Saturday, 14 December 2013

Foot strike under a microscope

Foot strike plot borrowed from here 
I want to show that it's nearly impossible to perceive a running step exactly as it is happening and furthermore the idea of deliberately controlling your stride is perhaps harder than it sounds.

To begin at the end, it takes between 150 and 250 milliseconds from the moment your foot touches the ground until the tips of your toes leave during take-off. The time of your foot strike is proportional to your speed. As you run faster, your footsteps take less time. But even at a slow jog, the time it takes for a sin

gle step is short. For instance, assume you are running at 180 steps per minute. If each leg is taking 90 steps per minute then each stride cycle lasts 0.667 seconds. The time of each kick is at most half this time (because the opposite foot has to return to the start positing in the same amount of time) so that your foot landing, takeoff, and mid-air float last about 333 milliseconds.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Chess vs Running: prize money sharing

Green to play?
The 2013 world chess championships are underway, and although I do not much follow chess, I noticed how they shared their winnings is markedly different than running. By comparison, running is more of a winner take all. But there is a spectrum of distributions filling out the middle.

Below is the money distribution for Chess. The ratio from first to 8th is 115/21 = 5.47. Even more generous is the first and second-place ratio of  a mere 1.07.
  • 1st place – €115,000
  • 2nd place – €107,000
  • 3rd place – €91,000
  • 4th place – €67,000
  • 5th place – €48,000
  • 6th place – €34,000
  • 7th place – €27,000
  • 8th place – €21,000
By comparison, here's the prize structure for the 2013 Boston Marathon:
  • 1st place – $150,000
  • 2nd place – $75,000 
  • 3rd place –  $40,000 
  • 4th place –  $25,000 
  • 5th place –  $15,000 
  • 6th place –  $12,000 
  • 7th place –  $9,000 
  • 8th place –  $7,400 
The 1st/8th money ratio here is 150/7.4 = 20.2, and 1st/2nd ratio of 2. So in chess the runner up makes almost what the winner does, and 8th place make 18% of the winner, though not fantastic, compare to the runner-up for Boston who makes 50% while the 8th place makes only 5% of the winner. Boston is typical for running. For instance the ratios are similar to London, for which 2nd place makes 55% of the purse and 8th gets 7.3%.

But I wanted to see which, between chess and running, is more the outlier. That is, compared to other sports or competitions.

Sunday, 17 November 2013


Haven't been up to posting lately. Not for lack of things to say, but been busy. Here are cities of which I spent at least one hour in between Oct 19th and Nov 17th (i.e. Today)

London, Mumbai, Dhaka, Jaipur, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow, Delhi, New Jersey, Fredericton, Sussex, Toronto, Hamilton, Napanee, Ottawa, Saint John, and Halifax.

Here's the total distances below. At 34,000 km total I almost, but not quite, circled the earth (40,000 km). If I ran this same distance at a rate of 20 km/day it would have taken me 4.7 years to complete.

City 1 City 2 Distance (km)
Halifax. London 4631
London Mumbai, 7200
Mumbai, Dhaka, 1891
Dhaka, Mumbai, 1891
Mumbai, Jaipur, 928
Jaipur, Agra, 239
Agra, Kanpur, 278
Kanpur, Lucknow, 83
Lucknow, Delhi, 414
Delhi, Newark 11768 
Newark Halifax 968
Halifax Sussex, 344
Sussex, Fredericton, 118
Fredericton, Sussex, 118
Sussex, Halifax 344
Halifax Toronto, 1265
Toronto, Hamilton, 70
Hamilton, Ottawa, 478
Ottawa, Saint John 753
Saint John Halifax. 206
TOTAL 33987

This was all pretty random, that's for sure. It'd take a while to explain all of it, but it include work, vacation, visitation and death. Opinions and whatnot, I'm sure there will be time eventually.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The real crossfit

I had an invitation to write something about the benefits of cross country (XC) skiing for a runner. Here's what I came up with:

In Canada, winter happens. Although many runners continue on their daily routes (now with tights and thicker socks), there is a second option: ski. I have been guilty of ignoring Canada's winter climate and running knee-deep in snow, but once upon a time I did ski quite often. Priorities have a way of changing, as does access to mountain trails, but growing up in Ottawa I competed in high school, then university, cross country skiing and running. While racing in one sport, I would see the other as "cross training". This continual back and forth gave me perspective on the benefits of form of training with respect to the other. So what does skiing have to do with the running?  

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Banditing a run

What is a race bandit? Simply put, you run but you don't pay. I was mulling over the reasons one might see it right or wrong doing so. I felt it rational to post my ideas on the pros and cons of paying for a race. The coin is two-sided: Am I justifying an immoral act, and/or do races have much justification in claiming my money as rightfully theirs?

I run most every day without paying. What makes race day so much more special that I have to pay to run this day, this hour? Were I running on a private road, or indoors in a controlled environment, the rationale is clear enough; it's their turf, so they can charge whatever they want. If I own a private club I can choose to charge obscene fees for nothing more than the rights to exclusion. Outdoor road races are, however, an interesting beast. They cost plenty to enter, more power to them, but why pay at all? Let us consider what is rightfully owned by the race organizers.

Monday, 30 September 2013

This is SPARTA! (network)

I'm just testing the embedding of our site map for locations. I'm travelling to two of these places next month (Dhaka and Kanpur), so pretty excited about that.

Monday, 2 September 2013

How to make money in running

I have deceived you with this title; I have no idea how to make money running. I do, however, know how to spend it. Or at least that's what's been going on until now. I'm ending this practise.

Like many enthusiasts I bought the fancy merchandise, signed up for expensive races, and travel. Why oh why did I spend so much when a pair of ratty shoes and t-shirt was needed to accomplish a run? Unlike sailing or drag racing, there's little in the way of any equipment in running. But money, once earned from actual work (my day job), some law of nature declares it must be spent.  If I loved motorcycles I would probably spend what little extra I earn on touring the open roads. Maybe while en route I'd justify it with a little Zen philosophy. Were I a music lover, I'd equip my apartment with Bang Olufsen and a Yamaha sound mixer. Back to reality for a brief time I was a collector of hard-to-find DVDs (This includes the 8-hour Russian version of War and Peace and Decalogue). I also bought books plainly available at any library. Now I watch Netflix and borrow so progress has been made.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Winning races

On Sunday I won the Saint John Marathon by the Sea. To be more specific, I won the half marathon in a new fastest time of 1:13:20.

Here I am finishing in style (this is the first time I recall even finishing in style). Here's a link to a cbc news piece.   The reader comments accurately point out that the women runners are completely omitted. Sad.  

