. At least #3 admits that this is only a best guess.

Do you see why this whole weight loss embarkation is so challenging? When it comes to the important information required to intelligently make decisions about how much goes into and out of our bodies, we are completely clueless. Don't worry, I do plan on helping out. If you can make it through the week, I promise we'll start working on a solution for you and get you on the road to meeting your weight loss goals. Hang in there.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wacky Wednesday- No More Penalty Cards

The sport of triathlon has adopted some annoying rules. Okay, it's not the rules, it's the enforcement. Almost all of the rule violations/ enforcements happen during the bike leg. USAT officials strap themselves to the back of a motorcycle and peruse the bike course. They bike up and down the route with their little clipboards and evil eyes blaring. Should they find a would be perpetrator, they flash out the yellow card, much like a foul in soccer. Break the rules more often, the produce a red card, much like a foul in soccer. Well, it seems like soccer is considering changing the yellow card/ red card system. Will triathlon soon follow suit? See how the soccer players react before you cast your vote.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Weight Problem- Part 3

In my original message to the BIL, this problem was the fifth big problem is calculating exercise calories. However, in the progression of the Weight Loss Series, it made more sense to bump this one up to 3rd place. I've already told you that your bathroom scale is not all that reliable. Whereas I'm pretty sure that the Calories In: Calories Out Theory of Weight Loss is just about perfect, there is no way to accurately figure out how many calories went in. Don't worry, the other half of the equation is just as unhelpful as the former. So much for perfection.

Helmet hair?
Calories Out Sucks Too
Let's forget for a moment that calories are a unit of heat. That's right, heat. Not mass. A semi-famous man named Albert Einstein (whom I'm pretty sure was a triathlete and I'll tell you about his SBR adventures in a future post) postulated that there is a direct relationship between mass and energy in his formula E=mc^2. Whereas his formula only loosely applies here, the concept that energy and mass are linked remains. Your body studied Einstein since long before you can remember and is rather adept at using the heat stored in food, AKA calories, as an energy reserve stored as mass, AKA you.

According to a lot of resources (which I am inclined to believe), one mile on your feet at just about any pace is about 100 calories =/- 25. You burn the same number of calories whether you walk a mile or run a mile. That's at least a 25% margin of error. Are you closer to the 75 mark or the 125 mark? I have no idea and neither do you. 

No pedaling= No calories
Trying to estimate your calorie burn on the bike is even worse. There are so many variables that affect biking to a greater extent than running. The wind and the terrain are at the top of the list. You probably burn the same number of calories at any effort per mile on the bike. The problem arises when you start coasting. How much you did NOT pedal becomes an important aspect in calorie estimation. Bikes are nice in that if you stop pedaling, your forward momentum keeps you moving. Coasting on the bike is equivalent to stopping on the run. You burn no calories but you still are working towards your distance goal. It's win-win, except if you are actually trying to burn those calories. 

Swimming is horrid. Calorie burn is mainly dependent on water temperature and stroke efficiency. The first is relatively easy to measure (if you are not sure how to find water temperature, please stop reading and go back to elementary school science). Cooler temperatures, to a certain degree (pun intended), are inversely proportional to the number of calories you burn. You body burns calories to cool you down via the sweat process. In cooler temperatures, your body doesn't have to expend as much energy on your air conditioning. Still, we don't know how much cooling you need nor how well your body runs the AC. All of this holds true as long as you keep swimming. Stop for a minute and the system shuts down, then reverses to a warming system. Seem complicated? That's because it is. The second variable, efficiency, is harder to define and impossible to measure.

We Can't Really Measure Calories
The biggest issue with measuring your calorie output in terms of weight loss is that we have no real convenient way to measure how many calories we burn during exercise. The most efficient way to measure calories in an object is through calorimetry. During calorimetry, an object is placed in a well insulated, sealed chamber and subsequently incinerated. The amount of heat released during incineration is used to calculate the amount of calories stored in the object because heat is conserved. In practice, scientists have found very few athletes who are willing to discover their calorie information via calorimetry, thus the sample set for this data is quite small. There are other less-efficient ways to measure your calories but these methods are expensive and can require the subject to be placed under excruciating conditions.

