Products & Prose: A Note to the Critics

11.16.13 NOTE: I decided to unearth this post and update it a bit in response to an issue I am powerless over that is driving me nuts.  On last look, Finding Ultra has accumulated 399 reviews on Amazon.  Of those, 264 are 5-star.  Only 8 total 1-star reviews (76 4-star, 30 3-star & 21 2-star).  In other words, overwhelmingly positive, right?   4.4 stars our of 5. 

And yet the only review most people will read is the one Amazon in all its algorythm genius decided to list first, entitled: “I’m really not enjoying this at all” (2-star), followed by another entitled, “Well written by too ego driven”.  I’m all for well-reason criticism (see below).  But there is a persistent twang in this and other similarly-toned reviews that I feel compelled to address.  Not because I think it will change anyone’s mind, but simply because I want to make clear where I stand on my own book.  I hope this post helps elucidate that.

The book is finally out and the response has been wildly enthusiastic.  I am so touched by everyone’s kind messages expressing their positive reaction to the read.  It truly warms my heart, so thank you.  I am inundated with e-mail, but I have every intention of responding personally to everyone who has taken the time to reach out – particularly those who related their own intimate struggles with health, fitness, and their place in life.  Know for now that I am deeply moved and eternally grateful.

When I set out to write the book, my mantra was — and continues to be — how can I be of service?  My primary aspiration is that what I wrote will resonate with someone out there, and lend a helping hand to — in some small way — assist in improving a life.  If just one person experiences this, then it was all worth it.  I hold this scared.

Despite the overwhelming love, of course my eye inevitably veers to the (very few) critical reviews on Amazon.  I’m just wired that way (out of 146 reviews currently up on Amazon, there are 106 five-stars, 30 4-stars, 5 three-stars and 5 two-stars).  If you didn’t like the book, the prose didn’t speak to you or you thought the story and/or writing were not engaging, then that’s your opinion.  I take absolutely no issue with that.  I applaud the honesty.  Your interpretation of the book is entirely your business – judge away.

However, there has been a small amount of low grade online grumbling (particularly in the 2 & 3 star reviews) that I would like to redress as misplaced.

The first is that I am some kind of ego-fueled, spoiled brat rich kid frat boy who failed to appreciate the life I was given and squandered it away selfishly and without apology, only to get sober and ignore my family in pursuit of an athletic goal that irresponsibly overshadowed the important things in life.

I’m not sure where to even begin with this one.  I guess if that is the impression I gave you through the book, then there isn’t much I can do about that — or I simply failed as a writer.  I did my best to be honest and vulnerable; willing to shed light on things I am not proud of during my journey towards betterment.  More times than I can count I have been penniless.  Made bad choices.  And even in recent years we have been days away from foreclosure on our house.  Although in recovery, I continue to suffer from alcoholism, and with that comes an innate quest for self-destruction that I tried to describe as vividly as possible.  How can I be both ego driven and simultaneously (and unequivocally) so descript about my many shortcomings?  I grew up in a household in which I never wanted for anything.  We were never rich, but all my needs were always met.  I did toss away much of this.  Why describe this in the book?  Certainly not to make me look good (ego driven).  Instead, so that someone out there — anyone, one person — who is suffering from the disease of drug and alcohol addiction might possibly relate to my story and find some sliver of hope that there is a way out.

As for ignoring my family to pursue a selfish athletic goal – hardly the case.  And this I find deeply and quite personally offending.

Secondly, I want to address the idea proffered that at times the book serves to “advertise” products for companies that have “paid” for placement because they “sponsor” me.  

This is somewhat upsetting to me.  

I feel the need to directly combat this incorrect notion that I am out to shill products — both my own and others on behalf of companies that have paid me to do so.  Because it’s simply not true.  As a general matter, people ask me all the time what specific products I use and prefer.  I used the book as an opportunity to be helpful and detailed in this regard.  Unfortunately, some people took this as product placement — bought and paid for.  

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

So….In the interest of full disclosure, allow me to clear the air a bit.

PAID SPONSORSHIPS: I am not a professional athlete.  Accordingly, I have not — nor have I ever been — paid by any company to endorse a product.  Certainly, I do have a few product sponsors — their banner ads are clarly displayed on this site.  For example, both Franco Bikes and Champion System have been great partners for me, providing me with support and some free gear.  But nobody pays me a dime.

BIKE: In the book, I mention Specialized as the company that provided the bikes that both Jason and I rode during EPIC5 in 2010.  True, they were gracious enough to donate two S-Works Transition time trial bikes (the previous year’s model) as well as some gear (shoes, helmets, socks) free of charge — a relationship arranged by Jason in exchange for the exposure garnered by the challenge.  I am grateful for their support.  And felt it pertinent to recognize this fact in accurately describing the story of EPIC5; a detail that becomes highly relevant in how the story unfolds on the island of Oahu.  That being said, I am not personally sponsored by Specialized (never have been) and in fact have no relationship with this company.  At the 2008 Ultraman, I rode a very modest off-the-rack Trek road bike, which I paid full fare for (actually my wife bought it for me for my 40th birthday).  At the 2009 Ultraman I rode a Felt time trial bike; again a bike I bought at retail and never mention by brand in the book.  Disclosure: I am currently supplied by Franco Bikes— a local start up venture in my area.  I love this company, their bikes and the support they have shown me over the last 18 months.  Our relationship is not (and never has been) financial – they do not pay me to ride their bikes.  This company, and my relationship with them, receives absolutely no mention in the book, because it bears no relevance to the narrative.  But I am happy to say that they make a great product — one more than worthy of your hard earned dollars.

