Friday, April 22, 2011

Mountainbike Mule Trail

First Mountain bike ride of the year. I'm getting so used to the Canyon racing bike that going back to this thing now feels like riding on an old donkey in comparison. The San Marco saddle is too soft - the bike weighs a ton at 17.5kg (6.4kg for the Canyon!). On the long descent the rear brakes overheat, boil the hydraulic fluid and stop working! This bike is a UK set up with the rear brake on the left - the Canyon is a continental set up with the rear brake on the right - potentially very confusing and dangerous! Somehow I seem to successfully switch from one to the other. In France motorbikes have the rear brake on the left and push bikes on the right. In English we have DNA - French ADN, English we have AIDS - French SIDA. We invented everything and drive on the left -the French drive on the right out of spite - it all started with Napoleon Bonaparte apparently and the French are still at it.

Fittingly this descent was on an old mule trail from Granier (1200m) down to Aime (700m). The suspension is lockable both front and back for climbing and the pedals have cleats on one side for climbing and spikes on the other side for descending. The tyres are tubeless and pumped up only to 3bar (44psi) for better traction. Tubes at this low pressure would get crimped against the rim of the wheel and puncture as a result. The front tyre is a heavy duty 2.5in downhill tyre for better stability in descending and the rear tyre is a 2.3in free-ride tyre because that's the biggest that will fit the frame without rubbing.

Have managed two road bike rides since this descent - one averaging 31kph over 52km when going to collect my old van from a garage. The next was a climb up to La Rossière ski station yesterday averaging 17kph on the 1000m vertical climb. It was weird arriving at 1850m altitude in the resort just after 5pm with all the skiers sitting on the terraces - two different universes that don't seem to join up properly. It's my first venture above 1300m altitude on the bike but it was easily warm enough despite a typical headwind coming down from the Col de Petite St Bernard over from Italy. The descent in just a tee shirt was slightly chilly to begin with but that's because it was getting late and the sun wasn't so strong. I played a lot with pedalling technique - trying to compare a flat lower back to a rounded one. Rounding the lower back leaves more room for the lower ribs - mine stick out a bit and seem to accompany a large lung capacity. The rounding of the lower back seems to also give better access to the abdomen for use in the pulling up phase. I've noticed that it's easy to switch between using the lower back muscles or the abdomen during the pull up. The back muscles seem to be more powerful but unfortunately this rapidly seems to lead to back injury. I've concentrated on aligning the action though the abdomen instead and this seems to protect the back. With the lower back slightly rounded the action feels more naturally integrated.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fully recovered from horible nasty cold virus effects...

Really had to drag myself out on the bike today - the effects of that virus still being coughed up and dragging me down. I was fully expecting another slow and relatively miserable workout. Strangely and despite a lack of enthusiasm I ended up breaking my record for the tough Aime, Montgirod, Moutiers, Notre Dame du Pré, Aime circuit - by about 2 minutes - taking 2hrs 37mins. Really don't know where that came from! I was able to move into 3rd gear instead of 2nd on quite a few climbing sections so that clearly ramped the speed up. There were no unpleasant leg pains and no trouble getting my heart up to 174bpm - first time it's gone over 165bpm for a fortnight. Looks like the bug didn't drain all my strength away forever after all.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

David Day 2

Given the poor conditions at La Plagne David decided to try Tignes and Val d’Isère for this session. In fact later on in the day I had to drive to Mégève in Haute Savoie (near Chamonix) and found that they had been closed already for two weeks – so La Plagne was in fact doing very well surviving under such extreme conditions and the fact that so many lower lying resorts are closed is probably why La Plagne was a bit over-crowded. Although we ended up by starting off from Tignes we could just as well have started the day in Val d’Isère but the fact is that Tignes is a few hundred metres higher and the descent into Tignes at the end of the session would probably be better and easier than in Val. The reason for my later travels to Mégève is that Christiane was giving a concert in the evening and so I was just giving her a hand (not performing). You can find some of the recording at MadeInMountains. Once again I’m digressing a little bit here.

Melanie had finished the day a bit discouraged yesterday after a few falls towards the end. Despite that I was unable to focus on her specific issues with four people in total requiring attention. I knew that Melanie’s stemming was part of her difficulty and that drilling both the pivot and dynamics a bit more would help anyway. Sometimes also it takes a while to be able to separate out the movements that a skier is making – it can be much more obvious with beginners but more proficient skiers tend to blend their movements well and this can hide quite a lot from view until you get to know them better. My aim yesterday had been to focus on the children also so my attention had been in that direction and also Melanie had been quite quiet and so she had slipped under the radar a little.   Later in today’s session I was able to pinpoint exactly the source of Melanie’s difficult and why the dynamics probably worsened the situation but we will return to that later. Meanwhile as I expected Melanie skied confidently and more safely in the far better conditions that we found in Val d’Isère.

