Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Speed Suits and my Final Ironman Swim Preparation

Michael Phelps is an amazing swimmer. There's no doubt in my mind he's the best swimmer (sprinter really, and maybe not breaststroke outside of IM) in the world when he wants to be. Had nobody been allowed to wear the new speed suits they were wearing, likely Phelps would have won all the medals, just not smashed so many records. As we see at races the last two weeks (an supposedly unfit) Phelps wearing a regular suit couldn't even compete against others in high tech suits.

Note that these suits will be banned by ALL nations next year as well as the swimming governing body FINA. The CNN Story doesn't mention this, but the AP news I found does.

I bought a Blueseventy PointZero3 suit about 3 months ago at Nytro in Encinitas. I had swam in it quite a few times, but hadn't tested it against the clock. I certainly FELT faster, but since I couldn't quantify it I adopted the wait and see. I will comment on my performance improvement in a bit....

I had 2 key workouts I performed the last 2 macrocycles when it came to swimming. I also swim 2-3 workouts a week just WU + easy 50s with a form focus and some drill. Occasionally I would do an easy 1K swim after hard workouts as well.

Long Aerobic Workout: I used the timed 100s to tell me when to add another block.

  • 1K WU. Usually 10x100 with the last 25 Back/Breast.
  • 5x500 
    • 2x200 IM Race Pace
    • 100 RP Timed.
  • Easy Cool Down

Race Simulation Workout: Simulate what it feels like to swim at my goal pace after a hectic start, and occasional bunching around buoys.

  • 1K WU. Similarly Flexible.
  • 4x25 All out + 500 RP.
  • 4x25 All out + 400 RP.
  • 4x25 All out + 300 RP.
  • 4x25 All out + 200 RP.
  • 4x25 All out + 100 RP.
  • Easy Cool Down

I felt like these workouts were effective. They made me feel mentally comfortable. I did more threshold work earlier in the season to get comfortable with my top end. At this point I was more concerned with finding the right pace for my first Ironman. I do NOT want to blow up.

I can guarantee that my protocol was not scientific. One thing I can guarantee is that I haven't swam faster in a pool in a LONG time. Today I did a 1000WU, 500 building 100s at goal race pace. This is all based on my perceived effort, but I can say that swimming 1:20 on the 5th building 100 all of a sudden felt easy. I'm 10 days into tapering, and I was wearing the speed suit, but it really seems like swimming got 10 seconds easier. I hadn't swam under 1:20 in years. Today I swam under 1:10 for the first time on an all out (max effort not compromising form) 100. I also did flip turns for this all out TT which is pretty rare for me.

I know that my form continues to evolve, and especially with my injury earlier this year I spent a lot of time focusing on my form, and the feel of my body in the water. I've also realized that I should NEVER swim so "hard" my form breaks down. At that point I don't actually go faster! Still today was also an amazing realization. I can't really separate out taper and the suit but now I KNOW that it makes me faster. My best "comfortable" swims were around 1:25 - 1:30/100. Assuming my RPE was a good gauge I got about 5seconds/100 maximum benefit. Pretty amazing. I recommend highly people check it out.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blazing Speed in Clearwater

Wow. Last year 1 guy breaks 2 hours on the bike in Clearwater, and Bozzone won with a respectable 3:40 winning time. This year I see 9! Slowtwitch has my usual favorite coverage.

Michael Raelert Finished 3:34:04! That involved biking over 28mph and then running a sub 1:10 half marathon (5:16/mi)! The top 5 men all went sub 3:40 and Julie Dibens won on the womens side with the first ever sub 4 hour 70.3 by a woman. San Diego residents Luke Bell and Michellie Jones placed well @ 7th and 6th respectively.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Water on the moon!

Sort of a holy grail for the moon (image by Luc Viatour http://www.lucnix.be/) and mars is to find water already there. Water is heavy, and would be REALLY expensive to transport to space until the advent of aerial thermonuclear powered space jets.

This news blew up today. Even Google did one of their special home page days for the news. The Economist covers it with the byline "There is water—or, at least ice—on the moon"

CNN says "NASA has found significant water on the moon."

