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The horribly uneven wear on my tires I was talking about? See some pictures over at Facebook.

Very few components matter as much as tires on a performance vehicle. Acceleration, braking, handling; anything involving a force exerted on or by the car is completely at the whim of the traction provided by the tires. “Traction” is but one characteristic of the performance of a tire; others will be discussed later.

The SVT Focus uses Continental ContiSports as the OEM tire. For an OEM tire, the Contis were an aggressive choice as numerous “performance” cars ship with sub-standard all-season tires. The best example of this would be the Bridgestone Potenza RE92s included on the Subaru Impreza WRX as the handling capability and 227 HP of the WRX completely overwhelm the tire. Considering the WRX is touted for its all-wheel drive and thus ability to drive in all sorts of conditions, shipping with an all-season is a satisfactory compromise. The Contis are purely a summer performance tire and perform abysmally at cold temperatures, let alone in the snow! I was able to crawl home when a freak hailstorm hit Redmond, but thankfully all roads between work and home were fairly level. If I had to get back to where I live in Seattle now, I highly doubt I would have been able to get up half the hills I would need to take. All summer tires act this way, so that aspect is not surprising, but the dry performance for a stock tire was quite competent. Moving from all-seasons to a summer tire is a dramatic jump so I was definitely happy moving to the Contis on my 2004 Focus in comparison to the all-seasons on my 2003 Focus.

Roughly 12k miles into the life of my car and tires, I developed a slow leak in the passenger rear (don’t you hate leaks from the rear of a passenger?). Instead of replacing that single tire like a normal person, I used this as an opportunity to upgrade the whole set. After careful research and deliberation, I decided upon Kumho Ecsta MXs. This was a compromise of price, dry performance, wet performance and durability. The performance improvement was noticeable, but nowhere near the jump from all-seasons. Traction was improved in the dry, the tire was more predictable at the limit, though there was less feedback as it reached that limit (the Contis howled like a bitch in heat before they broke from the leash). I never did autocross the Contis but I’m assuming I wouldn’t have been that much slower than on the MXs.

At least four months ago, I remember running over a HUGE pothole, expecting torn-off body work, a bent rim, a scraped tire and damaged suspension components. The car seemed to drive fine, so I figured there were no problems. At the last autocross of the 2006 season, I couldn’t seem to hook up, especially in the slaloms (or as Shawn calls them, shaloms!). At the first few autocrosses this season, the issue worsened and was absolutely impossible to overcome as I increased tire pressure. Instead of pulling the tires off for an inspection, I could tell just by looking at the outer edge that the MXs were toast. They survived 18k miles and probably 10 autocrosses, so durability was impressive.

The replacement tire research was less oriented toward wet performance and durability. I wanted to maximize performance (autocross season is in full swing) and there is a good reason why I don’t care about durability (Jan2008, Subaru something something). For $140/tire, shipped, installed and balanced, I picked up a set of Falken Azenis RT-615s! So far, the performance jump is closer to the all-seasons-to-summer jump than the Contis to MX jump. I have yet to find the adhesion limit of the tires; my traction control (which I keep forgetting to disable) jumps in before the tires even start to screech.

The reason why I was having such difficulty in the slaloms was made painfully apparent and is probably related to that huge pothole I hit. I’ll upload pictures tonight, but the inside edges of my front tires are completely bald! The outer edge is probably closer to 40% viable so I some how picked up some negative camber AND toe (not sure if it’s out or in). I have an alignment scheduled for Friday afternoon so if anything is damaged, I can hopefully pick up the parts before the autocross on Sunday. To say I have high expectations would be an understatement; if I don’t place at least in the top 10% of novices, I’ll be highly disappointed.

Third set of tires and I just hit 30k miles on the car; that is the sign of an enthusiast.

New stack time!

Before breakfast
300mg KA-R-Alpha-lipoic acid (Bulk)
1000mg Acetyl-L-Carintine (Jarrow)
225mg Ashwagandha (Jarrow)
500mg Rhodiola Rosea (Nature’s Way)
1000mg Piracetam (Bulk Nutrition)
50mg DHEA (Biochem)
3 Multivitamin (Jarrow)

Breakfast
2000mg Vitamin C (Costco)
5mcg Vitamin D (Costco)
500mg Calcium (Costco)
500mg Fish oil / 25mg GLA / 100mg CLA (Costco)
300mg Alpha GPC (Jarrow)
120mg Ginkgo Biloba (Jarrow)

Before lunch
300mg KA-R-Alpha-lipoic acid (Bulk)
500mg Acetyl-L-Carintine (Nature’s Way)
250mg Rhodiola Rosea (Nature’s Way)
500mg Piracetam (Bulk Nutrition)