Indirect methods are needed and even they aren't that accurate. Many of you have seen the calorie burning charts on the treadmill at gym. You try to hit the cardio zone or the fat burning zone. How in the world does the machine know this? The calorie burning system varies from one individual to the next. Some of you out there may have a device commonly called a heart rate monitor that will give you a calorie estimation. The problem is that the makers of these devices have never met you nor calibrated their system to meet your specific output. These devices use an algorithm based on the preconceived average of the people that they have data on. None of them are you. Look at the chart above, using HR to calculate your calorie burn is at best 20% inaccurate.

So we have this genius of a formula- Calories In: Calories which will accurately predict if you lose weight. Burn more calories than you consume, viola! weight loss. Again, you and I have absolutely no idea how many calories go in to our bodies nor how many go out. Maybe I'll change my opinion on the formula from 'genius' to 'crappy'. How good is a formula that is 100% right but completely inapplicable to everyone in all aspects? How can we be expected to lose weight under these conditions? Why am I so fat?

In the next post, I'll tell you even more reasons why the weight loss gods are out to get you. When I am done with the series, I'll start a new series to show you how to actually lose weight. If you actually listen is up to you. It'll get worse before it gets better. Stick around.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WW- Snoopy on Triathlon

Sorry that I haven't written in a while. Right in the middle of my Problems on Weight Loss series, which has the makings for a Pulitzer, I traveled to see my family back in Indiana. The trip put many miles on the SUV and a damper in my blogging. Maybe I'll add the genius of Thanksgiving and the copious amounts of food into the series. Needless to say, I came back at least 3 pounds heavier, all of that earned.

Losing weight, once you really get into the training phase of Triathlon, which is where I am now as opposed to last week when I was in the eating phase, is not that bad. Sadly, triathlon has not come to be enjoyed by the masses, unless you consider an alternative form of triathlon. Snoopy, more than likely, represents the form of triathlon that most Americans will embrace with open arms.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wacky Wednesday- In Honor of Thanksgiving

There are lots of great things about Thanksgiving. Here's what you need to know:
  • Abraham Lincoln issued a 'Thanksgiving Proclamation' on third October 1863 and officially set aside the last Thursday of November as the national day for Thanksgiving.
  • In the US, about 280 million turkeys are sold for the Thanksgiving celebrations. 
  • Each year, the average American eats somewhere between 16 - 18 pounds of turkey.
  • The average weight of a turkey purchased at Thanksgiving is 15 pounds.
  • The average Thanksgiving dinner costs you from 1700-3000 calories (which is mostly impossible to estimate anyway).
  • The heaviest turkey ever raised was 86 pounds, about the size of a large dog.  
  • Turkey has more protein than chicken or beef. 
  • The Pilgrims never ate turkey. They supped mostly on shrimp and venison.
  • Due to selective breeding, commercial turkeys can no longer fly because of the size of their breasts.
  • Also due to the size of their breasts (and in a large divergence from popular desires), male turkeys are unable to mate with their well-endowed females.
  • According to the National Turkey Foundation, approximately 690 million pounds of turkey were consumed in the United States during Thanksgiving 2007. This equals the weight of 4.48 million individuals of average weight (154 pounds); the population of Singapore as estimated by the last census in 2005.
  • The tryptophan in turkey does not make you tired (it's only, at best, a mediocre source of that amino acid).

Best Thanksgiving movie I haven't watched yet:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Weight Problem- Part 2

In my last post, I laid down the ground work for why you and your bathroom scale have actually no idea as to how much you weigh. That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trying to lose weight. Now here, in Part 2, the problem gets even more complicated. This one is completely your fault, except that it isn't. 