The NY Times actually has a pretty good article, with a cool picture of the satellite about to slam into the lunar surface departing from the observation module.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

China's Command Economy, Resource Efficiency, and the worlds Geopolitical Future

I have had many discussions with people about the seeming meteoric rise in China the last 25 years. A LOT of people have long been excited about the prospect of doing business in China. The reality is that the opportunity for any foreigner or foreign business in China is usually limited until some form of domestic market has been established. Usually there is a strong incumbent by that time. It's true that China has been growing at an incredible rate. To me it just smells like a bubble. An even BIGGER bubble than Japan (who we all overestimated, though they still have some international heft).
Let's do a simple comparison. Look at this chart of Chinese GDP:

It's pretty obvious there have been NO contractions since 1980. The US has had 5 recessions during that time. I believe most people accept that recessions are just part of the business cycle and are inevitable (not that they talk or vote that way). I feel that recessions are important in balancing the business equation. Survival of the fittest. Trim the fat.

Particularly I would site inefficiencies and excess in China's command economy. People in America complain when we bail out banks. In China the government is still 100% in control of everything, and there are no laws to give companies a level competitive playing field. An Economist blog posting citing Tyler Cowen and the Wall Street Journal seems to resonate well
with how I feel:
Most of China's growth this year has been unsustainable, driven by stimulus. China's money supply has risen 29% in the past year. At the government's behest, banks have increased their lending by nearly $1.4 trillion, or 32%, during that time
All that during the worst recessiong we've seen in a while? Wow. Admittedly the journal citations also comments that:
That flood of borrowed cash has been channeled into new infrastructure and production capacity. These investments will account for up to half of China's gross domestic product this year, according to some estimates.
To me on the surface that seems smart. Captial investment is always good right? Or is there a law of diminishing returns. I often cite a notion which came to me from natural capitalism. We've spent the last 200 years (since the industrial revolution) maximizing the ability of people to utilize resources. Now we have too many people, no jobs, and we're running out of resources. Now is the WORST time to be investing heavily in infrastructure.

Here's one of my favorite case studies as a small aside. The Three Gorges Dam in China.
It's well accepted that when it comes to cost per watt BIG Hydroelectric power plants are a good deal. This dam produces about 22.5MW of power. It cost $30 billion conservatively, so it works out to about $1.33 a watt! First Solar makes Solar Panels for $ 0.85 a watt right now, and their modules are all recyclable and getting more efficient and cheaper every day. I'm excited to see both countries use of alternative energy growing immensely. Wind power for example is forecasted to grow by 6000MW in the US and 10,000MW in China this year. Still it appears that China overpayed for the whole project probably as commodities and equipment have steadily increased in cost over these years.

Never mind the fact that massive ecosystem upheval was a likely result, over a million were forced to move, and probably even earthquakes were caused by this endevour.

Of course China still has a IMMENSE proportion of the worlds population, VERY low costs of labor and living, and a clear competitive interest on the world scene. It will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come, and possibly emerge to dominate. Clearly it's a wise decision for any company or investor to look into China for the future. But NEVER put all your eggs in one basket, or too many at all for that matter.

I especially don't think it's going to be all roses. China isn't the whole world, and I bet we'll see a correction in their GDP, some costs of their wasteful overeagerness, and watch them relive many of the mistakes we made along our path to becoming a global power (like recent scandals with tainted baby formula, pet food, and pollutants). Probably along with that will come some that could never happen in a place with freedom of speech/press, and due process. India is a challenger when it comes to cheap labor, and immense population, but also has many of the democratic and legal institutions that make business work in the US. Europe is showing a bit of modernization, and recent integration/expansion of the EU bodes well for their access to cheap labor and stirring the pot. South America (especially Brazil) appears to be waking up. America will always have it's ingenuity, creativity, and endless stream of ambitious immigrants willing to fight to live the dream.