There was a long-standing record held by Paul Morrison set in 1996 at 1:14:28. For 17 years it held, which is far too long. The record was narrowly missed by Chris Brake in 2010 with a time of 1:14:46. Others have come not quite as close 

UDATE: Alex Coffin ran 1:13:25 in 2008, barely 5 seconds behind my time. The race organizers completely forgot to update the records. Even more fascinating is that Alex lives in Saint John. How did this escape everyone's attention? 

Several people warned me this is a really hilly course but I figured even with hills and not being in the best of shape I could probably do it, though it's unusual for me to have confidence in such things.

Nevertheless I registered, paying my $70 (which is insanely expensive for a nothing-race). I also figured if I was going to drive 400 km from Halifax I should at the very least knock that sucker down and bring the record into the present. After *almost* getting sideswiped by a car midway through the race (the cop supposedly directing traffic was busy buying a donut!), almost missing an unlabelled turn, I eventually managed to get under the old mark with a minute to spare.

But running 1:13 is not all that special. So why did I even choose this race?

It certainly wasn't for the money. The win netted me exactly one $75 Running Room gift certificate, which doesn't buy you a decent watch. I meant to take a picture of the draw prize table with random gifts that were better than the overall winners (a GPS watch!). I wasn't for the attention, either; I had no idea any news outlets were covering the race. It's a rather small one, though I later found out this was a lot of people's last hope to qualify for Boston. And as all know these days anything Boston-related generates news.

When I said that I decided to set a new record, I didn't factor in the hills. Originally, when I first knew of the existence of Marathon by the Sea two months ago, it was so I could run a sub 1:11 and qualify for Chicago. Running under 71 minutes is something I can do on flat ground, but I learned early on this wasn't going to be a 1:11 sort of day. Several people warned me this is a really hilly course. Having now experienced the hills of Saint John, I can confirm it is, among other things, a very hilly city.

Why run this fast, specifically? While I didn't think about Chicago when it sold out in April, you can qualify as late as August 31st with an "elite development" time. But the Chicago race was not on my radar until running the Cabot trail relay with the Toronto-based Black Lungs in May. After that suddenly I knew close to a dozen people going. That means shared rooms, shared stories, etc etc. I'm sure it would have been a good, though rather expensive, time.

On the subject of of expensive, let's assume I had run a 1:10-something on Sunday. What would I have had to spend to run 42.2 kilometres in the windy city? There's a Porter Airlines sale on right now, so I can go check.

Round-trip cost to fly to Chicago (from Halifax): $573
Four nights in a decent hotel near the biggest race in town: $400 (Assuming split costs here)
Marathon registration: $200+fees
Food, dinners out, bus tickets/commuting cost: $150
Random merchandise (everyone caves eventually): $150

Total, at the very least, will be close to $1500. And when I think about it, I don't really have that much to spend. I spent less than $400 on the Cabot trail relay, which to me was a far more unique experience than many marathons could hope. There is another reason I won't be able to go: I may be travelling to India and Bangladesh preciously close to race day. This trip is ridiculously exciting; the mere chance of travelling that far is incredible. To go there with a scientific mission in mind as well tips an already toppled scale. Not to diminish any marathoners' dreams, but since this developed in early August Chicago hasn't exactly been the foremost thing on my mind.

The next two paragraphs are petty, but I need some place to vent.

Going back to the subject of money, lately there has been a theme of me spending conservatively on running. If I can do the same running distance for cost x or another race for half that, I'll choose the latter. For instance, the Natal day 2 miler race I won two weeks ago cost me all of 20$.  That's a bargain right there.

With my cheapskate disposition I've looking for more bargain races to do. I like to be non-critical of races, but when they get too expensive I feel the right to be an extreme judge of every little thing they do wrong. If the Toronto Waterfront marathon were priced under $100, I'd be grateful of just being there. But as it is I can't say much nice about them. Likewise I paid 70$ for the Saint John race and they didn't have the decency to close a single road. Though I was appreciative of the free photos (such as the one above) I didn't appreciate being nearly hit by a car, so I can't say I plan on going back. If a race is going to be expensive, it had better be unbelievably awesome. Otherwise I can time myself, save a hundred bucks, and run any day of the week. On these days the traffic is likely quite open.  

Thursday, 1 August 2013

A different kind of crossword

I had an idea about making a crossword with some novel dimensional qualities. I don't know if this has been done before in the NYT or whatever. From the ones I've seen it hasn't. Normally crosswords have an internal symmetry, but since this one can be tiled infinitely I didn't bother.

This is the crossword itself:

Here are the clues:

Omitting the solutions, here is what it looks like with a few repeated tiles. Take any tile and move it up, down, left or right by 15 squares and you'll find it's the same tile.

Enjoy. PS: I'd never be able to solve my own crosswords. Curious thing, I can fill in the blanks, but I can't fill in the blanks (if that makes any sense).

Solutions: (scroll down...)

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Cost and time of stair climbing

I came across a short negative opinion piece by Hamilton Nolan complaining about mayor Bloomberg's attempt to encourage people climb more stairs. The original Times pieces reads
Mr. Bloomberg said on Wednesday that he had issued an executive order requiring city agencies to promote the use of stairways and use smart design strategies for all new construction and major renovations.
Nolan replies, "Will this get you in good shape? No, it will not."

Alex Hutchinson in turn replies to Nolan's claim that although it is extremely unlikely that stair climbing will "cure" the world of obesity, every little bit helps. And more importantly there are side benefits like (surprisingly?) taking less time to get places, making for more aesthetically pleasing spaces, and maybe even safer buildings (if everyone is used to taking stairs, it sure helps when the elevator is out of order).

Such initiatives are only intended as small steps in fighting obesity (pun intended). It may help, it may not. Nolan's article claims climbing a few stairs will not get you fit. Alex sees otherwise, and has the citations to back up his view.

I for one support the expansion of stairs. If you think of the movies, stairs make for grand entrances and make a statement, whereas elevators are utilitarian; they only get the characters moving to the next scene.

But enough about design. How many calories does one actually burn going up a flight of stairs? In Nolan's piece he cites a Livestrong factoid that reads
A 150-lb person must climb stairs for 6 hours and 30 minutes to burn the amount of calories in 1 lb of body fat.
Nolan cites this as evidence that stair climbing is too inefficient to be a good workout.

Opinions and health research aside, I was interested to find out how that number was obtained, so I started ab initio to see if I could replicate the numbers. 

