Monday, July 31, 2017

Professional Endurance Athlete Blood Work Biomarkers - Q2 2017

ABT Report
This is the second published post of my quarterly blood work. My first post detailed the simple process of working with Athlete Blood Test (ABT) and included my test results. It can be found here.

Athlete Blood Test (ABT) specializes in blood work for endurance athletes. They have worked exclusively with endurance athletes over many years to understand the specific blood biomarkers that affect performance. They then apply that learning to help athletes proactively manage levels before they negatively affect training.

Their simple process of ordering a test online, going to a LabCorp facility (at your convenience), and getting the results and exclusive analysis emailed back is both quick, compared to your General, but also more insightful. The reality is that your General does not specialize in highly trained endurance athletes nor their blood values.

With that I present my Q2 blood values: Thomas Gerlach Q2 ABT Report.pdf

Analysis - My take on the blood work


- By and large everything looks pretty good.

- Testosterone - there was a slight bump in testosterone which may be because:
  • Took mid-season break before the test (1 week of yard work instead)
  • Took the test a bit earlier in the day (about an hour earlier). 
  • Lifted weights - I did far more weights in the first half of the year than I have ever done in the past. Lifting weight is one of the many things you can do to naturally increase testosterone. 
  • Stopped antihistamine Bendryl - I was using this for allergies and took it before bed. Bendryl has been shown to affect testosterone production negatively. I recently went back on Bendryl, after this blood test, to help with allergies issues I am suffering from.
  • Eliminated a calcium supplement I was taking for a broken foot last year. Over calcium fortification has been shown to reduce Zinc bioavailability. More on zinc below. 
I also started taking three new supplements recommended by another triathlete who has chronicled his story with low-T. They are supposed to help with natural testosterone production in the body and include:
  • Pregnenolone, a natural occurring building block needed by the body to create testosterone. It is legal today, but I wonder if in the future that may change. Here is the current USADA status.
  • Gaia HPA Axis - various natural herbs & plants that are known to help support adrenal health and natural testosterone production. 
  • Zinc - I switched from MgSport's Magnesium to their new product ZMG which has a very bioavailable form of zinc included in combination with the magnesium which I had been taking. The combo avoids taking a mag and zinc pill separately. Appropriate zinc availability is key in natural testosterone production, but too much zinc can be dangerous.
As for effects, I did notice considerably more night wood if I woke up to pee. It is a small bump in T but a noticeable bump in that area. It will be interesting to see how the number fluctuates as volume comes back up and time for weights and strength goes down.

- B12 levels up - I was a low last quarter so I started supplementing with a generic B12 pill. Based on the report I can reduce the IDU that I am taking. I like to reduce supplements if I can.

- Iron levels are low. Although well within the normal range for a human, my iron levels are low for an athlete to perform at their best.

Kim's Cabbage Patch - Clermont FL
Although I did NOT make a conscious effort to reduce intake of meat, my meat intake in the past quarter has been drastically reduced. The reason is because I moved recently to a new place and I have this great little fruit market (Kim's Cabbage Patch) across the street. More trips to Kim's and less to the store for meat may have caused this decrease.

I need to increase my consumption of meat and/or supplement with iron this quarter. I have opted to go with a heme (iron type found in animals) version of iron. Non-heme iron is the type of iron found in vegetables and most store bought iron. For meat eaters with normal blood levels of iron, heme iron has been shown to be better absorbed by the body. However iron supplementation in general is a really complicated subject so I will leave it at that.

- WBC a little low. Prior to this test I was on Amoxcillian for 10-days for a middle ear infection prescribed by guess-who, urgent care. Ironically I didn't have a ear infection at all as I would later find out, but it took a ENT specialist to figure that out. My low WBC is almost identical to a 2009 WBC value when I was also on antibotics.

Regardless, it will be good to check this next quarter because if it stays low that could be a problem. This is another benefit of these tests in having a track record of your blood labs so when something does pop up you can look back at the biomarker and see how it has changed. It is easy for doctors to draw correlation about symptoms to an objective finding like blood values, but if the blood value has stayed consistent then the correlation is probably not correct.