I believe we've clearly seen an inflection point with the importance of Technology increasing dramatically, along with the pace of innovation. The US still has the worlds premier higher learning institutions, business schools, venture capital firms, banks and other financial firms, and a host of other factors that make it an outstanding place to effect technological advancement and change. We're also not nearly as wasteful, nor spending quite as much on Stimulus without a floating currency. Still any businessperson, and investor alike will be well advised to integrate China into a future multi-polar world view.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crazy Drivers + Bikers

I've run into crazy drivers a few times. I also know that from driving and having a hard time seeing bikers (they are small!) that the onus is really on a bike to prevent things like:

1) Getting hit at a drive way.
2) Getting hit by an opening door on a parked car.
3) Running into a car that suddenly stops in front of you to make a right turn (this has happened to me. It's why I will frequently take a lane despite cursing and honking in certain situations).
4) Having to pull over suddenly because the road has debris or cracks wider then my tires (another situation I will take the whole lane). Especially in Leucadia going south on 101!

Yes. I have, and will continue to run stop signs when nobody is coming. The reason I and most cops take cars doing this seriously is because when they do, people die. If I run into a car.....I MIGHT dent a fender, but probably will be seriously injured or die. I've also been to other countries a LOT. I first read about this incident a couple of weeks ago, where a DOCTOR allegedly STOPPED in front of some bikers who were riding. Really?

I understand. I feel sorta similar when people are dragging ass on the highway in a car (usually talking on their cell phone), and especially when cars run red lights. Being a cyclist not only do I respond well to a gentle honk (not laying on it because you wanna jam, and the bike lane is full of cracks), but I've found most other cyclists will too. I accept the honks, and occasional screams because I've been in a hurry before too. The reality is I'm pretty good now. I usually give people who are ridiculous my biggest possible smile, wave, and a loud "Thank YOU." I know they feel like assholes on the inside.

Still what happened in LA to these cyclists was unacceptable!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Scary Genetically Modified Plants!

I take fish oil daily. My chiropractor first recommended it, and I've been seeing the father/daughter at that practice for 20 years. It's pretty rare for me to take anything for granted, but the more I read about the benefits, and as I experimented with it I noticed a difference. I think that is important for EVERYONE to do, with ANY nutrition recommendation, or assertion. EVERYONE is different, and NOTHING is ABSOLUTE (OK....we all need air, water, and food). I encourage people to investigate and experiment for themselves. Moving on......

I read an article in New Scientist recently about about genetically modified soybeans that provide Omega-3s (There are several kinds EPA, DHA, and SDA which appears to be DHA on steroids) in some fashion. The FDA has declared them safe. Based on what? I see the benefits possible to fish stocks, and for general health. From what I read in this article they don't mention any studies.

I acknowledge that genetic engineering as we perform it today, is just a simple extension of breeding and cultivation we've done for years. I see the possibilities in modifying crops to make them insect resistant (though I guarantee nature will catch up pretty quick), and adding vitamins & minerals, or even modifying plants to increase their usability for conversion to fuel. There are some concerns though. First and foremost is our limited experience playing with nature in this way. I'm pretty adventurous but I also believe I am educated enough to know we should be careful. I also want to cite to facts from chapter 10 of one of my favorite recent works, Natural Capitalism:

Clear-cutting at the microscopic level of DNA may be creating the gravest problem of all. The world's farming rests on an extraordinarily narrow genetic base. Of the 200,000 species of wild plants, notes biogeographer Jared Diamond, "only a few thousands are eaten by humans, and just a few hundred of those have been more or less domesticated." Three-quarters of the world's food comes from only seven crop species, wheat, rice, corn, potatoes, barley, cassava (manioc), and sorghum. Nearly half the world's calorie and protein intake eaten as food, not as feed, comes from only the first three of these crops. Adding one pulse (soybeans), one tuber (sweet potato), two sugar sources (sugarcane and sugar beet), and one fruit (banana) to the list of seven would account for over 80 percent of total crop tonnage. In every one of these key crops, genetic diversity is rapidly disappearing as native habitats are destroyed.

