Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What I Have Learned Thus Far From Bike Fitting


I wrote previously about the benefits of a professional bike fit and my approach to fitting. Now, I have been fitting for about three and a half months.  I think I learn something new with each bike fitting about bikes, riders, and the interaction between the two.  I am more perceptive when I see bicyclists on the road as well, analyzing their pedal stroke and fit.  Through all of this experience, I have noticed several commonalities.

Cleat position is frequently off, causing the application of force from the rider to the bike to be compromised.  The pedal spindle must be coupled with the base of the first metatarsal to allow for the proper application of force.

The saddle is too low, more often than not.  This can cause two major problems.  First, this can cause anterior knee pain in the short term and knee damage in the long term, hypothetically.  Second, decreased power production will result as well.  In both cases the knee is bent too far, causing more compression forces in the first case.  In the second case, the quadriceps are too far shortened and the glutes too far lengthened to be efficient.

The saddle is not level, sometimes by oversight, sometimes for comfort.  Usually, if it is the latter, then something else is wrong and needs to be addressed.  This could be the saddle itself or its position or the overall position.

I have had to inform a few cyclists that they have the wrong crank length--usually too long, which can be frustrating and costly.  While a variety of crank sizes exist, most off the shelf bikes are assembled with the three most common lengths.  The manufacturers are trying to fit the largest spectrum with each frame size but, of course, they cannot match everyone's size.  Through my fitting process, when this occurs, the correct position can be achieved with the pedal down, but not with the pedal up.  This causes the same challenges as when the saddle is too low.

Handlebar width, when wrong, is usually too narrow.  This can affect the ability to control the bike.  It may also cause discomfort in the neck, shoulders, and mid back.

Often, the handlebar is not level as well.  Just like with the saddle, sometimes this is by oversight.  If not, it likely means something else is wrong.

The biggest challenge to achieving a good fit is the potential for high cost.  I do not mean just for the cost of the service, which can be significant, but the cost of new parts: handlebar, stem, seat post, crank set, etc.  Unfortunately, a good fit frequently costs a fair amount of money beyond the initial cost of the bike.  However, if a cyclist is going to ride thousands of miles and spend days in the saddle over a span of years, shouldn't fit be a priority?  For the reasons of safety, comfort, performance, and value?  Is it not worth the cost and effort to get it right?  My answer should be obvious.  Of course, the decision is up to each individual cyclist.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hannibal Cannibal 15k Race Report: Staying Motivated And Setting New Goals

I have run the Hannibal Cannibal several times in the past, both the 5k and 10k races.  It is one of my favorite events.  I always finish feeling I have accomplished something--firstly, I have survived the typical heat, humidity, and hills, including Lovers Leap!  It always draws a big crowd too--over 2100 participants this year--which adds to the grandness of the event, I think.  This year the race organizers added a new event, a 15k, which I chose to run.

I am still working on regaining my fitness from last year and getting down to an effective racing weight.  Considering my current condition, I did not think I could achieve a good 5k or 10k time.  Perhaps, I could have earned a course PR like I did at the Raider Classic, since it has been a while since I have run the Cannibal.  I just could not motivate myself for that.  I have not ruled out my first marathon for this year either, so running longer made more sense, considering that goal.  Also, I have never run a 15k on the road, so any result would be a PR!

Race morning was a little cooler than usual, seasonal, but not oppressive.  I started the race under control, knowing I would need to conserve energy for the three major climbs on the course.  I generally wear my Garmin during races and watch my average pace which is what I did here.  I started off a bit fast, but cooled it down to my goal pace as we started the first long slog up.  The pack cleared out a bit as the 5k runners turned around before the top of the first hill.  Of course, everyone separated based on speed too.  As I passed over the first peak I relaxed, tried to get perpendicular to the slope, lengthened my stride, and bombed down the hill.  I passed several runners on the way.  A few of them, I knew, would catch up to me again later.  However, I was banking time where possible and I can descend pretty quickly on the road.

Near the bottom of the hill we entered the Mark Twain Cave complex and campground to do two loops adding most of the necessary distance to comprise the full 15k as compared to the 10k course.  It was mostly flat with slight rises.  It had a fair amount of gravel which I did not enjoy.  However, I did enjoy seeing a lot of familiar faces and exchanging encouraging words with them.  Heartland Road Runners and Walkers Club was well represented.

After we exited the Cave area, we continued on Highway 79 away from town on a basically flat section, with an unobstructed view of the Mighty Mississippi.  I just tried to settle into my pace here.  I had banked a little time and wanted to save it for the two remaining climbs.  The only hard part of this section was watching 10k runners turn around while I had to continue farther up the road for my turn.  Such is racing!  So, we turned around and headed back into town, first on the same flat section, then up the other side of the first hill.  It seemed tougher.  I think it might be steeper and longer on the south side, but it could have just been my fatigue.  I almost always walk through water stations to be sure I get the water in my mouth and I feel it is worth the tiny amount of time lost.  At the water station on this hill, the walking break was extended a little longer than usual.

So, after the second summit there is a partial descent before ascending Lovers Leap which is a killer!  I think the average gradient is 14% for about a quarter mile, peaking at 20%.  It scares everyone.  Having done it before, even hill repeat workouts in the past, I knew what to expect and just went to work.  Lots of people--most people--walk.  I do not.  I cannot convince myself to walk.  I guess I am stubborn that way.  I have heard many people say that they can walk it as fast as they can run it.  For some that may be true.  But, I can tell you that I passed a fellow runner who was walking, with whom I had been seesawing for most of the race.  He did not catch me until the final stretch to the finish.

After arriving at the top and walking through the water station and getting another cold, wet towel, I began my descent. This is actually more scary to me than the climb. I am always concerned that my fatigued legs will give out and I will skid all the way down the hill on my knees.  Not this time!  At this point in the Cannibal, regardless of the distance, I always feel the vast majority of the hard work is over.  Because, except for a relatively small rise leading up to the bridge, it is nearly all downhill from the top of Lovers Leap.  As I said, I can descend quickly on the road.  So, I just relaxed and flew home, maintaining my speed on the flat sections to finish strong.  My "seesaw" buddy passed me on the final stretch, but I was pretty sure he was in front of me at the start, so my chip time would still be faster.

After crossing the line, I checked my pace--one second under goal!  15k PR on goal pace--goals achieved!  I finished in the top quarter approximately.  I also earned third in my age group....until I reviewed the results a few days later and saw that I was actually fourth.  I tried to give my medal to the real third place winner, but the race committee took care of it.  Again, such is racing!

So, what's the take-home point?  Instead of being bummed about not being as fast as last year, I am evaluating my current performance and looking forward.  I am finding new and different ways to win, which helps to maintain my motivation.  I am setting achievable and realistic short-term goals.  I am keeping my long-term goals in mind, but leaving them in the future.  I have not given up on PRs in the 5k, 10k, or half marathon, I am just not focusing on that right now.

Whether you are slowing down because of age or returning to sport after an injury, do not dwell on the past; look forward and set goals.  As I read in a book once, "it's okay to look into the past, just don't stare."  Remember, training is a journey, not a destination--continually set goals to progress.  Look at what you have right now and improve on it.