MgSport's new ZMG
Magnesium + Zinc
- Magnesium - this number I was most curious about because I know training in the summer can wreck havoc on magnesium levels, but training in an 110 degree heat index in Florida is just another level. And while magnesium can take a while to draw down, it also takes a long time to build up, so it is important to stay on top of it as magnesium plays a role in over 300 different vital body functions. The number is right where I want it to be. MgSport would be proud.

That is it for Q2. I'll work towards improving iron levels, reducing the amount of B12, and be sure to check that WBC number next quarter.

Links to items talked about in this post


- Q1 Write Up w/Blood Results

- Q2 Blood Results

- MgSportMagnesium Blog - Why MgSportMag

- MgSport Magnesium on Amazon - use code  TGMS2017 to save 15%

- MgSport ZMG on Amazon - use code 
THOMAS77 to save 20%

- Heme Iron on Amazon

- B12 on Amazon

- Kim's Cabbage Patch - Clermont FL

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Best Value Aero Wheels for Ironman Triathlon - HED JET+ 6 Wheels $949

A frequent Ironman question I see is "which triathlon aero wheelset to buy?" The manufacturers are endless: Zipp, HED, Enve, Roval (Specialized), Profile Design, Reynolds, Flo, Knight, SwissSide, Edco, Mavic, Bontrager (Trek) and more.

HED JET 6+ - Best Value Triathlon Wheelset
While all aero wheels will save you time, the reality is picking a wheelset can be quite the process. Tubular vs clincher, aluminum vs full carbon, 60mm vs 90mm/Disc all add to the confusion.

The purpose of this piece is to provide a simple recommendation for an Ironman triathlon wheelset that is: aerodynamic, light, durable, handles well, rides great, comes with a full warranty from a company that has been in business for decades, is safer, easier to maintain, more forward-thinking, and more affordable. It is a wheel that has also been ridden to World Championships.

Whether a beginner or Kona qualifier, the HED JET 6+ wheelset is my personal recommendation as the Best Value Wheelset. Currently it is priced at $949 (42% off) via Competitive Cyclist, but you can save an additional 15% with coupon code: CC15OFF100 expires (8/22/2017). That brings the wheelset down to $807 (50% off). While this is still my choice at a much higher price point, originally when I first wrote this the wheels were priced at $1099 .

Below I discuss in detail some of the benefits of the HED JET 6+. The comparisons focus on what the HED JET+ offers that you don't get from a full carbon clincher rim. I won't discuss tubulars - they have no place in triathlon anymore.


Why HED JET 6+ (in no particular order)


1) Safer - The HED JET+ feature an aluminum brake track that brakes more consistently and faster, in both wet and dry conditions. In addition there isn't the same risk from carbon where under heavy braking the rims melt and potentially lead to catastrophic crashes from tires blowing off the rims. Lastly, for those running latex tubes, some manufacturers of carbon rims, like Enve, suggested not using latex due to possible heat buildup of the carbon rims which can then damage the latex. Latex tubes are fast but if you can't use them safely in the wheel then the wheel is going to be slower. If you don't use latex this isn't a concern.

2) Wide and tubeless ready - The industry has been transitioning to wider rims over the past decade. While 13mm internal diameter used to be standard, now the average is closer to 17-18mm. Zipp is at 16.25mm - 17.25mm, Enve has rims that are 19mm, FLO 19.4mm, while HED and Roval are at 21mm. 

In addition the HED JET+ have the new bead-hook design for tubeless setups where the tires "snap" into place. While Enve and Roval also have tubeless bead-hooks, most of the other manufacturers do not and thus are not truly capable of tubeless if you so desire to run them that way. This is more of a future-proof feature for those not familiar with tubeless.