Developing the Pivot

Warm up
Our first run went off-piste and down a small gully. There was a slight covering of fresh snow over a frozen base of transformed Spring snow. The frozen base was a bit lumpy but not enough to throw anyone off. This was intended to be an interesting warm up and it appeared to work well. 

Placement of the Skis
Once onto the training slope the coaching began in earnest by going straight into working on development of the Pivot. Today I explained that pivoting permits you to ski with the feet kept downhill of the body. Standing in a steep couloir off-piste that would be more obvious - in places like that you are clearly better off keeping both your feet below you on the mountain. It's this positioning of the feet that causes the skis to remain on their uphill edges. If you separate your feet and move the uphill ski further uphill then it will eventually have to go onto it's lower, inside edge - which is what happens in a snowplough for example. Do that in a steep couloir and you are probably going to get a fright - yet often it is precisely this that people do - an uphill ski stem, to deal with steep terrain - in an attempt to remove the first part of the turn. Ironically the uphill ski stem actually works when done in a certain way so it is not to be discounted completely - but it's much better to develop move general skills and then only only use the stem very occasionally and when the entire skiing level has moved up a notch and there is some awareness and control over body rotation (Defining Your Level).

Saying that the ski is "downhill" of the body is perhaps not clear enough. Imagine straight lines coming perpendicularly out of the mountain towards the sky. The line passing though the feet would be the lowest on the mountain, the Centre of Mass would be further up the mountain and you head would be intersected by the line the furthest up the mountain. 

Placement of the skis below the skier on the mountain is what leads to skiing with the feet close together in a narrow stance. This narrow stance used to be seen as the goal for perfect skiing - although it was never recognised that this meant initiating the turn on the uphill edges. The revolution in ski technology brought about by carving skis - which clearly permit people to exploit the inside edges of their skis much better - has driven ski teaching completely away from this narrow stance. The "feet together" dogma has now been replaced with a "feet apart" dogma and that's all that is taught in ski schools today. Nevertheless you will not see competitive mogul skiers skiing with their feet apart - because they are not carving they are pivoting.

Using the Foot
When  preparing for the pivot from the uphill ski the foot is allowed to roll over onto it's inside edge inside the ski boot. The shaft of the ski boot running up the lower leg acts as an exoskeleton preventing the ski from flattening and keeping it on the uphill edge. The first thing this leads to is the ski beginning to side-slip more easily. The foot being on its inside edge permits the adductor muscles to be used and eventually this also permits the abdomen to be used actively. At this stage of development this can be quite an important issue because feeling the foot and adductors clearly will help to cultivate the inward pulling actions necessary for a good pivot. David was struggling with this because of his highly developed two footed outward push. The feeling has to come from the feet upwards through the body so the best place to focus for getting this right is on the sensations in the feet. It can take a while to separate out the sensations - but any tendency to push outwards - despite looking very similar to the untrained eye - will cause a breakdown of performance at one level or another. Melanie worked hard to overcome her tendency to stem and found that depriving herself of a preparatory stem left her with a lot of difficulty initiating a turn. This is a phase that has to be accepted to be able to get beyond it and discover other options. It's really not a problem that Melanie didn't quite crack it this time - it will come after a few more attempts and with persistence. All this reveals is how deeply the stemming habit is ingrained and how limiting a mechanism it actually is. In the video Melanie appears to be having more difficulty than anyone else with the pivot - but the reality is that she is the only one not unconsciously "cheating" at the start of the turn. Thomas and Hanna were getting something out of the pivot but that strong tendency to "push out" can be seen in the video. Sometimes though they appeared to me to be getting it right. This has to be trained much more on easy terrain with more exercises (skiing on one ski etc.) until the correct skills are worked out and engrained.

Which Ski?
I demonstrated that either ski, or both skis can be used as a platform for pivoting. This is the reason why people often talk about skiing on two skis off-piste - because they are using a two ski pivoting platform where in deep snow the skier is not dependant upon a single pressurised edge for support. In fact doubling the surface area of the base of support off-piste is a good idea for ensuring an efficient pivot - but this must be executed in a mechanically correct manner with an inward pull, or it will lead to the development of a poor "two footed" stance which is detrimental to all other aspects of skiing. You can stand on two skis with the body still oriented and committed to a one legged stance - with the resultant forces still passing through one hip joint. David was in fact tending to come off his outside hip and fall onto the inside one - and this is a legacy of his "two footed" pushing outwards habit - which pushes the skis away and causes a fall onto the inside leg for support. Ironically David was worsening this issue by trying to use dynamics - his attempt to throw the body into the turn caused him to kink at the waist and move his weight over his inside leg - instead of creating a global motion of the Centre of Mass inwards and remaining strong over the outside hip. More video feedback and a few individual exercises are needed to sort that out.

I showed that the use of support from the ski pole was necessary for pivoting on the "wrong" ski, but we didn't have to time to study this very far or to work on it. 