First of all, 1lb of (human) fat contains of about 3500 Calories of energy. In the metric world this is 14,600 kJ of energy. In terms of pure vertical energy terms, to raise an object h meters into the air costs energy of the order
E = mgh
where m is mass (kg), and g is the gravitational acceleration 9.81 m/s2. But not all energy goes in the vertical direction; some is lost to horizontal motion and other efficiency considerations. After some unexciting calculations (which I decided to omit), one may say, alternatively, that for a 150 lb person stair climbing can be said to cost 0.15 Calories per step at 15 cm climb per step.

Thus to burn 3500 Calories you must climb 3500/0.15 = 23,333 steps, or 3.5 km.

How fast does it take to climb that high? The fastest run up the 320m ascent of the Empire State Building is usually around 10 minutes (at 1576 steps). That's about 0.53 m/s. At that pace one could ascend 3.5 km in just under two hours (110 min). Most people will race the Empire building at a pace about half of that (similar to how the average marathon finishing pace is around half the winning time). This would extrapolate to middle of the pack runner taking about 4 hours to reach 3.5 km and burn 1lb of body fat.

Using some novel analysis in an 2010 article, Minetti et al found for vertical ascents higher than 500m one the maximum sustainable energy output is constant after about 400-500m. A person's rate of climb (measured as power output, W) is therefore surprisingly similar for all greater heights. Factoring in some breaks that would be taken and an slower pace if not racing, we see how 6+ hours is a realistic estimate.  

Friday, 28 June 2013

Profit sharing in road races

As a races grow in popularity, so does the cost of entering. Chip timing, online processing fees between 4 to 11 dollars add to an already inflated ($40-350) race price. Although it costs money to host a race, one can guess that hosting a race if done efficiently can be a source of revenue.

Some of this money goes to road closures, to police, to race timing services, hosting expos, and pre and post-race entertainment. Some of this money also is allocated to prize money for the winners of the race. What correlation is there, if any, between the cost of races, the number of entrants, and the prize money given to the winners? I decided see exactly how much of this money goes to the the racers.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

51 things to keep in mind when you run

Runners like to measure themselves. Be it miles run, calories burned, weight gained or lost, pace, heart rate there a lot to choose from. And it seems new, "important" numbers pop up as fast as we can write them down, such as lactate thresholds or muscle fibre type.  Some runners log their miles while others track their minutes. In addition, should one simultaneously track their resting and maximum heart rate? What about pace, calories burned, or bodyweight? How to choose? It's clear enough the dedicated athlete maximizes his or her information, but even the most data-oriented individuals can fall under the weight of numbers.

Compiling these metrics is not intended to clarify or rank them. What I'm hoping in gathering as many as I can is illuminating just what people consider, and is available, to measure. And it is rare to find comprehensives lists of these metrics. Therefore my main goal was to find 51 "measurable" things related to running that have been used, or recommended, by a credible source.

I present these findings in no particular order of importance, but accompanied with a brief commentary. I expect most of these metrics are familiar to almost everyone, some that only known the seasoned veterans, and a few that are relatively unknown. I've broken the list into 8 categories: Milage, Body, Shoes, Rest, Diet, Strength, Workouts, and Races.

One final warning: When including new metrics in one's melting pot pick and choose carefully. Monitoring all these variables at once is not a healthy way to train!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Quick post to prove I'm not dead

Just like everyone else's life there's lots of other things going on, but it seems to have delayed writing about anything.

Irony abounds: I got overwhelmed with things to say so I stopped writing. Usually I don't know what I want to talk about until I start writing. But as storytellers go I'm not the best, so it's hard to give a good tale about the past. Instead, here's the grocery list for May.

April: Ran a trail race, twisted ankle and got mad at myself for doing so. Stupid body.

Thee weeks later (May) I got well enough to run Bluenose half marathon. Came in second in a time of 1:11 to John Kuto, who ran in 1:09. Halifax has a lot of secretly great runners

Week after that ran two legs of the Cabot Trail relay with the Black Lungs team, a team from Toronto that I was invited to join in. (NB: The name refers to coal miners but people often think it's a group of ex-smokers). Came second in leg 2, then won leg 15. In one solid weekend there was some good male bonding to be had.

Week after that went to a friends' wedding in London, Ontario. It was effectively a class reunion of McGill Alumni, which was awesome. Open bar also great, as was seeing two longtime friends getting married.

That brings me to the present. I've also been working on a first draft of a paper for my SPARTAN project at Dalhousie. Helping guide other people's projects as well as going some of my own. During May I created the new title heading (as you'll see if you click on the link). It's a pretty sweet full-time job.

Last week I rolled the same ankle I did in April. I got mad and started pool running. Pool running is awesome, however, and after 5 days I'm almost back to normal. These guys I was running with (when I rolled the ankle) are fast guys but don't have an official club. Like I said, there's hidden talent here.

So yeah, randomly busy May/June period. I also got it into my head to maybe run the Chicago Marathon in October, health and seat sales permitting. Black Lungs people will be there, as will others. But first I must run a sub 1:11 to make the qualifying standard for a late entry (general entry is sold out). Johnny Miles is next week. Could try that one.

Also added a twitter feed to the sidebar of the site. Let's see if I can muster 140 characters now and then.

 I had this personal mandate to write when I felt like I had something worth posting. I'll try to ignore that mandate as often as possible.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Roger and me

Roger Ebert, Chicago film critic extraordinaire, died on April 4th 2013. My memories of Ebert are entirely derived through his writings. I have never met Roger in person.

I first began reading Ebert's reviews when Siskel died. That was back in 1999 and I was still a teenager watching awful movies like The Animal or The Waterboy (sadly admit I witnessed both in theatres). I had been watching the Siskel and Ebert night at the movies up until then, and it was entertaining stuff. They bickered but you knew there was a real opinion behind every comment. Every week they introduced countless new films. It would have been impossible not to tear down the walls and open up. Keeping in mind they were not professional talkers, rather professional writers, and could not BS their way through every review. I have a good BS detector and never once did alarms sound with these two. My own "to thine own self be true"-type honesty had yet to mature, and so as I watched their recommendations of good movies week after week I still would go with friends and catch the latest Sandler flick. But shortly after Siskel died, my curiosity got the best of me and wondered what Ebert looked like in writing. Back then his website was nonexistent. The domain had yet to be registered (as far as I know). Thankfully the Chicago Sun Times had even then an electronic database of his reviews.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Drugs of the mind and body

I have an open-ended question to pose: Is there any moral difference between manipulating our mind versus our body with drugs? After some thought I decided within the world of work (jobs & offices), physical drugs are normal and mental drugs are everyone's dirty secret. By contrast in the world of sport it is the opposite: physical drugs are demonized and secretive while mentally altered states are the norm (or at worst redundant).

