Monthly Archives: November 2015

By Tom Demerly for


The brand new U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) visited Detroit on November 25, 2015 for a brief stay en route to shake-down cruise and operational patrols in the South China Sea.

The USS Milwaukee is sister ship to the upcoming USS Detroit, which is under contstruction now and will be commissioned here in Detroit in 2016.

The USS Milwaukee was commissioned Saturday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After leaving Detroit this week the Milwaukee will sail through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Eastern seaboard and then set course to transit the Panama Canal on the way to a stop at its home port of San Diego before deploying to the South China Sea.


On her bow standard the USS Milwaukee flew the traditional Navy Jack flag. This unique flag with its rattlesnake on stripped field, reminiscent to but different from the Gadsden Flag, is flown from the jackstaff of commissioned vessels of the U.S. Navy while moored at a dock.

A primary mission of the Littoral Combat Ship is the anti-piracy role in areas such as the Straits of Malacca, a dangerous, 500-mile wide passage between the Malay Peninsula (Peninsular Malaysia) and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Small indigenous craft are frequently used by pirates to board merchant vessels, terrorize the crew and hold them for ransom. The USS Milwaukee will engage in counter piracy operations in these waters along with other missions.


The ship showed her BAE Systems Mark 110 57mm auto cannon on the fore deck, an advanced, precision, automatic naval cannon capable of firing over 200 rounds per minute with an effective range of nearly 5 miles. The gun is fully gyro-stabilized for precision fire in rough sea conditions.


The superstructure of the ship is coated with a low-radar reflective material to enhance stealth capability and reduce radar reflectivity. A wide variety of sensor and fire control antennae and scanners are visible on the superstructure including upgraded 3-dimensional radar masts, electronic warfare systems and countermeasures. The large black cylinders on the hull appear to be bumpers for mooring. A rigid inflatable boat, the type used by VBSS (Visit, Board, Search and Seizure) and Naval Special Warfare teams was visible in the elevated port launch deck.

When we saw the ship she was secured in preparation to get underway. Unlike some versions of the LCS the USS Milwaukee wears a standard grey paint scheme now. Some of the LCS’s wear a spectacular maritime camouflage scheme reminiscent of German raider ships from WWII.

130222-N-DR144-367 PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 22, 2013) The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) is underway conducting sea trials off the coast of Southern California. Freedom, the lead ship of the Freedom variant of LCS, is expected to deploy to Southeast Asia this spring. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans/Released)

The USS Freedom (above, U.S. Navy photo) wears the distinctive camouflage scheme of some of the LCS’s.

The Littoral Combat Ships have a rear bay and landing deck for operating Seahawk helicopters and Navy MQ-8 UAV’s rotary wing surveillance “drones”. The ship can also launch all types of small tactical boats used by Special Weapons Combatant Craft Crewman (SWCC) teams and U.S. Navy SEALs.

The USS Milwaukee was built in Marinette, Wisconsin, where the USS Detroit also is being built. This LCS class vessel is 378-feet long and displaces 3,900 tons with a combat load. Her draft of only 13-feet means she is ideally suited for the shallow water, littoral combat environment for which she was designed, close-in, tactical, coastal combat within 200 miles of a coastline. The Milwaukee is extremely fast, with a top speed of over 50 MPH or 45 knots, more than fast enough to tow water skiers and faster than many civilian speed boats. She has a crew of 50 sailors to operate her, with an additional compliment of 25 other special operations Naval personnel depending on the mission.

By Tom Demerly for


It’s been another big year for Ironman; new races and more athletes earning finishers’ medals. It’s worth asking: why is Ironman so popular?

Consider the downside of Ironman:

Ironman is hard, beastly, grindingly hard. If you haven’t done an Ironman think about this: when was the last time you exercised non-stop for 10-17 hours, and paid to do it?

Ironman is a “dry pain”. An abrasive, gnawing bone-on-bone scream to just stop and give up. It’s combined with a wearing fatigue that doesn’t end until you reach the finish line. People have the ominous sensation that they’re actually doing harm to themselves, permanent, medical harm. Yet they continue. You find a lot of things on an Ironman course; common sense usually isn’t one of them.

You won’t feel right for weeks after Ironman. After the glow has faded you may sink into a mild depression, a depression that attempts to moderate the realization that hitting that finish line may have been the single biggest day in your life.

And so, inevitably, like an addict to the needle, you go back. Just one more hit…

Second, Ironman is expensive. Racecar engineer Carroll Shelby said, “Speed costs money, how fast do want to go?” That realism applies to Ironman. Entry fees, equipment, travel. It would be tough to complete an Ironman for less than a few thousand dollars and it’s easy to spend over ten thousand. Racing anything is expensive; racing three sports is three times as expensive. Traveling to do Ironman costs even more. Divorce attorneys add to the cost. And eventually, so do therapists- for your bones and your brain.