3) More comfortable - Because HED JET+ have that large 21mm internal diameter your same tires end up being much wider. The reality is the air volume is much larger and you need less pressure. In fact HED has a max PSI of 90. Don't worry if you still think higher pressure is better or faster. In reality too much and too little is slow. PSI is all about balance and with HED you can run lower pressures without risking the same pinch-flats that can happen in other setups.

As an example, I road Zipp Firecrests (16.25mm) in training with 25mm Gatorskins for many years at around 95-100 psi. I have been running the same 25mm tires on HED JET+ at between 75-80 PSI (I am 155lbs). In addition while the 25mm tire will measure a hair over 25mm on the Zipps, it measures closer to 27mm on the HED JET+. The end result of the wider tire at lower pressures is a more comfortable ride.

4) Better handling - Similar to #3, the larger tires and lower pressures provides for better handling in corners. I also find they are also less twitchy in strong crosswinds.

5) Great aerodynamics - The late great Steve HED was a master at aerodynamics with decades of experience. The HED JET 6+ is yet another advancement that continues the long tradition of great aerodynamics that have been independently validated by others. You won't find a significantly faster 60mm deep wheel but you will find slower. 
Hed JET vs HED JET+ Wind Tunnel Data
San Diego Low Speed Tunnel

Some people may want a deeper front rim or a disc on the rear, but the 6+ front and back offer superior versatility in my opinion. If you do want a disc you can always add a wheel cover to the 6+ rear for under $100. Skip the 9+ up front.

6) Lightweight - One knock on aluminum race wheels is that they are quite heavy. For instance, according to Flo's website, their latest Flo 60mm front wheel is 910 grams while a 58mm deep Zipp 404 Firecrest is listed at 755 grams. Meanwhile my own HED JET 6+ with stickers removed weighs 725 grams. When you think about the fact that HED's are also 21mm wide, while the FLO 60s are 19.4mm and the Zipps 16.25mm, that is even more impressive considering how much more material there is for the wider rim. The HED Jet+ series is as light as carbon wheels without the negatives of a carbon brake track.

7) Simpler maintenance. Swapping brake pads when going back and forth between carbon race wheels and aluminum training wheels is a major pain. If all your wheels are aluminum there is no need to swap brake pads.

By the way, if you have carbon wheels you should be swapping out the brake pads. This is for two reasons. One is because carbon rims require a different brake pad to be able to brake effectively on the carbon surface. And two, if you use the same brake pads on both aluminum and carbon rims you will embed tiny bits of aluminum from the rim into the brake pads, which will then eat away at the carbon rims. 

8) Get immediately - Competitive Cyclists offers free 2-day shipping and the same great return policy and customer service as its parent company Backcountry. No waiting for slower retailers/etailers, or even worse, 8 weeks until the next "group buy" just to put in your order.

9) Warranty - buying new wheels from Competitve Cyclist or other retailers/etailers/lbs means you get the full backing of the warranty as the original owner. I myself have bought many used wheels because of the drastic price difference between new and used, however in doing so I know that most wheel companies will not warranty a wheel if I have an issue. It is something to think about if you are looking at used wheels.

10) Price$1099 shipped for the set is about as good as it gets. This includes, skewers, valve extenders and my preferred rim tape as well. I know that this is Competitive Cyclist's carrot to get you in their door so you buy more from them, but the reality is that you can likely ride these for a year or two and resell them and recoup much of your investment if you so choose.

In general HED has excellent resale value as well. You can check prior eBay sales to get a feel for what used wheels go for. As for this deal, it has been about a year since I recognized it. At one time last October it was as low as $799 for a short period but has mostly been bouncing around between $999 and $1099. The sale seems like a permanent sale and loss-leader to me.


My Personal Experience


I have owned a variety of HED wheels over the years including Stinger 9s, Ardennes, H3s, H3+, JET 6+, Jet 9+ (rear), and a Jet Disc+. I have over a year of racing and training on the HED JET+ series, and in that time I have really come to appreciate the superior stopping power of aluminum after many years on carbon. The ride quality with the wider tires at lower pressures is great and riding the JET 6+ in training gives me the opportunity to get comfortable with gusty crosswinds so that on race day I am confident.


