Flexibility of a Brick

Over the past two years, I have had a never ending series of little injuries.

The injuries stated with a torn plantar fascia.  That was followed by a wicked bout of peroneal tendinitis.  Then the top of my foot started hurting.  Finally it was a sore hamstring & glute.

I was beginning to think that I couldn’t win for losing.  Seemingly, as soon as I started to recover from one injury, another would pop up.

I’ve been a pretty good patient.  Physical therapy, rolling, trigger point treatment, icing, reducing the length and effort associated with workouts.  You name it, and I’ve tried it.

While there may well be some other underlying issues around my running style and gait, shoe selection, weight (yes, that’s a biggie), and more, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the root cause of many of these injuries lies in the fact that my tendons and muscles basically have the flexibility of a piece of stone.

Some history:  I just turned 46, and have been running or cycling since I was 15.  I ran track and cross country in high school and picked up cycling in college.  In high school, we had a regimented stretching cadence that we followed both prior to and following every workout.  We’d do a warm up run, some core work, and then a bunch of basic (mostly) static stretches.  Fast forward a few years, and I essentially stopped stretching pre or post workout.  To make matters potentially worse, I sit all day long at a computer or conference room table.

Don’t get me wrong – I so some stretching, but whatever I do tends to be centralized on something that is nagging me at the moment.  For example, if my calves are sore, I’ll stretch them.  If my shoulders are sore during a swim, I’ll do some stretching.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was remembered a comment my teammate Ryan Heisler made earlier this year.  His statement was along the lines that everything is connected in your body, and that if you are having foot issues, the root issue may be someplace other than in your foot.

And if you think about it (and remember that Schoolhouse Rock video about the human body), it’s true.  The leg bone is connected to the hip bone, and so forth.  It only makes sense that foot pain could be the result of something jacked up in your hamstrings or hip flexors.

So, I decided to test this theory.  My going-in hypothesis was that I had at least a modicum of flexibility still.  I was going to test my flexibility through a few simple tests:  (1) crossed-foot toe touch (2) calf-stretch and (3) forward lunge.  The highly scientific benchmark was the range of motion that I remembered having back in my high school running days.  (Let’s just ignore the fact that ~30 years difference might have some impact on my level of flexibility for now).

I decided to do each of these stretches twice each leg, for :30 each leg.  The true test would be the amount of pain I had to endure and at what point I started to feel the “stretch”.

And as you might suspect, I failed miserably.  Essentially, I can’t touch my toes without feeling like my hamstrings are going to rip in half.  The forward lunge (apart from killing my quads) made my groin and hip flexors scream as if someone had forced me into a split.  I literally thought that some giant gorilla was shaking me around like an old Barbie doll or something.

So, how am I going to fix this?

For starters, I’m going to start stretching again.  I’ve read that the static stretching that is near and dear to me is no longer in vogue.  Dynamic stretching is the way to go.  And so, I”ll incorporate some of that into my routine.  I’ll stand more.  I’ll give yoga a try (begrudgingly).

I will become more flexible.


Product Review: Block Island Organic Sunscreen

I live in Florida.  You’d think that I’d have a symbiotic relationship with sunscreen – that I’d put it on every time I walk outside – that I own stock in sunscreen production companies – that I never expose any of my skin to the sun.  Well, you’d be wrong in that thought.  Until the last decade or so, I hardly ever wore sunscreen.

Growing up, my idea of the perfect sunscreen was a bottle of baby oil with a few drops of iodine in it.  I was perpetually in search of the perfect suntan.  And like many others of my generation, I endured more than a few sunburns in my day.  There’s nothing quite as painful as a hot shower on freshly sunburned skin!

As a triathlete and a parent of three really active kids, I do spend a considerable amount of time in the sun.

Luckily, so far I have not had any conspicuous-looking areas or any skin cancers.  Given that I know other 40-somethings who regularly have things cut off of their skin, I know that I’ve been fortunate.  I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to wear a hat to protect my scalp due to my thinning hair and to wear copious amounts of sunscreen.  It’s exceedingly rare that I don’t slather myself up with sunscreen anytime that I’m outside – sunny or not.  But to be honest, I’ve never really put much thought into what I’ve been putting on my body.

Coppertone.  No Ad.  Hawaiian Tropic.  Generic bottle from CVS.  Whatever was available.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve even used a fair share of the spray sunscreen.

Several weeks ago, I was contacted by a company that makes and sells organic sunscreen – Block Island Organics.  I agreed to do a product review, and then set out to do a little research as part of the due diligence for my review.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (www.aad.org), there are just three things one should look for in a sunscreen: that it covers the broadest spectrum available (protecting you from both UVA and UVB rays), carries a SPF of at least 30, and is water resistant for at least 40 minutes.  Luckily for me, all of the sunscreens I’ve used in the last year or two meet each of those recommendations.

