Sunday, January 29, 2017

Beware of "Our Top Spring Running Shoes" Surveys

Bobby Bowden, Famed Florida State football coach for over 30 years

Bowden was asked by a reporter about one of his linebackers. When describing that player, Bowden said “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘fear.’ In fact, I just saw his grades and he doesn’t know the meaning of a lot of words.” 


"Our Top Spring Running Shoes"

NPR had an informative piece on rating agencies about a year ago.  One gent, very suspicious of one of the restaurant ratings that his local places had received from a well-known national agency decided to take things into his own hands.  He created a virtual restaurant in his own town house.  Really.  He, with enough time on his hands to make even the slackest triathlete jealous, made a website complete with ratings from fictitious diners ("I made it good, but no so good that it might throw someone off.  Even put in a couple stinkers for realism!") Then he created a composite menu from a number of nearby establishments. "The wine list was the most fun.  I went to the cheap place down the street and picked the ones on the bottom shelf."

After submitting this to the well-known rating agency (and changing the greeting on his voice mail to that of the restaurant), he got a single phone call from them with a few questions about various areas of the restaurant.  That was it.  No on site evaluation for cleanliness of the kitchen or restrooms, no verification of adherence to disability access codes, nada.  It didn't take long before he was informed he had earned the highest rating and would he be interested in being listed in their guide...for a fee.   

The reason I go into this is that national chains, magazines, etc. will be coming out with shoe ratings at some point.  These are very important to the manufacturers since they know you and I read the magazines, see these ratings and on some level keep them in the back our minds when it's time to replace our current dogs.  A lot of money is at stake here.

The best example I can currently think of is the Hoka One One, which probably paid a substantial amount to be named official shoe of Ironman North American Series*. While popular in Kona, they were not the most used brand worn by Iron athletes. Asics was.** Dave Jewel of LAVA magazine had an all-inclusive shoe count of every racer to hit Alii drive revealing Asics first overall, Hoka One One second.  I would bet this information was not lost on Hoka executives.  Asics was also the #1 shoe among age groupers.

I would ask you when looking at any product evaluation, shoes the example under consideration here, that you look for bias.  If you're at a store, what brand is being pushed and why?  Are there incentives that the average customer would be unaware?  If you're reading a trade magazine, are the shoes that advertise there seemingly always near the top recommended brands?  Is there bias in the testers?  When doing a wine tasting, the wines under evaluation can be put in unlabeled glasses.  Only the ones running the test know which wine is in which glass.  However, it's hard to remove the brand logo from running shoes.  That said, when experienced wine tasters knew which, or supposedly which glasses contained the more costly wines, there was a subtle bias toward these (supposedly) more costly samples.

You count on these shoes to make you your fastest, and perhaps more importantly protect you from injury, do your best to choose wisely.  
I'll admit it. Sadly the owner of this vanity plate owner lives in my home town. He has friends in your town. Be careful out there.
* Slowtwitch Dan Empfield, Slowtwitch, 4/2/2016 But does this new deal with Ironman make sense for Hoka? The official shoe designation was a disastrous hole down which K-Swiss dumped barrelfuls of money. 

** 10/11/16

Sunday, January 22, 2017

When You Take Your Coach, PT and Chef to Your Ironman

The Name Game - a great rainy day/snowy day work out.  All you have to do is perform the exercise corresponding to each letter of your first, middle and last names. Rest 15 seconds between letters.  Repeat if you can....or if it's still raining.

Good luck!


To all who are participating in the Alcohol-free January, WELL DONE. We only have 9 more days. With February comes the sweet smell of that IPA and the Superbowl.  Good job athletes.


Some of your early season work outs not going the way you want?   I was told at the gym yesterday by Coach Emily that "sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs...."  She simply meant that not every swim or bike will be a break through experience but if you can slog it out in the early season, when the leaves do return to the trees this spring and you're planning the carpool for the local sprint triathlon, suddenly it's all worth it.  

