Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Favorite Triathlon Gear for Under $20

My friends getting into triathlons often bounce questions off of me on types of gear they should buy and train with. It all comes down to budget as you can spend a few dollars to a few grand on gear. That being said, there are a few essential items I use that are very budget friendly and really help during training and races. With Easter quickly approaching, the following also make great Easter Basket fillers for your favorite multi-sport athlete.
Halo 2 head band ($10.83 Amazon)
This isn’t your dad’s favorite sweatband from the 80’s. It’s made with a high absorbant. Also there is a “sweat guard” strip to help block sweat from dripping onto your eyes. During the summer, its slim profile fits perfectly under a bike helmet to absorb sweat during long rides.

Clean Bottle ($9.05 Amazon)
One of my biggest gripes with water bottles is how gunked up they get after awhile because of how hard it is to clean the bottom. The Clean Bottle solves this dilemma. This 100% BPA-Free bottle has a unique twist off top and bottom which makes it a breeze to clean in a dishwasher. Like the Blender Bottle, it is a simple yet practical idea.

Fuelbelt Fuelbox ($11.31 Amazon)
Simple enough, this storage bag sits on the top tube of the frame right behind the handlebar stem so you have quicker access to things you might need on bike ride. It comes down to preference but I liked having the bag right in front of me rather than have to reach back to a bag attached under the seat.

Lock laces (~$7 Amazon)
I remember the first time I went with bungee laces instead of regular shoe laces on my running shoes. Outside of speed advantages putting on your running shoes in transition for a triathlon, I feel like the bungee laces provide a better fit, more convenience, and not having to worry about laces becoming undone during a race. After trying a few different brands, I’ve settled on Lock Laces as my favorites.

Nuun Hydration Tablets ($6.95 for one)
I was always weary of drinking Gatorade or Powerade because of how sugary/syrupy it tasted. During intense workouts or training during the heat, I really needed the electrolytes to stay hydrated. I came across Nuun Hydration Tablets. Each tube has 12 tablets that dissolve into 16oz of water to make a very low calorie (5) no carb hydration drink. The container is very portable and cost effective if you think about how much twelve 20-oz bottle of Gatorade would cost. Nuun also happens to be my drink of choice when I need to re-hydrate the morning after a long night.

RoadID ($19.95 RoadID.com)
I remember hearing about the unfortunate story a few years ago about a female runner who had a freak accident running and died from a tree branch falling on her. It took nearly a day to figure out who she was and contact loved ones. This was enough for me to get a RoadID and wear everytime I go running outside.

Crank Brothers Speed Lever ($5.85 Amazon)
A basic skill for any cyclist is to be able to change a flat tire. This tool makes it a ridiculously easy and fast process. I was lucky to not have more than one flat last year so I didn’t have to use the speed levers on the fly but I did use it a bunch of times switching off and on trainer tires. Trust me when I say this lever makes it 100% easier.

BodyGlide ($12.99 Amazon)
The name says it all. Apply this stuff in areas where you might chafe during long workouts. In addition, this stuff works awesome when you apply it around your ankle and wrist areas to quickly get out of a wetsuit. Recently, I’ve swabbed it onto hotspots on my foot that are prone to blistering to prevent them from occurring on longer runs.
injinji Performance Toe Socks ($10 Amazon)
Speaking of blisters, these socks have individual sleeves for each toe which helps to protect against blisters. It takes getting used to at first, but after a few runs and lack of blisters, I’m a fan. These socks also work well with the Vibram Five Finger shoes.

Compression Socks ($16.95 + $2.99 shipping)
compression sock
Compression socks are all the rage for long distance racing but the prices on them can get pretty ridiculous. I came across this pair that offers all the benefits at half the cost of some of other brands.

Aqua Sphere Kaiman Swim Goggle ($15 Amazon)
aqua sphere
I’ve always had problems with goggles leaking in water or goggles that didn’t fit right and gave me “raccoon eyes” after longer swims. I came across these goggles on a triathlon forum, tried them, and haven’t worn any other goggles since. The fit is great and I’ve never had issues with water leaking in.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Making Homemade Pho from Scratch

