Of Asics Weightlifting Shoes and Camel Toe

“Oh my God, I accidentally saw that part where her leg, you know, meets her groin…?” A friend told me earlier this year.

“You mean, her labia?”

“Well, not the entire thing, but yeah, part of it.”

“Ew, gross,” I’d said.

As my State-side visit neared its end, I was increasingly becoming anxious about going back to the box. Not only because of the inadvertent two-week hiatus where I’d packed most of my workout clothes and then used them just once during my trip. Toward the end of last year, a girl had joined my CrossFit box, shit had hit the fan, and I got splattered with it.

It wasn’t just her tendency to wear thin running shorts and leggings that didn’t cover her butt or hide the shape of her nether region. It was more that within two months of joining our box, she had thrown herself at our happily-married coach. Despite friends pointing out how blatantly she was flirting with our coach, I first assumed she was overly friendly and maybe didn’t quite understand the concept of boundaries. Maybe she was excited to join a new box after an allegedly poor experience at her previous one. She seemed nice, she was good at CrossFit, and we became friendly.

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That initial assumption was napalmed at a year-end party that a box member had organized. After the party, we had all lingered outside the bar, waiting for someone to take the initiative and lead the way to the after party. It was cold and we were all trying to keep warm, hands stuffed into pockets. As I shot the shit with my coach and a few friends, the girl slid up to him, rested her head on his upper arm and slipped her hand into his coat pocket.

Things got pretty weird after that. I made it clear that I didn’t need friends who lacked a moral compass, the box owner eventually found out about the shady behavior, and the girl, for the most part, cut it out. She still apparently hates me.  

When faced with sticky situations, I generally choose to delete myself from the locale or social circle involved. Despite the fact that I love my box, I started avoiding classes and only coming by the box during open gym hours when I knew I’d be alone. The additional support the box provided this girl for her attempt to get into regional championships, her strength, and her proficiency at WODs made me feel small. I’d done nothing wrong but I felt like the outsider. I considered quitting every week.

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By coincidence, however, I’d ordered a pair of Asics lifting shoes prior to the year-end party. Handmade of thick suede, the heel is lower than competing models and they look like Soviet-era relics in comparison to the Nike Romaleos or the Reebok Legacy Lifters. There’s no cool Velcro strap, and unless you go the custom route, there are only two colors. But they’re also the best lifting shoes you can buy.*

Unfortunately, they’re also expensive. The money had been spent, though, and the shoes were on their way. There was no going back.

The first time I got under the bar with these shoes on, I finally understood why people say that lifting shoes are a worthy investment. If you’ve ever ridden a fixed gear after doing most of your miles on a road bike, that’s what wearing lifting shoes feels like. Except the plastered-on feeling is on your feet, not your butt.

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Although I’ve tried lifting with plates under my heels to  replicate the effect of lifting shoes, it never felt stable. The soles of my feet seemed to cave in towards the ground. With the Asics, the stiff leather soles keep my feet glued to a hard, supportive surface which means I can grip the ground more effectively. The lack of any cushioning translates to the feeling that I’m lifting barefoot, but with enough support to keep my heels raised. Lifting in normal sneakers feels like standing on a soft bed in comparison.

People say that lifting shoes will automatically add 5kg to your squat max. I can’t say that I’ve been gifted those instant gains – for a number of reasons, I haven’t tried to max out my back squat this year – but I can say that squats feel good in these shoes. My muscles still feel awful during the movement, but I’m not trying to feel out the “tripod foot” in soft, cushioned shoes. Instead, I can grip the floor through my shoe and drive up through my heels with a little more efficiency.

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The only drawback I’ve experienced is the lack of cushioning makes for a harder landing. I noticed that my heels would occasionally hurt after a lift, and that they sometimes felt bruised for a couple days afterwards.

“Is this normal?” I asked my coach.

“Probably,” he said, “I think I stopped noticing.”

That was a couple months ago and he’s right. It becomes one of the aches and pains that come with weightlifting way too much in your mid 30s. Like being constantly, visually assaulted by genitalia that you have no interest in, you eventually just get used to it. And in the end, both are a small price to pay for solid weightlifting classes at my favorite box.

