Use Your Brain (to Sort Out Misinformation About Our Sport)

a triathletes leg running
December 22, 2020

Simon Butterworth



I suspect there is at least one thing that everyone in this country can agree on, there is a lot of misinformation and outright lying out there in social media and in the news.  We won’t all agree on what was a lie or misinformation, but we will agree it is rampant.  Unfortunately, that situation (misinformation) extends to our sport as well.  

An article I recently read from a respected triathlon publisher got me thinking about just this topic. I am going to leave the name of the article out of mine, but it makes the recommendation that we avoid  or limit our running on concrete because “it’s the hardest on your body”, compared to asphalt, dirt and grass.  I have often heard that advice, but the engineer in my brain said this makes no sense especially when running in today’s running shoes.  Even running bare foot, I can’t imagine you can tell the difference, both are hard.  

My first thought after reading the article was, I have to put my engineering brain to work and come up with some numbers.  Google spared me a lot of work when I found this.  I was right, only when asphalt reaches a temperature of 60 centigrade (yes, centigrade!), does asphalt get soft. At 20 centigrade it is still a bit softer than concrete but with shoes with some cushioning the extra load on your joints is not in any way significant.  Even without shoes, the cushioning in your feet absorbs much of the difference.  This time of year (winter) concrete and asphalt are almost equally hard.

Here’s the thing though, you don’t have to be an engineer to realize that the advice in the article is not on solid ground.  Is that a pun?  All it takes is to be a bit skeptical and start asking the obvious questions.  Can my puny 120-200 lbs make a dent in asphalt falling from a few inches about the ground.  Even with the accepted factor of 3x5 times your body weight spread out over the surface area of your foot it’s hard to picture noticing the difference.  

That same line of thinking goes for many aspects of our sport.  For example, I got a lot of ridicule from friends when I first got serious about triathlon and my obsession about making myself and my bike as aero as possible.  I was an early adopter of carrying my fluids on the bike behind the saddle and between the aerobars.  My second tri bike was a Softride beam bike (current one is a Dimond Beam bike).  The problem with the first one was all the wires outside the frame.  I could not solve the brake and shifter wiring but did find I could store my spare tire (rode tubulars back then) inside the beam.  I could also tape the signal wire for my bike computer down the back of the downtube.  More extreme than that, I purchased this, a Never Reach water bottle.  When I saw the first Trek Speed Concept in Kona with no exposed wires, I felt vindicated.  

Again, I don’t think you needed to be an engineer to reason that something was at least odd with the early Tri Bikes. Many had very aero looking tubes but had wire hanging out in front of them, the derailleur wires in front of the downtube (banging on the tube sometimes) and the brake cable along the top tube).  The last time that arrangement was found on aircraft was in the early days of flying.  The drag created by the wires even though many were thin was enormous.  They vibrated when flying making a bigger area being presented to the wind.  

One of the latest new ideas is disc brakes.  Clearly, they add drag.  Question is, how much?  It turns out that if well implemented on the bike not a huge amount.  Offsetting that is time saved going into corners.   You stop much faster with disc brakes.  On technical courses, like Ironman Ireland, which was also wet last year, disc brakes would have been a big advantage.   For Kona or Arizona (not this years shortened course) rim brakes would be better.  I can’t afford two tri bikes and for safety when training any future tri bike for me will have disc brakes.   If you have not ridden a bike with disc brakes you should get a demo or rent one.  It might be an expensive decision, but it could also save your life.  

Understanding the pros and cons of some of the new ideas in the sport, and old, does require a bit more head scratching and perhaps education but fortunately there is Google and some books.  One of the more recent ones I have read is Good to Go by Christie Aschwanden.  Lots of good thoughts on how to read through the hype and misinformation in our sport as well as specific analysis of some of the products out there.  

Google is great if you dig deep.  One thing I add to search arguments is “Scientific Studies”.  That will often help you bring up independent studies, independent of the product developer.  As Christie explains in her book, studies conducted by product manufacturers are often poorly conducted and suspect.  That added search argument is also handy for anything medical or diet related.  

So with encouragement, I ask you to use your brain as you read about things related to our sport.  If your knowledge or intuition tells you something different, explore the differences and come up with your own conclusions.

Coach Simon believes that the key ingredients in a good coach/athlete relationship are regular and open communication, mutual respect, and keeping it fun for the athlete and their family. My training programs are developed with those ideas in the forefront.

Simon's Coaching Credentials:

  • USAT Certified Coach
  • USMS Swim Coach
  • FIST Certified Bike Fitter
  • Training Peaks Certified Coach

Coach Simon Butterworth has an experienced philosophy about coaching.  The key ingredients in a good coach/athlete relationship are regular and open communication, mutual respect, and keeping it fun for the athlete and their family.  His training programs are developed with those ideas at the forefront. He works with athletes to develop both short-term and long-term objectives that work well within the context of the other things they have going on in their life.

Coach Simon is a 2X World Ironman Champion and has 16 Ironman World Championships races to his credit. He has finihsed on the podium 7x.  He is a USAT Certified Coach, USMS Swim Coach, FIST Certified Bike Fitter and Training Peaks Certified Coach.

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