Lunch
2000mg Vitamin C (Costco)
5mcg Vitamin D (Costco)
500mg Calcium (Costco)
500mg Fish oil / 25mg GLA / 100mg CLA (Costco)
300mg Alpha GPC (Jarrow)
800mg Garlic (Jarrow)

Post workout
90g Custom mix (40% whey, 35% dextrose, 25% maltodextrin) (True Protein)

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“..traveling along a learning curve starts from a point where you have to think everything through step by step and ends at a point where you can perform the work in question unconsciously.”
– Ken Schwaber

Random quotes for today:

Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.
H.G. Wells

To be pleased with one’s limits is a wretched state.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ve never set tire on a racetrack and I’ve never worked on a car beyond installing a horn and changing oil but by golly, I’m on a team set to join a 24 hour endurance race! Let me preface this by saying that the race isn’t a high profile event with a huge budget. Actually, the car CANNOT cost more than $500 (barring safety equipment including wheels, tires and brakes). The team estimates each person will be out roughly $750, including car costs, entrance fees, personal equipment such as a helmet and race suit, and travel expenses. Overall, this “$500” race will end up costing close to $5,000 but when it comes to racing, that’s CHEAP.

The event is the 24 Hours of LeMons and we will be racing a Festiva that already has two years of dirt track experience under it’s timing belt. One of the teammates is a Festiva aficionado and says the car is rock solid so unless we get into a serious accident, the car should be solid for the full race. I haven’t seen the car yet, but I’m excited. We have some prep work remaining, none of us have figured out travel plans and only a couple actually know how to race. We’re going to do our best and I’ll make sure to take a few thousand pictures.

Based on the ExRx standards, I’m now past “intermediate” lifter status and barely on my way toward “advanced”. It’s silly to set a goal without a time frame, but I have done just that. I want my combined poundage of the big three lifts (deadlift, squat, bench press) to be over 1000 pounds. Based on my current one-rep maxes (1RM), I’ll probably hit 1000 with the following breakdown:

  • Deadlift: 400 pounds
  • Squat: 350 pounds
  • Bench press: 250 pounds

For reference, I’m currently at:

  • Deadlift: 340 pounds
  • Squat: 300 pounds
  • Bench press: 210 pounds

A combined total of 850 ain’t bad, especially when my total was around 550 less than six months ago.

Sparked by the comment “you use the fat as fuel to build muscle I thought”, I wanted to research the specifics of building muscle. This is not about building strength, but specifically adding muscle to the body. This muscle may or may not be of the strongest variety.

Building muscle boils down to three items needed by the body:

  1. Muscular trauma
  2. Adequate nutrition
  3. Adequate rest

I will tackle these all together as the biomechanical processes are linked.

Muscle trauma sounds painful or incorrect, but it’s the most obvious of the three needs for muscular growth. If you do not stress your muscles, the body has no reason to add muscle mass to compensate. Muscular trauma (also known as microtrauma) is a collection of small tears to muscle fibers. When you lift a specific amount of weight that is beyond what your muscles could handle without issue, small tears occur at various spots of the fibers. This trauma must be repaired and that processes adds additional muscle fibers. This trauma is also believed to be the reason for delayed-onset muscle soreness, the aching soreness normally felt 24-72 hours after a weight lifting session.

The mechanism by which the body adds this muscle is important, complex and will help figure out what a person should do to help add muscle. The muscle trauma directly causes a process called myogenesis, or literally muscle creation. The process is started when the damaged fibers call upon inflammatory cells such as neutrophils and macrophages to help remove the damaged portions of the muscle. After cleanup, the regeneration process is activated. Specific stem cells, called satellite cells, are activated all along the damaged muscle fiber and begin to multiply and relocate near the damage site. Some of the cells return to an inactive form, to be used for the next repair cycle. This activation is correlated with a strong upregulation of Myf5 and MyoD factors but the true mechanism is currently unknown. In activated form, the stem cells are called myogenic precursor cells (mpc) or myoblasts. The multiplication and growth of the myoblasts is amplified by insulin-like growth factor (IGF) and human growth factor (HGF).

At this point, the Myf5 factor promotes cellular renewal and MyoD promotes cell terminal differentiation. Basically, Myf5 keeps the process of creating more myoblasts going while MyoD tells the new cells to stop proliferating and to get ready for the next stage. Myogenin and various cadherins are then activated to fuse the myoblasts together or to existing areas of damaged muscle, completing myogenesis. (1,2,5)

The formation of myoblasts requires excess insulin and somatropin(3) and testosterone (4). Testosterone is specifically used to signal the satellite cells to act as muscle precursors. These cells are a limited type of stem cell and can actually be turned into bone or fat cells by wholly different processes. In a nutshell, your body must produce enough testosterone so that the muscle precursors are in the correct form, you need enough in the way of muscle building blocks (protein is used to create additional myoblasts) and enough energy to build the fibers (insulin).