You and I Are Pigs but We Don't Know How Much
I keep a meticulous record my exercise habits through the efficiency of gps technology. At any given moment on any given day I can tell you about my workout. If you have some time to kill, feel free to ask. I can ramble on about all sorts of data. My Garmin is a god and I worship it diligently. I look at the numbers, paces, times, training zones, efforts, hill profiles, and whatever else I can squeeze out of the device. There was even a time that I recorded how I felt during the workout and what my mood was like pre and post. (I read somewhere that elite athletes did that and I have delusions of grandeur. I am past that now.)

There is a high probability that the "Calories In: Calories Out" theory of weight lose/ gain is dead on. Should you consume more calories than you burn, you gain weight. Should you burn more than you consume, you lose weight. The most common way to get calories into your body is through your mouth (there are other ways to get calories into your body but I'd rather not discuss them at this time). This equation is flawed in many ways. Currently, I'm going to focus on the misgivings of the products side of the formula...

The second big problem about weight is how little data we actually have about our dietary habits. I couldn't tell you exactly how many chips I ate out of the bag. I'm pretty confident I ate at least half of the bag. What was the weight of the chicken breast I cooked for dinner? The serving size says, '1 chicken breast' yet a brief look in the bag will tell me that not all chickens have the same sized breasts. I have no idea if that was the fowl version of an A-cup or a DD.  How many ounces of rice did I just consume? Am I supposed to measure that pre or post cooking? How many grapes? How many cookies were in that sleeve of thin mints (because I know I ate them all)? Nobody eats just 4 thin mints in a single sitting. I'm pretty sure that science has already proven that.

As if to further complicate the problem, the manufacturers don't really know how many calories are in their products either. Are the Girl Scouts of America a reliable source of culinary accuracy? (Because we all know that the kid who knocked on my door selling cookies has a hand in making them). Look at the picture of the thin mints. Drool a little bit. Then look at the number of servings in the box. "About 8". See the problem? They don't have an exact number. Eating the whole box (which I, um, may have done as recently as yesterday) gives me 'about' 1280 calories. They don't even have to common courtesy of sharing the margin of error. 

Since you and I suck so much, digital technology wants to help. There are so many programs out there that will accurately calculate your food intake for you. At a simple glance, there was more than 300 iPhone apps (that was all I had the patience to calculate). There are many more options available on the internet, all of them awesome. But, each of these require constant attention and multiple inputs on a daily basis. That means, in order to honestly, and correctly, identify the number of calories floating around in our bellies at any given time, we have to log our gluttony 3-10 times a day. We have to count how many chips. We have to weigh our beef. No wonder the old lady couldn't find it.

Even with digital technology, there are flaws in the system. Look at the calorie information on an apple as reported by This is a great resource with incredibly accurate information. I have an Gala apple packed in my daily lunch. I have absolutely no idea how many grams are in my apple. Further, I don't know how much of the apple I have to eat in order to get 74 calories of a 152 gram pomme. How much of the top and bottom? How close to the core? Even with meticulous recording, I suspect the error could be as great as 7 calories in the apple. That doesn't seem like much until you realize that equals 10%. Ten percent is a significant number in terms of size.

I have a call out to Garmin and we are working on a deal. I already own the FR310xt watch. I have 2 wireless Speed and Cadence sensors for my bikes. I have the Ant+ wireless data transfer device. I am looking in to getting the Footpod sensor. They have available a bathroom scale which will wirelessly transfer your weight straight to the internet. They are powermeter compatible, including their own radical Pedal Sensor. My contact was about none of these. I want Garmin to develop a "Food and Beverage Intake Sensor." The idea would be that I would strap this thing on and it would automatically record how many food and drink calories I am consuming in a day. I envision a device that would be embedded in your mouth near your glottis or surgically implanted near your esophageal sphincter muscle. I have not solved the how-can-I-change-the-batteries- in- the- device conundrum just yet. Garmin seemed rather pessimistic on the phone and wanted me to get an interest vote before they put the forth the funds in Research and Development. Please let me know.