When I was growing up, I was a real brat eating certain Vietnamese dishes that my Mom would make. I pretty much hated seafood and anything spicy. My Mom did a great job mixing in traditional American dinners and American’ized versions of some Vietnamese dishes so that I would eat it. One dish (or soup) that I would eat without question is Pho. It was weekend morning tradition for the family and I loved twirling the rice noodles and playfully eating it like spaghetti strands. Since moving away for college, my Mom always makes it a point to make Pho when I visit Erie and outside of that, I usually hit up one of the Pho places in South Philadelphia. For those unfamiliar, Pho is Vietnamese rice noodle soup that is often served with any combination of cuts of thinly sliced sirloin, beef flank, tripe, and Vietnamese meat balls. The distinct beef broth is what really gives Pho its unique taste. Pho is also known as a Vietnamese super food for curing a hangover with its mix of rice noodles and a salty/fatty broth that is perfect after a long night out.
A couple of weeks ago, my parents came and visited Philly and since there isn’t much of a Vietnamese presence in Erie, we went to the Vietnamese supermarket to pick-up a few things they needed. While we were there, I got the random idea to learn to cook Vietnamese, or at least the stuff I knew I would like and want to eat. Pho was the easy one to try first. I can’t read Vietnamese so it was a big help that my Mom was there to guide me toward the ingredients that I needed to buy. In terms of the recipe, I did a quick Google search and used this Pho recipe as my main guide.
The first step was to do an initial boil of the bone marrow to boil off excess fat and impurities that would be removed. It pretty much collects as a dirty foam that is scooped off with a spoon and thrown away. After about 5 minutes or so, the bone marrow is then removed and put into another pot of boiling water to prepare the broth.
While the bone marrow is boiling in the water, part of the flavor in the broth comes from charred onions and ginger. I basically just cut each in half and put it over the stove flames to get the right char which releases the aroma when soaked in the broth. The onion, ginger, sugar, and fish sauce is then added to the broth which then cooks at a steady simmer for an hour and a half.
After simmering for an hour and half, the special spices are added. It essentially a blend of star anise and cloves with some other stuff in a spice bag. Rather than buying these ingredients separately and making my own spice bag, my Mom pointed me toward a pre-packaged bag with all the spices in it and ready to be dropped into the broth. These spices soak/seep in the broth for about 30 minutes and really gives the Pho broth its unique aromatic qualities.
While the spices soak, I used this time to cut up the garnishes. These usually include bean sprouts, cilantro, Thai chilies, and Asian basil but I don’t like any of that stuff so for my own dish, I went with thinly sliced sirloin, sliced onions, cut up chives, and lime slices.
After soaking for 30-minutes, the spice bag is removed and the Pho dish is ready to be “assembled.” The noodles used in Pho are thin rice noodles that are placed into boiling water for about 4-5 minutes. The rice noodles are then removed and placed into the serving bowl. The next step is preference. Some folks like to boil the sliced sirloin in the broth first to cook it a little before adding it to the bowl with the noodles and adding the beef broth to finish cooking. The other option is to put the raw sirloin with the onions/chives and adding the beef broth once it has hit a rolling boil to cook the meat as soon as the broth is added to the bowl of rice noodles.
Once the hot beef broth is added, it instantly cooks the meat and the result is fresh, hot bowl of delicious Pho!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hacking My Sleep with the Zeo Sleep Coaching Device