* The Asics shoes are considered world-class, but those with less ankle mobility might want to consider the Nike Romaleos or the Reebok Legacy Lifters which provide a higher heel.

48 Hours in San Francisco - 2019 Edition

Day 1.

Get up around 9am to meet my best friend J for the first time in five years. Obviously, the first brunch place is Tartine Bakery, where we split a croque monsieur (okay) and the brioche bread pudding (as amazing as I remember it and I’m not a bread pudding person).

Tartine Bakery.

Tartine Bakery.

The Brioche bread pudding from Tartine Bakery.

The Brioche bread pudding from Tartine Bakery.

Next, head to Craftsman and Wolves for the Rebel Without A Cause, which tastes like a slightly onion-y scone with a runny egg inside. It’s particularly good with the pink salt on the side. We are getting kinda full. I hand off the Conveni stuff I’d bought for J back in Japan. He gives me a pair of coveted Air Jordan 1 Low Slip Chicagos in exchange.

Craftsman and Wolves.

Craftsman and Wolves.

Pastries at Craftsman and Wolves.

Pastries at Craftsman and Wolves.

The Rebel Without a Cause from Craftsman and Wolves.

The Rebel Without a Cause from Craftsman and Wolves.

Egg porn.

Egg porn.

We walk south along Valencia Street and drop by Dog Eared Books to check out their used book section. I get a used copy of “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen and get a couple recommendations from the guy at the counter.



J shows me Al’s Place, a largely vegetarian restaurant with a Michelin star. We walk to La Taqueria and get tacos (meat for him, vegetarian for me). The guy who rings me up gives me a rose because every woman there gets a rose and compliments along with amazing tacos and burritos. The Jamaica juice (sweetened, bright red, hibiscus tea) is delicious.

Tacos from La Taq.

Tacos from La Taq.

On the way to the CalTrain station, we stop by The Boba Guys because we haven’t exploded yet. J gets the Matcha Strawberry which tastes like strawberry juice, and I get the Dirty Horchata. The bubbles are chewy and delicious and the espresso mellows out the sweet horchata.

Our drinks from The Boba Guys.

Our drinks from The Boba Guys.

We part ways and I have a Whole Foods salad bar dinner because I have some work to do. A vegan carrot cake finishes the day.

Day 2.

I take an Uber to Green Apple Books, but decide I’m too hungry to browse books. I head up a block to Nourish Café and order the Bap Bowl. The vegan sriracha miso dressing is addictive and it has just the right amount of crunch and creaminess. I’ll be thinking about this for days.

Nourish Cafe.

Nourish Cafe.

The Bap bowl at Nourish Cafe.

The Bap bowl at Nourish Cafe.

I head back up to Green Apple Books and raid their used book section. They have an annex three doors down that has all their used fiction, plus a second story in the main store with used nonfiction. I buy as many books as I think I can bring back. I find a copy of a book about Hinault and buy it for the pictures.

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Back in the Mission district, it’s time for dessert at Garden Creamery, which offers six non-dairy, vegan ice creams. I choose one scoop each of Earl Grey and Dark Chocolate. The Dark Chocolate tastes like the inside of a truffle.

Garden Creamery.

Garden Creamery.

All the flavors.

All the flavors.

The dark chocolate and Earl Grey (vegan) flavors.

The dark chocolate and Earl Grey (vegan) flavors.

I somehow get on the CalTrain that has a weird weekend schedule and have dinner with Bestie and his family. I learn I am not bad at playing with kids. We head to Salt & Straw for more ice cream. J orders a cone with the Wild-Foraged Berry Slab Pie flavor. I get a cup with a scoop of Freckled Mint TCHO-colate Chip and Dandelion Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies & Cream (both vegan!). The coolness of the mint chip balanced out the gooey-sugary-filled-with-cookie-bits Dandelion Chocolate flavor. I go home full of good food and great times and catch a flight back to Tokyo the next morning.

Salt & Straw ice cream.

Salt & Straw ice cream.

I love San Francisco.