Ironman hammers your life. You spend endless time training and worrying that you aren’t training enough. You never realize how little time you have until you have to squeeze long rides, runs and swims into a normal life. And speaking of that fleeting thing you used to have called “A Life”, well, you can forget about that when you are training for Ironman. You become an “Ironmonk” somehow sworn to an oath of servitude to distance, diet and determination so deep your old friends who don’t share your goals become distant friends.

You may do Ironman to bolster your confidence, but the journey to the start line and the crushing enormity of the distance stacked next to the puny sum of your training is enough to dash any ego. At the start line you are small and weak. At some point in the race you become broken. But at the finish you grow to ten feet tall.

But there are compelling reasons to love Ironman:

  1. Welcome to your whole life, condensed into one day.                             

Ironman is the physical metaphor for every obstacle we’ve faced in life packaged into one long day. But unlike the other struggles in our life, there is a defined finish line. And we get a medal.

Your education, job, and relationships are all undefined. There are no mile markers, no finish lines. They become a grind with a generally anti-climactic ending, a finish line that keeps moving. At Ironman, they announce your name, give you a medal and take your picture. The finish line does not keep getting farther away. Every stroke, turn of the pedals and step brings it closer on race day. The finish at Ironman isn’t a moving target. It’s clearly defined. That is tough to find these days. At Ironman, you actually do get the carrot on the string.


  1. It’s us against life.

More than anything else in life we race against time. We try to get things done faster, try to live longer, and try to end hardship sooner. We never win that race. Ironman is one of the only places you can win that race. You get to the finish line before midnight, you won. Ironman gives you the chance to win life in one day.


  1. Ironman is cooperative, not competitive.

At Ironman every participant is united against two common adversaries: time and distance. Almost no one except the top ten athletes actually “race”. Most of us are competing against the terrible distance and relentless procession of the clock. Separate from the politically correct notion that “everyone is a winner”, every person who makes it to the finish at Ironman actually is a winner. They slayed the dragon. They beat the distance and the cut-off. Sharing that win with like-minded people creates a sense of community. Normal sports create winners and losers. They create divisions. Ironman creates bonds against a common adversary. No one who makes it to the finish line loses.


  1. Instant Gratification. (Almost).

They hang your medal around your neck when you cross the finish. It’s instantaneous. Ironman has gotten more clever by erecting trendy photo backgrounds to pose in front of for social media snapshots. You look like a Hollywood celeb at a premier, only you’re covered in your own urine.

  1. It’s Good for the Ego.

If only for a little while, Ironman gives us the chance to be somebody. It makes us feel strong, capable, invincible. It validates something that exists in every person; our incredible ability to overcome an obstacle greater than we think we can. In a way, Ironman athletes may be weak of confidence since they seem to gravitate toward a store-bought, conspicuous brand of self-confidence: the finisher shirt, the medal, the sticker, and the tattoo. But judgments aside, it feels darn good to cross that finish line, sit down and drink something cold. For at least a fleeting few moments we can wrap the thin foil blanket of accomplishment around us.


  1. We’re Doers, not Spectators.

You can broadly divide people into two categories: spectators and competitors. But like any division between a group as vast as all mankind there exists grey. We are that grey area. A culture of people who may not be eligible for Olympic Gold or Superbowl fame but who are as uncomfortable on the couch as they would be running a 4:40 marathon pace. We land in between. We want to participate, we don’t want to just watch, and we will likely never win. That’s us. We just want a piece of the action.

Social media is another reason Ironman has exploded. We now have a vast space where we can talk about ourselves. And we do. Ironman weekend is a litany of selfies with our bike, race number, shoes, porta-johns and barf. This perfect storm of Ironman and social media has created a legion of everyday Geraldos, Diana Nyad’s, John Krakauers and even a few Ernest Hemingways. Even if no one is looking we still love to post, tweet, strava and share.

  1. If We Can Do This…

Our lives are increasingly convenient and safe. From airbags to instant communications and weather warnings, we are exposed to very little real risk. So, we have to manufacture synthetic risk. Ironman does that. It interjects much needed doubt into our lives. Ironman makes us feel like we are on some kind of edge, even if the edge is the synthetic manifestation of distance and time.

There are as many motives for doing Ironman as there are competitors, and the thing that pulls us to the start line then drags us to the finish line is usually personal, often difficult to articulate. We likely don’t understand all of our motives. And there may be no necessity to understand entirely. One thing that is certain is the choice to do Ironman is an ephemeral one that can- and will- be revoked at any time, usually without warning. An injury, illness, the rigors of age or disease will someday take away the choice. That alone may be the best reason to try to make it to the finish line- because we still can.


By Tom Demerly for


As Ironman participant numbers continue to swell and average speeds come down the pro athlete marketing methodology is less relevant.

