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.

crossfit yoyogi year end party.jpg

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.

asics on feet 2.jpg

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.

asics under the bar.jpg

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.

asics on.jpg

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.

vega sport performance protein: protein worth slurping

I went to law school with a guy who kept a massive tub of whey protein in his library carrel. It sat there - an oversized, red, plastic, shiny thing, boasting it's high, fast-acting protein content - among sterile piles of papers and books. I never saw him consuming any of it in the library, but got a front row view of his increasing body fat percentage over the course of Con Law II. After graduation, when I would hit the local gym for a terrified pantomime on the treadmill of what it felt like to have the bar exam take over your life, I saw him on the elliptical, sweating and sipping from a shaker cup. In the same clothes he'd been wearing all week. Suddenly his increasingly bad B.O. every time finals came around started to make sense. I ran home to tell my best friend all about it.
My casual, deliberately superficial exposure to this classmate - there are many things I can forgive, but bad hygiene isn't one of them - turned me off protein shakes for the next few years. Ironically, after moving back to Tokyo, I've found myself gravitating towards the people that my law school classmate probably looked up to. The guys that lift heavy and hard, have massive biceps, and sometimes sip protein shakes during their workouts. The gym rat persona appealed to me, but chewing real food always sounded more...delicious. And besides, I'm lactose intolerant. Whey would blow my intestines apart.
But once I added squats to the miles I was putting on my legs, I started to consciously crave meat on my rides. At the same time, I noticed that by the time I got home, the last thing I really wanted to do was chew. Still wary of whey, and more than a little guilt-ridden by the animals I was enthusiastically consuming, I took a chance and invested in a tub of Vega Sport Performance Protein, a vegan, plant-based protein powder. In chocolate, of course.

A blend of pea, saviseed, alfalfa and brown rice protein, Vega mixes up easily in water and tastes like your run-of-the-mill protein shake; chocolate-y enough but you can definitely taste the Stevia. As much as I detest calories [or more accurately, my undying love for calories, preferably of the empty variety], I've never been a fan of sweeteners devoid of those kCals. Artificial sweeteners are, to me, kind of like having a fuck buddy; the concept is nice but the reality is a little disappointing. You try to like it, like a little something sweet is better than nothing at all, but your heart just knows that something not quite right is going on here. It doesn't even matter if you're a heartless jerk, either, because in the end, even your body starts resenting the deprivation of unconditional caloric love.
Which is where I sigh, with a hand over my heart, look at my bike, and thank endurance sports. And bananas.

The addition of a half to a whole banana, a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, and the right amount of water and ice can turn Vega into the only protein shake I'll ever chug straight out of the blender. It's so good, I'll scrape the sides of the blender out with my finger while licking chocolate off my face. It becomes a dark chocolate sludge worth slurping after hitting the gym, or between a somewhat rushed intense ride and going into the office on the weekend. It can be an alternative to chicken or tofu, but the best part of protein powders, I've learned, is that they're convenient. I use it for those times I don't have time for a real meal [because are you really allowed to eat lunch at 11?], but I want something in my stomach so I don't start turning into a diva [I'm allergic to peanuts so the Snickers bar option is out]. It tastes like a total indulgence, is completely digestible for those with unpredictable stomaches that aren't capable of digesting anything, like mine, and I feel like I'm doing something good for the planet. And my muscles. Win, win, win, and win.

Like my law school classmate's tub of protein, mine usually lurks quietly in a corner of my kitchen. That guy still serves as a kind of cautionary tale against the myth that pounding protein shakes [or protein bars; Vega makes a pretty addictive one, as my thighs could probably tell you] three times a day will magically get you ripped. But when I pull or lift heavy enough to scrape some skin off my callouses, or when my hamstrings ache for three days straight, or when I consider blending my chicken so I can get it into my stomach faster, I reach for that big black tub, a banana, some cocoa, and a little water. I blend, sit back, and bliss out.

travel lust and the biknd helium

Like most young, single professionals with just enough money to spare if you’re okay with eating eggs and canned sardines every day, I’ve fallen pretty hard for travel. That itch to fly to faraway places, to breathe new air, and be herded along to world heritage sites with crowds of Chinese tourists. It seems to be a common thing for most half-interesting people; perhaps the product of unconsciously wanting to escape the dry, fluorescent lighting of corporate environments that are the just the right touch of too warm or too cold to keep you consciously uncomfortable. It’s such an easy expense to justify – the opportunity to explore a new culture and locale! The self-exploratory experiences! The beautiful things to see and people to meet! – that no one ever questions whether you simply want to escape the reality of your current, very real life. Instead people tend to express their approval at travel plans, bestowing you extra points on the life scale if “travel” also includes “helping the less fortunate” or “spectating something humanitarian.”