Nutrition plays a dramatic role in not only muscle growth, but recovery and muscular energy levels. The muscle stores carbohydrates (glycogen) to use as fuel when contracting. Numerous articles are available that discuss the proper foods to eat, when to eat them and what to avoid. The goals of these guidelines are to avoid insulin spikes (which can cause additional fat cell generation which takes away insulin from being used to build muscle) and to make sure the proper nutrients are available at all times. In general, the post-workout time frame is the only one where a different nutrition plan should be followed. In this key time frame, you need to make sure that easily digested carbohydrates and proteins are available. If available, the muscle will be able to quickly replenished depleted glycogen stores and be prepared to begin the muscle repair process (which usually doesn’t start for 12 hours after damage).

Myogenesis may not be complete for upwards of five days (6) so a constant flow of building blocks (protein) and energy (carbohydrates) are needed. The carbohydrate need is dramatically lower in comparison to immediately following a workout but is still required. Protein intake should be roughly 1 gram per pound of bodyweight and to keep insulin in control, should be spread out between at least five meals.

Back to the core comment about “using fat to build muscle”, the primary purpose for fat is as long-term energy storage. Fats are used for other key processes or structures within the body such as within cardiac cells and used within cellular membranes. Using carbohydrates as an energy source is cheaper due to a simpler metabolic pathway but the body can only store so much in the way of carbs.

The triggers for either burning or creating fat cells boils down to energy usage and calorie supply. If the body is sedentary and has extra calories, the body will convert the extra energy into fat to be stored in fat cells. If available normal energy sources (AKA carbs) are low and the body requires energy, fat will then be burned. Burning fat is an aerobic process (requires oxygen) and at high energy consumption (vO2 max greater than 75%), the rate at which fat is burned will decrease. Note that it isn’t black and white, the body will use a mixture of carbs and fat during the average workout. Even when the vO2 max rate is hit, fat will still be used, just in much lower quantities.

In a nutshell, if the body is trying to build muscle, it needs protein and energy. Normally, the body will utilize carbs for this purpose but I’m sure if carb availability was low, energy from fats could be used. I wonder if the low-carb craze forced any research into the idea of building muscle while on a low-carb diet. All I know is that when I went super low carb for a month, I lost fat rapidly (no carbs? gotta use fat for energy) and had a very difficult time putting on any muscle. All I know is that it’s best to add muscle if you want to lose fat. One pound of muscle burns approximately 25 calories per day. In contrast, a pound of fat only burns about three calories per day. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn just sitting around, let alone using those muscles in the manner they were intended. All of you that try to lose weight by eating reduced fat Oreos and then hitting the elliptical for an hour? Maybe you should try hitting the free weights next time.

1. De Bari, C., Dell’Accio, F., Vandenabeele, F., Vermeesch, J., Raymackers, J. , Luyten, F. (2003). Skeletal muscle repair by adult human mesenchymal stem cells from synovial membrane, JCB 160, 6: 909-918

2. Groundsa, M.,Whitea, J., Rosenthalc, N., Bogoyevitchb, M. (2002) The Role of Stem Cells in Skeletal and Cardiac Muscle Repair, J Hist. Cyt. 50: 589-610

3. De La Haba, G., Cooper, G., Elting, V. (1966) Hormonal Requirements for Myogenesis of Striated Muscle in Vitro: Insulin and Somatotropin PNAS. 56, 6: 1719-1723

4. Rajan Singh, Jorge N. Artaza, Wayne E. Taylor, Nestor F. Gonzalez-Cadavid and Shalender Bhasin : Androgens Stimulate Myogenic Differentiation and Inhibit Adipogenesis in C3H 10T1/2 Pluripotent Cells through an Androgen Receptor-Mediated Pathway: Endocrinology Vol. 144, No. 11 5081-5088

5. SOPHIE B. P. CHARGE´ AND MICHAEL A. RUDNICKI (2004): Cellular and Molecular Regulation of Muscle Regeneration: Physiol Rev: 84: 209–238

6. McGeachie JK, Grounds MD., (1987): Initiation and duration of muscle precursor replication after mild and severe injury to skeletal muscle of mice. An autoradiographic study: Cell Tissue Res. 248:125-30