What the heck?!? We know inbreeding is bad. We know we don't put all our eggs in one basket. Back to my point about nature catching up, they also mention:

Monocultures are rare in nature, in part because they create paradises for plant diseases and insects, as science writer Janine Benyus puts it, they are like equipping a burglar with the keys to every house in the neighborhood; they're an all-you-can-eat restaurant for pests. Disease already damages or destroys 13 percent of the world's crops, insects 15 percent, and weeds 12 percent; in all, two-fifths of the world's harvest is lost in the fields, and after some more spoils, nearly half never reaches a human mouth. The conventional response of dousing infested plants and soil with biocides seemed promising at first, but using technology to combat natural processes hasn't worked. Around 1948, at the start of the era of synthetic pesticides, the United States used 50 million pounds of insecticides a year and lost 7 percent of the preharvest crop to insects. Today, with nearly 20-fold greater insecticide use, almost a billion pounds a year, two-fifths more than when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, the insects get 13 percent, and total U.S. crop losses are 20 percent higher than they were before we got on the pesticide treadmill.

The worst (best) part of it all is that they point out a lot of ways in which we can become more efficient AND safer by working on the smaller details, planting synergistically with other plants and animals in the loop.

For economic, health, and environmental reasons, a major overhaul of current agricultural production methods is needed to achieve adequate, acceptable, and sustainable food and fiber supplies. Many practitioners in both developed and developing countries are therefore adopting new or modernizing old methods of agriculture that are more clearly based on natural models. Their overhaul doesn't involve just doing the same things differently, because the problem of agriculture cannot be solved within the mentality that created it. Rather, the new solutions are the result of whole-systems thinking and the science of ecology; they embody the principles of natural capitalism; they follow the logic not of Bacon and Descartes but of Darwin.

I plan to build a mission to mars style waste recycling system that produces water, vegetables, and even fish. The best part is it's easy. Just copy nature. It's called biomimicry. A good friend of mine I collaborate with me once pointed at a bunch of plants and said "You know what these are? They are natural air, water, and waste filtration systems. Some of them even produce FOOD!"

I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Art of Triathlon

I've been realizing lately what a journey triathlon is. I've grown a lot as a person these last 3-4 years as I undertook the journey. It's not really what I expected. But I like it.

I read a couple of interesting articles that really resonated with me today. Usually you figure things out, but you can really make sense of them for a long time. Things just click. I had already accepted what these articles were expressing, but reading them in well thought out words means a lot. My favorite quote from an article about what racing means when you approach it like an art:
Out of sheer necessity, the demanding challenge of a long-distance race motivates us to bring heart and brain into balance and cooperation to accomplish our goal. Along the way, we gain grace, wisdom and long-term vision that carry over into our participation in the human race. We begin to realize that we are either all winners or all losers. It’s not how fast we get to the finish line of life or whom we beat on the way; it’s how graceful, harmonious and efficient we are on our journey. This is what brings us enduring happiness and genuine satisfaction.

Can it be that simple? At least for me the act of testing myself has always been how I learned. I know that some people are different, but I think that undertaking great things, whether you succeed or don't, win or lose, is how you achieve greatness. And it just so happens that training, and competing in triathlons (and all the swim, bike and run events on the side :) ) has the nice little side effect of making you eat well, sleep well, live well, and maybe just be well.

In all reality I decided to do an ironman 3 years ago when a friend of mine lotteried in to kona. He trained some, and had done triathlon for a while, but basically completed the event on will. I was impressed, because as a long time swimmer, runner, and hardcore musician I knew how mentally tough it was to perform under pressure, ESPECIALLY when you are not really ready. As I count down 27 days to my first ironman at the end of this month in Cozumel, I'm reminded of a quote I read recently in another great article from ironman.com about some of the toughest people who have done an ironman:

Experience is a harsh teacher -- she gives the test before she gives the lesson - and once in a while we need a reminder that toeing the start line at Ironman isn't an automatic ticket to a lifetime of bragging rights.

Just cause I start doesn't mean I will finish. A LOT of people don't. I'm looking forward to the experience.