On the flat everyone had a go at jumping. Hanna was the best at jumping initially because she was the only one to extend her legs as she took off. Everyone else retracted their heels - which makes for a harsh landing. The full extension of the legs makes sure that the Centre of Mass is launched into the air and that the full length of the legs are available for flexion and shock absorption on landing.
Traversing the hill no one had any trouble when jumping on the move, so we went straight into jumping with the pivot.

Short Swing
The jump should be seen as the end of a turn - the rising up out of the turn. When in the air there is no resistance to the skis pivoting but an active swing of the skis is essential - coming from the adductors and the abdomen. Obviously not only the adductors are necessary because both skis are swinging simultaneously. You need to be more aware of the adductors though because this is what keeps the hip of the "outside" leg in the turn centred and below you as a pivot point for the upper body to work around. The main weakness that everyone had in executing short swings for the first time was a consistent lack of use of the poles for support. This is a braking mechanism essentially and it requires a rather accurate placing of the Centre of Mass over the skis - which is greatly aided by support from the ski poles. 

The short swing when used as a single turn instead of a series of rhythmically linked turns is called a "jump turn" - and it can get you out of a lot of trouble in tight spots off-piste.

The timing and movements required for the short swing are just an exaggeration of those required for any other pivot. Pivoting is helped by "unweighting" the skis. Unweighting is achieved though a powerful use of the legs and skis though the end of the previous turn. Traditionally the opposite is taught - that the up-motion is at the start of the turn - but this teaching is also ignorant of the fact that the oustide edge of  the ski is being used to initiate the turn and so it is taught in a snowplough on the inside edge - leading to great confusion. In racing (inside edge) turns the opposite - a build up of pressure - is required at the start of the turn and this is achieved through the use of dynamics that pass the Centre of Mass over the perpendicular to the slope at the turn initiation.

We concluded the Pivot session with a little spinning. Spinning 360° is fun, but it's also a great way to discover the edging control required for efficient pivoting. Thomas predictably was the one who caught on to this the quickest. The key here - as in all pivoting is that the skis always remain below the Centre of Mass on the mountain. 

Why Pivot?
Sometimes people wonder why I choose to call this "pivoting". The point is that the skier may travel directly down the fall-line without moving across the hill - so the skis are literally pivoting around a point that is travelling in a straight line downhill.

Developing Dynamics

Leaving the Pivot behind we went straight into Dynamics. Although subtle dynamics are also the real key to effective pivoting, it's best to use strong inside edge skiing to develop the skills of dynamics and then refine and tone this down when applying it to pivoting. When pivoting the dynamics are confined to somewhere between "vertical" and "perpendicular", whereas when initiating the turn on the inside edge we are going beyond perpendicular - and trying to increase this motion of the Centre of Mass as far as possible.

Skating and Resonance
Picking up the thread from yesterday we went straight into skating downhill and then increasing the dynamics towards the inside of the skate. This skating timing is the same as for the short swing but smoother and drawn out over the full skating stride. Everyone had some clear skating action of the legs going and received some sort of appropriate feedback. We are really looking for a resonance here. When the dynamics and the power of the legs are properly synchronised there is an unmistakable resonance which can be explosive and very powerful - as is any mechanical resonance.

Extending Dynamic Range
The relatively icy piste underfoot was in reality not ideal for extending the dynamic range. Softer and grippier snow gives people more confidence to accelerate the Centre of Mass further into the turn. Skis need to be very well tuned to cope with such icy pistes - the same reason why racers need to have razor sharp skis. With the right skis and good dynamics ice poses no problem and is in fact the preferred surface for racing - but not for learning. Just like pushing the body against my shoulder builds up pressure on the "outside" ski - so does accelerating the body down the hill and into the next turn. The greater the pressure the more the ski bites and grips. Most people "back off" on the ice and try to stand upright because they are afraid of falling over. The correct solution is of course the opposite - but this has to be learned. 

David did have the greatest dynamic range in the family, but was hindered by failing to move the body globally as a single unit. I wanted everyone to just follow the skis around to keep it simple and clear, but David's training to "face downhill" was interfering - just as this had also caused him to develop his strong heel push. Learning to "face downhill" without a proper grasp of the underlying mechanics causes the skier to push the heels out rapidly to get the skis around and underneath the body quickly again.