Even in the best efforts, we honestly have no clue as to the number of calories we swallow on any given day. At best, we can get a rough estimate. Even though the Calories In: Calories Out concept is a pretty good gauge of whether or not we will lose weight, we can't get accurate information on the Calories In part of the equation. There's no accurate way (unless Garmin comes through for me) to gather that information. Phew, that's the gist of my 2nd big problem with this whole weight lose scheme.

(Please be advised that there are, in my calculations, 5 big problems. At least, that's as high as I can count, so I doubt I'll be researching for whatever number comes after 5. Keep in mind that after I lay down the problems, I am going to lay down some solutions.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Weight Problem- Part 1

Last week, the BIL shot me an email. As you may know, I have started on the endeavor to shed a few pounds in a venture to get down a respectable race weight. The BIL wants in on the action. In a bit of frustration, he wrote to share what an awesome training week he had (which was true) and to announce that he had actually gained weight.

Now, undoubtedly due to my poor reading skills and my manliness desire to fix all problems even if they aren't a problem, I decided to shoot back a 10,000 word essay on the plight of shedding pounds. The BIL was in awe. Mostly because I am a fantastic genius of a writer I had pounded out so much content to answer a question that wasn't asked. He reminded me of something in his response of which I need constant reminders due to the pea-size of my brain: He already knew all of that.

Therefore, my homework assignment off to the BIL was completely wasted until I had this fantastic idea of sharing it with the general public, I.E. You. But, I am going to you a favor and break up the content into manageable pieces. So, here's part 1 in it's embellished entirety:

You and Your Bathroom Scale Suck
One problematic fact about your (or mine or anyone's) weight is that their is no efficient way to measure it. I know, you have a bathroom scale. Step on the flat piece of plastic, wait a second or two, and magically a number appears that will mark your emotional state of being for the day depending on its size in relation to the last time you stepped on. Mine even takes measurement to the next level: it offers a body fat percentage should I ask it politely. Oddly, with this space aged built-in technology, my scale is repeatedly off by 5 pounds as compared to the doctor's office. 

(Not that I would know this, I am a male and don't go to the doctor all that often. However, the Wife is not inflicted with the Male Ego gene and therefore will go to the Dr for her regularly scheduled appointments, physical, obgyn, and now PT for her ailing knee. She has ample data points showing our scale is consistently heavy by 5 pounds. And, like any smart guy in a relationship, I have learned that it's best not to argue the point. She's probably right.)

The scale is not the problem. It is calibrated to measure the pull of the Earth's gravitational field on your body mass mighty nicely (or in my case n+5). You (or me or anyone) are the problem. Our weight fluctuates throughout a single day for a large number of reasons. The main one is water retention. We can't always predict when our body is going to retain water or shed it. There are a few things that we can do to manage our water, such as eating/ avoiding salty food, reading semi-entertaining blogs, exercise habits, stress levels, medications, etc. 

When you weigh yourself at one time and then re-weigh at a different time, you take a gamble on your current level of water retention, which shows up nicely on your scale. Water is a rather heavy molecule. One glass is 8 ounces which is half a pound. You bladder can hold up to about a pound of water. But, this doesn't take into account the excess fluid floating around in your blood, stored in your muscles, embedded in your fat layers, hanging out in your belly, or missing from your brain.

Why I am so focused on the single, most abundant chemical in your body? For one, water is somewhere between 57-75% of your body mass. That's right, you are mostly a saltwater environment ripe for fish to develop an ecosystem. For two, the other major chemicals, commonly referred to as organics, are relatively stable. Your body fat, protein, and carbs are rather consistent in terms of body mass. No amount of exercise will decrease your fat by one pound in a day. No amount of weight lifting will increase your body protein (which we call muscle) by a pound in a day. However, drinking an abundance of liquid can drastically increase your scalar numbers. If that drink is alcohol-based, your body's defense system will send all available water to battle the booze resulting in a net-loss of pounds. The problem is that you aren't any less fat. Or, in the case of the ethanol-soaked goodness, you might actually be more fat than when you started drinking.