What I didn’t realize was exactly what goes into a bottle of sunscreen.

Here’s a few names:  Avobenzene, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone.  Those five words are certainly a mouthful of really complicated-sounding chemicals.

AAD’s website said that any ingredient in sunscreen has to have been approved by the FDA for use on humans.  That approval implies safety, no?

Therein lies the fundamental question – and the premise behind Block Island’s products.  There are groups out there that claim that many of the chemical compounds in commercially produced sunscreens are hazardous not only to humans, but to the broader environment as well.  None of Block Island’s products contain any of the similar chemical compounds that you’d find in most commercially available sunscreens, and that is based, at least in part, upon research conducted by the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org).

The EWG tests and reviews lots of chemical compounds and rates them based on their level of hazard to people and the environment.

Remember Oxybenzone?  It’s one of the main active ingredients in sunscreens – certainly in the one that has been my “go to” sunscreen (Coppertone Sport SPF 50).  Well, according the EWG, Oxybenzone is a “high hazard”.  EWG references research done by the Centers for Disease Control that indicates 97% of American bodies are contaminated with this chemical that could show reproductive and developmental toxicity.  Oxybenzone also appears to have some allergic and immunotoxicity risks.  The bottom line, according to EWG, is that this chemical is just one that is included in sunscreen that isn’t so good for you.

Well, Block Island’s sunscreen doesn’t contain any item that’s on EWG’s “naughty” list.  The main two ingredients they use are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.  (Wait…isn’t zinc oxide that white stuff that was on Jeff Spicoli’s nose in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”?  Yes.  It is.)

The Product:

Block Island sells a variety of goods.  They sent me a bottle and some sample packs of their SPF 15 sunscreen.


The bottle contains 6oz and retails on their website for $23.99.  They also sell SPF 30 (for $25.99) and SPF 40 (for $27.99).

photo 1

The product is white in color and does not really have a fragrance at all (if you’re looking to smell like a coconut, this is NOT the product for you).  It’s thicker than most commercial sunscreens.  In fact, compared to the liquidy-lotiony feel that commercial sunscreen has, I’d describe Block Island as almost a paste.  Well – that might be overdoing it….it’s thicker, but not so thick that you need a putty knife to spread it or anything.

In fact, Block Island rubs in really easily.

photo 2

Given the zinc oxide and the titanium dioxide, it does take a little bit of rubbing to get all the “white” to go away.  I especially noticed this on the more hairy parts of my body.  Even with some serious rubbing, there was still a white “sheen” to me.  I didn’t resemble a dark eye liner, pale white, black wearing gothic person or anything, but I did have some residual whiteness.

The Results 

I exclusively used the sample Block Island sunscreen over the past month.  In fact, it’s the only sunscreen that we used in our house (my kids and wife used it too).  Swim meets, hanging out at our pool, working out, long bike rides, yard work…you name it….if we were outside and wearing sunscreen, it was Block Island.

All in all, Block Island’s sunscreen seemed to work effectively.  By that I mean, none of us got sunburned.  At all. And that’s a good thing in my book.

The one thing that disappointed me in my month of testing?  Block Island’s sunscreen isn’t sweat proof.  Actually, I don’t suppose that any sunscreen is really sweatproof.  The only downside to Block Island not being sweatproof is that you sweat white sweat.  I guess that’s the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide mixing with sweat.  I’m a heavy sweater though, and the by-product of this was some slightly unattractive sweat stains on some of my clothes.  I also am now the proud owner of aero bar pad with a white titanium dioxide stripe in them.

That being said – these cosmetic (no pun intended) issues I had in no way seemed to diminish the effectiveness of the sunscreen.

My Verdict 

Overall, I liked Block Island’s sunscreen.  At first, I was a little gun-shy about using a “non-commercial” product, but after I did my research and learned about some of the chemical compounds in commercially available sunscreen my concerns were buoyed.  I like the idea of not exposing my body to any more yucky stuff than I need to.

Would I buy this product for my family?  That’s a little more difficult question to answer.  While my heart and mind tell me that I should  buy an organic sunscreen like Block Island for lots of the reasons I have spelled out in this post, the miser in me tells me that it might be a little difficult for me to spend more than $20 on a relatively small bottle of sunscreen given how much sunscreen my family uses and how affordable other (non-organic) products are.  Luckily, Block Island seems to go a long, long way – the bottle that they sent me is no where near even halfway empty.  And even more importantly – if you compare Block Island against other organic sunscreens, you’ll find that their price point is VERY competitive with others.