Not so much much slogging that your form goes by the wayside though.


Earlier this year there was an intriguing article in the NY Times titled:

              "When Amateur Ironmen Pay for the Elite Treatment."

A 2015 survey conducted for the World Triathlon Corporation — the Tampa, Fla.-based organizers of Kona and other Ironman races — found that the average annual household income for Ironman participants is $247,000. USA Triathlon, the largest multisport organization in the world, says the average income for all triathletes, including those at shorter distances, is $126,000.
When Marc Blumencranz had an opportunity to compete in the 2013 Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, he spared no expense in his preparations to go the distance. 
His outlays for the race — known simply as “Kona” among triathletes — went far beyond a wet suit and a new pair of handlebars for his racing bike. To help acclimate to the Hawaiian heat, he rented a house on Kailua-Kona’s fashionable Ali’i Drive, as well as a block of hotel rooms for the 10 days leading up to the race. He also hired a private chef to prepare his meals, then flew to Hawaii and housed not only his wife and daughter, but also his coach, massage therapist and physical therapist.
Total estimated cost: $100,000.
“My first reaction was, ‘You don’t need to do that,’” says Jose L. Lopez of Long Island Tri Coach, based in Mineola, who guided Mr. Blumencranz through the intensive, 10-week buildup to Kona. “I said, ‘I can still train you; I don’t need to be in Hawaii.’ He said, ‘I want you to be there with me.’”
Mr. Blumencranz, now 52, is a managing director for BWD, a large, privately held insurance brokerage and wealth-management firm in Plainview, N.Y. But his career success hardly makes him an anomaly in the sport. At events like Kona, it is not hard to find affluent competitors willing and able to put serious dollars behind their long-distance dreams.

Kona race volunteer aiding an athlete with last minute pre-race bike needs

“I don’t know if it’s a rich person’s sport, but it’s certainly an upscale person’s sport,” says Dr. Steven Jonas, a professor of public health at Stony Brook University, a longtime triathlete and the author of the best-selling book “Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals.” “To run a marathon, you need a pair of shoes, a pair of shorts and maybe a water bottle. To do a triathlon, you need a lot more.”
Free-spending amateur endurance athletes often pay for more than gear. To gain entry to Kona in 2015, Michael Berland, head of the political polling and analytics firm Edelman-Berland, made a winning bid on a charity slot.
The Ironman Foundation, the charitable arm of the World Triathlon Corporation, funds a number of local initiatives, including youth organizations in Hawaii. Each year, the foundation auctions four spots in the race.
“My wife and I decided this would be our philanthropy for 2015,” says Mr. Berland, 47, who lives in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. To make sure he got in, he made what he called “a pre-emptive bid” of $50,200.
“It’s what I wanted to do,” Mr. Berland says of his expenditure. “It helps kids in Hawaii, and it got me into the race.”
The large portion of successful business people involved in endurance sports isn’t surprising, considering the personality traits they tend to share. These, says Dr. Michael Sachs, a sport psychologist at Temple University, include “high levels of motivation, goal orientation, mental toughness. They also realize that in order to be successful, they need to maintain physical and mental health, and one of the best ways to do that is exercise.”
In addition, he says, there’s a “coolness” factor. “If you’re wearing a Boston Marathon T-shirt or an Ironman finisher’s jacket, those are credentials you can’t buy. You have to earn it.”
Ironman distance triathlons are not the only events that attract Type A endurance athletes. In the last five years, Jeff Adams, 56, a retired Morgan Stanley executive living in Elkhorn, Wis., has run in 20 marathons around the world, including New York, Boston, London, Tokyo and even Antarctica.
Mr. Adams estimates that his pursuit of running and fitness — including the cost of travel to his various races, his gym memberships and so forth — has cost him $50,000 a year over the last five years. But he ticks off what he calls his “return on my running investment,” including improved health, weight loss and the opportunity for adventurous travel.
Women, even successful women, are less likely to be found jetting around the globe or spending significant amounts of money in pursuit of their training and racing goals. “I don’t know many women who are high powered and wealthy and who are also endurance athletes who would go to these extremes,” says the former professional triathlete Lee DiPietro, 57, of Delray Beach, Fla., and author of “Against the Wind: An Ironwoman’s Race for Her Family’s Survival.” But she said that could change.
For his costly 2013 effort, Mr. Blumencranz dutifully did all his training leading up to Kona, the pinnacle of swim-run-bike sport — a one-day 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon through the island’s torrid, wind-swept lava fields. Qualifying was difficult: Although he had twice completed the Ironman distance race in Lake Placid, N.Y., Mr. Blumencranz is not an elite athlete.
“I never saw myself doing Kona,” he admitted. Until, that is, a business associate dropped a word to a high-ranking executive with one of the race sponsors. Mr. Blumencranz, who lives in Old Brookville, N.Y., was then offered a Kona spot. He was thunderstruck. “I told my golf friends that, for me, getting the opportunity to race at Kona was like playing Augusta during the Masters.”
On race day, Oct. 12, with his coach cheering him on, Mr. Blumencranz finished in 13 hours 19 minutes 56 seconds — far from the professional triathlete Frederik Van Lierde’s winning time of 8:12:29, but also comfortably removed from the mandatory cutoff time of 17 hours.
He felt that having his friends and support crew on hand made a difference. “It was like having Team Marc there,” said Mr. Blumencranz.
Dr. Jonas applauds Mr. Blumencranz’s generosity and determination in bringing his support team to Kona in 2013, but isn’t sure of its effect. “If he’d spoken to me, I would have told him, ‘you’ll probably finish in about the same time without all that.’”
Besides, money can’t buy the satisfaction of true competition. “You cannot buy a finish,” says Dr. Jonas. “It’s what’s inside you.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Supplements, Good or a Good Waste of Money?