For some context on what constitutes "normal" or acceptable in Western society's drug use, here is the United States' top selling drugs of 2012:

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Swimming vs running trends for four levels of sport

NB: This post is a redux of a previous discussion on the same topic. The difference this time is more reasoning behind the stats and me asking the opinions of other people. Therefore the updated results address suggestions and challenges from a few people, including Alex Hutchinson himself. I feel the questions if not satisfactorily answered are at least out in the open. The good news is that my "discovery" appears to have survived the most obvious challenges and the conclusions should now be more robust.

I wanted to find out what sort of trends, if any, appeared when taking the ratios between the top (i.e. fastest) men's and top women's ratio of times in two sports: swimming and running. I define a ratio as the following

Ratio = [Time for a woman to complete distance X]/[Time for a man to complete distance X]

For example, if considering the 10,000 m track event and a woman's time is 32 minutes while a man's is 29 flat, their time ratio is 32:00/29:00 = 1.10. Let's then take another fictitious ratio of 1500m times as 4:20(female)/3:59(male) = 1.08.

Why go to the trouble taking these ratios? To skip ahead, what I've found is that as distance X increases, this ratio goes up for running and down for swimming. Using the same two examples as above, the fictitious ratio goes up from 1.08 to 1.10 as I increase X from 1.5 km to 10km. Here my argument holds because I invented the numbers. All numbers from this point onward will be quite real. Below is an illustration of what I will soon show with actual data:
Simple enough to do these calculations, however it turned out to be more difficult arguing there was any inherent meaning the final results. Considering the above example yet again, I what have I actually shown? Another faster male might run the 1500m in 3:50, so the new ratio becomes 1.13 and my argument now falls to pieces. Or the female times are artificially slow due to low participation. Clearly I am going to need a lot of evidence to support such a sweeping generalization as "women improve with respect to men in swimming but worsen for running". From a (admittedly cursory) check with the available literature and a couple of correspondences, I have not seen these two trends discussed together. Even if the swimming/running down/up trend is well-known, it was a good exercise working with different lines of reasoning. And I imagine at least some of the data here could somehow be novel.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Swimming vs running: men vs women

In a older post, I took a ratio between men and women's world records in running for various distances. Top women run slower than top men, that much is clear, but taking this ratio I was looking for a pattern if we merge all the distances from 100 meters to 217 kilometres, obtained here, here, and here. Then I plotted the result as a log-graph. The x-axis isn't pretty, but I have an aversion to base-10 notation (I can't explain why).

Regardless of how I plotted the numbers, three orders of magnitude of data ought to reveal something. What you can see below is, with the single exception of the 100 km road race record is that as distances get longer the ratios increase. In other words women, compared to men, get slower for ultra-long races. Starting at the 60m dash Maurice Greene ran a 6.39 versus Irina Privalova's 6.92 for a ratio of 6.92/6.39 = 1.08, and ending with the 217 km Badwater Ultra that Valmir Nunes ran in 22h 51 min compared with Jamie Donaldson's 26:16 effort for a ratio of 1.15. Averaging the ratios for all the distances leads to an "expected" value of 1.12. To put that in perspective for middle distance people, we could say an 8:54-minute male 3000 meter runner is equivalent to a 10-minute female (which is why I'm annoyed at the women when 10 guys are running that fast and no girls, i.e. here). Consider that a male 4 minute miler is the same as a 4:30 female.

I imagine not many realize women are closer to men's performances for the shorter distances than for longer. Most semi-knowledgable runners will point out how close Paula Radcliffe's time is to top men in the marathon, but fail to realize the difference is even less in shorter distances (and the gap widens as you go farther). On explanation could be that short-distance women are more prone to drug enhancements.  Another is that men are more attracted to ultras leaving the women with a comparatively weaker field. Consider the field of the 2012 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler with 167 men vs 27 women. I find similar trends in other ultras. Very fast ultra women like Ann Trason don't change this general trend.

UPDATE: Curious, I decided to take male/female ratios of the CIS standards for indoor track and field. (If any non-Canadians are reading this, a university student running a "CIS standard time" at some point in the indoor season qualifies them automatically for the Canadian championships. Otherwise you must medal at the provincials). CIS standards are, sort of by definition, a time expected to be achievable by half a dozen or so Canadians. It is a good yard stick for the overall talent of each distance. Distances span 60m to 3000m (And I included the 4x800m relay to create a pseudo-3200m race). Here are the women/men ratios:

For all distances the ratios are well above the world-class averages. And it gets much worse with longer distances; the 3k ratio is 1.18. The average for all seven distances is 1.16. Keep in also mind that Canadian men are not themselves running incredibly fast times; the National men's 3000m can be won in the low 8 minute range, and the CIS record of 7:54 has stood for 30 years. This is not yet world competitive. The implications are clear: University Canadian women show a comparatively poor performance. I do not mean to pick on anyone, only point out an objective fact: Canadian university women are not running well. This is a fair statement as I'm comparing apples to apples. I also wrote about this earlier regarding the Canadian Olympic standards for men and women. These latter cutoffs hover around the 1.14 ratio mark, still lower than the CIS (i.e. so require the women to run faster).

The explanation for the slow women's CIS standards is not obvious. Female university enrolment is higher than the men's (most universities are at least 60% women), and women's track & field participation is at least as large as the men's (at McGill it was much larger). Also women's sports scholarships are not in short supply. Why are *specifically canadian* females falling short? At least several Canadian women should, for instance, be able to run 9:17 for the 3k or 4:16 for the 1500m (instead of 9:47 and 4:28). Megan Brown is the only Canadian who's close to these two marks.

Random shout-out to all: I would enjoy a coach's perspective on the issue.


Now I wanted to compare this log-plot of running times with swimming. I've noticed a recent growth in longer distance swimming events growing in popularity. Consider for instance the 10km "marathon" swim introduced to the Olympics in 2008. Like running, swimming has distances ranging from 50 meters to many miles. I took a ratio of the men and women's records for pool races here (freestyle only). For longer distances I used records from the one and two crossing swims across the English Channel. The Channel is about 35 kilometres wide and a double crossing (there and back) took 16 hours 10 minutes for Philip Rush and Susie Maroney in 17:14 (both Australian). For a medium-long swim distance  (3.86 km), I chose the fastest exit swim times of the 2012 Hawaiian Ironman.

The opposite trend results in distance swim events as the running. In this case the fastest women are begin to match the best men. The ratios dip under 1.10 very quickly, i.e. all racing distance longer than 100m show less than a 10% difference between genders.