The bottom line – if using an organic sunscreen is important to you, then Block Island is a good alternative for you to consider.

A Few Details & a Discount for you: 

  • If you’re interested in purchasing Block Island’s sunscreens, they have agreed to offer a 20% discount for the next seven days (until July 21st).  Be sure to use the promo code joelp
  • Be sure to check out Block Island online, on Facebook or on Twitter
  • FTC disclaimer:  I was provided free product by Block Island for the purpose of this review.  I was not compelled or required by Block Island to write a favorable review in exchange for this product.  I am not receiving any additional financial compensation for the review or for any sales generated using the promo code noted above.  All opinions expressed herein are mine and may not represent the opinion of Block Island, Revolution 3 Triathlon or any other company providing sponsorship consideration to me.

Whole Body Cleanses – Worth It?

No.  This post is not about the ongoing need to take regular baths.  Although that topic might be worthy of a post, too 🙂

I thought I’d write a little about the concept of whole body cleanses.  You know….the internal kind.  Before I get too far in on this, let me be clear about a couple of things:  (1) I am not a nutritionist.  If you saw the kinds of junk I regularly eat, you’d be appalled.  Beer?  Check.  Bacon?  Should be its own food group.  Fried stuff?  Ummm…I grew up in the south – eating fried things is second nature to me.  (2) I have never done a cleanse before – at least purposefully.  There was that one time I pretty much cleaned everything out of my body after eating 25 blazing “nuclear” buffalo wings, but that’s a different story. (The “exit tax” was high).

To be completely honest, up until recently, I don’t think I really even knew what a cleanse was.  Sure, I’ve read on blogs and a variety of articles or posts where people said they were doing a cleanse, or that they have done one.  Lots of people essentially give up one type of food or another as part of a strategy to cleanse themselves.  I suspect, for example, that for lots of folks the concept of being gluten-free has nothing to do with irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease, but rather more a choice to limit the amount of gluten that they consume.  But, I don’t think I really knew what a cleanse was until just recently.

I guess I thought that a cleanse was basically when you drank a bottle of laxative and spent a day or ten doing nothing but pooping.  Holy Hemorrhoids, Batman!

And I guess that may actually be part of a cleanse…but I get the sense that there’s more to it.  If you consult the Oracle of all Knowledge (a/k/a:  Google) about “Body Cleanse” you will quickly find about 39 million (yes, MILLION) results.  If you refine it to “Juice Cleanse” you will find another 15 million results.

The bottom line is that there’s a lot of people talking about, and apparently doing, these cleanse things.

But, why?  What’s the purpose of fasting or drinking nothing but green smoothies or a strange concoction of water-lemon-cayenne-pepper-and-maple-syrup?

First and foremost, there’s a clear linkage between these types of activities and dieting.  People believe that fasting and following these cleanse routines will help you lose weight.  Some people will tell you that a cleanse will help strip all the extra crap out of your intestines (yes, pun was intended).  According to some folks, you, me and the person next to you are all carrying around several pounds of poop that is stuck to our innards and doing nothing but making us heavier.

Another common reason given for doing cleanses is that they can help with detoxifying the body.

Some folks think, apparently, that over time bad junk builds up in our bodies and causes irreparable harm. Toxins like heavy metals, excess garlic, and other waste products build upon each other and need to be assisted out of our body.

There are quite a lot of data regarding the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of cleanses.

Renowned medical providers such as Mayo Clinic offer some concerns about colon cleansing.  In this article, they warn that colon cleansing can lead to dehydration, increased risk of infection and changes in electrolyte balance.  They also mention “bowel perforations”.  While I’m not exactly sure what those are, I get a mental image of a little guy running around the inside of your bowel with a hole-puncher thingie making little divots in your intestine.

The Harvard Medical School calls detoxification diets or products “dubious” and question the scientific effectiveness of cleanses.

I’m a little skeptical about the body’s need to have a little help cleaning out toxins in the first place.  After all, we were created with a pretty intense filtering system already in place.  Our kidneys, liver, and intestines do nothing but filter stuff.  It’s what they were made to do!

All this said, though, I’m not looking to pick a fight with anyone that believes cleanses are the bees-knees.  I honestly don’t know.  Do they work?  Are they harmful?  Are they placebo?  I’ve got no clue.  As I said, I’ve never done one, so I can’t personally vouch for their effectiveness or lack thereof.  At the end of the day, there might be a good thing associated with some of the cleanse diets:  they get people to eat more fruit and veggies.  People all across the globe – and in particular in America – often don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.  So, if doing a cleanse is the only way to boost make a change in that department, why not do it?  All things in moderation, I suppose.

Now excuse me while I go work on my own version of a cleanse.  20 extra-spicy “nuclear” chicken wings.  And a beer.