Still, you and I are both creatures of habit. Everyday we hop on the scale wanting the number to be different than the time before and think that we have accomplished something when the number is smaller. This method of measurement is destructive in nature. Our weight naturally changes throughout the day, mostly based on our water levels despite how much we hope it's due to a change in the gravitational pull. Our true weight, the one we want to change, remains hidden at all times. We cannot really measure it without that pesky water getting in the way.

Don't worry, it's not all for naught. I will tell you how to measure and get the results you want (though I doubt you'll actually want to do it). The bathroom scale will play an important role in the process, but you'll have to wait until I get down rambling on about the problems before I get to the solution. 

(Keep in mind that the BIL got all of this in one full swoop. You are getting off easy).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wacky Wednesday- On Becoming an Adult

Does any one remember the first time you realized you were an actual adult?

I'm not talking about paying full price at the movie theater or amusement park because they define adulthood as older than 4. Nor am I talking about stealing daddy's booze to have a grown up party. Going off to college doesn't count for much (you still have to steal beer only this time it's from somebody different). Only now there's a good chance someone has the pictures to prove your lack of adultness.

I remember the exact moment when I realized I was an adult. I was on the second real job of my life (currently, I am in #3) as a youth director for after school programs. I was having one of those deep philosophical conversations that you could only have with a couple of 12 year olds. We were thinking deep thoughts on paying full price at the movie theater about moral responsibility. I forget why we were on this topic, but I remember the next 2 lines as if they were spoken this morning.
Me: "I can't just pack up and go to Hawaii."
Kid: "Sure you can, you're an adult."

My world had changed at that exact moment. I was officially an adult with all of the honors and responsibilities entitled to that position (who still couldn't go to Hawaii). And it took a 12-year-old middle school student to point it out to me.

In case there are any others out there confused about your adulthood status, here's a list of adult behaviors. If you find yourself relating to many (or, in my case 19) of them, there's a good chance some 12-year-old looks at you like a grown-up too.

1. Sometimes I'll look at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.
2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.
3. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.
4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.
5. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?
6. Was learning cursive really necessary?
7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.
8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.
9. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind-of tired.
10. Bad decisions make good stories.
11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day..
12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want to have to restart my collection...again.
13. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.
14. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.
15. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.
16. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Light than Kay.
17. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.
18. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.
19. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear or understand a word they said?
20. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!
21. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.
22. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.
23. The first testicular guard, the "Cup," was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

2012 Season- Week 1 a Success!

Now that training has officially begun, I've noticed one thing... The weather is being quite cooperative. I have this sort of mental block against cold weather biking. I hate it. November tends to be risky, at best, to get out of the basement and on to the pavement. Running, not so much. I will run in the most adverse of conditions and get along quite happily. Stick my feet to the top of a pedal and certain criteria must be met, most of them temperature related.

I have promised myself that this year, 2012, I will put in my time and do my work, regardless of the weather. Just to remind you, here is what I have planned for a regular week of training.

Monday= Optional Run in the morning. Weights in the afternoon.
Tuesday= Medium distance run in the morning. Bike in the afternoon.
Wednesday= Hill run. Bike medium in the afternoon.
Thursday= Sleep-in in the morning. Long run in the afternoon.
Friday= Sleep-in in the morning. Weights in the afternoon. Optional Bike in the evening.
Saturday= Bike/ Run brick session
Sunday= Long ride with an optional (and short) transition run

If you are a regular reader, you'd know that I suck at planning. I have all of these hopes and dreams which seem to get crushed in the face of reality. Making a plan is really risky business for me as it rarely comes to fruition. But, the numbers don't lie. Here's what the data show:

That's right, I nailed it. In the first week of training, I hit all of my required workouts and one of my optional workouts. I logged about 29 miles of running. I rode for about 5 hours and 45 minutes. I am feeling quite proud of myself.

