A Rebuttal To Swim Bike Mom’s ‘Brain Bills Job Kids and Triathlon’ Post

So, the estimable Swim Bike Mom posted about how triathlon can come into conflict with one’s Brain, one’s Family, one’s Job, as well as Bills, Sleep and even the Body and Heart.  Go on and read it at the link above, then come back here.  Good, now allow me to rebut that post.  Yes, I know she’s a lawyer… but I am Without Fear.  Here goes…

BRAIN: Hello Triathlon, I just wanted to give thanks for the long training sessions.  They really help me get away from a lot of the hustle and bustle.  Sometimes I even get my best work done when it’s just me, body and the road or water.

HEART: Yo, I know what he means.  Right now I’m chilling at a low rate thanks to those little parties you throw all the time…

BODY: Sure, you guys don’t feel any of the pain involved… to you there’s no downside.  Still, I guess I like to be prepared for when the kids need me.  Speaking of pain…

KIDS:  Papa!  Carry me!  Upstairs! Downstairs! Through the mall!  Across the Parking Lot!  Can we go for a run or ride in the Chariot?

WIFE:  Thank goodness for you, Triathlon!  He’d be a corpse after all that if it wasn’t for you… I’m also a big fan of your work with BODY over there…

BODY: I like you too, lady…

JOB: Break it up you too.  Triathlon, thanks for keeping the man healthy and sane.  Our reports indicate a below average number of sick days taken.

TRIATHLON:  Thanks you guys… I couldn’t do it without you either…. wait, excuse me who are you?

SLEEP: I’m SLEEP… we don’t know each other very well….



Jiu-Jitsu: The Triathlon of Martial Arts (according to me).

As much as the off-season is more of a mental construct than a true necessity due to climate; I’ve found myself unable to train and exercise to the degree I’d like in recent weeks (largely though not solely due to a health issue).  I was being kept from the bike trainer, I was kept from running, swimming and the gym for any strength training.  When I find myself stymied in my efforts to get in shape, I have a bad habit: I’ll dive into exercise with abandon, rather than easing in to accommodate a body that isn’t ready for the sudden shock.  So I found myself saying yes to a ‘Welcome Back to the Mats 2012’ session of my old club.

This is a triathlon and multi-sport blog, so I’m way off-topic here, but on the other hand, it’s my blog, and I think I can swing a little justification of this post.  And if you still have a problem with that, you have to face these two:

Let me give you a little background. From the Jitsu Foundation website: “Jitsu is a martial art based on the traditional styles of Jiu Jitsu that originated and developed in medieval Japan. The core of the art comprises a system of throws, joint locks and strikes. Based on the principal of using an aggressor’s energy to their own disadvantage, Jitsu skills can be used by men, women and children to counter aggressive situations ranging from unwanted harassment to armed physical assault.”  

(The Jitsu Foundation is the organizational body for Shorinji-Kan Jiu-Jitsu, the style I practice/practiced).

So here are the top similarities between jiu-jitsu and triathlon:

  1. Multi-disciplinarian.  A full jiu-jistu technique might involve blocking a punch, a counter-strike, a joint lock (to put the aggressor off-balance), a throw, then a restraining technique.  So, a jitsuka (a practitioner of jiu-jitsu) needs to be well-versed in many categories of techniques (including chokes, pressure points, etc.) where most other martial artists get to stick to one or two categories.  Swim, Bike, Run…. Strike, Throw, Lock. Get it?
  2. Technical Geekery.  Triathletes are often called tri-geeks – even the more casual participants will use Garmin’s or Apps to track their speed, pace, distance and heart rate.  The hard-core know their anaerobic threshold, VO2 Max, the materials science that goes into making their bikes faster or lighter, and nutritional tweaks to get the best out of themselves on race day.  Jiu-jitsu uses a variety of anatomical principles and physics (like torque and leverage) to ‘use the aggressor’s energy (or strength) to their own disadvantage’.  There is a technical finesse that occurs at higher levels of proficiency that lends itself well to the the more analytical or ‘geeky’ mind.
  3. Masochism.  This may not be universal across all styles of jiu-jitsu (and yet also not unique to jiu-jitsu as a martial art), but doing a grading (where you are testing for the next belt level) is most often a painful, tortuous experience.  During them, you question why you bother to do this in your free time, and afterwards, the rewards make you forget (or at least mentally diminish) the trauma of what you just went through.  Just like a long bike ride, run or brick.
  4. Efficiency.   An attacker can be decimated by a good jitsuka who hardly seems to be doing anything at all.  Proper technique means not using your own strength so much as that of your attacker, ideally with a relaxed demeanour (at least in terms of your outward disposition) rather than gritting your teeth and huffing and puffing.  The motto is ‘Maximum Effort, Minimum Impact’.  Triathlon has a lot of energy conservation, where the work you do to improve technique is meant to make sure you will have enough fuel in the tank to finish the race instead of wasting energy on unnecessary movement.