Melanie had the next largest dynamic range (though still only a fraction of what is possible) but this is where her real problem became clear. In trying to extend the dynamic range it became obvious that Melanie was being limited by rotation. The body was not following the skis it was in fact being used to drive the skis around - it was turning though the turn ahead of the skis. This rotation was started with the small stem at the turn initiation. Melanie was initiating the turn while still standing on the lower ski - it was not only that the upper ski was being forced out into a stem but the entire body was starting to spin into a turn. The problem with this is that the skis are not generating the turn and so there is no real control later in the turn when the forces build up and so this becomes very difficult to manage. The rotation has the effect of preventing the Centre of Mass from getting into the turn - it effectively does the opposite and throws the Centre of mass outwards. The result is a high speed skidding though the second part of the turn without the security of the body being well to the inside of the turn. This is why yesterday Melanie snagged her inside edge in the slush and was thrown over - and why she struggled more when trying to increase dynamics. This problem is the exact opposite of the one David experiences - when he blocks his body from rotating and even from following the skis. The solution for both issues however is the same - developing appropriate upper/lower body separation linked to correct mechanics. I asked Melanie not to go to fast for the moment because this rotation problem can be risky - it has to be dealt with directly before ramping up the speed. I wrote yesterday that her problem would be solved by increasing dynamics more - but that is only partly true - rotation actually prevents efficient dynamics.

Thomas is coming along fine and although not yet very adventurous with the dynamics he is developing a good natural stance - with upper/lower body separation, independence of the legs, (pivoting included) and a strong sense of support on his outside leg. This is happening spontaneously (though not all the time yet) due to working on good basic mechanics and having little previous "technique" in place to interfere.  As Thomas gets more confidence in the dynamics this base will serve him well. Melanie wanted to hear some "encouragement" perhaps being given at this point through compliments. There is an argument for that but experience has taught me that the best encouragement comes from results. Our exercise had been in "extending" dynamic range and the only one who actually did manage that at this point was David. Good coaching requires clear feedback which can make it seem harsh at times. If compliments are reserved for "effort" or to support a qualitative "success" then things remain clear and positive.

Hanna slipped under my radar a bit at this point but she did seem to understand that she could replace her "plough" with either dynamics or pivoting for initiating a turn. On steeper slopes she still didn't have a lot of confidence but that's only a question of experience now and applying the material she has been learning to gain assurance that it does work. Hanna didn't manage to increase her dynamic range at this point but later on - when we skied down to Tignes at the end she certainly did. The important point here is that although she didn't get a result immediately from the exercise - it got her thinking. Sometimes the results come though later when we are skiing. It's for this reason that I like to drill and train people at the start of a session when they are mentally fresh and can absorb information - then finish the last hour or so by skiing a lot more and giving the work a chance to come through into the skiing.

Off Piste
We took advantage of the solid base of Spring snow to go off-piste and apply some of the technique we had been working on. The beauty of off-piste is that you escape the crowds and find yourself rapidly surrounded by nature and wilderness. The combination of dynamics and pivoting give you the basic tools required to negotiate anything you might encounter off-piste. Everyone coped fine although Hanna was understandably a bit apprehensive. Thomas had a go a copying me with the pivot for some fall line skiing in softer snow. I did point out that when using the dynamics the push up at the end of each turn was especially important off piste. This is in fact the case for either dynamics or pivoting. Had the snow been deeper we would have had to work on that a bit more beforehand. 

Descending back to Tignes it was a bit slushy so to keep up any form of speed and stability good dynamics needed to be used. I persuaded Hanna to ski close to me following me so that she would be able to copy my line and perhaps my movements now that she understood them. Hanna did this very well and kept up a good speed all the way down to Tignes without stopping. Thomas was very pleased at skiing with this speed and correctly felt very good about his skiing. It's feelings like this that encourage us to do more - and when that becomes the norm there are other levels available where it happens all over again. So far I haven't found a limit to that process! Well done Hanna and Thomas! No Thomas - you are not a better skier than your dad - not yet! (soon though - but remember who pays!)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

David Day 1

First time ever starting the day at Les Coches! The road up to the little ski station resembles a motorway and seems completely out of proportion. Normally in the summer I either cycle up to La Plagne 2000 for a workout or up through Peisey to Les Arcs 1800 and down to Bourg St Maurice, but today (after 6 years of living at Aime across the valley) I realised that there are some other great empty roads to climb and that they are probably all interconnected somewhere along the top. Anyway - that's not what this report is meant to be about!

Prior to teaching anything I filmed David, Melanie, Hanna and Thomas. The focus was to be on Hanna and Thomas because they were the youngest and least experienced skiers. To begin with conditions were quite frankly horrendous. The ski company is doing an amazing job of keeping the place open but last week's +32°C temperature in the valley has certainly removed a great deal of snow - plus there is the fact that we have the least amount of winter snow in France since 1949. The problem we had was that everything started out as sheet ice and was seriously overcrowded with people frantically scraping past in all directions. This is not that place for anyone slowly wanting to traverse the width of the piste or to concentrate on learning anything new - so that fact that everyone was able to cope with this was actually quite impressive.

Initial Assessment
Hanna was clearly very uncomfortable with the conditions - what I couldn't tell at this early stage was whether this was a purely technical issue or if she was making herself anxious for other reasons. - such as staring at the snow - plus I didn't know if she coped much better than this normally. For this reason I decided when watching this descent to focus on pivoting skills with her - so that I wouldn't be asking her to do anything potentially threatening (difficult perhaps but not threatening). At this stage Hanna was really using a very big "stem" pushing her outside ski out into a plough and then stepping the inside ski beside it. (What I hadn't yet noticed, but is clear on the video is that she was moving her Centre of Mass strongly towards the outside of the turn and this is what was really throwing her off) There was also a strong twisting action present to try to force the stemmed ski around.