To further my surprise is some of the individual data. For example, on my Tuesday medium run, I wanted to average 7:30 per mile pace. I set out on a 6.5er. I ended up with this...
Not too bad. On Thursday, I wanted to control my pace and average 8:00 per mile for the long run. The actual data:
I guess the 2 days sort of balance each other out. Tuesday was 4 seconds over pace. Thursday was 4 seconds under pace.

So, how about my biking. This is a tough one as I am on the trainer for most of the time. Trainer riding is significantly different that outdoor riding. Plus, I keep the resistance on the trainer dialed in at a tension greater than the real world. The data I am going to show you is based on my Sunday long ride. I set out for a 2.5 hour ride with the hope of holding an average of 18 mph, giving me a distance of about 45 miles. Here's what really happened...

Well, you can't plan them all perfectly. Further, if it hadn't been for that killer hill/ headwind/ stoplight laden road/ pansy of a rider in that last 3 miles (see profile at the very far right), I would have been over 20.  In hindsight, I may have been a bit overzealous. That pace, 19.8 mph, is about the same as my Syracuse 70.3 race pace. I may need to tone it down a bit in the basements to come if I am to survive the winter.

Plus, as a warning to the BIL, I lost 1.5 pounds this week. Still want to wager?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fascinating Events of the Last Week

First and foremost, I just got back from a trip to New Jersey. I can hear you now, "Why go to NJ?" 99% of the time, I'd be right there with you. However, the volleyball team in which I coach had their Divisional Playoffs. In case you were wondering, we won! My ladies did not lose a game the entire weekend and swept the skills competition. There's proof of their awesomeness on the right.

With that trophy marks the end of the fall season. Translation- an extra 10 hours per week have been freed up. What will I do with all that extra time? Conveniently, the 2012 triathlon training season coincides with the conclusion of my coaching responsibilities. Since I have pre-established a training routine and been logging roughly 7 hours of exercise per week, I am now ready to structure a bit more. The week marked the first official week of training towards Ironman Lake Placid, next year's edition.

Plus, the Banter-in-Law has challenged me to a fat-off competition in response to my recent Wacky Wednesday post. The odds are slightly stacked in his favor in this endeavor. And I am saying this with the greatest deal of respect and love for the BIL... Should he become an overachiever in the weight loss category and I match him pound for pound, I would need to sacrifice a limb in order to keep up. My competitive brain sees this as an option, depending on what/ how much we wager. But my emotional brain is seemingly opposed to the idea. So I am trying to come up with a system of comparing apples to fat. If anyone has any ideas as to a system that isn't solely focused on total number of pounds, please let me know. Further, if anyone wants in, leave a comment and I'd be happy to accomodate.

Next on the list of exciting Banter news is that we bought a new house. The new place has some distinct differences over the current place...
-First, no stairs. It's a full ranch as opposed to the split level. You'd think that with my fitness goals and desires that stairs would be welcomed. Nope. Good riddance you repeated 6-8 inches of agony. (Insert "that's what she said joke" here ______)
-Second, I am increasing my lawn mowing responsibilities by a manner of 8 fold.
-Third, no neighbors in front nor behind. Left and right are a significant distance away (see #2).
-Fourth, my commute to work has doubled.
-Fifth, and possibly the most exciting, is that I can bike for many miles without encountering a single stop light. No more training bogged down by that devil feature. Gotta love that.

After meeting with the lawyers, signing about 14 trees worth of paper, looking at the bottom line cost of the house after the interest has accrued over the term of the mortgage, and forking over more cash than seems appropriate, we now are in possession of 2 homes. If anyone is interested in buying a well maintained, energy star efficient house that is guaranteed to make your calf muscles strong, please let me know.

