Fourth Week

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I had deluded myself into thinking that I would be once more liberated to navigate a New England spring on the bike. Previous years’ efforts — skiing, marathon running, recovery — and a lack of urgency had delayed the start of my road seasons to sufficiently better weather conditions.  Subcribed, as I had become, to my diligent plan of base preparation and acknowlegding that the required volume no longer permitted indoor training, there remained no choice but to get out there and ride.

And so I did. 

At first, I marveled at the absurdity of me, on a bike, weather in the 30’s. I was extreme in my haberdashery on the preliminary outings; subsequently underdressed thereafter until I upgrade and updated my wardrobe to include a new pair of Castelli winter cycling tights — a garment for which I had foolishly believed I would no longer have any need and had long since discarded. However windburn, cold thighs and dick freeze demanded recourse and the redress was maximally enjoyable. In the words of Ned Flanders, “it’s like wearing nothing at all.”

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Recovery

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I’m back after my post-marathon recovery phase. Not that I spent much time recovering. After a few days, I was itchy to start exercising again. The first few runs were a little painful, especially my quads, but that passed quickly. I’m surprised and pleased to find myself healthy and injury free after the long winter and all the road miles.

So I ran the Wellesley One-Miler/Hannah Randolph Memorial. I ran the Newton 10k. I ran some workouts. And I got back on the bike. I started upper body and dryland work for skiing. I started rock climbing again.

That was effectively my month off.

Welcome to training season. One of my favorite times of the year.

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Wobbling

wobble board balance drills

As an ex-bike racer, my balance wasn’t very good for nordic skiing. At first, I was unable to stand on one foot for any period of time, much less glide a ski for any distance. I spent a lot of time on the snow — literally — from falling over. So I made it a point to improve my balance.

Functional balance is comprised of several parts: core strength, muscle memory, proprioception, inner ear and visual systems. There are more accurate physiological defintions, but this will suffice for the purposes of this article.

By far, the most effective tool for improving my balance has been a wobble board.

I use the 16″ Fitter First wobble board. This one is solid wood and has adjustable angles. There are other, less expensive options.

It’s taken me a few years to master it but it has paid of tremendously in my comfort and efficiency on skis.

Initial Drills:

The first drills are quite simple. Stand on the wobble board, one leg at a time, and balance on it as long as possible. Your leg will get tired very quickly, in particular all the stabilizing muscles. This will help improve your muscle strength. When one leg gets tired, switch.

You will also find that the board will want to bottom out and you will have concentrate to keep it level. You will spend a lot of time overcorrecting. Gradually, this will become easier as your proprioception and muscle memory improve.

Do this for 30 minutes to an hour, every day if possible. I’d watch a sitcom or two, which makes it a little tougher because your eyes are focusing on a moving target. If that’s too hard, focus on a fixed spot. Starting out on carpet as opposed to a hard floor will make things easier, too.

Intermediate Drills:

Once you can stand on the wobble board for more than a few minutes, you can step things up. If you have an adjustable board, you can raise the angle, which will give you less of a chance to recover your balance. You can also move it to a harder surface. The biggest thing to focus on for this period is duration. Extend the amount of time you can stand on one leg as you increase the difficulty. This will continue to build muscle memory and further strengthen your supporting muscles.

Advanced Drills:

After a while, just standing on the board for 10 or 15 minutes at a time will become a little boring. Adding dynamic movement will keep things interesting.

Here are a few things you can try:

  • Wave your arms around while trying to maintain balance.
  • Raise and lower a medicine ball from your waist to over your head. The weight of the med ball will affect your center of gravity and make it tougher.
  • Close your eyes. Once a visual reference is gone, you’ll have to rely on your vestibular system and proprioception.
  • One-legged squats. You can also do the classic knee-pop or skate compressions.
  • V2 technique simulation incorporating arm swing and knee pop.
  • Playing a musical instrument — in my case, a ukulele. The dexterity and concentration required to play will make the balance even more second nature.

Training Partner

Boston Mayors Cup 2011

Soon my son will turn 10.  He’s been on the bike since he could walk.  Maybe sooner.  I don’t push him but I offer him opportunities. He’s done half-a-dozen races over the years.  He suffers for them the way a young boy does.  Results never meet his expectations.  The causality of training and performance are, as of yet, abstract concepts.