Thomas was also very tense though this could have just been a response to being on ice. Thomas was quite stiff with an overly wide stance for security and a tendency to push his outside ski away. The resulting turns were classic "tractor" turns with the hands held a bit low and whole body rotation. David's basic posture was good though.

Melanie was a much more confident skier that either Hanna or Thomas and could keep up a much better flow and rhythm at a higher speed. Characteristic of Melanie's sking was a small but definite stemming of the outside ski to initiate the turn and  this was accompanied with a twisting of the foot and ski into the new turn and so a loss of support from the foot and ski (twisting flattens the foot and ski). Posture looked good and the overall level was relatively strong.

David was clearly the strongest skier of the group and had a good level of competence at parallel skiing. Charcterestic of Davis's skiing was a two footed heel push to the outside of the turn and an up/down timing pattern which to his credit was clearly executed. Davis's knees had a tendency to point outwards so next time I'll check the set up of the ski boots (Later checked and they were OK). There was a stem visible also and the knee issue is more likely to be due to a lack of use of the adductor muscles and other basic mechanics that are not in place yet.

We started working on the pivot straight away due to the icy conditions on the mountain and the need to ski in the fall line to avoid people. To start with I just wanted everyone to practise side slipping on the ice and to get the hang of standing on the top edge of the uphill ski while doing this. This was mainly to benefit Hanna and to get her confident about skidding sideways. Whenever you get stuck on a steep icy, narrow or otherwise troubling slope then all you need to do is to sideslip or even step down the hill - it is definitely not an obligation to "turn".  Sideslipping is the basis of  direct fall-line skiing and the rapid pivot of the skis so lots of practise at this is very useful.

I demonstrated how the pivot is executed from the top (outside) edge of the uphill ski - and how this can be initiated passively by a slight motion of the body forwards and downhill - or more actively by a "pulling inwards" with the adductor muscles. Most people are completely unaware that a turn can be started on this edge. The moment people are placed on skis they are normally jammed into a snowplough position and on the inside edges of both skis and from then on the turn is executed on the inside edge of the outside ski and that's all they ever hear about it. I pointed out that this inside edge becomes an accelerator when the ski is pushed out into a snowplough and so it doesn't give much control and in addition by being jammed on the inside edge it can't pivot or turn very quickly. Furthermore the stemmed ski has been pushed out with the abductor muscles of the legs - exactly the wrong muscles and coordination required for skiing. Lots of changes to be made then! To help move things on quickly I supported each person with my ski pole and pulled them one by one though a complete pivot so they could feel the action of the ski - starting the turn on the top edge - slipping into a turn and changing edge when pointing downhill (in the fall-line) and finishing the turn on the inside edge. At all phases of the turn the skier is on an uphill edge (except momentarily at the change of edge) and so always has the ski available as a brake. I had to help Hanna down a steep, narrow, overcrowded section and we sideslipped together (her holding onto my pole) most of the way but when the opportunity was there I tried to get her to feel the pivoting action by controlling her global movements in a turn. Conditions were however strongly against us. The pivot is a way to ski in the fall line - it is a braking action and is useful in bumps, steeps, deep off piste and many tricky situations. Pole support helps the pivot  (where as it hinders racing turns) and we very briefly looked at this issue.

Drinks Break / Feet
During a drinks break we looked at the feet and how to strengthen the ankle by standing on the heel and how to activate the adductor muscles by rocking the foot at the subtalar joint. It was explained that rocking the feet cannot be achieved when leaning on the front of the boot with the ankle collapsing and the best way to avoid that scenario at this stage is to stay on the heel. The rocking of the feet from edge to edge also ties in directly to the use of the ski edges. When a foot is rocked onto its inside edge the forefoot actually turns slightly outwards (away from the turn) placing the foot on its edge. The habit that everyone in this group already had was to twist the foot in the direction of the new turn - which flattens the foot and ski instead of edging it.

I'd explained earlier that it is an error to "lean forwards" and that the aim was to stand perpendicular to the hill - which in the case of traversing meant "vertical" and in going downhill would mean tilting downhill to remain perpendicular - but the stances are identical relative to the skis and the snow surface - you do not "lean" forwards and correct stance never feels like leaning forwards.

It was when looking at the video during this break that I spotted Hanna's real problem - dynamics. Without consolidating the pivot any further we would move on to dynamics straight away. Pivoting takes a while to coordinate anyway and has to be returned to frequently and given time to sink in.