And maybe some Mexican food.

…just don’t forget the toilet paper!

What’s Your Motivation?

We all have some reason that we participate in endurance sports.  We Tri for a reason.  As unique as each of us are, so too are the things that compel us to swim, bike and run.

For some, triathlon is a way to get into shape and lose weight.  Others pursue triathlon as a bucket list.  Or a right of passion.  Some people seek to prove something to themselves.  Surely there are those that tri so they can gain what they perceive as admiration or glory from others.  And you know what?  All of these reasons are truly spectacular reasons for doing multisport.

Earlier this week, I read a blog post written by Meredith – otherwise known on the web as Swim Bike Mom.  In her post, Meredith covers a lot of territory (including how she got a triathlon hickey) – but for me, the real meat of her post is close to the end where she talks about what motivated her to sign up to race Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2013.  She lays out six reasons that are part of her motivation to “go long”. 

Meredith is motivated to tri.  I am motivated to do tri.  You’re motivated to swimbikerun.  Something or someone got your juices flowing. 

Why do I do triathlon?  Surely not because I’m going to win races.  Heck, I’m more likely to be a last place finisher than a first place finisher.  I started doing triathlon because I had a friend who did them, and I wanted to be more like him in some regards I suppose.  Plus, I had a cycling and running background, so it seemed like a natural progression.  But now, for me, triathlon is no longer about losing weight or winning races or crossing off things on my bucket list. I think my main motivation now is that triathlon in general is my great escape.

When I’m running or swimming or biking I literally check out.  It’s the one time in my day where I am free from my work.  I don’t take my blackberry with me, so I’m not constantly checking emails.  It’s my time to daydream.  To think about what is going on in my life.  To pray. 

See, I don’t have a great cause.  I’m not triathloning (is that even a word) to lose weight – although I need to lose some.  I’ve gone the distance all the way to iron, so I’m no longer trying to prove to myself that I am capable of doing the distance.  I am not raising money for charity with each of my races.

I just ENJOY this hobby of ours.  I like how I feel once I get out of the pool.  For some sadistic reason, I love it when I have DOMS the day after a hard workout.  Perhaps like most of us, I like the way I look (or at least see myself looking) when I’m in shape.  Like many other hobbies – golf, needlepoint, cooking, roller-coaster riding – triathloning is something that I look forward to.  Something that I think about frequently.  Something that I wish I could do more of.  This enjoyment, coupled with the fact that I use swimbikerun as a method to unplug, motivates me to continue to participate in this sport.

So…what about you?  What’s your motivation?  Why do you Tri?

My Diagnosis: Dunlop Disease

I have six-pack abs.

No really.  I do.  (Please quit laughing now).  It’s just that my six-pack abs are well insulated within a small cooler.  One might even say that instead of six-pack abs, I’ve been blessed with a 12-pack.  Or maybe a small keg.

I used to really have a six-pack.  Of course, I was in high school and running 40 miles a week.  And I weighed 130 lbs.

Fast forward 25 years, and 50 lbs, and one can understand how my six pack dissolved (or maybe grew) to the size of a small child.

Yes…it’s official.  I have the dreaded Dunlop Disease.  As in….my gut done lopped over my belt.  Others may call it the Muffin Maladie. 

Luckily, this disorder is not, in and of itself, fatal.  There’s a cure, but for some, the medicine can be bitter.

The cure?  Core work.  Lots of it.

Here’s the deal.  I HATE doing core work.  Probably because my core is weak and any amount of core work become a shaky, painful, out-of-breath experience for me.  But, alas, I’ve made a committment to myself that it’s time to focus on my core.

I’ve decided to incorporate a couple of different key workouts for my core.  Both came from Mens Health magazine. 

The first one is called “The Best Ab Workout Ever” – and luckily for me, doesn’t involve crunches.  See, I hate crunches.  They hurt.  They burn.  But….I suspect that this won’t be any easier on me.  In fact, it might be more difficult.  I’ll start on Level 1 – because I’m so out of shape – and do this on Mondays and Fridays.

On Wednesdays, I’ll actually do some crunches.  The second workout (which I will do on Wednesdays) is called “The Ultimate Medicine Ball Workout“.  It was originally published in 2008 as a favorite workout of the University of North Carolina basketball team.  You may have heard this workout called the Medicine Ball 200.  And since I love almost all things Carolina, I do actually like this workout.  I’ve done this exercise series more than once, and while painful, the results have been solid.  It’s actually a killer workout, and one that can be scaled up or down depending upon need and fitness level.

This might be a bitter pill for me.  But there’s no denying that I have Dunlop Disease.  It MUST go away before spring. 

The doctor has spoken.