Sunday, August 19, 2018

One Millionth Blog View!! Don't Make This Swim Start Mistake

First off, THANK YOU!!

This week I'll have my ONE MILLIONTH BLOG VIEW and without you the athletes, it would never have occurred.  So a big handshake of thanks to each of you.

                  The Proper Way to Weigh a Triathlete

No self respecting triathlete approaches the weekly weigh-in nonchalantly.  No sirree Bob, this is a solemn occasion.  The numbers displayed on the desperate racer's scale can make or break the unsuspecting athlete who, following a partial overdose on Thursday night at Hal's Hot dog Hideaway where it was three-for-the-price-of-one chili cheese dog night.  He's hoping the scale takes little notice of his...uh... indiscretion.

The first step in this complex task is to close the bathroom door so there are no witnesses.  Disrobe completely.  Yes even those tighty-whities.  Head for the toilet evacuating both bowel and bladder, pausing if need be for those last couple of drops to hit the water.  Do not shower.  I heard tell that it sticks in your pores and your weight goes up."  Maybe?

With a sense of purpose in your stride, approach the scale and step aboard.  Exhale (you never know.)  Note reading and step off.  Repeat, getting three quotes.  Accept lowest one.  Did you remember to exhale?

Know that this is all said in jest and each of you does what's right for YOU.  Know that there is a sub set of triathletes who flat refuse to weigh themselves saying their friends go overboard at a "half pound one way or the other."  Sadly, we both have friends like that and maybe lean that way ourselves.  Weight these days is a very private number.  You know your friends ages, alcohol habits, even salaries in some cases but unless they're ultra close buddies, you don't ask their weight.

Some say we should focus more on body fat percentage as it more closely aligns with overall health.  While in the big picture that may be correct, that dividing line is around 25% for men and 35% for women, not the typical range seen in this sport.  It's more descriptive of visceral fat, belly fat, that kind of thing.

That said I side with the people who preach that if you measure something you can affect change in it.  You can choose daily weight, calorie intake, a food diary, something where you are conscious on a daily basis of what goes in your mouth.  This gives you those little hints in daily life of what to put on your plate and lunch, dinner and in between.  Science has shown this to be a more effective to maintain/control our weight.  Select whichever method fits best into your life and do it every day.  Well, almost.  You're more likely to get the results you want of you do. 


Point to La Pointe Swim Lake Superior 2018

I was in an open water 2.1 mile swim last month in Lake Superior, Bayfield, WI to Madeline Island that pretty much parallels the ferry route between the two. (Or as the locals like to point out, "parallels the ice road" since the lake is frozen solid much of the year and they make the journey by car or truck.  They don't call them Great Lakes for nothing.  

The race was billed as having 500 mandatorily wetsuited swimmers, men starting at 7:20, women 7:28.  At 7:15, with 250 men standing ankle deep in 60 degree water, the call “5 minutes” came out.  Two minutes later, “3 minutes,) and at 7:20 a loud airhorn signaled SWIM!

The women then quickly gathered in the same place, same sequence, “5 minutes,” but here’s where things took an odd turn.  A ferry was coincidentally returning to Bayfield at that exact same moment.  Just before the 3 minute call, the ferry blew it’s horn, and guess what – about half the women thought it was the starting airhorn and took off swimming!  The locals and more experienced women who were familiar with the hourly ferry toots stood still.  No one had any idea how to bring the errant swimmers back so they just let them go and sounded the race airhorn at 7:28.  I don't know how they scored the timing for the women, probably just one more unknown in being a race director.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Kinesio Tape - Part of Your Injury Protocol?

"Don't call for your surgeon, even he says it's late.  It's not your lungs this time but your heart holds your fate."      Bruce Springsteen, For You

Kinesiology Tape reportedly:

1)  Supports muscle

2)  Removes congestion to the flow of bodily fluids
3)  Activates the endogenous anesthesia system
4)  Corrects joint problems
5)  Reduces muscle fatigue
6)  Reduces delayed-onset muscle soreness
7)  Enhances healing by reducing edema
8)  Increases blood flow
9)  Aligns fascial tissues

Let's see if these claims hold water.


I've been intrigued by the array of tape colors and applications for a long time. Taping has gotten pretty wide exposure but I'm having trouble understanding the claimed physiology behind these claims. "Lifts the skin," supports muscles and joints," just doesn't seem to add up in my book.  I admit that having so many attributes aligned with a single product can be confusing, at least to me anyway.  But let's check a little further.

The product originated in Japan in the 1970's by Kenso Kaze, an acupuncturist/chiropractor.  The pieces are cotton based and possess a heat-activated adhesive.  Anecdotally, trainers and athletes have seen success although some describe it as, "Hit and miss."  Unfortunately, there's not a great deal in the medical literature to support it's use. Many of the claims seem to be manufacturer-based.  (Where have we heard that before?)  One study from 2008 evaluating the tape's use in athletes with shoulder pain did show immediate improvement with the use of kinesio tape over a sham. But by day 6, "Both the tape group and the sham group had significantly improved in all outcome variables."  The authors concluded, "Utilization of Kinesio tape for decreasing pain intensity or disability for younger patients with suspected shoulder tendinitis/impingement is not supported."  

Quoting AAOS Now senior science writer Terry Stanton, "Other reliable studies find little evidence to support using the tape, although some small investigations reported some positive results......overall, 'the efficacy of Kinesio tape in pain relief was trivial given there were no clinically important results.'"  