And here’s where they are the most opposite of hobbies:

  1. Social.  You absolutely need at least one partner to execute a jiu-jitsu technique.  In fact, the more (greater variety of) people you practice on, the better.  Triathlon and endurance sports can be trained in groups, but they don’t have to be, and for me, the appeal has always been in the flexibility in going solo… I like the time to clear my thoughts, and doing it when my schedule allows, not by appointment.
  2. Fitness.  Being in good shape is a good idea in martial arts, and I don’t want to say it isn’t good exercise, however… ‘Maximum Impact, Minimum Effort’ – remember?  I know excellent jitsuka and high ranked instructors who smoke regularly… I can’t say the same for triathletes.
  3. Indoor/outdoor.  Triathlon can be done indoors and jiu-jitsu can be done outdoors, but usually… not so much.

Anyway, that’s enough of a digression for this blog,  I hope to bring things back to the core of triathlon in the next entries.  Thanks for reading!


Just checking in with a few interesting links I found over the week.

Caitlin over at Healthy Tipping Point is doing a series for people looking into triathlon.  Where I did a single post in a similar vein, a whole series is that more comprehensive and awesome.  No wonder that blog is so popular.

Meanwhile, Meghann at Meals and Miles drew my attention to an awesome relay that goes from Miami to Key West; a beautiful and fun part of the world to understate things.  It looks logistically difficult to put together, and that’s before you consider the mayhem and TSA blues it would take to get me and my family to Florida.  Still, maybe it’s one for the the Race Bucket List.

Finally, this guy had to go and ruin everything I thought I was doing right in my swim training.  I’ll probably mix in his advice with what I was already doing for some Frankenstein hybrid; that’s how I roll.

Grab/Santa’s Bag of Stuff from the Web

With End-of-Year crunch and Christmas time gatherings, I don’t seem to have time for training or proper blog posts, but here’s a couple of discoveries from the web that I love and wanted to highlight with more than just a tweet.

My favourite triathlon blogger is Swim Bike Mom; a ‘regular jane’ with a job and family who also happens to be a half Ironman.  Her posts are always heartfelt and funny, but this one took the cake (I was actually jealous that I didn’t come up with the idea myself): Triathletes Are Babies.

My other big find was TriMuskoka a newly developed advocacy club for endurance athletes and endurance sport tourism in Huntsville and Lake of Bays, Muskoka. We are committed to athlete development and support for both local and visiting athletes. Our priority is to ensure that every club member achieves his or her goals.  

This area has been home to multiple triathlons in recent years, and I’ve noticed a steep increase in the number of people running and biking out on the roads (I’m sure people are swimming in the lakes too, I just haven’t spotted as many).  I’m really excited to see a formal club/community spring up from all the local enthusiasm, and the icing is that not only is the old Muskoka Chase Triathlon converting to an official WTC 5150 race, but Element Racing is putting on an off-road Triathlon called ‘The Grind’.

A final note: I’ve added an ‘About’ Page for quicker way to introduce myself to new readers.  I’m looking at making some more cosmetic changes on the blog (can’t wait till Blogger’s Dynamic Views allows widgets), I hope they aren’t detrimental.

Happy Holidays and/or Merry Christmas! 

Race Bucket List

Bucket lists seem to be all the rage these days, but I’ve always found the idea daunting – how could I list everything I ever wanted to do?  My list would be something like: 1.) Live Forever and do everything.  Yet, if I focus on the idea that there are endurance/athletic events I would like to participate in, then maybe I can come up with something.

These races will be in the ‘Bucket List’/Pipe Dream category for one or more of the following reasons (in increasing order of likelihood):

  1. Conditioning.  I’m too far out of the shape I’d need to be in to complete
  2. Skill/Equipment.  One or more of the disciplines involves a skill I don’t know how to do
  3. Geography/Logistics:  Getting there with equipment won’t work while taking care of my family at the same time

All of these are fixable or will change with time, and so will the list as I find out new possibilities and opportunities… so let’s get started!