As Women Age, They Naturally Lose Height

The etiology of postmenopausal height loss is
not well understood. Height loss among women probably begins in midlife. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, which performed serial measurements of height over 9 years in a cohort of men and women, documented that height loss begins at approximately age 30 and increases with age. On average, in women, height decreased 5 cm between ages 30 and 70 years, and by age 80, women had lost 8 cm of height. Age-related height loss is believed to be a result of decreasing height of intervertebral discs and joint cartilage, scoliosis, less pronounced foot arches, and postural changes as well as osteoporotic vertebral fractures and weakness of the back muscles.

A recent study was performed to see if supplementation calcium and vitamin D altered this process in healthy postmenopausal women.  Sorry to say that it did not.   From the Mayo Clinic

55-59 Kona age group winners. Funny, they look just like you and me. 

Americans spend more than $30 billion a year on dietary supplements — vitamins, minerals and herbal products, among others — many of which are unnecessary or of doubtful benefit to those taking them. That comes to more than $100 a month for every man, woman and child for substances that are often of questionable value.

The passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 opened the floodgates to an industry that can bring these products to market without submitting any evidence to the Food and Drug Administration that they are safe and effective in people. The law allows the products to be promoted as “supporting” the health of various parts of the body if no claim is made that they can prevent, treat or cure any ailment. The wording appears not to stop many people from assuming that “support” translates to a proven benefit.

After 1994, sales of a very wide range of supplements skyrocketed, and because the law allowed it, many continued to be sold even after high-quality research showed they were no better than a placebo at supporting health. The government can halt sales of an individual product only after it is on the market and shown to be mislabeled or dangerous.

The latest study, published in October in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that overall use of dietary supplements by adults in this country has remained stable from 1999 through 2012, although some supplements have fallen out of favor while the use of others has increased.
The study, directed by Elizabeth D. Kantor, a biostatistician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, revealed that 52 percent of adults used one or more supplements in 2012. If anything was surprising about the findings, it was that the number of supplement users was not even higher given the products’ robust promotion in paid advertisements and testimonials on the internet.