I don’t push him but the sport is his for the taking.  It’s in his blood and genes.  And he’s stubborn enough to be good at it if he decides he wants it.  I don’t push him, but he can see what it takes by watching me.  A while back I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting.”  One of the points they made was that you’re far more likley to affect your children by modeling the behavior you’d like to see in them, as opposed to telling them how to be.  I think about this often when I’m working out and my son is complaining, “I wish I had a normal Dad who didn’t exercise all the time.”  He sees commitment, discipline, healthy living.  He sees how much work it takes and what the payoffs can be.

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Pissing At The Back

natural break pissing off the bike

The natural break. Le besoin natural. Face it. Pro bike races are long. At one point or another you’re going to have to stop and pee. One of the most important skills for a cyclist is the ability to do so without having to stop. If you look closely at the Tour de France coverage, you might see something like what’s pictured above. In this example, Amaël Moinard of the BMC team is taking a short respite at the back of the field. If the pace is slow enough, a mass of riders will all stop on the side of the road, then ride back en masse.

I’ve perfected this technique over the years, though I don’t have much use for it these days since I no longer to such long races. When I practice on training rides, it must be unsettling for a driver coming around a corner to see a guy on a bike skewed to one side. What? Is his water bottle leaking or something? I’m long gone before they’ve figured out what was happening. I have to be extra careful now. Apparently getting pinched for public urination (indecent exposure) will put you in the CORI database.

There have been a few times over the years where I’ve had problems with this method.

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Bike Fit

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I’ve been perfecting my position on the bike for over 25 years.  Sadly, I’m not quite there yet.

My position has changed substantially over time.  Some of it was due to fashion. When I started, upright positions were more common.  There was a phase of long, low stems.  Aerodynamic influences.  Power back saddle positions. The ‘spinaci‘ bars goofed up everything for a while until they were banned.  Everybody wants to look like the Euro racer with the stem slammed down and a flat, aggressive back.  Except that the old guys can handle that with their backs.

Some of it was due to equipment.  I had to work with whatever the sponsors provided, whether it was a “custom” bike from Richard Sachs (his geometry, my measurements) or a stock frame from Milano, Aegis or Colnago.  Some fit better than others.  I’m sure there is a made-to-order solution that would be ideal for me, but I just haven’t found it yet.  The transition from quill stems to threadless systems made adjusting stem height more complicated.

Then there was drift over time.  Saddles would slip backwards. Seatposts would creep down.  Cleats would drift.  Equipment would break and you could never quite get it adjusted the same way, even with all the markings and measurements.  I marked and measured everything, but could never effectively recover or transfer those measurements to a new ride.

Today, there are all sort of fit systems and calculation methods.  Some use power meters to identify the most efficient positions.  Some use aerodynamics.  Others body measurements and complex formulas born of European cobblestones and gypsy black magic.  I haven’t tried any of these because I believe, erroneously, I’m sure, that no formula or individual can do better than me for my own fit.

Recently, I’ve raised my saddle height — almost a full centimeter — and brought the seat further forward.  At some point I had cranked it all the way back.  I vaguely recollect some IT band issues.  I couldn’t adjust the height because my post had seized up in the frame.  The new position is a remarkable difference — it always is, even minor changes of millimeters — at first.  But that will pass with time and then no longer feel right.  Issues will start up.  A pain in the side of the knee.  Something in the wrists or back.  And then it will start all over again.

Running High

A lot of chatter lately about the impact of exercise on the brain has got me thinking.  I used to do that a lot — think, that is — on long training rides.  I always had my suspicions that there was some connection for me.  Early on, I had found a balance between athletics and academics; I needed one to offset the other, but mostly for “wholeness” of person. But I never expected there to be a proven connection.  From Gretchen Reynolds’ recent New York Times Magazine article:

For more than a decade, neuroscientists and physiologists have been gathering evidence of the beneficial relationship between exercise and brainpower. But the newest findings make it clear that this isn’t just a relationship; it is the relationship.

With all the exercise I’m doing, I should be a lot smarter.  Continue reading