The basics of dynamics were explained during the drinks break - and how people confuse  various concepts of "balance" (refer: Emperor's New Clothes). To introduce dynamics on the mountain I used my standard exercises of pushing against the shoulder and feeling the various results of pressure at the feet. A strong push gives a strong pressure on the far (outside in a turn) leg/foot. Push towards the right gives pressure on the left foot. Even when there is no immediate pressure on the shoulder if the person accelerates the body across the gap against my shoulder then instant pressure is felt on the far foot. If the motion is slow then the opposite happens and the near (inside in a turn) foot receives all the weight and pressure instead because it was not an acceleration. The mechanics of Dynamics is about "accelerations" (Newton's second law F=MA), and the ski maintains an acceleration of the skier away from a straight line towards the centre of an arc (Centripetal force). In reality this is a simple consequence of the ski trying to lift the skier up and the skier trying to fall down.

The main shift in perception here is that the skier has to try to fall over - not try to stay in balance. The skier's job is to fall over and the ski's job is to bring the skier back up.

Hanna was initially confused but when she caught on it transformed her skiing - she started to move her body in the right direction and it all started to work for her.  Hanna was starting to make some very nice parallel turns with no stems at all when the conditions were favourable.

Thomas said to me that he felt it was much easier and just a lot less effort - which because I hadn't mentioned this effect to him told me that he was getting the correct result - and his skiing looked much more relaxed and fluid with a generally narrower stance.

Melanie was making good progress and the fall in the video is due to her small stem/twist action still being in there despite the dynamics being applied - basically the inside ski in the turn was caught on it's inside edge slightly (late in the turn) - but if the dynamics had been increased that would not have happened anyway. The deeper snow amplifies the "lifting up" effect of the skis and so the dynamics need to be increased pro-actively to deal with this.

David did well to put aside his heel pushing and replace it with dynamics. The turns even in the slush looked much more fluid and stable as a result. There was a a bit of confusion about how to incline the body naturally and so there was some bending and twisting at the waist and locking at the hips, but overall there was a big improvement and the other details will have to be ironed out later.

To help with David's transition to dynamics we looked at timing issues because Davis's up/down timing was interfering with the natural down/up timing that comes from dynamics (just think motorbike turning). We used skating exercises to get the legs to synchronise with the timing from the dynamics. Skiing with dynamics you can feel the pressure cycle - one leg to the other - is just like skating. By actively adding skating then it makes the vertical motion much more powerful and effective - assisting the skis to lift/direct the skier's centre of mass. This effect can then be directly exploited in many different ways. We didn't have time to get into that but with the exercises that we did Thomas  in particular picked up a good natural rhythm from the skating. David also managed the timing which is encouraging because this is a very difficult thing to "reverse" from the way he had been trained.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Back on the bike after a virus.

Back on the bike again after a week of going through every stage of debilitation by virus. Does a cold virus take all your strength away - so that you can hardly even walk? Anyway it was tough getting motivated to go for a proper bike ride especially as the heat wave has passed and it's gone fairly cold now - particularly out of the sun.  I knew the ride would be a plod at best but the idea was to start to clear out the lungs and sinuses and begin to spark up the central nervous system again. I guess a couple of long 3hr workouts like this will be needed to get the body working properly again. It 's like all the gains in performance over the past month have just completely gone away - but considering that my appetite and strength didn't properly return until yesterday evening I'm sure that recovery is still not 100%.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hike from Aime to Granier

Every April right towards the close of the ski season I always get a bug! This year was no exception but this time it was just a common cold instead of the traditional stomach flu. Despite that it has managed to put me out of action for almost a week now. Strength is returning and the symptoms are disappearing. Hopefully the fact that last Tuesday was a monster workout anyway - which would have needed a few days of recovery - there won't have been much fitness lost overall.

Today was another stunningly warm "Summer" day in early Spring! Yesterday it was 32°C in Aime which is 700m above sea level! I'm not even thinking about skiing at the moment despite the slopes still being officially open. The snow is not freezing at night which makes the Spring snow inaccessible. Instead of skiing I went for a hike with Christiane and the photos below capture some of the Spring beauty here... (more text at the bottom)

Unfortunately my camera is not good enough to capture images of the feathered or furry types of wildlife but I'm planning an upgrade soon that might rectify that problem - the Sony Hx100v when it comes on the market. Today we saw eagles, buzzards, hawks and Jays plus a couple of times we heard woodpeckers. I tired to photograph some giant bees at one point but the autofocus wasn't fast enough.

This is the longest hike so far in Vibram Fivefingers - being about 3 hours. My feet were tired by the end but they would have been in any hiking shoe. Most striking however was the benefit of "barefoot" walking during the descent. I've always been put off hiking in the steep hills due to finding the descents unpleasant because of a lot of stress on the quadriceps. No matter how fit I happen to be I find this too hard to enjoy. Miraculously, with the barefoot shoes this problem disappears. It doesn't just change a little - it changes completely. There was no strain on the quads and descending was enjoyable all the way. I realised that with normal shoes the extra height of the heel is significantly adding to the effective steepness of the hill and that's what's loading up the quads - to a degree that goes beyond the comfort threshold. My legs got tired all over - though lack of hiking practise - but not due to any specific strain. I also got sunburned all over which is unusual for mid April - but a welcome dose of vitamin D.