I would be lying if I said I didn’t love the romance of the idea of eternal [albeit, underfunded] travel. But I would also be lying if I said the idea of living out of a suitcase for months on end was appealing or otherwise seemed tolerable. Instability and unpredictability are concepts I am familiar with, but only as facets of my personality. I still struggle with situations in which they manifest outside my psyche. I’ve gotten better [I keep an umbrella at work, now], but it's been a process.
And yet I arrived at JFK airport last month with a suitcase and my bike, throwing caution to the wind and TSA the opportunity to fuck my paint job, again.

When good things happen to me when I least expect them to, I'm inclined to believe that tempting fate and acting like an asshole will actually yield results. Come at me, TSA, I mentally taunted while I checked in my bike, damage my paint again so I can kill you. My mouth was frothing in premature anger at the thought. But thousands of miles, a taxi ride and four flights of stairs later, I unzipped my Biknd Helium case to find my bike, safe, sound, and unscathed.

True, the condition of my bike is more likely due to the bike case than anything involving my questionably aggressive attitude towards airlines and transport security. An expense I managed to make room for a few weeks before I left for New York, the Biknd Helium case has turned into that friend who insists, "just one shot, I'm buying, anything you want," and suddenly you're stumbling around Harvard Square so drunk you don't even know how drunk you are until you get pulled over by the cops on the way home. It whispers that you should never be without a bike, wherever you go, and since it holds two sets of wheels, a wheelset purchase would be optimal, or, more accurately, necessary. In other words, it's an enabler.

But it's also like the kind of enabling friend who has your back, will make sure you're always safe, and stays surprisingly mobile when fully loaded. It took me 25 minutes to pack up my bike the first time, including the time spent Youtubing videos of how to take off my rear derailleur, and it rolled smoothly from my apartment to the taxi to check-in. The fork locks into the frame, the bottom bracket sits on a foam cushion, and the inflatable bags on each side provide substantial cushioning. There's no need to bubble wrap your frame or swaddle it in your sweaters. You'll take some risks, sure [doesn't fun always include that, though?] but you'll know that, barring some disaster, you and your bike will get to Paris, Marrakesh, Tokyo, New York City or wherever in one, pristine piece.
My Biknd Helium case is currently sitting quietly in a corner of my apartment, waiting to be pulled out, packed up, and rolled through an airport headed for exotic or familiar destinations. But like any true and good enabler, it goads me to do random searches for flights to all the places I've wanted to go and isn't beneath judging me for wanting to save up/stop my bank account from bleeding to death for a little while longer.
"Come onnnnn," it pretends to plead, "let's just gooooo. There are places to see, mountain passes to climb, cafes to ride to! The travel constipation will be totally worth it!"

And I think, as my hair trigger finger scrolls through flights to Budapest, Istanbul, and Reykjavik, yeah, yeah, you're right. It totally would.

a friendship in review

I realized, on my pre-Vuelta ride this weekend, that we’ve kind of come a long way. It hasn’t been long since we’ve known each other – almost a year and a half – but you’ve been with me through some hard times. Remember that crash back in October last year that left me with a left arm that still doesn’t work so good? And the weird health problems that kind of floored me for six months this year? You stuck around, through all of it. I guess that’s what real friends are made of.
Our easy friendship wasn’t always like this, was it? I remember when I met you for the first time. You seemed a little too much for me; just really cool and something I didn’t really deserve to know. I was kind of overwhelmed, actually. And maybe that’s why, when we started to go on rides together, I started to toe the line of co-dependence. I felt a little paralyzed when you just needed to recharge your batteries and couldn’t ride with me. It’s a little embarrassing to admit now, but there were a few times I almost didn’t ride because you weren’t around. Okay, full disclosure: I panicked because you claimed you were at like 3%, that you'd only last 10 minutes on the bike. I thought, "well, how could I ride then?" I did, though, but it was close.