Taped athlete on Kona pier

No study has reported negative results. I think that's an important statement. The best explanation is that the mechanism is one of placebo.  That said, some would use it even if it only acts as a placebo.  There's no harm in giving it a try and if the athlete improves so be it.  S. Terry Canale, MD of the American Academy Of Orthopedic Surgeons sums it up this way:

1)  Kinesio taping has some benefit in 40 percent to 60 percent of users: probably works best as a placebo.
2)  It works best in the shoulder, forearm and quadriceps as an adjunct to PT rehabilitation.
3)  More definitive studies need to be done to see if any objective evidence supports it's use.

So, since we've previously established that triathletes are, in marketing terms, early adopters, willing to try the new and different even if it's unproven, we'll continue to see neon taped athletes from time to time. Whether or not it works remains to be seen.  And, other than the out of pocket expense, there doesn't seem to be any harm. It seems there may be a role for KT in the triathlete's injury bag and I wouldn't discount it.

Monday, August 6, 2018

26:20 on the Kona IM Course, The Smiling Walt Stack

Let Me Take You Back to 1981

"Start off slow...and taper back."    Walt Stack

 Triathlon has become such a highly regulated sport these days, eh?.  There are governing organizations, certifications on many levels, with ever changing rules and regulations.  We occasionally need to take a look back to the pioneers of our sport, those adventurous souls who, when presented with the idea of swim long, bike long, then run a marathon thought, “Now that sounds like fun!”  Mostly they did this on faith and faith alone. 

“Cowman” Ken Shirk, one of these early pace setters, was able to complete the entire original Kona course wearing a cow head complete with horns.  Why would he want to do that you ask?  (The answer doesn't come to me immediately either.)  And he's completed many more since. A strong individualist, he fit right in to the then prevalent mindset of people at the far end of the endurance sport bell curve.  Ken’s pedigree includes being the second man to finish the Western States 100 mile race. Or, more accurately, the second human to finish the event not horse bound! 

"Cowman" Ken

His Ironman swim required a modified breast stroke which Ken labeled the “cow stroke.”  Well, of course.  Wouldn’t you?  I don’t know how many times he’s finished the event, both as a legal registrant, and I’m told as a bandit, but it seems the event has gotten too big, gone in another direction, for the Cowmans of life.  Sad.

Many of you were not born in February 1981, the year Walt Stack toed the line in Hawaii. The race was still in February back then and this would the first time for the Big Island course, the race having been run in Honolulu from 1978 - 80. It had just gotten too big to be contested in the populous state capitol.

San Francisco's Walt Stack was part of Ironman before everyone and his brother was labeled hero, a real larger than life guy. He’d done countless races before coming to the Big Island and had established himself as a legendary figure in our young sport.  Not fast, but steady, he could always be counted on to be one of those still standing at race’s end. (Seven years later he would do a very cute Nike commercial.

And, from a piece about Walt in Sports Illustrated: "Stack was out running the hills near his home. It should be called climbing. He was with a group of young women from his running club, the Dolphin South End Runners, when suddenly, one of them recalls, "I heard a sharp crack. I looked back, and Walt was stretched out on the sidewalk, bleeding from a cut on the head. 'Walt, what happened?' I yelled.  " 'That's what comes from being a dirty old man,' he said. I dropped back to look at your legs, and I ran into an overhanging branch.' "  If you'd like to read the whole article - it's particularly good - go to

His first, and only, Ironman in Kona was in 1981 when there was only one Ironman, no WTC and no separation of pro’s and age groupers.  Everybody was an age grouper!  You need to remember that these were the early developing days of the sport and we didn’t know a great deal about aerodynamics on the bike, refueling or nutrition, and if you mentioned compression it was assumed you were speaking about the compression ratio of your car’s engine.  Ironman had no swim or bike times, no cut offs, and only a rudimentary course.  

The swim had no buoys, no course, and according current Swim Director Jan War, “You just swam out to a canoe and back.”  When asked about turn around help for any competitor not from Kailua-Kona, or perhaps the directionally challenged in ocean navigation, to aid even finding the turn around boat, he laughs loudly as one who knows the punch line of a joke before you do.  According to Jan, his predecessor, crusty Mo Matthews, was fond of reporting, “If they can’t find the turn around boat, they shouldn’t be doing the race.” 

 Stack was ready for the event and at 73, the oldest ever competitor to attempt the distances.  After a 3+ hour swim and leisurely bike, history has it that he was pretty tired on the run. So, he just eased off the course, lay down in someone’s yard, and took a nap.  Once refreshed, he set off on his 26 mile jaunt and near it’s conclusion got hungry.  So what do you do when your stomach starts talking, head for the restaurant naturally.  The Kona Ranch House which used to be on Palani Road but is no more.  The way I heard it, he was eating his waffle breakfast, reading the morning paper, with the results of “yesterday’s” Ironman race in it. The race in which he was still competing!

 Once breakfast was finished, he got back out on the course, finished the event in a speedy 26 hours and 20 minutes, and still holds the record for longest race time in Kona.

 It’s a shame that the sterility of present day doesn’t seem to have a place for Cowman, the Amazing Walt Stack and countless other characters who put this event into the national spotlight..  But they are the rocks on which this sport is built.  And if you happen to be walking around Kona one day and spy a guy with cow horns on, don’t simply assume him an asylum escapee but walk over, shake his hand and say thanks.  Maybe he'll share with you some of the finer points of the cow stroke!

Images: Google images