P.S. I now know what I am going to be doing with that extra 10 hours a week freed up from coaching.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wacky Wednesday- Weight Loss Ideas

I'm pretty sure that Weight Watchers reads my blog. Two days after I posted about the Bar, they sent me a coupon. Everyone wants to help.

What's really surprising is how efficiently the post office found my house.

I'm not sure I want to start counting points just yet. I could end up like this guy (you know, obsessing over every detail)...

So this got me to thinking about other ways, techniques, or strategies that could help me lose weight. I did some research.

I could try eating beans...

Or, perhaps I could change my bathing habits...

Ooh, it's possible that I could upload this to my iTunes library...

I got it! I'll start smoking...

This last one is the concept that freaks me out the most...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Bar

This is a tough post for me to write. As you read, keep a few concepts in the forefront of your mind.
  1. The post is about me
  2. I am mostly idiot
  3. I know very little (which, I think, is significantly different than number 2)

I consider myself a brave man. I don't mind spiders, snakes or the closet monster. I used to be afraid of girls but haven't tested this one in a while. Yet, there are some things, phobias if you will, that wreak havoc on my soul.  Articles like this one scare the crap out of me.  If you're too lazy to read the article (and I applaud this laziness), allow me to sum it up. People are getting fatter. This statement is multidimensional. Not only is the average person getting fatter, but the percentage of fat people is growing. More than 2/3 of the American population is considered obese and the numbers are climbing. 

Where's the fear? I am not afraid nor disgusted by excessively high BMIs on other people. It's my own that I am concerned about. When I have this conversation with one of my co-workers, she accuses me of not understanding the 'emotional' side of eating. B.S. I like to eat. I eat a lot. I have been blamed for numerous other people's weight gain simply because they try to match my appetite. I eat everything.

I think she doesn't understand the emotional side of working out. Trust me, and the Wife can attest, I get quite grouchy if I haven't exercised in a while. That's probably one of the main reasons she supports my triathoning. Better for me to be gone for a couple of hours out of the day than spend the next few decades with a grump of a husband. Plus, my exercise addiction counteracts my eating problem.

I have a 'theory' about the actual cause of the obesity problem (okay, it's really more of a hypothesis as I haven't tested it yet.) I call it the Bar. The Bar itself is arbitrary and dynamic. However, I believe it to be quite real even if it only lurks in your subconscious. Simply put, the Bar is the maximum weight you will accept before you get disgusted with yourself. It may be a weight on the scale. The Bar can also be abstract. It may be the self you see in a picture that wholly conflicts with your residual self image. Finally, you decide to make a change. You've stepped over the Bar and it's time to come back.

When I start getting closer to the Bar, I decide that I want to lose weight. Then I make the mistake of sharing this with friends and family (see number 2 above). They're supposed to be supportive and help me achieve my goals, right? Friends tell me that I look fine (it's not about looks for me). My mom actually accused me of being too thin (her Bar is set much higher). The 166 BMI is 23.8 for my height. BMI=25 is overweight, which coincidentally is 175 pounds for me. I set the Bar long before I knew this (see number 3 above). Yes, I know that BMI is not a perfect measurement and that I have some muscle mass that skews the numbers. It's my Bar and I set it.

Despite my marriage to the kitchen, I have never been overweight. I've been active my whole life. I refuse to join the 68% and growing number of Americans. I am consistently + 7 pounds of my high school graduation weight after nearly 20 years (crap I'm old). I've set my Bar at 175 pounds. I let myself slip once after my second marathon, taking the recovery period a little too seriously. I was literally freaked out when that number appeared on my scale. I am currently sitting at 166. The problem is that the scalar number has had a positive slope for a couple of months. I am slowly creeping towards the Bar and I don't like it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wacky Wednesday- Thoughts on Evolution

As Winter Training season is rapidly approaching, there's something that's obviously been lacking in my life recently... Bad Movies. That's right, the summer kept movie watching to a minimum. I actually put my Netflix account on hold for a few months as more and more time was spent outside. Now that I am running out of daylight, the queue is back up and running.