Miracle [Dole] Whip

Back when I was around eight years old, my parents took my sister and I to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. As my mother hated rollercoasters, and I wasn’t the kind of child that liked to terrorize myself voluntarily, we avoided all the rides that seemed designed to test the strength of your sphincter in the face of a fabricated yet realistic, life-threatening situation. The spinning teacups were as dangerous as the rides got, and my family was quite happy with that.

We ended our Disney World tour at Tomorrowland. We’d checked off most of the non-rollercoaster rides, and we had one more to check out. We didn’t know what it was, but there was a long, snaking line, seemingly a hundred people deep. We joined the line and waited, wondering what was to come.

I remember a tinge of doubt when I saw a sign that indicated how tall you had to be to ride. As we shuffled closer to the front of the line, we heard screams.

“I think this is a rollercoaster,” I said.

For some reason, we didn’t beg the ride operator to let us out of the line. Or maybe my father thought this would be a good time to teach us an early lesson in commitment. We got on and after what seemed like an eternity of being bounced violently around in a dark planetarium, I got off with PTSD and an understanding of what kind of ride Space Mountain actually is.

Over 20 years later, I’m still cautious about theme parks and rollercoasters. Finding myself on a two-week vacation to Orlando, Florida I turned down Universal Studios for a slightly muddy walk around the Tibet-Butler Preserve and some face time with injured Gopher Tortoises.

gopher tortoise
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But afterwards, I still got a piece of the Magic Kingdom, in a Styrofoam bowl of soft, creamy, sweetly-sour, pineapple Dole Whip.

Originally limited to Disney parks and the Dole Pineapple Plantation in Hawaii, it’s now available at Twistee Treats in Orlando and several other locations around the U.S. It’s a surprisingly vegan soft serve that doesn’t lack in creamy heft – I would have assumed there was some sort of dairy in it if I hadn’t been told otherwise – but light enough to be the kind of thing you’d want to eat all summer.

I am the kind of person who craves and/or fixates on some highly processed candy bar or food item for some indeterminate amount of time. I am also the kind of person who usually forgets about the food I’m craving after, at most, a couple of hours. After my pineapple Dole Whip experience at Island Fin Poke Company, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for over 48 hours. The question, “what do you want to do?” was usually answered with the words, “Dole Whip.”

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Even after I’d hyped it in my head, my second cup still tasted just as delicious as the first. As I scraped the last smears of Dole Whip from the bottom of a Styrofoam bowl, I said that we should go back and order more. I was only sort of kidding.

That was nearly three days ago, and I’m leaving Orlando, once again, after having made a life-altering discovery.

Time to get more Dole Whip.

Needling My Butt

A few years ago, I went to Chiang Mai for three weeks. And, like most people do while in Thailand, I went to get a Thai massage.

I’d never gotten a Thai massage before, but from the way it is always presented – in curvy, exotic-looking letters often accompanied by lotus flowers or other symbols of meditative peace – I assumed it would be a relaxing experience. I was vaguely aware that some sort of stretching is involved, as promotional photographs always depicted a woman smiling serenely as her masseuse appeared to pull back her arms. That was the extent of my knowledge.

After some research, I’d found a reasonably priced place that was recommended by enough people on the Internet to lend it sufficient credibility. I walked in, was instructed to change, and learned what a Thai massage feels like.

It started with stretching and manipulation of my legs and ankles, which felt pretty good. From there, it eventually escalated to sitting up with my hands behind my head, my arms interlocked with my masseuse as she swung my upper half around first to the right, then to the left.

“Oh…my god,” I thought.

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Like most Japanese people, I have almost perfected the art of pretending any uncomfortable reality is not actually happening. In the middle of a humid Tokyo summer, I can sit in a train car that has suddenly turned into my private hell due a homeless person sitting directly upwind of me, as if nothing is wrong. When a drunk man rolled off the train seat onto the floor, unconsciously inebriated at my feet, I’ve simply moved back 30cm, keeping my gaze purposely fixed elsewhere.

So, I kept my cool, pretending like being contorted was an absolutely normal part of a relaxing massage. Then, the masseuse planted her foot in the middle of my back and braced her weight back while holding my arms behind me.

