Monday, March 17, 2008

Share the Road

Had a great ride this weekend that included a local climb, Pilot Mountain. For those old TV buffs, this landmark is highlighted in the Andy Griffith Show.

The Pilot Mtn Climb is one of the 3 climbs we do in the area to test your climbing skills. Two of my buddies who are attending the Endurance Corner Camp next week in Tucson were with me. I was on my road bike, whereas they were both on their tri bikes. Suffice to say, after 2.5 miles, 9 switchbacks, and ~1,200 ft elevation gain I was doing my best to stay on Jicke's wheel @ 16:45. Nick had beat us both up to the top by a minute or so, confirming the fitness he was bringing to camp.

Safety has been on the forefront of my mind lately. Kristy Gough was recently killed in a cycling accident and a good friend of mine crashed one yr ago descending this same mountain when he rolled a tubular. We were patient coming down and I reminded myself of one of the lessons from my Epic Camp experience...we never time the descents.

On that somber note, check out this cycling safety video. Pass it around to those you know, especially those who don't cycle. They are the ones we typically need to worry most about.

Safe Training,

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bike Fitting

I believe one of the reasons I enjoy triathlon so much is the variety it provides. There are so many different aspects of the sport that it is unlikely that anyone can master the skills or acquire the knowledge that encompasses them all.

One area in particular that I enjoy learning about is bike fitting. It seems that good fitters understand biomechanics, human anatomy, and engineering principles well and those who are deficient in any one area can really "miss the mark" when it comes to a more complex fit.

In any case, Endurance Corner hosted Dan Empfield a month ago for a seminar in Boulder. It was really enjoyable to spend time with Dan. He has that wise, open sense as a teacher which makes learning very easy. It is not often you meet someone that has the knowledge and experience he has that maintains a sense of humility. That openness seems characteristic of people that seem to continue to accrue knowledge and remain at the forefront in any field.

I'm waiting for the day that Herbert does a more in-depth interview of Dan. In the meantime, I learned that Dan was a talented high school runner who was sidelined by ITB syndrome prior to reaching college. He directed his athletic pursuits in college as a X-country skier at the University of Nevada-Reno. During college, he resumed running and shortly thereafter did his first triathlon. Peddling gear out of the back of his car at races funded his early efforts as a triathlete, and eventually led to the first triathlon specific wetsuit and tri bike. We will have to wait for the Slowtwitch editor to give more details.

His method for fitting is well delineated on his website. It was extremely helpful to hear it in person, and as always, there are details you can only pick up in person. In general, if you want to go faster in long distance triathlon, it is worth a visit to a F.I.S.T. certified fitter to test out Dan's principle for a steeper fit. The conclusions I get from his fit are:

1. There are general principles, but ultimately a fitter's experience and rider's comfort trump any specified geometric guidelines.
2. The results of a steeper fit are increased pressure on your crotch and upper extremity/shoulder girdle.
3. The way your body accommodates a steeper fit is through increased cervical lordosis.


So, what are the ramifications of increased cervical lordosis? Well, that depends. Cervical lordosis is the normal curvature of the spine. People who maintain 30-40 degrees of cervical lordosis have a much lower incidence of neck pain than that of the normal population, presumably by taking pressure off the anterior discs by the strength of the posterior extensor muscles. Cervical lordosis is believed to be maintained by the strong extensor muscles of the neck. In fact, an entire physical therapy regimen, the McKenzie Exercises, have been developed to help reduce or eliminate symptoms of those people with discogenic neck pain. So, a gradual increase in the strength of cervical extensors by "looking up the road" may be helpful to those people with these symptoms.

That all sounds good, right? It is, UNLESS you have facet joint symptoms or nerve root impingement. This is pain that is the result of arthritis of the facet joints located posteriorly in the neck. The pressure on these joints are increased by extending the neck. Generally, over time, these people may develop nerve root compression by arthritis created by the increased pressure in these joints.
What does it all mean? As with any change in position, gradual moves are tolerated much better than abrupt changes. If you have discogenic neck pain, strengthening the cervical extensors may even help your neck pain. However, if you have posterior facet arthritis, then the increased lordosis will likely be uncomfortable and unhealthy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I had a great opportunity this past weekend to run with Frank Shorter. Our local run club, Twin City Track Club, sponsored his visit, group run, and several speeches in the area. He is very agreeable and a fun guy. This was particularly neat for me as my staple run this past summer in Boulder included passing his statue at the University. Upon meeting him I told him that I ran with him every day this past summer...he initially looked at me like I was a loon until I explained.
I spent the past week reviewing data from many of the people who participated in our Tri Clubs October run challenge. It was nice that many people shared their data with me. Though there were enough gaps in the data that I wouldn't feel comfortable publishing any findings, the trend seemed pretty consistent. For the most part, there was a general drop in avg mile pace from the beginning of the challenge to the end (certainly not surprising) for the same heart rate. The most dramatic change occurred after the first week and the beginning of the final week. My brother did a great job on collecting very accurate data for heart rate, distance, and time. I will post his graph as it is pretty cool to see in that format.

Like review of most scientific data, this exercise raised more questions than it answered. One of particular interest was the self selected heart rates of the prescribed "easy" or "aerobic" effort. I was certainly at the low end and averaged less than 139 bpm for the entire month, far less than my 148 bpm aerobic ceiling I use for IM run pacing. Some less experienced athletes were putting some efforts I would classify as anaerobic before they detonated from a variety of biomechanical aches and pains. That said, my fitness continued to improve at what grossly appeared to be the same rate as those going much harder than I. I think this is pretty fascinating, and likely why I'm able to easily regain run fitness without the typical rash of tendinitis issues I commonly see and hear about.

On that note, I included a response to a buddy of mine that I train with. He has a great engine, but seems to chronically have biomechanical crashes that prevent the consistency and longevity that is so crucial to IM success. It may provide some benefit to others, so see below:

"I've been thinking quite a bit about your prior running issues. I would recommend taking it easy on the run, given your susceptibility to tendinitis. I think your best bet is EASY runs, no more than 45 minutes and stack them everyday until you get 6 weeks under your belt injury free. Heart rates less than 135 to assure that you aren't pounding too hard. For a guy like you, this will feel like walking.

The reason behind this is that it takes 6 to 8 weeks for your tendons, cartilage and bone to make structural changes in response to new biomechanical stresses. Given that you have a great cardiovascular system, your musculoskeletal system is challenged to respond as quickly. We know this isn't possible as cardiovascular fitness responds in just a few days whereas your musculoskeletal system requires 6-8 weeks. If you are patient and successful with this plan, I know you can still run fast at Disney, b/c your cardiovascular system will be fit from the swim/bike. Musculoskeletally you will be durable b/c of the slow build up."

Best of luck with your spring build,