Recently, I was sent a copy of "Creation". This flick re-pairs Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. They met during "A Brilliant Mind" and were phenomenal. They are/ were married (I can never keep up with Hollywood Gossip). As a science teacher, you can probably see why this movie appealed to me. It's about evolution. It's got a monkey on the cover. It's got an A-list hot chick as headliner, of whom I've been drooling since Labyrinth. I was hoping there would be a nice fight scene between the evolutionists and creationists. What I got was the mental angst experienced by a soon-to-be-published Charles Darwin. Darwin, as you know, was a triathlete. I will probably be showing this movie to one of my biology classes. It is not something that I would recommend as a pump-up movie whilst doing high intensity interval training (which is fodder for another post).

But, while I'm on the topic of evolution, there are a couple of other images that come to mind, which I'll also be sharing with my biology classes. I re-discovered the first one while searching for funny Simpson's tombstones for last Wednesday's post. It's the Simpsons take on evolution. No matter how many times I've seen it, it still makes me laugh.

I find this amazingly similar to a picture taken from Chuckie V's blog. If you are unfamiliar with Chuckie V, that's a shame. He's a former professional triathlete and current coach. He's quite brilliant. He's also a bit outspoken which makes his blog quite entertaining as well as educational. He's got a picture somewhere in there that is hitting home a bit too hard lately (again, new post fodder).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Circadean Clockwork

With my new and improved workout schedule, the first order of business is to develop a routine. I am not a morning exerciser. I actually enjoy the mornings and am quite the morning person. My morning bliss centers around not moving, enjoying the peace of the earth, listening to the Wife snore birds sing, and sipping a nice warm beverage while reading something interesting (obviously not this blog).

I have decided to get a jump start on my 2012 season. Technically, I don't need to start until next week but I am an idiot can't really wait that long. I get antsy without goals. Training goals give me something to shoot for and provide me with the guidance I need to keep me motivated.

Circadian Cycles have long since been known. Named after the annoying fact that your dog won't let you sleep in on the weekend, incessantly stomping his feet, barking at you, begging that you let him out and then provide breakfast, only to repeat this process at dinner time. Circadian rhythms are blamed for numerous annoyances; including feeding the Wife babies, getting sleepy during important work-based meetings, and the fact that my bladder will always wake me up at 2:00 am +/- 30 minutes.

For about the past 3 weeks, I have been getting up around 5:30. That's ante meridian in case you were wondering. The alarm goes off, I sludge out of bed, make said morning beverage, and sit for a while. Somewhere between 6:05 and 6:20, nature me calls to empty the system of an impeding solid wastes. This Circadian Rhythm jump starts the need to put on running shoes and head out the door.

In the first couple of days, the body rebelled against wee-hour running. It exclaimed, "I will not give you a good workout." Fine by me. Remember, my current goal is just to develop a routine. Even if the legs, heart and lungs agreed that I could pound out a good run, the brain is holding it back. There will be time enough for pounding <sophomoric giggling> later in the season.

In an essence, I have been trying to reset my Circadian Clock. And, it's been working. In fact, it's been working too well. I find myself getting up on Saturday mornings at 5:30. The desire to poop run kicks in at 6:00 on Sunday morn. Sunday is not a running day! Go back to bed. But, the PRP seems to think that running on Sunday is a good idea. He'll stand outside the bedroom door going through his morning routine (re-read the 3rd paragraph if you are confused). Much to his annoyance, we don't go running. Normally, providing him with a few extra morsels of kibbles is enough to keep him sated while I head back to bed. I listen to the sounds of the Wife snoring crunch crunch of his breakfast. Despite all of my efforts, I rarely rejoin the sleeping world. The clock has been reset and I am destined to be groggy for the remainder of the day.