Started using the bathroom scales again after a winter of serious over-indulgence. Weighing in at 72.6kg was a pleasant surprise because some winters have seen me balloon right up to 78kg. The indoor virtual reality cycle trainer really did seem to work - providing the motivation  to train despite tiredness. The standard resistance trainer works just as well but it's so boring that you can't get much out of it. Think I might start off with a short mountain bike ride tomorrow to get back into cycling and see if my lungs are up to it now.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tarantaise Valley Workout

Les Arcs (1600 on the left, 1800 middle and Peisey Vallandry on the right.)

First "race class" workout of the year. 80km. 2400m climbing. This workout was meant to hurt and it did. Despite looking forward to the workout my energy levels were strangely low and in the 4hrs 10mins of cycling my heart rate didn't get above 165bpm. During all 4 previous climbs up to Notre Dame du Pré my legs have felt good despite it being a steep, relentless and hard climb, but today there was pain even there - which did not bode well being only half way around the day's planned route. I was using nasal breathing but unusually there was no adaptation during the workout and my nose remained slightly blocked the whole time. (Even worse, when I tried to clear the nose at the end of the workout it was bleeding and blood flew everywhere. Nasal breathing sometimes leads to nose bleeds but I don't know why.) On the final climb after 3hrs 25mins of nasal breathing I dropped it and started breathing through the mouth. Dealing with constricted breathing on top of tiredness and significant leg pain was just too much. With the breathing increased I felt better and even managed to climb at 18kph for the final few kilometres. The breathing itself was not the problem but seems to indicate an underlying issue such as a mild virus.  One advantage though of  constricted nasal breathing under such conditions is that it probably gives extra protection for the heart when it might be vulnerable during a viral attack and when training might normally be risky. In the evening after the workout I felt cold but the legs recovered quickly. The only real pain in the legs was in fact d.o.m.s. from a 20 minute "barefoot" run yesterday when I had gone over the planned time limit. The pain from this type of workout is more like a dull overall pain though the whole leg. The body feels "shocked" and sleep is a bit uncomfortable - but nothing more. Toothache is much worse than this!

The route covered both sides of this section of the Tarantaise valley - ending up at the cross overlooking Peisey above Aime. At the start of the clip we are looking towards Moutiers and the route climbs over and out of view on the right of the valley, down into Moutiers and then climbs back up to Notre Dame du Pré on the far side of the valley - then sweeping up the valley (and briefly panning back again) we see Macot below la Plagne and then right opposite we have Monchavin Les Coches and the north face of the Bellecotte. Across the ravine panning left we have Peisey Vallandry and then the full "Les Arcs" range ending up with a the top of the valley with Bourg St Maurice and a distant "La Rossiere" and the Col du Petite St Bernard over to Italy. The route climbs back up from Bourg and then along to where I had stopped to film.  On the valley floor I'd crossed Chris going for a ride in the opposite direction and we successfully managed to meet up for a chat at the cross despite going in opposite directions.

Tired and worn out at the end of the workout!

The bike feels really good now. All last season it was a struggle due to being extremely light and reactive. Now it feels like part of my body - perhaps the best part! Gusts of wind used to grab the front wheel in an alarming manner - but all of that has stopped. I think that I didn't have enough pressure on the handlebars before. Steep mountain bike descending and cornering teaches you to keep your weight really far back and to reduce handlebar pressure to a minimum, but those bikes are heavy and very stable. My Trek mountain bike has heavy 2.5inch Downhill tyres and weighs 17.5kg as opposed to 6.5kg for the Canyon racing bike. The Canyon just feels great in all situations - really responsive and smooth. It took a while getting there though!

The Bellecotte (North)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Barefoot Running antidote to Ski Boots!

The 12':45" barefoot run did not produce a delayed negative reaction in the calves, despite feeling a small amount of pain during the run. Yesterday (4th) I went for another run and intended it to be 15 minutes max - but my watch went wonky and I ended up running 21 minutes. Some pain had already started at under the 10 minute mark. 

There are two ways of overdoing it when running - either ramping up the distance too much or increasing speed too much. Yesterday the speed was starting to come back and it's still too soon for that so it's obvious that a lost of self restraint is going to be necessary to keep the progression at the right level.

Gareth pointed out yesterday that the stance in ski boots - with the heel raised and a significant forward ramp angle - could be adversely affecting the calve muscles. I suspect that he is right and that's probably why I always get calve pains when starting running - even in shoes - after a winter season - and why I'm prone to cramps in the calves when swimming front crawl in the winter. I hadn't thought of this and had just put it down to the running itself. It might be that "barefoot" running is the right thing for balancing out the muscles after skiing.