Over the past couple of months, I have been experimenting with tracking my sleep through a few gadgets I came across. The first one I tried out was the Sleeptracker Elite which I ended up not liking and selling off on eBay. The other device I played around with is the Zeo Sleep machine. In a nut shell, it is an alarm clock on steroids that is wirelessly linked to a headband with sensors that can track your brainwaves (yes, YOUR BRAINWAVES!). You put the headband on while you are sleeping and it records your sleep patterns. The data is then uploaded to a website via an SD Card where the data can be analyzed. Another key feature of the Zeo is Smart Wake whereby you set a time you want to get up like a regular alarm clock but you also set a range before the wake up time, usually 15 – 20 minutes. The Zeo will then detect if you are in a light sleep phase and wake you up during this optimal time. Many times, when people are suddenly awoken from a deep sleep/REM phase, they will feel groggy which ends up affecting the rest of their day. Smart Wake helps to ensure you wake up feeling refreshed. Rather than recreate the wheel on a review on the rest of the Zeo features, one of my favorite blogs to read, dcrainmaker.com, put up a pretty thorough write-up on the Zeo that you can check out.
The typical sleeping pattern is going through cycles of light sleep, deep sleep, and REM. One of the main selling points for me was getting better insight into how much quality sleep I was receiving each night in addition to how much actual sleep I was getting. It is great to understand your sleeping patterns but ultimately, you want to be able to improve how you sleep. The Zeo coaches you through this process with a 7 Step Sleep Fitness Program. After collecting baseline data on your sleeping patterns that is uploaded to the Zeo website, Zeo sends you daily emails on what you should be doing to improve your sleeping habits. After going through the first step, here’s what my starting point looks like. One major thing to point out is that the nights I selected were typical week nights since weekends are generally staying up later than usual and sleeping in.
Baseline Period
12/29/10 - 02/10/11
Nights of Data Collected
Top 3 Goals I Wanted to Improve with the Zeo
  1. Get more restorative sleep
  2. Wake up more easily in the morning
  3. Feel better in the morning
ZQ and your sleep phases
This section presents your sleep phases over the course of your baseline, and shows you how they compare to typical sleep statistics for 30-40 year-olds.
[side note: it feels really weird seeing myself in the 30 – 40 age bracket]
A summary of how you slept based on Total Z, Restorative sleep, and Disrupted sleep.
My Average: 72
Range: 58 – 91
Other 30-40yr Olds Average: 80
Range: 63 - 96
Total Z
How long you were actually asleep during the night.
My Average: 6:42
Range: 5:30 - 8:32
Other 30-40yr Olds  Average: 7:05
Range: 6:15 - 7:55
Note: National Institutes of Health recommends that adults sleep 7-9 hours each night, regardless of age
Time in Wake
The length of time you were awake after having fallen asleep. Zeo does not record awakenings lasting less than 2 minutes.
Average: 0:05
Range: 0:01 - 0:15
Time in REM
The length of time you spent in REM sleep - a phase important for its contribution to overall mental health, mood, and the ability to learn and retain new information.
My Average: 1:39
Range: 0:58 - 2:24
Other 30-40yr Olds  Average: 1:31
Range: 1:04 - 1:58
Time in Light
The length of time you spent in Light sleep - a phase that usually accounts for the majority of the night and is important for getting more total sleep.
My Average: 4:23
Range: 3:42 - 5:26
Other 30-40yr Olds Average: 4:26
Range: 3:28 - 5:35
Time in Deep
The length of time you spent in Deep sleep - a phase important for feeling restored and refreshed.
My Average: 0:41
Range: 0:30 - 1:01
Other 30-40yr Olds Average: 1:09
Range: 0:35 - 1:44
Baseline and wake-up statistics
This section shows basic information about when you go to bed and wake up in the morning. The last row shows how you feel you slept over the course of your baseline period.
Time to Z
The time from when you put your headband on to when you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Average: 0:20
Range: 0:01 - 1:07
The time you try to fall asleep.
Typical: 10:58 pm
Range: 9:41 pm - 1:15 am
Rise Time
The time you wake up.
Typical: 5:27 am
Range: 5:10 am - 7:35 am
Sleep Schedule Consistency
The number of nights in this step that you went to bed or got up within a 40 minute window.
Bedtime: 8 of 15 nights
Rise Time: 12 of 15 nights
+Zzz Presses
The number of times you press the snooze button each morning.
Average: 0
Range: 0 - 0
Morning Feel (scale of 1 – 5)
The way you perceive you slept when you wake up in the morning.
Average: 3
Range: 2 - 4
Based on the data above, there is a lot of room for improvement. My goal is to start Step 2 next week and report back progress as I go through the program. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spending Time at the Annual Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas

I like to consider myself the adventurous type and always willing to check out/try new things for the experience of it. Back in early February, I was in Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Coincidentally, the Adult Entertainment Expo was also going on. I was debating if it was worth the $80 to check out but the curiosity inside me won out and I went.
Have you ever wondered what goes on at a porn convention? Here’s my first (and probably last) view of the things you will see. All PG-13 suitable.

Apparently it was a down year for the Porn industry and in talking to people who went previous years, this year’s convention was smaller than usual but it was still pretty huge.

Tons and tons of fetish booths. The two above were some of the more stranger ones.

Back in the day, I always told my guy friends that having nice sheets was important in a bachelor pad. The Porn Convention also agrees from a “work” perspective.

It wouldn’t be a porn convention without cheesy movie parodies!

The Pink Cross, because working in the porn industry has its risks too if you know what I mean.

This booth seemed out of place except for the female manning the booth.

Obviously, there were a bunch of porn stars in attendance for autograph sessions. Some of the lines was upward of an hour to get an autograph and take a picture with the actress. I am definitely out of the loop on who the current popular porn stars are. The only two I know are Sasha Gray and Jenna Jamison.

Contrary to popular belief, there were females in attendance. I’d say about 3 to 1 ratio male to female

It wouldn’t be a porn convention without cult-superstar Ron Jeremy!

Everyone is a comedian. . . .

Finally, attending the porn convention can be long and tiring day. . .