Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

It seems triathlon is a sport that is just as much about looking good as being good, maybe even more so for some.  Certainly it's hard to hide in a few tight fitting scraps of lycra.  Which brings me to the part of the sport that connects men with their inner woman: shaving their legs.

I've mostly resisted this (there was a waxing incident a few years back but I'm trying to forget that).  This is because, well, I can't really be bothered.  I brush my teeth, I shower, I shave (my face) but the whole male preening of moisturizers, conditioners, hair products, body products, etc is a step too far.  Once in a while I remember to visit the barber when it seems  like I might have to use a comb to stop looking more comical that usual.  So shaving my legs has never really appealed to me.  Until now.

What has given rise to this abrupt change?  What is it that makes me think it might be time to commit to getting a razor for the shower and an exfoliator Michael Jackson glove to avoid ingrown hairs?  Well let's look at the usual reasons triathletes trot out:

1. Speed
Yeah right - I don't think anyone really believes this nonsense.  Internationally competitive pool swimmers may gain tenths of a second from reduced drag due to a smooth torso, however triathletes mostly can't swim anyway and besides they wear wetsuits.

2. Crashes
Cyclists and by that I mean people who compete in cycle races at breakneck speeds on technical terrain in incredibly compact groups in all types of weather are prone to crashes, and often spectacular ones at that. In fact no matter how good you are, for real cyclists it is just a matter of time and bad luck.  These guys say that the inevitable road rash heals quicker and is less messy without hair - easier to clean out the gravel, and gauze coverings don't get caught up in all the hair.  I believe them and as far as I'm concerned these guys are hard as nails and can wear lipstick and mascara if they want to without damaging their claim to bad ass masculinity.

But triathletes?  We don't race in bunches, or at least we're not supposed to people - did you read the rules section of your race pack?!  Sure there are some draft legal races but that's just plain pointless and not part of this discussion.  Also our speeds (or at least my speeds) are slower and triathlon courses are mostly less technical - crashes should be pretty rare.  Of course they do happen but not with the alarming regularity of road racing.

Another small point - a crash is just as likely to cause road rash on the arms, but do you see anyone out there, cyclists included, shaving their arms..?

3. Massage
Your masseur will no doubt be your friend if you have nice smooth legs, and indeed if you are the kind of manly man who grows a thick mass of hair on the soles of your feet, then massaging the forest of your legs may well be a difficult exercise.

I've never had a problem with having my legs massaged and think the presence or absence of hair will make precious little difference. Ah now we come to the REAL reasons, the ones triathletes are less likely to trot out:

4. Vanity
You've spent months out on the roads, in the pool, in the gym - your tan is coming along nicely (well at least the bits that aren't perpetually covered by cycle gear) and you want everyone to check out your rocking calves and quads.  You want to look serious, you want to intimidate, you want to be able to show off your ironman tattoo on your left ankle that isn't in the least bit reminiscent of a prison cell but actually makes you look very cool thank you very much.

You know, I can live with that.  Vanity does begin to tip the scales for me where the previous (spurious) reasons do not.  If cycle chicks are going to look on me more favorably with bare legs then who am I to resist?

5. Belonging
I haven't seen this one written anywhere but I think actually it's likely the main motivation and actually the best reason out of the lot.  Shaved legs show you are part of the community - triathlon is a lifestyle choice and bare legs are a statement of that choice.

I get loads of peer pressure to shave my legs and I have sometimes thought this is just my friends wanting me to validate their own choice to do so, but now I think it's more them wanting me to join the community.  And that's not such a bad thing at all.

Perhaps the best reason to shave, exfoliate, and generally pamper my pins is to show that I am a triathlete and I have chosen that lifestyle - I belong to the tri community.  I'm close to convincing myself, but not there yet - any comments for or against?  Next weekend will be decision time..

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Art of Peace

I'm writing this looking out on the view above from the top of Alpe D'Huez - I'm in the middle of a training week laid down with a cold whilst the guys are off tackling the Galibier.  I wish I was with them, but actually I'm kinda enjoying sitting here in the sun, doing nothing but listening to the birds and mulling over a few thoughts.

I'm sure you will have heard of the classic Sun Tzu text The Art of War.  It is all the rage in today's board rooms and has much to teach about the intricacies of conflict, leadership and overpowering your competition.  Having reread it recently I feel however it has little to offer me about triathlon.

For me, success in this sport is not about beating my competitors.  It is a paradox, in that my goal is to finish high in AG, but I cannot do that by focusing on other people in the race.  I can only do that by looking to myself and striving towards improving my physical and mental performance.

The Art of Peace is one translation for Aikido, developed by Morihei Ueshiba (see image right), arguably history's greatest martial artist.  Aikido is not about attacking your opponent, it is all about using your attacker's strength and momentum to disarm them.  In fact one of the essential tenets of the art is to protect your opponent under all circumstances - wherever possible not to harm them unless it becomes absolutely necessary in order to avoid harm to oneself.

It is a beautiful and strange martial art, truly effective for the technically proficient, the attainment of which will take many years of careful practice.  I'm no practitioner myself, but I think there is much that can be learnt from Ueshiba's teachings. Taking a few quotes from O Sensei:
Victory over oneself is the primary goal of our training.  We focus on the spirit rather than the form, the kernel rather than the shell.
 Whether you're doing aikido or triathlon or any other endeavour, the benefit comes from the pursuit of mastery and commitment to continual improvement.  I guess the type of endeavour matters - it needs to be true to yourself and preferably not damaging to others.  Sport is a natural fit for this pursuit, but excellence is not necessarily found in results, victory is over oneself - and that is why dopers have failed the moment they give in to the drug, no matter what happens after that fateful decision.
In your training do not be in a hurry for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung.  Never think of yourself as an all knowing perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace.
Well that doesn't need much explanation and personally I find that quote particularly humbling.
Large does not always defeat little.  Little can become large by constant building, large can become little by falling apart.
Constant progress over years can produce exceptional results - Ueshiba himself was at his most accomplished in his 80s when he had lost his physical strength and had to rely wholly on his technique and his mastery of ki.  There are many stories of him overcoming the most intimidating of opponents who would wish to test themselves against the master.

Large we can equate to genetics or a large engine.  It is not the be all - a little engine can be made large with due care and a large one can quickly deteriorate with neglect. This is equally true of mental strength during the race - a well trained mind coupled with a fit body can do a heck of a lot on race day. Chrissie Wellington is a mere wisp of a girl, but she must look pretty big putting the smack down on male pro athletes on the big island.

The final quote is simple but one that I will do well to constantly remember:
Always practice the Art of Peace in a vibrant and joyful manner
And with that in mind, I think it only right to put up a link to some aikido ass kicking, or at least a demonstration of the beauty of this discipline in the hands of a master.  This is a video of Nobuyoshi Tamura 8th Dan performing randori where multiple uke (combatants) attack a single defender.

It seems balletic and choreographed but it is not - it is only because the uke are so proficient at falling that bones and ligaments are not torn apart:

If you enjoyed that here is a slightly longer (6 min) demonstration by Tamura, which includes many techniques including kendo (wooden swords), defending against knife attack and finally another awesome randori: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rK_C6uGEquQ&feature=related