At more than 70 km/16 hours of swimming, however, the number of participants dwindle fast due to the dangers of drowning, so I didn't search for longer swims than this. That makes the women's times even more impressive, as there are so few competing. One hypothesis why women begin to catch men is that women have naturally high body fat percentages. But I wonder about this, as how difficult can it be for a man to gain body fat weight while still maintaining muscle. Not to mention men are taller swimmers which may add a possible advantage (certainly in a pool, anyway). The answer must be more complex.

Let me stop over-speculate. If anyone has a good explanation I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


I'm not especially aware of what style I use to type but it's sometimes nice to stop and ponder.

Last year I was reading a "grammar" book by Lynn Truss, Eats Shoots and Leaves. In it she humorously explains a brief history of english typography including the apostrophe, comma, period, colon, and semicolon. Consider that once upon a time none of these notations existed. Early tellings of the bible had not even spaces between words. Hard to imagine, but there you have it.

I remembered reading the following passage, to which I scan on this here blog directly:

An entire book without a single semicolon? A mundane factoid at best. Who cares, right? Now it just so happens I'm reading Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco.

While enjoying the story and not even thinking about the above quote, on page 202 I stumbled across this paragraph:

What's that thing there on the fifth line? Oh my god, a SEMICOLON!

Come on Lynn, were you just joking around or did you not a) check your "academic" source or b) read the book? Is being apocryphal the same as plain false? I dunno...

Here's the best part: Googling this gaffe has led me to others quoting Lynn's claim. See here and here, for instance.

Moral of the story: when you do some homework it's funnier for everyone. When you don't, it's just funny for me, I guess.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Literal Internet

A few weeks ago when the Golden Globes were on, I admit to watching them and Jodie Foster's speech. The next day everyone pretty much reacted the same way, saying she wasn't being "clear" enough in her "confession" to being gay. But of course anyone watching should not have had any trouble figuring that out.  I was just reading a blog post by Jim Emerson about the speech, which goes into more than enough detail about what she said exactly. I realized something curious: in the current age internet, everyone seems to assume that everyone else has to be as literal as possible. 

Facebook is a good example. I was experimenting with posting some pseudo random, i.e. made-up, thoughts and fake conversations. This attempt confirmed that if one posts anything that isn't literally true, you tend to confuse people. Moreover people just don't tend to do that. In the age of Facebook and blogs, most online activity is based on sincere opinions or photo-based vacation/work/food (ugh)/baby updates. A third possible use of Facebook is to share a link of someone doing something "funny" (but real), or someone else's sincere opinion. Consider that video from a few months back of a child being almost snatched by a giant bird in Mount Royal park: it made the news because *gasp* it was fake!  

I remembered Ebert pointing this out back in 2009 in his article The Age of Credulity. To quote:
These days, there is no room for ambiguity, and few rewards for critical thinking. Now every word of a politician is pumped dry by his opponent, looking for sinister meanings. Many political ads are an insult to the intelligence. Here I am not discussing politics. I am discussing credulity. If you were to see a TV ad charging that a politician supported "comprehensive sex education" for kindergarten children, would you (1) believe it, or (2) very much doubt it? The authors of the ad spent big money in a bet on the credulity and unquestioning thinking of the viewership. Ask yourself what such an ad believes about us.
What I see is that thank to there being less anonymity online now, people have translated that into meaning you have to say only what you see, and conversely (and more unnervingly), understand things to mean exactly as people say. The flood of real-time media in addition to friend's photos and shallow blogs means you can't find many willing to make stuff up. I bet Swift would not believe how gullible we are. Conversely, The Onion is some kind of last bastion of hope, though even here sometimes straight-up report actual news (with a twist) or being counterfactual. 

My brother quizzed me with three articles, asking which one is real. Here they are:

Reality is crazier than imagination. Maybe the reason we need people to make stuff up now and then is for a mental check. If you just accept things as always being crazy, when do you know if things have gone too far? The absolute craziest thing to happen in 2012 was the Stop Kony movement. It was perfect: the harsh reality of how the world really works and the online credulity of current internet users met like an unstoppable force meeting an impenetrable object. The outcome was more insane than anything I could have imagined. 

Back to Foster's speech. Analysts reflecting back seem to agree there was some sort of, perhaps unintended, brilliance achieve merely by not being strictly clear. The best way to anger the "online" community is to be ambiguous. Great works of literature and film meant to be symbolic are being ignored precisely for that reason. High res video is going to make abstract art hard to produce. Think of how old-school video games had much more character. Watching Wreck-it-Ralph you see how true this is. Music is always abstract, but then people aren't upgrading their audio equipment the same way as they are adding more lines of resolution to their TV: the MP3 format has been around how long now? 

Popular shows are based on how "real" they look. I think this is what makes The Wire so famous right now. Reality TV is weird since it purports to be true yet is more heavily edited than any piece of fiction. Both seem more "real" despite everyone knowing there is a "fake" element to any story. That much never goes away. What's going away is the ability to interpret what you see. To know you are facing a Rashomon-type event and it's up to you to choose an ending. That's why Fantasy novels are still popular: utter fiction, but completely unambiguous. Bilbo goes to the mountain and slays a dragon and goes home, no two ways about it. What's disappearing is story-telling that leaves you deliberately to write your own endings. 

I was browsing the 2012 Sight and Sound poll and found some movies that might not be "understood" anymore: Man with a Movie Camera, Passion of Joan of Arc, 2001, Breathless, Au Hazard Balthazar, and Persona. Those last two will really annoy a modern audience. Naturally Rashomon is in there too. This is why I think Les Mis told as a straight story, i.e. about the characters, is so silly. The book is really about what going on around them and they are just serving as coat racks for more interesting descriptions of the Paris sewers, Waterloo, the church, the textile industry, prostitution, etc. Take that all away and you are left with a handful of characters and a plot that makes no sense. Only a modern audience would eat that up. Think of how the newest incarnation was sold: Come see a "live" musical. That's right, an abstract outburst of singing made to look more realistic!  

I guess the tragic part is when themes are lost in a story because no-one is left to see them. Groundhog Day is still a celebrated movie, but I wonder how many first-time viewers understand its thematic elements? Even Ebert missed this the first time around before later adding it to his Great Movies collection. Or another example: Yogi Berra quotes taken literally mean nothing. Then you realize it's a brilliant mocking of 99% of real-world sports analysis. How many get that kind of humour anymore?

