Monday, August 22, 2011

Col St Carlos

Col St Carlos in Italy is always a daunting prospect - even more so when your training hasn't been going too well recently. Everyone had their excuse ready - "Recovering from injury", "Just been on holiday", "Had a bug yesterday"etc. etc.

Data 113 km, 05:37:47 hrs, Av 20.1 kph, 3150 m climbing av hr 147 bpm, max hr 171 bpm, 5109 calories
I had a lot of trouble extracting the data for this workout. The Garmin unit messed up by merging this workout with the previous one and my Smartphone app still doesn't export data 100% correctly to the SportTracks analysis software. Very frustrating that with two GPS and heart rate monitoring systems running I was still stuck! In the end a very nice free piece of software sorted out both problems - "TCX Converter"  which can be downloaded from this lnk. This software easily and efficiently manipulates gpx or tcx data files to sort out many potential problems. You can even replace recorded altitude data with data derived from Google maps. In the end, surprisingly, the Endomondo phone system gave better data than the Garmin and so was used both for analysis then export to GPSies.

Cause and Cure of Outside Edge of Foot Pain (Peroneus Brevis Insertional Tendinitis)
My complaint was foot pain and the corresponding loss of training. Prior to the workout I remained hopeful of understanding and dealing with the problem better. Still working on overcoming tendinitis in the foot I inspected the cycling shoes to see if there were any clues. Interestingly the shoes are shaped as if they had a big heel - with a ramp between the front and back. If they are placed on the level ground and you stand in them then you can rock from the toes to the heels over the ramp in the centre - with ALL of the weight momentarily rocking on the centre of the foot - exactly on the upper end of the 5th metatarsal. The shoe is clearly designed not to have the foot flat but to always have the ball of the foot lower than the heel in the direction of pressure. Damage seems to occur when the foot is relaxed when pressing on the pedal and despite the axis of the pedal being under the ball of the foot some pressure gets on to this mid section of the shoe/foot. Basically the ankle acts as a lever and the foot can transmit pressure anywhere from the ball to the middle due to the tight fit of the shoe and the rigid sole. Relaxing the foot brings the pressure to the middle (force up at the front and down at the middle - rigid, tight shoe acting as a lever - with the "ramp" pressure point exactly where you don't want it to be), hence over time causing tendinitis.

Either the cure for this is flattening the shoe so it is like a "barefoot" running shoe - or holding the muscles of the feet active all the time when pushing against the pedals. Interestingly this is exactly the action required for good skiing with fine control! Most people squash onto the balls of the feet with the muscles inactive and the ankles collapsed leaning against the front of the ski boots - but the correct way is to slightly extend the foot onto the ball and actively work the foot muscles to remain there during each pressure cycle - one foot at a time. For this reason I'll go with the shoe design and work on the activity of the feet.

It's taken a while to figure this out because the pain was aggravated by barefoot running and using a forefoot to mid-foot landing on a supinated foot - close to the 5th metatarsal. It has been hard to see what the real cause of the tendinitis was. I removed the footbeds that I had in the shoes and decided to simply work on keeping the feet muscles active and experimenting on finding ways to avoid pressure on the middle of the foot.

Col St Carlos
After the weirdest weather ever - winter, spring and summer we at last are fortunate enough to have some appropriate and welcome stability, sunshine and heat. Cycling on mountains isn't all that great when you have to brake like mad on all of the descents and worry about skidding on wet gravel all the time. The roads are always freshly patched with loose gravel in the Spring and combining that with the wet makes a lethal mix. Today we had dry gravel free roads all the way with only a few potholes to deal with. Starting at St Foy town centre car park at shortly after 7am we all had an extra layer of some sort to deal with the morning chill. Clear skies actually means that there is a high heat loss during the night through radiation so despite temperatures being up over 38°C during the day the mornings remain fresh. The start was downhill to the valley floor beside the Isère river and then along for several kilometres to Seez where the climb up to the Col de Petit St Bernard begins.

This is one of those very rare occasions where everything pretty much went to plan and there was no real excitement. Going up the long but gradual climb up to the Col de Petit St Bernard was pleasant but hard work - the legs not being warmed up at first and the body not being woken up. The point of this exercise however is to work hard to get the best possible benefit. Stopping briefly at the top to regroup we dived across the border straight down to La Thuile in Italy. The descent was fast and enjoyable because you could have confidence on the tyres griping. That doesn't mean that you can fly into a hairpin bend and slam on the brakes - the braking must be done just before the turn you that they can be almost completely released during the turn - especially the front one. I overtook two cars and had a lot of fun on the descent. We all had a close shave with a bus coming the other way that had decided it needed the entire width of the road the whole time. In La Thuile we stopped for a coffee break. This has to be the greatest difference between social training rides and races. Much more civilized! Chris picked a café right beside the bridge  before the river due to it serving particularly good coffee - then proceeded to fail to communicate correctly with the young Italian girl waitress. I got my American coffee but the others didn't get what they wanted. I refilled a few water bottles but Chris decided to ask to get his filled - after putting his energy powder mix in the bottle. The woman proceeded to empty his powder down the sink - much to Chris's horror. Chris then offered to pay for the coffees and the woman refused. We are pretty sure that this was just a complete continuation of the general confusion and that she thought he wanted to pay for the tap water. Seeing that we were on our bikes when the situation started to become clear we ended up doing a runner - or "rider" I suppose from the café.

