Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tough Week

The Italian border - top of the Col de Petit St Bernard. This was meant to be followed by a loop around Col St Carlos in Italy before returning back here on the way home. At this point, with a body simply not cooperating I just gave up, went into a friendly café, bought a packet of crisps and a coffee and sat outside on the terrace sheltered from the wind howling over the col (coming from Italy on the left). When you just don't have the legs or the head for it - it's best to go home and save it for another day.

The Italian side of the pass was immersed in thick cloud. This is classic - the Aosta valley leading to Mont Blanc filled with cloud - overflowing into a sunny Tarantaise valley in France. Each valley has it's own particular micro climate in the high Alpine area. Perhaps part of my attraction to the Italian side (Other than real Italian hot chocolate) is that this was an ancient Celtic region. The Celtic connection is still celebrated today with a Celtic Festival at the start of each July at the foot of the Mont Blanc glaciers in Val Veny.

In the evening I sat here in the mist from the flooded Isère river, sharing a great pizza with Christianne. It's the best pizza I've tasted in a decade. This air temperature was still warm despite the wet.

Slow Recovery
For some strange reason I'm having great difficulty recovery from last week's race. Chris had the same feeling of empty legs well into the week also - so that at least encourages me that it's perhaps not me falling apart. I think the race was just really hard. During the week I only had three swimming sessions, and two bike rides including this one - and still feel dead. I'm also very sensitive to weather changes - when the weather degrades so does my energy level. There is some theory that this has to do with electricity and ions in the air. Perhaps there is something in that. I can tell on waking, without looking out in the morning if the weather has degraded or not. There is also a theory that walking barefoot connects us electrically with the earth - and that this has a balancing effect on body acidity. Considering that every household has a direct "earth" connection for their mains supply then perhaps we should be giving such apparent "crank" ideas a little more consideration.

Balancing Diet
I've considerably changed my diet in the past week too so there is a chance that this is playing a role. The pizza was a treat for having removed most stodgy food from the menu all week - no biscuits, no sweets, reduced sugar, fat, refined products and stodge in general. When still hungry after a meal I'd eat a fruit or a couple of carrots. Perhaps the body takes a while to adapt to lower sugar levels. This summer has been so physically hard with long endurance workouts that I've found it impossible to balance my diet intelligently. The training would cause cravings for sugar that I'd easily submit to.

Cycling Technique (Related to Skiing & Running)
The tendinitis in the left foot continues but more clues are emerging as to what the underlying cause might be. When Graeme Obree broke the world record for the hour for the first time, he did it on a bike that he built himself - famously - from washing machine parts. Specifically, he used a washing machine bearing for the bottom bracket. His reason for doing this was because he felt that the standard bottom bracket was far too wide, placing the feet too far apart for optimal power and efficiency. The washing machine bearing was much narrower and so he used it and built a frame around it.

On today's climb I looked at my feet and was amazed to realise that they are much further than "hip width" apart. Part of this is due to my placing the cleats towards the inside of the shoes to give more heel clearance against the frame and to exploit the generous "float" that the Speedplay pedals permit - allowing for variation of the angle of the foot on the pedal and so reducing knee stress. I'd also placed the cleat there to try to shift pressure towards the inside edge of the foot. When skiing, before you get full pressure on one leg, you have to stack up your bones - femur, pelvis, spine - to specifically get the support leg directly below your centre of mass. I noticed that when getting tired on the bike, or when pushing a big gear and remaining seated, I'd pull my leg under my centre of mass in the same way prior to pushing hard. If pushing with the left leg, I'd pull the bike slightly to the right and move my Centre of Mass (CM) slightly left, aligning the CM directly over the pedal. With the bike (and hence the pedal) tilted slightly down to the right, this would place pressure directly on the outside edge of my left foot - where the tendinitis is. Basically, I'm trying to get the foot under the body - exactly as Obree did with his modification to bike design.

The accumulative effect of doing this both seated and standing on the pedals has produced the tendinitis. Tighter and more rigid carbon shoes made the problem worse. The problem was increased by running "barefoot" using a midfoot landing with the foot supinating (on the outside edge). During running I wasn't aware enough to avoid landing on the outside edge of the foot instead of the outside part of the ball of the foot. In fact this appears to be the only way to achieve a true "midfoot" landing and for me it proves the "midfoot" theory in running to be wrong. I guess the injury and pain are all part of feedback and the learning process. Likewise, when running the foot landing below the body comes very close to the centre line - even closer than "hip width" (Ref: Gordon Pirie) Obree, also remarked than the ideal cycling set up was closer that hip width. This is also true for much of skiing. In skiing "hip width" may be a good starting point, but fall-line skiing (bumps, steeps - anything pivoted) requires a closer stance and racing can often require a wider stance. There may be some advantage in the wider stance on a bike if you can stand on the pedals and access the power of the upper body - otherwise, in a seated position, Obree would appear to be correct.

The immediate solution on the bike is to tilt it the opposite way (opposite to my natural tendency) to begin the stroke - which adds the ability to use the full strength of the upper body. If you are at the top of the stroke on the right pedal and the bike is tilted to the right then the angle of tilt of bike/pedal puts you on the inside edge of the right foot for the main part of the stroke. (It finishes up on the outside edge only as the stroke nears the end and the power is coming off). As the bones stack up the bike can be forcefully pulled back across with the arms as you push down - adding more energy to the pedalling. This seems to generate optimal force and alignment though the whole stroke. I watched the climbers in the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) today and could see all of those riders who were standing on the pedals doing this. (Wiggins and Froome were spectacular and made history on this stage - two Brits dominating a Grand Tour for the first time ever.) I'll be watching the next (Sunday) stage live on Eurosport and hope they can hold it together for the final day in the high mountains. It's the "queen" stage of the Vuelta.

Using inserts in my shoes had initially caused me to go towards this (correct) movement - due to consciously trying to pressure the inside edge of the foot. When the foot would feel better I'd flip back to the outside edge again for the whole stroke and get progressively injured again. Today by consciously moving the bike to the side that I'd push down on - or keeping it completely steady - there was no pain during riding or aggravation afterwards. Gradually this is raising my awareness of efficiency on the bike.

Pedal Innovation Needed
Perhaps there is need for the creation of a pedal that rocks laterally - so that the foot doesn't have to. Skis and skates work this way - so the foot doesn't roll outwards and a strong alignment is maintained. In the picture of Lance Armstrong above you can see how his right leg is pulled out of alignment by the foot firmly attached through the cleat to the pedal. The other problem with pedals is that the cleat attachment leads to a broken collar bone when the cyclist falls because he can't get free. It happened to Armstrong during his comeback.

Brake Problem Repaired
The rear brake problem I had in the last race has been fixed. Fortunately I didn't stop during the race for it because I wouldn't have been able to fix it at that point. The wheel had not been tightened up enough when assembling the bike in the morning and this caused it to be pulled slightly out of alignment. In pulling the wheel out of alignment it caused the brakes to close unevenly against the rims. The force of closing the brakes like this caused the mechanism to break loose and rotate where it is held on with a single bolt. The brake mechanism tightens up against a carbon bush and there is a knurled washer locking the two and preventing any rotation. The unbalanced force had cause the outer edge of the carbon bush, with the washer digging into it, to break free and so rotate as a unit. I had to remove the entire mechanism and the layer of carbon from the washer and pace the washer against some fresh carbon where it could bite in again. The brake unit now remains central and no monger moves. It's useful to know that this can happen if you don't secure your rear wheel strongly enough.

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