Additional Notes


Cheap carbon wheels - there are lots of cheap carbon wheels floating around. You can even gets sets on Amazon shipped via Prime. Personally I would never ride a carbon brake track from anyone but Zipp, Enve, and Roval (Specialized), and Bontrager (Trek). While some people may get away with it, the reality is that wheels are mission critical and I have seen too many failed brake tracks on carbon wheels. You are gambling with your health going with cheap carbon wheels. 

HED JET+  Tire installation - Please not that tires may be slightly more difficult to get on these rims depending on what you have had in the past. While Zipps were always notoriously easy to get the tire on, that isn't exactly what you want when you are bombing down a descent and have a flat. Easy to get on, means easy to fall off as well.

HED JET 6+ vs HED JET 6 or JET 6 C2 - Many people are confused by the differences. The HED JET 6, or C2 as they are also known, are a prior generation. They are narrower and weren't designed with the tubeless bead-hooks. They are 23mm at the brake track instead of 25mm. They are 17.8mm internally versus 21mm. The new HED JET 6+ will perform better aerodynamically with wider tires than a HED JET 6.

HED JET 6+ vs HED JET 6+ Black - The Black series features an all black rim and a specially machined brake surface that according to HED provides 30% improvement in dry conditions and 70% in wet over standard aluminum. Having used Black I can say the brake track does offer even better braking but I haven't attempted to quantify it. The brake surface is very nice but it is twice the price. Some people really like the sleek Black look as well.

Links:

HED JET 6+ on Competitive Cyclist
HED JET 6+ Black on Competitive Cyclist
HED JET completed sales on eBay

Saturday, May 27, 2017

10 Tips for Purchasing a New Triathlon Wetsuit

My BlueSeventy Helix
Photo Cred: Tim Hughes
With triathlon wetsuit season quickly approaching I thought I would highlight a few things to think about when purchasing a wetsuit.

You can save 25% on a new suit or anything else at BlueSeventy.com using coupon code b70ThomasGerlach17 (good anytime in 2017)

Wetsuit Buying Tips:


1) It is all about fit - a proper fitting wetsuit is the most important thing when buying a wetsuit. A wetsuit should be snug when putting it on. It will loosen up when you get water in. It will loosen up over time as you use it. Keep this in mind when trying on a new wetsuit. If it is a breeze to get into and zip up then it is probably too big.

2) Features, Features, Features - The wetsuit industry has endless marketing terms for various "features". The majority of these features are worthless. I don't blame the manufacturers as each one does it.

The reality is that some users may like some features. An example for me with my BlueSeventy Helix is that I like the top-zip option. It gives me peace of mind in the water that another competitor isn't going to "accidentally" pull down my zipper in the middle of the race. They simply can't.

While some features offer minor benefits, the reality is that most features are over-blown. Don't get buried in features.

3) Return policy is key - You want to be able try out your wetsuit in the water to make sure it truly fits and will work for you. BlueSeventy has an awesome return policy and they let you try the wetsuit for 30 days. Here is their full policy. Also, if you are borderline in the sizing, you can always buy two suits and return the one that doesn't fit as well.

4) Low vs mid vs top-tier wetuits - Typically top-tier wetsuits offer the best rubber, that is the thickest to lift your body and legs out of the water for reduced drag. They also have really thin arms and shoulders so you don't feel restricted while swimming.

Lower to mid-tier wetsuits usually have thinner rubber in places you want thicker, thicker rubber in places you want thinner, and that rubber is usually less buoyant, more rigid, and often lacking a special coating to help you cut thru the water faster.

Sighting Open Water
Personally I do like the top-tier wetsuits and even when I was age-grouper, beyond my first wetsuit, I always bought top-tier wetsuits. If you can afford them I say get them. If you can't then I often suggest getting a sleeveless.

5) Sleeveless vs sleeved - If the water is 68 and above I much prefer sleeveless wetsuits than sleeved. The only time I prefer sleeves is if the water is cold enough to be uncomfortable, 55-64 for me. Even in 65-68 water I will often swim in a sleeveless depending on other race factors.