WHEELS: I also mention Zipp Wheels in the book.  I am not nor have I ever been sponsored by or in any way incentivized by this company.  The Zipp Wheels I rode during both Ultraman 2008 and 2009 I rented at full fare from Race Day Wheels.  And the Zipp 303’s I rode during EPIC5 (and continue to train on) were purchased by me at full price.  Disclosure: during Ultraman 2011 I raced on a set of used Mad Fiber tubular wheels, which were loaned to me by this company free of charge.  I received no compensation for riding these wheels and make no mention of this company in the book.

RUNNING SHOES: I have no shoe sponsor and am completely agnostic on this subject in the book.  I have never been paid one cent to wear or say anything about any shoe, period.

GARMIN / POWERTAP: I have absolutely zero relationship with either of these companies.  I don’t know anyone who works there and have never received anything from either of them at even a discount, let alone for free.  In the book, I point out that I use their products — specifically the Garmin 310XT wrist computer and the CycleOps PowerTap power meter hub.  Why?  Because people often ask me what type of cycling and running computer equipment I use and I felt it relevant enough to specifically disclose these facts — not as declaratives but simply woven organically into the unfoldment of the narrative — mainly so I don’t have to continue answering the question.  I do believe these companies make great products and feel completely comfortable recommending them.  But there is honestly nothing in it for me.  Moreover, in the Resources section of the Appendix, and in an effort to be as fair and comprehensive as possible, I make an intentional point of listing comparable products from competitive companies — organizations like Suunto, Polar, Quarq and SRM — all listed with links to their respective websites.

NUTRITION: A huge part of the book is providing helpful information about what I eat and why when it comes to training and racing.  As such, I would have been asleep at the wheel had I not specifically mentioned a wide array of quality products that I have used and find helpful.  Again, I am not nor have I ever been paid to say anything about any third party nutritional product.  Disclosure: I have occasionally received free product from both Vega and Sunwarrior.  I received these products because I like them and solicited their support.  They were kind enough to oblige.  No money has ever changed hands.  As for both Vega and Sunwarrior, I have no formal or financial relationship with these companies beyond the fact that I am friends with Brendan Brazier (Vega formulator) and I think both are excellent organizations worthy of support.  I also mention that my long-time friend Compton Rom of Ascended Health provided me with his plant-based home brew elixirs; but I have no financial relationship with his company and the products he makes for me are not even for sale; so again, nothing really in it for me other than pointing out that Compton knows his stuff.  I also mention a ton of other companies — such as CarboPro, FRS, SaltStick and Hammer Nutrition — with whom I have no relationship; products I have always purchased retail at full price.  And I continue to assert that they are good products worthy of your consideration.  I also list a wide variety of other food & training nutritional products (particularly in the Resources section) that I recommend — for no reason other than I think they would be helpful in providing a variety of choices for the reader.  Had I not been detailed in this regard, the question, “what do you eat” would linger and I would not have done a very good job of writing a thorough book.

VITAMIX: If you know me, you know I am a huge fan of this product and stand behind it 100% as a life changer.  My wife and I bought an old model 4500 at full retail price over five years ago and to this day it’s the only Vitamix we have ever owned, frayed edges and all.  Disclosure: Due in part to the popularity of our cooking instructional videos on my  YouTube Channel, my wife and I do now have an affiliate relationship with this company.  What does this mean?  It means that if someone buys a Vitamix after clicking on my website banner ad (and only after clicking my banner ad), then they get free shipping on full retail price and I get a small kickback fee that amounts to pocket change.  But that’s it.  Maybe I should have disclosed this fact in the book.  In retrospect, I wish I had.  But I did not advertise the hyperlink or attempt to persuade anyone to buy this product through my website.  Buy it elsewhere (it can be found cheaper online if  you poke around) and I get nothing beyond knowing that you just bought something that will have a positive impact on your life, which is great by me — and my only goal.  In addition, and in an effort to be fair and balanced,  I made a very intentional and conscious point of mentioning Vitamix’s biggest competitor BlendTec as a good comparable product.  I’ve seen videos of the BlendTec grinding an iPad to dust, so it’s more than legit.

MY PRODUCTS: In the book I do point out that I offer additional personally developed products to those that are interested.  A digital e-cookbook for recipes called JAI SEED (because Finding Ultra is not a recipe book and I realize people want to know what and how to cook some of the things I eat and describe in the book); a plant-based protein recovery formula that I have developed called JAI REPAIR (listed right along with competitive products which I have no vested financial interest in); a meditation program called JAI RELEASE.  These products are my pride and joy — the result of many years of hard work.  Of course, I want people to know about these products that we have toiled diligently to develop, that we believe in and use daily ourselves.  Wouldn’t you?  At the same time, I endeavored to not blatantly advertise and again made sure I listed a wide variety of comparable and competitive products in the Resources section of the Appendix, including a voluminous listing of other cookbooks, plant-based nutrition primers, helpful website links and food products.

In all honesty, my intention in being specific about third party products and brands throughout the book emanated from a two-fold desire: 1) to create evocative prose through attention to detail and specificity; and 2) to provide as much concrete information and resources for the reader as possible.  I realize now that a few of you out there took it as otherwise.

In retrospect,I suppose I can see how this opinion could be formed.  And it is now clear to me that I should have included a disclaimer to the above effect somewhere in the book — my bad.

In addition — and given the opportunity for a do-over — I would not have made the choice to include the parenthetical references to my products in the narrative prose of the story.  That was indeed a mistake, as it pulls the reader out of the story and does read like an embedded ad.  Maybe my editor should have suggested to this first tome writer that this was a bad idea, but he didn’t.  Had he done so, I would like to believe that I would have taken this as good advice.  But it is what it is.

I very sincerely hope this clears the air a bit. 

All of this aside, I hope you enjoy the book and find it helpful on your path!