Abstract, credulous-challenging stuff is more important than ever to act as a teaching tool for reality. No, not just for reading the news, but even doing science and math, which are abstract to their very core. Even, and perhaps especially in rigorous disciplines, non-practicioners tend forget that a symbol will always remain a symbol until you can interpret it. This skill is only becoming more important to have, but fewer and fewer seem to possess it.

Can we introduce a new word for this phenomenon? Is this the age of the "liternet"? 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


I've been thinking it over, and I have decided I have nothing nice to say about Lance Armstrong. I once believed his story; the one about coming back from cancer and winning the tour. It is a true story, after all. But facts, alas, remain boring facts and say nothing about we should what to do with the information.

For instance, if I told you someone died, this would not in itself a shock, for we all know people die every day. More information is needed. How old were they? Did they have heart trouble or inoperable cancer? If I told you they were murdered, this would now grab your attention. If I said they were someone I knew, this would certainly lead to a lot of questions, and would certainly result in you stopping in your footsteps. Therefore details matter.

If I told you I won a bike race, then I'd be congratulated. If I told you I won it by using a car, or a shortcut, against toddlers, or there was no finish line, this new information would eliminate all respect for my story. More specifically, you'd be correct in stating I was not even in the bike race if I was driving. Such a simple and obvious fault. Likewise if a race takes place over a circuit (as in running or skiing), cutting a shortcut for yourself is not only frowned upon, if discovered leads to an absolute disqualification. There is no mention of your racing time, no mention of how fast you went before you cut around the course. No, just a DSQ listed beside your name.

I got a DSQ once, in grade 10 in XC skiing. I was at OFSAA, and accidentally took a wrong turn thanks to a confused official, who thought I was not in the race, pointing for me to turn a sharp left. I obeyed, and ended up taking a longer -not shorter- route to the finish, another official noticed and had my name scratched. I was pretty sad finding out that I had not even been counted in the final results. Otherwise I had a decent race going on in me that day. But according to the strict rules, I had not followed procedure.

I have heard it said it is impossible to make a global definition of a game. If you say a game is for fun, then I can show you war games that are no fun. If you say a game involves at least two players, I can point to all manner of video games and Solitaire. If a game must be won or lost, I show you Spin the Bottle. But there is one thing they all have in common: there is always an agreed-upon set of rules. In the "game" of war, even here there is the implicit rule after enough people are killed someone must forfeit. Terrorism does not quite obey this rule, but I would argue terrorism by definition is when sides have not agreed upon the rules, and the "sides" themselves are poorly defined and therefore is not a game (unlike, say, Waterloo).

I digress, with reason. Point is the use of drugs in sports is not morally wrong, in itself. If everyone agrees up front that one should win at all costs, then so be it, for that particular sport. Let the Tour de France, or some track or field event, become DeathRace 2000. Do anything to win, or whatever to yourself (We seem to frown on hurting/killing others to get ahead in sport, so I guess that option is still out unless counting boxing or tackling in football). Once cyclists or runners, etc agree they are willing to enhance on any self-inflicted level, then perhaps doping is an option. At least that's the excuse you hear more than any other, that "everyone else is doing it". If rampant cheating is truly the case, why should we not agree that drugs are available for all, in full view of spectators? Post-race interviews could involve bragging about their cocktails. I'd like to watch someone dope in real time. This why I love the documentary "Bigger, Stronger, Faster", as it in fact does show people doping in full view, and with candid honesty. I guess since these drugs are illegal they are less candid. But hell, there is no shortage of people candid about smoking pot, an also-illegal substance.

I also understand there is no reason to believe taking EPO or testosterone will cause your body irreparable harm. It's irrelevant to argue the hard done by doping. I'm not interested in citing studies but acknowledging those who take enhancement drugs are only adding single-digit percent gains to their performances. They are not necessarily losing life years from these dosages, though perhaps by pushing their bodies to new heights the odd heart attack is more frequent. Otherwise there is a small gain, just enough. Just like the argument of the illegality of doping, the danger of doping is a red herring. Neither reason is the real reason why drug users don't talk about it; they keep silent because they know they're not playing by the rules, hence upsetting the definition of the game.

Consider this also: why are there no athletes performing on their own, showing what can be done with unlimited drugs? I'd like to see someone make a youtube video of themselves doping to high heaven, then running a 9.5s 100m dash. The reason you don't see rogue athletes is because although drugs instilling a sense of goofy confidence, the do less than being part of an organized training system. Most sports don't let you play if you're candid about drugs. Some exceptions I know of are powerlifting, baseball, and football, where the players do play at all costs, and the fans have more or less decided the "sport" is a freak show operation, an occasion to drink beer and think "better you than me". After watching the pros at work, a real sport -or game for that matter- is one that makes you want to go out and play it yourself.

Lance helped turn the TDF into a "better you than me" kind of sport. Toughness, which can be admirable, had been replaced by pure basic stimulus-response. Worse yet, I took this quote from Lance's book It's not about the bike to illustrate how completely dishonest he was in the game of racing:

In a series of raids on team cars, French police found trunkloads of EPO and anabolic steroids. Team members and officials were thrown in French jails, everyone was under suspicion, and the cyclists were furious at the tactics used by authorities. Of the 21 teams that began the race, only 14 finished. One team was expelled and the other six quit in protest. Doping is an unfortunate fact of life in cycling, or any other endurance sport for that matter. Inevitably, some teams and riders feel it's like nuclear weapons–that they have to do it to stay competitive within the peloton. I never felt that way, and certainly after chemo the idea of putting anything foreign in my body was especially repulsive. Overall, I had extremely mixed feelings about the 1998 Tour: I sympathized with the riders caught in the firestorm, some of whom I knew well, but I also felt the Tour would be a more fair event from then on. 

To quote a New Yorker article by Michael Specter, "speaking of apologies: sorry France, you were right all along. The guy’s a creep".

I like to think of every sport as a separate country. Each chooses the rules to follow. Some sports involve more cheating than others. What always surprises me is how little drug use is found in swimming. You would expect swimming to be tainted with steroids but instead I find swimmers the most technically minded people in the world. Read Swimming Fastest to see a level of science not found in many sports. Distance runners have been pretty good about obeying the rules, but sprinters less so. Oddly enough sprint cycling appears cleaner than endurance kind. To me, at least, this means each sport can be individually faulted. And to effect a cure the sport must be ruthless in changing its image, both bottom-up and top-down. Example: When I ran XC for McGill, casually we (the guys) agreed -after hearing about doping in CIS football- that if anyone on our team showed evidence of cheating, we'd call them out and ostracize them for good. It never had to happen, but I would have done it.