The findings were derived from in-home interviews with 37,958 adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The survey is conducted every two years among a nationally representative sample of Americans living at home.

In an accompanying editorial titled “The Supplement Paradox: Negligible Benefits, Robust Consumption” accompanying the new report, Dr. Pieter A. Cohen, of Cambridge Health Alliance and Somerville Hospital Primary Care in Massachusetts, pointed out that “supplements are essential to treat vitamin and mineral deficiencies” and that certain combinations of nutrients can help some medical conditions, like age-related macular degeneration. He added, however, “for the majority of adults, supplements likely provide little, if any, benefit.”

Among the changes found in the new study: multivitamin/mineral use declined to 31 percent from 37 percent, “and the rates of vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium use decreased, perhaps in response to research findings showing no benefit,” Dr. Cohen wrote. Sometimes people do act sensibly when faced with solid evidence.

Top of Form
Bottom of FormHowever, he added, “other products continued to be used at the same rate despite major studies demonstrating no benefit over placebo.” Thus, the use of glucosamine-chondroitin to relieve arthritic pain remained unaffected by the negative results in 2006 of the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial and several follow-up analyses.
Others have studied who uses dietary supplements and why. Again using data from the National Health and Nutrititon Examination Survey of 2007-10 that included 11,956 adults, Regan L. Bailey of the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements and co-authors reported in 2013 these reasons given by the survey participants: 45 percent said they took them to “improve” and 33 percent to “maintain” overall health. Thirty-six percent of women took calcium for bone health and 18 percent of men took supplements for heart health or to lower cholesterol. Only 23 percent used supplements because a health care provider suggested they do so.

Perhaps most enlightening were the data on the characteristics of supplement users. In all probability, they were among the healthiest members of the population. They were more likely than nonusers to report being in very good or excellent health, to use alcohol moderately, to refrain from cigarette smoking, to exercise frequently and to have health insurance. Other studies have shown that supplement use is also more frequent among those who are older, who weigh less and have higher levels of education and socioeconomic status.

This means that in trying to determine possible health benefits of a supplement, researchers must control for all such characteristics in order to isolate the contribution of the supplement. Just looking at a large group of people, even following them for decades and finding that supplement users were healthier or lived longer, proves nothing if other influences on health and longevity are not taken into account.

Faced with equivocal or negative findings of health benefits from supplements, in 2013 the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group of physicians who base their advice on solid evidence, opted not to recommend the regular use of any multivitamins to prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer in people who were not nutrient deficient.

All of which makes one wonder why people, myself included, opt to take one or more dietary supplements. Those who take a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement typically cite “nutritional insurance” as their rationale. Knowing that they often eat erratically or fail to consume recommended amounts of nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, a supplement containing a broad range of vitamins and minerals seems the easiest and cheapest way to fill in any gaps.

But nutrition specialists point out that no pill can supply all the nutrients found in wholesome foods. For example, a multivitamin/mineral supplement contains none of the fiber in fruits and vegetables, and to provide the amount of daily calcium recommended (1,000 milligrams for adults, rising to 1,200 for women over 50 and men over 70), the combination pill would be too big for most people to swallow.

Some supplement users distrust evidence suggesting they have no benefit, which is why I still take glucosamine/chondroitin despite the results of the best study to date that found it offered no relief from knee arthritis. My arthritis has progressed minimally in the decades I’ve been on it, and having experienced no side effects, I’m unwilling to argue with apparent success.

Still, a cautionary approach to supplements is wise. Some can be harmful or interfere with the action of prescribed medication. Even if your doctor fails to ask, you should report the kinds and amounts of supplements you take and be sure the doctor records the information in your chart.


This is the second installment by Ms. Brody