Can you blame me? We became inseparable pretty quickly. I’d always have my face in yours, and we’d do that thing where we’d stare into each other’s eyes for dangerously long periods of time while we were coasting along. I totally almost crashed into stuff like 10 times. You remember that, right?
And when I got my power meter, you were as excited as I was! You pushed me when I needed it, but also showed me when I had to dial it back a little and relax. I’ve always sucked at the latter, but you were right; I made some crazy gains with your help. I eventually got used to looking at you – I guess you became familiar – but I never stopped thinking you were pretty sexy. You’re smaller than some, sure, but I think it makes you more adorable. Like I want to just tuck you into my pocket and take you all around Tokyo.

I could go on and on about the times we've had, and I know you'll recall all of it, too (I've always admired how easily you remember things). I'm not paralyzed without you on rides anymore; I actually like our weekend deals where we ride around, not so much focused on each other anymore, but still together. I think you like it, too (if only for the safety factor).
There's more we'll see, I'm sure. Different countries, places, friends. I expect you to call me on my BS ("yeah you wish your FTP was that high"), and to never lie to me about the grade of an incline ("are you seriously suffering this hard on a 12%?"). In return, I will keep you sheltered, fed, and firmly attached to my stem. Promise. Cross my heart.

Because we've come this far together, Garmin 500. I don't intend to trade you in for anything else.
oxox, k

review: blow it out your ass-os

I've recently reached that point in life - maybe that was a few years ago but I was only willing to admit it now - where my body mostly only makes sense in a kit. I've been genetically gifted with quads that will grow...and grow and grow...with the calves [and okay, ass] to match. This makes me the envy of the bodybuilders at my gym who refuse to do heavy squats, but also makes me look like a tree stump in skinny jeans.
It's a sad reality for someone who used to love denim. The trade-off was that I discovered Lululemon and Assos.

Though the designers at Lululemon have come up with a way to make even my ass look, well, spectacular, in yoga pants, Assos has been the real game changer. It's been almost a year since I purchased them, but my Assos T.FI. Lady S5 bibs have become one of those garments I try to "save" for special occasions. I'll grit through the relative discomfort of my worn down Capo shorts on shorter rides, just so I won't have to risk my Assos bibs coming under more wear and tear. Sure, they were bulletproof enough to come away with only a small scrape when I crashed back in October, but like the favorite pair of killer heels you generally keep on ice, you can't ever be too careful.

And like those heels, these bibs feel...sexy. The difference being that they're also extremely comfortable. The fabric is similar to that of Rapha's [mens'] bib shorts [circa 2010] - silky smooth and supple - but a touch better. It feels good to slip into, and unless you're stupid enough to lose a few kgs after purchasing them, these shorts won't ride up, despite the fact that only the back half of the leg hems have rubber grippers. Everything molds to your body and moves with you in these bibs, including the just-right, infamous, light-blue chamois. You feel naked, but awesomely, confidently so, like how great boyfriends can should make you feel even after you stuff yourself with way too much food.

Even new, the chamois was never obtrusive, either. It's thick enough to provide comfort for those mega-long trainer rides or anything that involves lots of time in the saddle, but outwardly appears low profile. I never got the feeling that I had two giant diapers on, or that I was walking around with a pillow precariously attached to my already bodacious ass. As an added perk, the bibs are cut rather generously in the hips and thighs. Which means I easily fit into a size small (win!!!).
The best part, though? The slightly strange between-boob strap.