Age grouper Dan Stubleski of Washington, Michigan has won the overall race at the 2015 Ironman Florida in a time of 8:36:06.

Stubleski’s time would have won the Ironman World Championships in Kona as recently as 1985 and beat Ironman legend Dave Scott for the overall World Championship. Perhaps more impressive is that, if Stubleski had done this time at Kona in 1997, he would have been second overall to German sensation Thomas Hellriegel.

Dan Stubleski’s incredible performance is made more remarkable by the fact that Stubleski is not a pro athlete. He’s “just a guy”, an everyman. Given, Stubleski’s training and dedication are anything but average. But what Dan Stubleski has accomplished demonstrates something significant about triathlons: Pros don’t matter as much in triathlon anymore. The sport is changing. Dramatically.

The age group performance of Dan Stubleski at Ironman Florida, a non-pro Ironman, is an outlier, an exceptional effort that recalibrates our perception of what age-group “hobbyist” athletes are capable of.

Without realizing it Stubleski brought to life the fictional plot of one of endurance sports most enduring classic tales, The Purple Runner by Paul Christman, in which an amateur wins the London Marathon and breaks the two-hour barrier. It’s an enduring fable, a Cinderella story, and Dan Stubleski made it real. Ask any triathlete in Michigan with a social media account who won the Ironman in Kona and they probably can’t tell you. Ask them who won Florida, and they’ll tell you it was Dan Stubleski.

Another thing Stubleski’s performance reinforces is the notion that the triathlon industry is increasingly out of touch with their consumership. Bike companies still focus their promotional campaigns on sponsored “pros” paid six-figure amounts.

That approach isn’t relevant to the average triathlete- the middle 80%- anymore. In fact, one could argue a personality like everyman-hero Dan Stubleski is significantly more marketable than a six-figure pro. And, if I were a big bike brand paying performance bonuses to my pro triathletes, I would do well to ask these pros, “Have you sold anything lately? This age group guy just stole your headlines.”


Michigan age group triathlete Dan Stubleski at the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

Triathlon has evolved into a participant sport, not a spectator sport, analogous to softball and bowling leagues. People want to do the sport, not watch the sport. As a result there is widespread demand for less expensive, more comfortable bikes- not more $10,000 superbikes hawked by paid professional athletes.

Consider this: British triathlon coach Russell Cox published a pragmatic insight into how fast triathletes are really riding at Ironman. His website,, displays the data.

Cox discovered the median bike speed for the Men’s 40-44 age category at Ironman Florida, one of the fastest courses in the U.S., was only 17.5 MPH.

Major bike brands generally test and develop their marquee “superbike” in wind tunnels at speeds that are over 30 MPH, nearly twice the real world speed of the average age group triathlete. Giant Bicycles showed wind tunnel comparisons for a bike speed of 50 kilometers per hour or 31 MPH on the webpage for their new Trinity Advanced Pro.


And while numerous bike brands continue to argue, “aero is everything”, and aerodynamics are a compelling performance component, they are a tired sales component that consumers have become increasingly cynical of. Witness any triathlon Internet forum thread that debates wind tunnel white paper claims. These discussions are cyclical and never ending. There are no clear winners.

The middle 70% triathlon bike buyer is not asking, “Which bike is the most aerodynamic?” They are asking, “What is the most versatile, comfortable and the best value?” The industry has done a dismal job of addressing those questions.

Part of the reason why triathlon bike marketing has been so monotone is a lack of willingness to market triathlon bikes in any other way than the tired “Ours is best in the wind tunnel, here’s the white paper to prove it” approach. The problem is, when every bike manufacturer claims their bike is the fastest, all of them except one are wrong. Consumers can’t tell who is telling the truth, and for the most part, the data isn’t relevant to the 17.5 MPH athlete anyway.

In a room full of bike brands shouting about aero speadsheets and wind tunnel “data” someone needs to whisper about comfort, value, convenience and ease of use.

The triathlon industry hasn’t learned much from contrarian marketing successes like REI’s recent “Closed on Christmas” or Apple’s iconic PC-killing campaigns. Every ad reads the same, claims to be the fastest. Until someone breaks the mold of sameness in triathlon marketing the way Dan Stubleski broke the tape at Ironman Florida then it all just sounds the same, and increasingly, triathlon buyers have stopped listening to the same old pitch.

By Tom Demerly for


The 24th film in Ian Fleming’s landmark James Bond series, SPECTRE, is a different Bond movie influenced heavily by recent success in comic book story lines. The theme turns internal, a struggle between characters from previous Bond films. In doing so, it is interesting for lifelong Bond fans, but a let-down overall.