    • Pentathlon Des Neiges.  I was going to put the Ottawa Winterlude Triathlon here but I just happened to stumble across this event in IMPACT magazine. Both events include skating, cross-country skiing, and running, but the Pentathlon des Neiges adds snow-shoeing and cycling.  The latter discipline can be done with mountain or cyclo-cross bikes and actually takes place first (followed by a run, then ski, then skate, then snow-shoe).  There are short (9+4+6+6+4=29km) and long (15+6+9+9+6=45) distance races and it all takes place on the historic Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

    • Men’s Health Urbanathlon What I like about this obstacle course is it seems focused on the fitness aspects needed to complete while leaving out the fear factor/bravado and quite frankly, mud involved in mud runs, Warrior Dashes and Spartan Races and the like.  If they bring one to the Toronto area, I’m as good as signed up, but I wouldn’t mind travelling to one of the fine cities that are currently offered when my schedule would allow it.
      • Ski 2 Sea what if a race included even more of the Canadian Multi-sport experience, enough to span all seasons?  And what if it was a journey with an end destination that was far away from the start?  What if you started on top of a mountain, downhill skied 2km, switched to cross-county skis for another 8km, jumped on a mountain bike and rode 28km out of the mountains only to hit the road with your road bike for 36km.  Now jump off the bike and run for nearly 15km and get in your canoe/kayak so you don’t get wet because there’s another 8km before the finish line.  It’s a lot of distance to cover, and the logistics are quite intimidating so people often do this as a team relay, but it seems like such a dream journey (and it is a net downhill, after all) that I can’t help but be tempted by this one.

        • Ironman 70.3 Laguna Phuket Thailand  I’m a little wary of iron or half-iron distance racing and it’s not only the daunting training schedule and training volume.  Races with the Ironman brand don’t exist in everybody’s back yard, and most people who have done one turn it into a trip with overnight accomodation, meals and maybe a little vacation time… if you’re going to drop that kind of cash and time, why not make it a more once-in-a-lifetime experience?  I love Thailand (from having honeymooned there) and I can’t picture a better destination for a ‘destination race’ than the land of smiles.  So far, you don’t even have to qualify!  This race took place this past Sunday, in fact.

        • Berlin Marathon   My wife and I both have a lot of friends and family in Germany, and Berlin has become a bit of a home away from home for us.  The Berlin marathon is also considered the fastest course there is so there’s my motivation to beat my previous, pitiful marathon time.  What really put this marathon into my dream file was a conversation I had with a gentleman who had done more than 50 marathons all over the world, but when I asked him his favourite, he said it was the Berlin Marathon, during the year of German re-unification.  He had run through part of the city that were inaccessible to him growing up, and attempting to leave those parts in the East had gotten people shot and killed over the course of the Cold War.  By the time he ran through the Brandenburg Gate (below), he was blind with tears in his eyes and needed the guidance of a friend simply to find his way through the pillars.  So many Big City Marathons have a lot of historical draw, but none like this, at least not to me.
        Runners going through the Brandenburg Gate
        • XTERRA Canada (Canadian Open Championship) I already like taking my running “off-road”,  and it’s my honest intention to get a mountain-bike for cross-training purposes and to participate in some non-navigational adventure races (like Logs, Rocks and Steel) and off-road triathlons.  From the latter category, XTERRA is pretty much the biggest and baddest.  This race takes place in beautiful Whistler, BC which only adds to the draw.  Until that time, maybe I’ll get to do the Mine Over Matter as my introduction to off-road tris…

        This list is long enough for now, but I’m always up for recommendations… dream big!

          Multi-sport mind: Cyclo-Cross

          “Cyclo-cross (‘cross) mixes the best of road, mountain, cross-country running, steeplechase and endurance cycling.” from the Midweek Cycling Club’s Cyclo-Cross 101 Handbook.

           As soon as autumn rolls around, triathlon training in most of Canada gets more difficult.  I think this is most felt in cycling, since it is the most time consuming of the three disciplines, and you feel the cold more when your zooming along that fast.  Somebody came up with the sport of cyclo-cross as a kind of end of season training for road and mountain bike cyclists.

          At first glance, you might have trouble telling the difference between Cyclo-cross and mountain biking (at least, I did).  Indeed they both involve getting muddy – in fact, Cyclo-cross can be performed with a mountain bike.  While I’m no expert, I don’t think mountain bikers dismount and carry their bikes over obstacles in most circumstances, whereas this is fundamentally part of Cyclo-cross.  Overall, it struck me as a little less ‘extreme’ and more friendly to novices since even an old road bike would have been acceptable (though a little tricky).  I’m getting ahead of myself by giving my impressions, first I want to tell you the story of how I ended up trying this out.