In that vein, Lance needs to disappear for good. Casting him to oblivion is the only thing that would matter to him, and would be a way to restart the potential of cycling to be interesting (The sport can be interesting, but only if the victories matter). Were Lance a fellow athlete, I would call him out (and consider changing sports). Were he a family member I would not come to his funeral. Hopefully, in the future, his will be an unmarked grave.

Sports is interesting like many things are interesting because we hope to learn something from them. If sports is about watching people get hurt and enjoying the feeling, we have a problem. It has to be more than about pushing through the pain. Smart sports planning is listening to the pain, and treating it like valuable information. Sports is about symbolism, and seeing the best personalities shine through under the hardest circumstances. Sports is a of things; winning is only interesting if it's both beautiful AND meaningful (for instance if Ussain Bolt runs an amazing 100m against a field of women, it may be pretty to watch by hardly meaningful as a "victory"). Sport: so simple, yet so easy to fuck up.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Tour De Something

Here's a plot of the total distance covered by Tour de France bikers since its inception:

Ever since the "break" during WWII, the TDF distance has been steadily decreasing. It is in the 1920s we see a maximum. The longest outing was in 1926, totalling, 5745 km. Check out what a 1920s tour looked like on the map:

In 1924 for instance, the race actually went around the whole of France! All 5425km of it. Compare this to a modern tour:

By comparison, a complete mess. The 2009 tour was 3459 km. Not only is new TDF smaller, but look how scattered it is over the countryside. The entire northwest corner of France is missing. Now we have the tourist's version of France. 

The difference is more than just the miles; modern bikes weigh less, are maintained by an army of on-the-road helpers, and team strategies mean guaranteed pack riding with less wind resistance. Not to mention the doping. The average speed has almost doubled (from 24 km/h to over 40 km/h). And would you believe the 1924 edition had only 15 stages? That's over 361 km per stage! In 2009 riders averaged 164 km per day. Keep in mind that untrained cyclists can handle 180 km per day (for a few days, at least. Consider the Rideau Lakes Tour). Will the 2050 TDF held on tricycles?

I expect the explanation to be modern riders have busier schedules and can't place as much emphasis on a single race. Here I like to think runners have higher standards. Imagine if the marathon kept shrinking due to "modern" demands (it has been exactly 26.2 miles since 1924). If anything, races have been getting longer. For instance I'm happy to hear that Canadian universities are adding longer XC races for the women's division (long overdue really). Ultras are as popular as ever. 50-something women brag about how many marathons they do in a year. I don't want to let this degenerate into runners are better than cyclists; it's clear any distance is tough if you push yourself. 

Instead I see the ever-shrinking TDF as a symptom of the riders having too much say. It's power in the wrong hands. More than that, specific riders are controlling the race. Up-and-comers will want to push as hard as possible, but established ones would prefer to repeat without too much discomfort (not specific to cycling). That means all the problems rest squarely in the laps of the riders themselves. They let this happen.

One reason Lance may have done so well on his 2009 comeback was so few actual competitors exist in the tour (that year he came third to his teammate Contador, also a dope), and how unusual it was to have a rival on your own team. Or to see what I mean about weird team commitments, I pulled a quote from Wiki the 1986 tour regarding LeMond:
The managers of his La Vie Claire team ordered the 24-year-old LeMond to wait for Hinault. Instead of staying in the lead group and riding to win, LeMond let the leaders pull away and dropped back to aid Hinault. At the end of the stage LeMond was frustrated to the point of tears. He later revealed that team management and his own coach Paul Koechli had misled him as to how far back Hinault had dropped during the crucial Stage 17 mountain stage. Hinault won the 1985 Tour, with LeMond finishing second, 1:42 behind. LeMond had ridden as the dutiful lieutenant, and his support enabled Hinault to win his fifth Tour. In repayment for his sacrifice Hinault promised to help LeMond win the Tour the following year
For some that's team tactics. To me that's just plain fucked up. Reconsider the tour: Instead of viewing the race as 200+ individual cyclists all directly competing against one another (as is common in most cross country, marathon races), see it as a groomed selection of 20 teams, each choosing one person to be the leader. Team discipline is everything in the tour. Recall the year the competitors biked a non-competitive leg to protest the pervious night's (apparently justified) police doping raids. These are war games minus the drama.  

As every team already knows who is going to be the front runner, it also means it is much easier not to get into accidents/bike crashes when you have a shell of people around you. Otherwise there is no "skill" in avoiding crashes, just pure blind luck. Armstrong's skill of avoiding crashes is at best because of his "dutiful lieutenants" and fewer miles raced than ever. 

There's no point in mentioning the doping problems in cycling, as everyone knows what. After my test to see if the tour was as undemanding as I imagined I found it indeed is, compounding its already dishonest and petty qualities. Hard work? I can find that anywhere. But I was looking for something more, not less. I recall a Lance quote about his NYC marathon being the hardest thing he ever did. That is rather telling, now more than ever.

I used to watch the tour back in the Lance days on OLN. I followed stages online, watched recaps, and had a good time thinking I was watching raw talent. (The spectacle was real enough, I guess, in the same way The Rock was punishing Mankind in a WWF I Quit match. Fake but yet brutally real. No I take that back; the wrestlers were way more impressive). 

Until 2007 I even believed that doping was a minor problem in cycling. Thankfully I have reasonable bullshit detector, so once I saw the evidence it was sold. But I don't like bullshit and obviously there is too much of it in biking. Worse yet watching as these goofs are too scared to race as much as they did in 1919 makes the TDF mostly a band of sissy bullshitters. Sad people behaving like the worst of us. I can watch reality TV instead. Why waste time and pretend you're a real sport? 

Suffice it to say I'll continue to enjoy running (and also do actual, perhaps even useful, aerosol research). But I'd rather drink a litre of Armstrong's urine than waste another minute watching these bozos on TV. The tour has lost me on a lot deeper level than mere hatred disgust. Cycling is completely dead to me.  I wish avoid particular parts of France in July. 

Is there hope? Perhaps things can improve, but there is no bandaid solution to be found. Cycling will need a scorched earth policy towards the current crop of cyclists, akin to modern Germany and the Third Reich. The tour has made a step in the right direction by declaring no winners for recent years. Indeed, they acknowledge only losers took part, as likely is the case. No statues should be found of these people, and those that already exist must be destroyed. If this does not take place I recommend booing the racers as they go by, or simply turning one's back. Furthermore, the tour must become more demanding like the old days, and no longer bending to pressures -somebody's, I don't know who's exactly- to keep allowing the tour to be shorter and easier. Every. goddamn. year. The one's who dope should be dying of heart attacks en route. When a tour rider tries a marathon, they should be saying "wow, compared to what I did this summer that was a walk in the park".  Guess I'll leave it at that. Cheerio.