“Wai—,” I started.

It was too late. I imagined irreparable harm to my back as she almost bent me in half.

Like most uncomfortable situations, I’ve somehow been able to think back fondly on that massage, going so far as to tell people it felt good, that I’d go back. That’s not a lie, but unfamiliarity with the process lent a fair bit of discomfort that I wasn’t prepared for.

I was reminded of that massage a few weeks ago when a chronically tight and painful lower back forced me to seek out acupuncture treatment.

japanese stuff

Unlike in the U.S., acupuncture is readily and widely available in Tokyo. Suggestions to go to an acupuncturist were fairly common at my gym, but the idea of someone jabbing me with needles – however thin – remained a terrifying concept. It didn’t help that most of the people suggesting acupuncture were male and capable of enduring the pain of prolonged exercise. They’d assure me that “it doesn’t hurt at all,” but the phrase immediately seemed suspect given the source. It’s like when people say “oh, but it’s nothing compared to childbirth,” which only gives me a vague metric of “not painless but definitely better than the experience you haven’t had of a small human body squeezing through your cervix.”

 But when a good friend recommended her acupuncturist and told me that it wasn’t that bad, I was curious.

“They give you a massage, first, of the places they’re going to needle you,” she said.

Somehow, this gave me some reassurance. If they cared enough to go through the pretense of trying to relax you first, didn’t that mean they were good people? Didn’t that mean that, should I ever have the courage to ask them to stop, that they would?

By this point, my glute pain had spread to my lower back. Front squats hurt. Back squats also kind of hurt. Sitting was beginning to hurt. I was getting close to being forced to do something to actually address this problem.

I made an appointment online that week and walked into the recommended clinic for my first ever acupuncture experience.

feet on the train

As this was my first appointment, and my first time getting acupuncture, my acupuncturist, N-san, poked and prodded at my lower back and hip, and pressed and massaged the sides of my back and shoulders while asking me questions about pain and soreness. He told me that my issue was definitely due to my glutes and hamstrings, not my back, and that he probably couldn’t fix me in one appointment. He spent time explaining how acupuncture can feel different to different people: some people just don’t like the tingling feeling of acupuncture, others find it super relaxing. Some people find it more painful than relaxing. It just depends.

After the massage, N-san chose a fleshy part of my hip for my first acupuncture needle. He tapped the needle in, twice, and other than something much less than a pinprick, I felt nothing.

“This is what it feels like,” he said, “is that ok?”

I told him it was, because it really wasn’t painful at all, and he tap-tapped more needles into my right hip and glute. After the sensation of the double-tap, I eventually started to feel the “vibration” that people often talk about. You know the needle is going into one place, but it feels like an entire area is released of tension. It’s a weird, half-numbing sensation that feels like trigger point therapy on steroids.

After inserting a bunch of needles, N-san then used a small box to pass a weak, electric current between the needles. It feels like a deep, trigger point therapy massage; you can’t call it relaxing, but it’s not unpleasant. After about 5 minutes of this, I went home feeling a bit sore but better, with advice to come back in about a week.

needle marks

The next week, I went back for more treatment. This time, there was a short massage of my hamstrings and calves, then the acupuncture started. From my ankles to my knees, N-san started inserting needles to fix some muscle imbalances. N-san would probe my lower legs, find a knot, and promptly insert a needle into it. This time, I felt the entire range of possible sensations when undergoing acupuncture: some pinprick pain, tingling, a weird numbing feeling that spread over my foot at one point, the releasing sensation, and some discomfort. I also felt like a human pin cushion.

“What is happening?” I thought.

By the time N-san finished with my right glute, all I could do was cling to the body pillow used to elevate my leg as I lay on my left side, my butt-cheek twitching from the electroacupuncture, seriously considering N-san’s advice to maybe just lay off the lifting for a while.

But like that Thai massage from a few years ago, once it was over, I felt renewed. Or maybe I’m discounting the effect of an electric charge to my butt-cheek. In any case, high on my own self-congratulations for doing something that was not completely awful to my body, I asked when I should come back on the way out.