The drop down into the Aosta valley is on a fast wide road to begin with. Rob, close behind me on a steep fast section didn't see the upcoming hairpin bend or realise I was going to brake so hard and almost embedded himself into a cliff. There was a momentary tussle to get past a slow camper van but generally the descent was fast. The narrow winding final drop into the valley is down the banks eroded by an ancient glacier - so it is steep and fun to go down in the dry. It's great to throw your body and bike into the turn and feel the advanced compound tyres gripping - the great directional pressure and then spring out of the turn as acceleration takes you off on a straight line again instead of turning you. The Continental racing tyres have very  high carbon content due to nanotechnology being employed and they grip well. My tyres have done over 7000km without a puncture and are still doing well. At the bottom of climb there is a main road to cross and there was a lot of traffic bunching up. Chris just imperially nudged his way in front of the cars until being sure that they were stopped in all directions and we filed through pretending that we somehow had right of way. It's amazing what confidence can do! It's the same with traffic lights at roadworks - we never stop for them. Junctions can be different though. Not much further on down the Aosta valley, just where we had to cross back over the river to approach the Col St Carlos we were stopped by traffic lights and the gates of a rail crossing. Chris still muttered something about trying to get through but no one was responding. It was a long wait compared to French standards.

Starting the climb up the Col we were met immediately with a gradient of around 25%. You can see on the altitude profile on the chart at the top of this page, the middle climb is much steeper over its entire length. It averages 10% apparently over 12km but there are a lot of fairly long steep sections at around 26%. Chris had an 11T to 25T cassette on his wheel (52T to 36T in front) and so had no choice over his minimum speed. If he slowed down too much he'd fall off the bike. I had a minimum 34T front and 28T rear so it didn't take long to be in that configuration. Chris slowly but surely pulled ahead and Rob rather rapidly dropped off the back. Justin and I ended up staying together for the whole climb - but I must admit I'd have slowed down a bit if he wasn't there. Perhaps that was the same for both of us. The purpose of the day was to do this climb so although we tried to be sensible and not overcook it there was no point really in taking it too easy. My heart rate was around 165 bpm from the start of the climb and I did wonder if that could be sustained as we had already spent 01:45 hrs climbing on the first climb. Surprisingly, for the final 5km of the climb my heart was up at 170 bpm. It was interesting discussing with Chris later how as fitness improves during a season you can sustain a higher heart rate for much longer. I'd never seen that as a goal myself but it makes a lot of sense. We arrived at the wonderful café at the summit of the col and were glad to be there and off the bikes. I had been on the verge of cracking - my endurance/stamina still not being a match for my speed on short climbs. I had however made a point eating tasty almond based sports sweets along with isotonic sports drinks and so there were no energy dips. During the break at the top I drank a couple of Cokes (thanks Justin!), more energy drink and had a special energy gel from Decathlon which was delicious. There was plenty of time for this because Rob had predictably dropped about half an hour behind and was suffering. I think that my first time ever up this col had been a similar experience to Rob's so I understood exactly where he was with this. The good news it that this all gets much easier as fitness improves. That doesn't mean that it's less painful or demanding mentally but instead of suffering from feeling destroyed it shifts to suffering from placing higher performance demands on yourself - a much more satisfying form of suffering - if that's possible. Shortly after getting off the bike with my heart rate at 170 bpm I'd felt some constriction on my breathing but this was only when I'd been talking for a while. I realised that I was over-breathing due to speaking and my system being pushed to the limits was reacting - so by quietly breathing through the nose and not speaking for a few minutes that was brought completely back under control.

Descending from the Col back into La Thuile the road is wide and twisty which makes for a fast and fun ride. Chris had his back wheel skid momentarily from underneath him on one of the first bends and was more careful about timing the braking from then on. The climb back up from La Thuile to the Col de Petit St Bernard was just a formality really. Chris went slowly ahead taking Justin with him and I decided to stick to my own pace now just a little bit slower. Rob was labouring a bit behind and with the typical strong headwind, coming from France in the West right up the Tarantaise valley, growing in strength with altitude, Rob would certainly feel how soul destroying the long passage is at the top of this col. We waited for him again having drinks at the top (I have to thank Chris for the Coke this time!). To pass the time on the way up I'd composed a silly song and sang it to myself while climbing. Chris asked for a rendition at the café and soon regretted his request because it could only be sung out embarrassingly loudly - which doesn't bother me! On previous occasions I've felt much more like Rob would be feeling and the descents are not enjoyable when you are tired and hurting all over. This is where for me the benefits of all those long races and training sessions came clear for the first time. I might have been at my limits in terms of performance but didn't even have a sore bum. There was no sore back, nothing. Even the feet were behaving well. I felt good and only a healthy sort of tiredness. The steep descent from the col back through the high villages (Le Châtelard) directly back to St Foy and our starting point was very enjoyable. Everyone was pleased with their own efforts for the day and Rob was very satisfied to have done what was clearly his most challenging bike ride to date.

After the ride I went into town and had a couple of coffees and then to the 50m pool for a refreshing clean up and swim. I was not hungry and so didn't look for a meal. Swimming is just great after a long hard workout or race. That evening not much was achieved due to general fatigue and next morning I was short tempered and so over reacted a bit to Christiane. I'll need to stay on guard for this because hard training can make me a bit grumpy without realising it!

The foot was a bit sore afterwards but nothing bad and only if pressure went on the outside edge directly. I'd tried to focus as much as possible on the foot during the ride and found that sometimes pulling the toes up (still pointing the foot down) helped and sometimes it was easier to keep pressure on the balls of the feet though letting the ankle flex more. I tried to consciously avoid the whole time getting pressure on the middle of the foot and it seemed to work. It seems that the best bet is to activate the foot muscles though and to only relax with flexed ankles (feet horizontal) occasionally for a change.

No comments:

Post a Comment