UPDATE: I received an email (from my dad, an avid reader of cycling history) giving some more background on the early days of the TdF, and wanted to share:
The Tour de France in the 1920’s and thirties was not only the longest it’s ever been, but at the time the rules only allowed bikes that were essentially like modern fixie bikes, with a maximum of two gears allowed: one fixed gear of 20 teeth on one side for the flats, and one freewheel gear of 24 teeth on the other side for the hills. The front sprocket had usually 44-46 teeth. It was necessary to choose which side to use on any given stage, unless the rider was willing to stop and flip the wheel. This was considered to be part of the strategy. I would say it makes the races of those days even more impressive.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Oh Taleb

I started to read Nassim Taleb's Antifragile. 150 pages in, it's an amusing read. Right now I'm playing a little game as I go called "how many pages can Taleb go before sounding like an asshole?" I think the record still stands at one. A random example, his footnote on page 123 in response to those who do anything they do not enjoy:
  A friend who writes books remarked that painters like painting but authors like "having written." I suggested he stop writing, for his sake and the sake of his readers. 
Oh Taleb.

What I actually wanted to share was on page 46-47, that succinctly contain his views on exercise. Backstory: after having written Black Swan he "received all manner of threats" (aside: From who? disgruntled bankers planning to beat him up on the street? Never mind). He decided to act; he hired a 280lb bodyguard, or 127 kg (which is not 130kg, as Taleb's math seems to arrive at).

Anyway Taleb was so taken by Lenny's physique he decided to train like him.
He was into 'maximum lifts' type training and swore by it, as he found it the most effective and least time consuming [form of exercise]...The workout was limited to trying to exceed that mark once or twice, rather than spending time on un-entertaining time-consuming repetitions. The exercise got me into naturalistic form of weightlifting, and one that accords with the evidence-based literature: work on the maximum, spend the rest of the time resting and splurging on mafia-sized steaks.
Looks like Taleb discovered elementary theory on early improvements in increasing maximum lift strength. After four years he has worked his way up now to 330 lbs (150kg). Not bad, I suppose. Taleb claims to now have physique of a butcher. I smiled a bit here, as I recalled a passage from another book of mine, Keith Livingstrone's Healthy Intelligent Training, where he describes strength training for skinny runners. At his peak body weight of 140 pounds, Keith could also half-squat the same 150 kilos as Taleb ten times. He went on to say
If that sounds heavy, it is, but it is nothing compared to what a trained power lifter of the same weight can lift.
He is correct; the WR deadlift (similar records as for squats) is -for a 140-lb individual- 237kg. With a 3,000m PB of 8:04, Dr. Livingstone is pretty well-educated and well-trained individual who also, incidentally, advocates practising maximum lifts ("I'd have been better off halving the number of reps and lifting a bit heavier"). This is all to say what Taleb here claims, that training dead lifts helps improve maximum strength is true, but neither the complete truth nor not much of a discovery for someone of his education.

What Taleb's proof of practice does show is how lousy a weightlifter he is. Spending four entire years on the practice and having the "body of butcher" only gets him a measly 330 lbs off the ground? At the age of 13 (and at 144 lbs) between May and August I went from being able to clean & jerk 70 lbs up to a total of 140 lbs in my basement using plaster weights. I lost interest thereafter, I was just wanted to try to lift my own weight. I wasn't even that strong in grade 9. And considering that deadlift world records are roughly double clean & jerk, I was pretty close to Taleb as a skinny barely teen.

Taleb has in fact shown how little gain there is from concentrating on only one type of exercise. Assuming Taleb with his butcher-build weighs at least 90kg, at age 53 his 150 kg lift pales to the 50-54 masters female record; the record for a 165lb/75kg woman of that age being 170 kg. The men's record for his age, however, is a soul-crusing 305 kg. You are almost half-way there Taleb. The secret, of course, is that weight training is a complex art and you find yourself quickly maxing out unless you change stressor types. That means working on improving deadlifts one week, abs the next, squats, curls, some aerobic strength (yes, even for weight lifters), and so on. Rounding yourself a little takes care of strengthening smaller support muscles. Complex lifts like picking up a boulder will not improve max strength as much as a leg press machine, and a leg press machine will not work minor muscles as much as lifting a boulder. So you need both sorts, duh.

The other observation I had to make was his claim of earning himself the right to eat "mafia-sized steaks" after these powerlifting sessions. Let's do the math to see how many calories Taleb burned in a bout of deadlifting, assuming that is all he did.

Lifting anything against gravity, you expend (in joules)

W = mgh
Where m is mass (kg), h is height (meters) and g is the force of gravity (9.8 m/s2). Assuming again Taleb himself weighs about 90 kg and that a deadlift means brining something 1 meter into the air, and that the mass he lifts is on average 150 kg, then one lift requires about

W = (150+90 kg)*(9.8m/s2)*(1m)
= 2352 Joules/lift
= 0.56 (food) Calories

Yes indeed, a single "massive" lift will burn just half a calorie. But assume that the body requires more energy than this to operate (as lifting is not a 100% efficient task). Assuming a mere 25% lift efficiency,  then each lift is now costs 2.2 Calories. It's surprisingly hard to corroborate these numbers, but at Livestrong they suggest for body-building levels of weightlifting you burn 0.055 Calories per pound lifted per minute exercise. If one deadlift takes 5 seconds (an overestimate), and again we're lifting the same 240kg/528lbs, then we'd expect one lift would burn 2.4 Calories. Pretty close! For the record I didn't calculate that number until after I estimated mine own number above.

We also know that any lifting session requires multiple sets and reps, so let's say -to be generous- he did 8 sets of 8 reps for a total of 64 lifts (and consistent with recommendations of most strength coaches). Taleb may have burned up to a total of 140 Calories from his deadlift routine. Let's celebrate with some mafia-sized steaks!

We'll assume the mob dines with the finest, so I'll guess Taleb likes to eat the $350 Kobe steaks. Alas he has not earned an entire 8oz steak. By my calculations Taleb has expended enough energy go get himself 2 ounces worth of Kobe steak. Those though guys, they must be watching their weight more than I expected. But the glutton I take Taleb to be I bet he'd eat the whole thing anyway faster than a fat kid a McD's.

To sum, it is obvious that a handful of power lifts earns you next to nothing either with your appetite or your strength. But if you want to weigh as much as you can lift, go ahead and keep picking rocks and eating massive amounts of beef. Cheers.