I consider myself a fairly creative problem-solver, but never figured out how to drop the bibs to pee without taking off my jersey and trying to find a place to hang it. Assuming there's a hook provided in the bathroom, it never works out well because my pockets are inevitably stuffed with tubes, tire levers, a multi-tool, food, phone, earphones and whatever else. This means I end up battling various layers of Lycra in a fight to drop the bibs and juggling discarded layers so they won't touch the floor, all while crammed in some small public restroom. Yeah, I'm sure there's a porn genre for that, too, but listen, I'm not getting paid for this.
With the Assos bibs, I can unhook the strap, pull it over my head, and slip it down my back, all with my jersey still securely hooked to my shoulders. I'm flexible enough to be able to link my hands behind my back, so the strap gets shoved up my back with one hand, and grabbed with the other. All with my jersey securely on my shoulders. Even if you're not that flexible, you only need to shrug the jersey off one shoulder, not both. The guys probably won't get it, but this has been a total game changer.
Oh yeah, and for someone who is less than endowed totally flat, the strap also gives some illusion of boob-age. Which is cool because I can use all the help I can get in that department, too.

After losing a few kgs, those bibs are starting to creep up my thighs on rides. It's a shame, because it's barely been a year since I purchased them. I'm saving up for another pair, though, even with the other womens' bibs options that are popping up.
Because you've been there. Racing towards the nearest bathroom mid-ride, unsnapping your helmet before you even get off the bike. And who seriously has the time to be taking off a jersey when that happens?
Details Price: 24,780 yen [Note: I got the 2012 model last fall, on sale, for about 19,000yen at the Tokyo Assos Pro Shop.]
[And yeah, you're welcome for having no shame and posting these unflattering pictures of my butt on the Internet.]

review: skratch labs exercise hydration mix

I’ve thinking, despite all the snow we got yesterday, about this past summer, when I cycled through sticky heat with bottles filled with slightly diluted Aquarius. I used the sports drink in powder form so I could water it down, but for a good three months, attempts at hydration usually resulted in uncomfortable, sugary yet acidic phlegm. The taste would eventually turn from manageable to cloying, in direct correlation to the duration of the ride and the rising temperature of the liquid in my bottles. It didn't matter what brand of sports drink I chose - Pocari Sweat, Aquarius, Aquarius Zero, whatever - they all tasted the same at mile 30 in 30+ C heat. I still drank the lukewarm stuff, but only because dehydration and heat stroke seemed like a less than optimal way to die.

The result was dietary exhaustion. If you've never had the misfortune to experience this, imagine a dysfunctional couple, arguing. In your mouth. Not in that way. "You need this in this heat, don't even think you don't," one half would screech. "I'll be fine," my taste buds would seethe back "Just fucking stop..." right before being drowned out in sugary salty water. My left hand would unconsciously lower the bottle and my mouth would weep.
But like significant others who settle into rock-like stoicism whenever the Hurricane Sandy of their better halves blow through, I got used to it. I accepted that this was part of the experience. Another thing I can love to hate about cycling.
My license to complain about the lack of tolerate sports drinks was, however, revoked on purchasing a few single serving packs of Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix. I wasn’t expecting much, but the pixelated graphics and awesome logo appealed to my Japanese inability to resist attractive packaging. Besides, if Tim used it, it couldn’t taste like absolute ass, right?
A month or so ago, I ripped off the conveniently perforated top of a Lemon Lime flavored pack, shook up my bottle, and took a testy sip.

I get it. I get it now. I get why people call it “Crack Labs,” and why you’d never want to drink anything else if given a choice. Because if Dr. Allen Lim told me I could have a lifetime supply of the stuff if I gave up sushi, I would – at least briefly – consider taking him up on that offer. And I say that as someone who actively and often fantasizes about wading into an Alaskan river [along with any grizzlies] to catch and rip apart salmon with my teeth.
It’s refreshing [Skratch Labs…although I imagine the salmon would be, too]. Light; kind of like how you’d wish Crystal Light tasted after watching all those commercials with smiling, happy Caucasian women. It has none of the phlegm-creating sugary aftertaste, and you actually want to keep drinking it after the 4th or 40th gulp. You get a little sad when you drain the bottle. You look through your entire pantry about three times after you finish your last pack, on the slim hope that maybe you bought three of those things instead of two the last time you were in the States. You get a little scared thinking about not having the stuff in your bottles this coming summer.
I used up the last of my pathetic supply a few weeks ago, and kicked myself for not investing in a few kilos of the stuff. I felt like Frank Lucas in American Gangster, but without the cousin in Thailand to call up. How in the hell do they expect me to get a re-up of the stuff from the other side of the world?
I suppose that’s what friends – and the Internet – are for.