          A Cyclo-Crosser jumps a barricade, carrying his bike.  I have a bunch of photos like this.  I have a lot to learn about settings on my camera – especially those dealing with low-light and action photography.

          In spite of (or perhaps because of) a local climate (both physical and cultural) that isn’t the most bike friendly in the world, there is a strong local community of Cyclo-cross enthusiasts.  It wasn’t too hard to track down some riders from the Midweek Cycling Club at Centennial Park one Tuesday to check it out.

          What I saw was a course sketched out with police tape and little flags that went up, down and alongside the less steep parts of the ski-hill and some 40cm barriers to be hopped over.  I apologize for the poor quality of pictures; photography is not my strong suit, and never will be. 

          I spoke briefly with Craig, who was directing the cross riders on how many laps they still had before quitting time, and got a feel for whether I would even be able to attempt this thing.  It sounded like my old mountain bike would be alright, if less than perfect for gripping and steering under some circumstances.  At any rate, I resolved to show up a week later ready to go.

          One week later, I pulled into the parking lot wearing my cycling gear, with a helmet, and an old Cateye light that drew a few laughs from more hard-core cyclists I had to purchase a one-day licence from The Ontario Cycling Association and once my admission for the night was paid, they suggested I hook up with one of the more experienced riders for tips on how to navigate the course.  The usual format for the evening is to spend time at each station in a kind of ‘lesson-circuit’ before participating in a race to finish a certain number of laps of the mile-long course, but they opted to forgo that since it was near the end of season, I suppose.

          I approached a man named Pierre and asked him to show me the ropes.  After a few jokes about how this would turn into a new obsession which would threaten my marriage, he gave my bike (an old hybrid that I use for commutes and more recreational riding with my son) the once over.

          The ‘Before’ shot… even if it is technically an ‘after cleaning’ shot.

          Then we were off on the course.  As we rode, Pierre gave me general tips on bike handling that allowed me to get traction going uphill and around the sharper turns, of which there were plenty.  Every few hundred meters he’d have us stop so he could point out specifics that I was maybe doing wrong, or specifics of the course to watch out for.  In particular, he identified a way of looking where you’re going (not where you are) that helps you balance and set up your turns.  There was one hairpin turn I didn’t make all night – it was set up in such a way as to purposely slow riders down so that they wouldn’t accidentally hit a pipe from the ski hill’s snow making equipment.

          One of the most unique features of Cyclo-cross is barricades, where you dismount, pick up the bike, and hurdle over a 40cm (a little over a foot) barrier (or two).  Apparently I’m not the first beginner to find this aspect the most exciting; good technique however, requires calm grace and not holding your breath as you hop over.

          After a couple of laps, Pierre left me to give it a try on my own, which not only amped up the adrenaline factor, but also took a bigger toll on my cardio-vascular endurance; without the pointer sessions to catch my breath, I could really feel each and every lap.

          The ‘After’ shot.  Notice the mud and grass caked everywhere.

          I found Cyclo-cross to be very different than most of my training rides that I do for triathlon.  The twists and turns demand a lot more mental attention; no more ‘zoning out’.  In fact, bike handing is much more of a priority overall as it becomes a struggle just to stay on the bike.  The slippery grass and mud keep you in the lower gears and higher cadences, while the up-and-down of hills (and the bursts of strength you use to pick your bike up and jump the barriers) make it more of an interval workout than I’ve had in a long time.

          Here’s a video from my last lap (I had my camera helmet-mounted); it’s a little dark and shaky – rest assured I could see fine.

          Describing a cyclo-cross ride in short is easy: it’s the way you used to ride your bike when you were a kid:  Without consideration for destination, appropriate terrain, keeping clean or anything but having fun.  Despite how much fun I had, and my desire to do it again soon, cyclo-cross isn’t threatening to become an obsession to me.  After all, in the multi-sport mind, everything is just cross training for something else!

          So Simon Whitfield, Melanie McQuaid and I are talking about robots…

          One of the things I love about Twitter is interjecting in conversations between people I don’t know personally.  That sounds rude (it probably is), but I believe it’s part of that particular medium.  I saw this exchange between multiple Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield, and multiple Xterra World Champion Melanie McQuaid:

          Which is where I stepped in.  Triathlon robots?  Sign me up!

          Now I can live with the fact that Simon Whitfield finishes an International Distance Triathlon in half the time it takes me, but when he tries to be a bigger geek than me, I take exception. 🙂