SPECTRE is not a typical Bond film; James Bond does not save the world from anything. He merely saves his job from a bad boss, and in deviating from the sweeping, template-style plot of James Bond saving the world from some type of annihilation the enormity of the Bond franchise is lost. Everyone has had to save a job from the influence of a rotten boss. Few of us have saved the world from annihilation. SPECTRE could have been a remake of Office Space, but with guns and sports cars.


Director Sam Mendes is only the second director to oversee two Bond films, but his understanding and reverence for the franchise are clear in the visuals, authentic feeling stunts and pacing. Mendes understands the true Bond character as Ian Fleming envisioned him; dark at times, understated, capable but vulnerable. It is a decent characterization of the fabled super-spy personality ever man aspires to. But SPECTRE breaks down because of this. Bond is just a guy with job problems in SPECTRE.

SPECTRE is a visually flawless film with masterfully executed scenes; beautiful cuts and soundtrack integration that make it flow at a pace that seems impossible. The lighting, coloration and mise en scene, that ephemeral and difficult to achieve visual quality that makes a movie seem like a dream, are all utter perfection. You can enjoy it as a travelogue. And hold your breath- you’ll need it- for the train scene when Dr. Madeleine Swan emerges for dinner in a long, ivory gown that defies the laws of physics. It’s the best part of the movie.


For lifelong Bond fans there is plenty to dig your teeth into though. The opening scene is an ode to several Bond films, the Junkanoo scene from the 1965 Bond high-mark, Thunderball. The helicopter fight is a tribute to Bond fighting outside a helicopter in the 1981 For Your Eyes Only. The beautiful cross-country train trip and incendiary make-out scene with Dr. Madeleine Swann takes us straight back to From Russia With Love.

So, SPECTRE is a reunion of sorts, a James Bond old-home week. It doesn’t stand alone well on its own, and the plot is underwhelming. I left the theatre hoping that the current production staff might have the courage to remake Thunderball rather than try to involve us in office politics with guns.

By Tom Demerly for


Running a marathon under 2 hours is the most sensational human endurance barrier left. Is it possible?

Ed Caesar’s new Two Hours (Simon & Schuster) explores the plausibility of breaking the two-hour marathon barrier with narrative and research that will convert a fitness runner to a marathon fan. Romantic and reverent, Caesar develops the characters and brings us inside the story with documentary storytelling and well-researched technical insight.

Two Hours Grips you like a leg cramp at mile 23, holding on and not letting go. From an opening sprint that takes you inside the closed world of elite marathon running and on into the long, slow distance of endurance sports research Ed Caesar sheds new light on a old sport than has been eclipsed in recent years by the drama of Ironman triathlons and the sensation of made-for-TV novelty events. Two Hours reignites the romance and mysticism of the marathon.

Author Ed Caesar returns the reverence to marathon running and puts a face on the athletes who contest the sport at the highest level. He provides fascinating insights into their staggering training mileage and gossamer physical and mental fragility. His accounting is journalistic but his treatment of the subject matter is laced with meaty passion. The combination of the two makes for a tingling read. I had starting line goose bumps nearly the entire time.

Here’s an excerpt:

“As the gun sounded the lead pack was briefly surprised by an unknown competitor. A white athlete, who was not part of the elite field, sprinted the first few hundred meters ahead of the race favorites, if only to say he had- for a time- led the London Marathon. He must have been a decent runner, otherwise he would not have started so close behind the elite, but his challenge only lasted a minute or so. As the lead men swerved to either side of a set of traffic lights, like a stream around a boulder, the phantom sprinter stopped, stooped and caught his breath.

It was an odd moment. From the truck that drove in front of the race, where the managers and coaches of the elite runners watched the race, the reaction to this man’s quest for fleeting glory was a chuckle, or a dismissive hand gesture. These men were in town for business, not japes. But the stunt was also a reminder of the otherworldly accomplishment of the elite runners. After years of witnessing the Kenyans and Ethiopians race mile after mile at a sub 5-minute pace, it was easy to become blasé about their industry and talent. The amateur’s sprint briefly connected everyday runners to the elite and set their wondrous achievements in context. Somehow, the sport at large had forgotten how to communicate that sense of awe. But for those few seconds, it returned.”

The entire narrative of elite marathon racing rings with awe in Two Hours.

Caesar’s accounting isn’t all romance though. He digs into the dirty world of doping in marathon and the secretive deals made between super-runners to maximize winnings through inauspicious and subtle manipulation of the results.

Running literature is filled with classics from writers like Bill Rodgers and George Sheehan. But there hasn’t been a fresh voice in running books since the now-defunct Born to Run that fueled the spurious barefoot craze and saved running from the recession. Ed Caesar’s Two Hours returns credibility and reverence to distance running literature and opens the conversation about the next sensational chapter in human endurance.

If you pick up Two Hours make sure you have an aid station within reach since, once the gun goes off in chapter 1 you won’t want to drop out of the action until the finish line.