Reading a bit about "Chi-running" technique - which uses the exact same underlying principles as Pose running - I tried extending my stride by allowing the hip and pelvis to follow the foot backwards - extending the stride behind. The acceleration was immediate because it also allow the centre of mass to fall a little bit more forwards. This is one reason I ran a little bit faster than intended.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tyre Technology

This is a Continental 4000S racing bike tyre that has now covered over 5000km. The small holes are tread indicators. When the tread is too worn down the holes disappear. This tyre has hardly any indication of wear, has had no punctures and grips really well on the road. The rubber has a very high (7 times greater than normal) carbon content, apparently due to the use of nanotechnology - plus it has had all of its use at a very high pressure of from 110 to 115 psi. Amazing technology altogether. My early days of cycling involved constant puncture repairs and it's still hard to believe how technology has evolved so much.

Lenticular Wave Cloud

Sure sign of the weather changing - a classic lenticular wave cloud over Mont Pourri this morning. Looks like the warm snap will be over quickly.

barefoot program

Decided to reduce right down to 10 minute runs and see if the calf muscle issues could be resolved. Typically, once I started running I didn't want to stop so decided to go for 15 minutes and turned back dutifully at exactly 7:30 mins. At around 12 minutes I became aware of calf muscle pain and at 12:45 mins decided to stop. Yes! I should have stuck to 10 minutes! 

It occurred to me while running that a life time of heel striking has probably developed a real weakness in the calf muscles. I know that in body building they say that the calves are the hardest muscles to develop - so perhaps there is a link here. Perhaps it will just take patience and a really progressive approach to get the calf muscles up to scratch. For me at the moment running is not my goal, so this is a real opportunity to try to make this work. Perhaps it will require limiting running to 10 minutes for quite some time and then stepping up just one minute at a time. I'll try to get it so that I run each day for around 10 minutes - or whatever level is low enough to prevent an over-reactive pain developing in the following days. The D.O.M.S. I've been getting from the slightly longer runs have been very debilitating and made me feel almost ill - they were that bad! However this was never an injury, just a very strong adaptive reaction by the muscles - which is in itself probably a very good sign. I'd just like to get there without the debilitating effects that prevent me from even getting a good cycling workout.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Training going well

Have just spent a week revamping a website and dealing with incompetent ISP support here in France. My head was exploding by the end and the stress levels were on par with a Fukushima reactor. Strangely this makes it very hard to switch back over to being motivated towards exercise - but with the weather starting to clear up after a miserable week of cloud and rain I dragged myself out of the door. Knowing that the workout ahead is going to be tough also adds to the reluctance to get going. Predictably my head just wasn't into it at all but I could perceptibly feed the tension and stress dropping as the kilometres rolled by. 

I was listening to the Afro Celt Sound System and Eric Clapton tracks on my telephone through cheap 19€ Skull Candy ear buds that are really excellent, never come out, block out all wind noise and have an amazing sound quality (better than my expensive in-ear monitors!) It's the fourth time in the past month I've attacked this same circuit -Aime, Montgirod, Moutiers, Notre Dame du Pré, Aime of 52km with 1800m climbing. The amusing thing is that I now know how well I'm preforming just through listening to the music because of associating certain tracks with certain locations. When the Clapton drum solo is still not finished when I reach Notre dame du Pré then I'm well ahead! 

Descending from Montgirod there was a dirty great truck winding it's way down the mountain and determined not to let me though despite making myself very visible in his driver side mirror. Eventually I tackled the challenge and he did make some space instead of crushing me into the wall at the side of the road. At this point I felt an up-welling of anger towards the driver but it was really all the frustration of the computing that was coming out. This might not be ideal but it's a lot better than bottling it all up and ending up depressed. My rage continued for a while and was channelled into aggressive descending and tight cornering on the hairpin bends. By the time I was at the bottom of the descent I was starting to feel much better and was ready for the second big climb up to Notre Dame du Pré. 

Ultimately cycling seems to do more good for mental health than even for physical health! I was surprised on the climb because I kept up a steady pace all the way to the top despite it being a very tough and long climb that can easily be demoralising. I was able to attack on the steepest sections instead of backing off and worked on good technique - staying in the saddle and pulling up though the abdomen. 

I could see that despite everything it would be possible to set a new record for this route so that added to the motivation to keep up the pressure. In the end the previous best (last August) was beaten by over five minutes - being the equivalent of about 1.5km in a race. I didn't feel great mentally or physically but this is obviously simply the outcome of training. After the workout I went though the "sleepy" phase for a few hours but couldn't sleep because of a dental appointment. The sleepy phase passed by itself and then I felt fine again, but unusually the legs really felt it. Normally even after a very hard bike ride my legs feel fine after an initial recovery - but here they felt more like they do after running. Must be the result of transporting all my excess weight (at the moment) at record breaking speed up the mountains!