The reality is everyone's temperature gauge is different. I generate a ton of body heat swimming hard and easily overheat in sleeved suits. If I overheat I am far slower than I would have been with a sleeveless. From a feel perspective there is nothing more enjoyable than swimming in the freedom and flexibility of a sleeveless suit.

Keep in mind, a poorly fitting sleeved suit, or a sleeved-suit that doesn't have super flexible shoulders, is going to be slower than a sleeveless. Personally, my best swims in relation to my peers have always been in situations where I have worn sleeveless. If you aren't worried about water temperature I have no problems recommending sleeveless. This is especially so if you come from a swim background.

6) Look used if buying top-tier - Buying used can be a great option, especially if you trying to get a top-tier wetsuit on the cheap. You can often find $800 top-tier wetsuits for under $300. Check eBay for great deals. Look for wetsuits with fingernail tears that can be easily repaired to save even more.

Wetsuit cement for repairing fingernails tears in 10 minutes or less
Wetsuit tears happen to everyone and it is better to buy a $150 suit that is already torn, versus the feeling you get when you put the first fingernail tear into that new $800 suit. The reality is that wetsuit tears are common and can easily be repaired with wetsuit cement. Don't sweat them.

7) Buying used from a friend or Facebook groups - chances are the suit is way overpriced.
Look at past sales of wetsuits on eBay to get an idea of what suits go for.The reality is if you buy their used wetsuit then you are doing THEM a favor. Negotiation power is all in your favor.

8) Buying if you are an odd size, say Women's XS - Believe me, selling overstock wetsuits one summer, I realized just how hard it was to sell even a brand new $800 suit if it is an odd size like Women's XS. If you are at the far end of the sizing spectrum look for blow-out deals or check eBay. You might be surprised.

9) Xterra - Don't fall victim to Xterra pricing. Similar to Rudy Project in helmets and sunglasses, Xterra's whole business model is to take the Kohl's approach. Nobody pays more than 50% off for Xterra. You aren't getting a deal if you get 50%-60% off you just think you are getting a deal.

10) Two-piece vs one-piece - As someone who is 5 feet 8 but has a 33.63 inseam, I am the perfect candidate for a two-piece. The reality is that I owned one and I hated it. They are heavier and more complicated to put on and take off (the manufacturers claim they are less). It is just one more thing to lose too!! While a two-piece sounds like a nice idea, and I can understand why some think it might be great, the reality is that two-pieces for me was a huge let down.

Regardless of whether this is your first wetsuit or you are a seasoned pro, here a few reminders about getting that wetsuit on:

1) Make sure to apply Body Glide to your legs, arms, and back of neck.

2) Use plastic bags on your feet or socks to help get the wetsuit on.

3) Wear gloves so your fingernails don't tear the wetsuit. Wetsuits are very easy to tear with your fingernails. Usually the nicer the wetsuit the more easy it is to tear.

4) Pull from the inside of the suit, in small sections, working from bottom to top.

5) Pro tip - Once the wetsuit is on over your shoulders, you can bend over at the waist and that creates excess material which then you can pull further up to give more breathing room and space.

Links:
BlueSeventy.com - save 25% on a wetsuit, goggles, speedsuit, whatever, in 2017, using coupon code: b70ThomasGerlach17

Body Glide on Amazon

- Wetsuit Cement on Amazon

- Completed Sales of BlueSeventy Wetsuits on eBay

- BlueSeventy Wetsuits on eBay

Lastly if you are triathlete, endurance athlete, or marathoner, I have set up a FREE Q&A group on Facebook. It will always be FREE. As a long-time age-grouper I spent way too long determining what information I could trust and what I couldn't. As a TRUE student of the sport I have learned a lot, remain open-minded, and realize that so many people disseminate information blindly and then bad myths become lore. I am hoping to shed some light and simplify things for people. Feedback is always appreciated.