November 24, 2006

With head held high, we move forward

First let me say that I appreciate all the kind words and thoughts that were sent to our family during the last month - they mean a lot, and will be cherished forever. Having said that, it's time to move forward - as he would have wanted it; not to dwell or linger in the past for too long. So, I have removed some of the more personal effects from the blog - and we now, as they say, return you to our regularly scheduled programming...

Marching back towards regular cycling is one step I can now take, as the clock finally ticks down on my time as a member of the injured reserve list. With only four days left to go, and a lot of baggage to unload, I took the bikes down from the rafters last night, aired up the tires and took a few laps around the neighborhood. I'm happy to report that the pains of the last month are gone, and practically forgotten during daily life these past few weeks. Yard work, playing with the kids, lifting, stretching and general walking around haven't produced any tightness or flaring in the ankle or tendon area. While this injury had become FAR less important over the past weeks, it has popped back into importance as I've looked for ways to occupy myself, and maintain fitness.

While it will take some time to get back to a level of competitiveness, it should also be noted that I really haven't been at a competitive level for some years now. Since 2003, I have really taken a laxidazical approach to riding and eating and health in general. Only recently have I been motivated to do something about that, and by rejoining Weight Watchers this past month, I have lost a total of 10.2 lbs -- however I must admit that Thanksgiving was tough this year, for obvious reasons, and I may have slid backwards a touch; but I can restart and correct for that easily - which is the plan. A solid upper body program has turned into habit, and also while it's been hard to keep that up over the past week, I'm anxious to get back into it, and get more results - some of which have already begun to show. Looking back on HOW I made 2003 such a solid season, it's clear now what's been missing - hard work. It was NOT easy before, but sometimes looking back it seems so impossible -- this time, and for all of 2007, I'm prepared to do the work that delivers the results I have waxed philisophical about.

The first steps, however, are in the form of slow rebuilding. Cycling remains a strong passion, but jumping back into action with a metric century is NOT in the cards. It's almost December, after all, and big miles are really not in the cards -- even though as I write this it's nearly 65 degrees outside! Not bad for the day after Thanksgiving. As much as I'd LIKE to get right back into the thick of riding, I know that I can't, and it will take some time to build up even to a COMMUTE to work! Last night started with approx. 3.5 miles. Today, later this afternoon when the heat of hte day peaks out, I'll go for about 5-7 miles. Then, 7-10 miles. After that, 10-12 miles, then 12-15, then 15-20 -- after reaching a successful 20 mile ride, I'll be ready to start commuting again, sporadically. Rest days will be important, too. After commuting for a bit, the weekends will hold more distance. It will almost be like starting over: though I likely haven't lost THAT much, six weeks off doing ANYTHING cardio-related will certainly have some sort of consequence attached to it.

Reaching 30 miles on the weekends may have to come as early as NEXT weekend, however, with the last CommuterDude ride of the year - this will be a 34 mile ride, at a REALLY easy pace. Hopefully, nothing will prevent me from doing that ride, but I'll have to be cautious. Worst case, I can drive support for the ride, and let others enjoy it - but we'll see. I'm NOT going to reschedule it again!! Promise!

After the 35-mile marker, things will start to get easier, I imagine. Strength and endurance will come back, and hopefully with no reminders of the injury. Knocking on wood!!! The next goals will be the metric century, and that may well be the extent of mileage training until things begin to turn around in late February. After that, serious ramping up for the brevets will have to begin, and I may see my first full century ride in early March (pending the brevet schedule).

After that, a full schedule of 200, 300, 400 and 600K rides ensue - once again with the 600 holding up the scepter of "longest ride ever", since Tejas didn't go as well as planned. I still have yet to break the 300 mile mark in a single event, so I'm looking again at early May for the personal record attempt. With that in the bag, Tejas 2007 will likely hold far fewer surprises.

All in good time... Stay tuned! We're on our way back, baby!!!

November 3, 2006

Taking stock of the situation

I've learned a lot over the past week -- once injured or something happens, I turn into research-boy - scanning the net for clues, hints, tips... a glimmer of hope. It's been interesting. First off, it's REALLY hard to find CYCLING SPECIFIC information on Achilles tendinitis (or tendOnitis, which I learned is also an acceptable spelling in medical journals...) -- most of the information out there is for long distance runners. But, most of the information is adaptable. So, I learned some stuff on how to heal correctly.

Also broke down on Wednesday and visited the doctor's office - just in case. Each morning the pain and stiffness has been getting progressively better, and also it is taking longer into the day for things to flare back up again - so that means that it's probably healing well. However, I *AM* glad I went to the doc, because a set of x-rays put my mind (and his) at ease about the nature of the injury. No calcifications, no frays or tears, nothing permanent - which is good - but defintely a little stress.

Over-use injury -- no doy.

Let's see; number one was not riding a single weekend between the MS-150 in early September until Tejas in late October. Body not ready for the massive jump in mileage, ya think? Strike one.

Walking to the tent in the dark? Strike two - stumbled on SOMETHING, but not sure what. That irritated things and pushed it over the edge.... but what is "it", in this case? "IT" was saddle height! Strike three.

"What??? I thought the dude was all tape-measury and stuff????"

Well, I know -- I SHOULD be... but on the most recent of my builds I have been using the tape measure only sporadically, and the saddle heights were all adjusted on the trainer "biomechanically" -- specifically, the "heel test".
What's that?
Get on the bike, pedal a little to settle in, and then unclip one foot from the pedals and try to touch your extended heel to the pedal when it's furthest away from you, at the 5 o'clock position or thereabouts. The way it reads is, you should be "barely able to touch it, but are NOT able to plant your weight on it - if you can, your seat is too low." Okay, cake... so I got the saddles in a good starting place, and then took it from there. They always felt fine, no issues, no knee pain, etc.

HOWEVER, I forgot a critical thing: "barely able to touch it" is VERY VAGUE. Sure, I was barely able to touch the pedals with my heel - but compared to WHAT? Like, you can only MAYBE touch them, or you simply can't get your whole heel on there? And what if you drop your hips a little to one side? What then? We're talking full centimeters here, potentially!

Cut back to today, and my specific injury. Possibly caused by over-extending the ankle downward, putting undue stretch on the achilles tendon -- multiply by however many pedal strokes it takes to get to 220 miles. Yeesh... toss in a hobble on a rock or something on a dark walk back to the tent, and then ride AGAIN, yeah - that might do it. But were the saddles too low all this time? And if they were, how come I didn't notice any knee pain???

Well, there was no knee pain because I *WAS* able to "barely" brush the pedals with my heel... that only means that it's not too high OR too low for my KNEES. What about joints that don't have such a broad sweep of range like the knees do? Like the ankle? It's a pretty tight arrangement down there.

So, I dug into the toolbox and got out the old tape measure that I'd used in the past to get all anal about saddle height and handlebars and such. There, upon it's surface, was the old tick-mark that designated the seat-height on my original road bike, the orange Schwinn. The benchmark.
Lets see how close the "heel test" got me...


First, the Kogswell --- survey says...... >EAARRRRRNNNN!!!!<
WRONG! Close, but no banana. The saddle was indeed low - by about 3/8 of an inch!
That's a LOT, dude. So, I got out the allen wrenches and got it spec'd exactly how all my older bikes had been in the past. After re-centering the saddle and tightening everything up, I threw it into the track-stand and mounted up....and performed the "heel test"...

THIS time, I truly was only *BARELY* able to brush my extended heel on the pedal -- I mean **BARELY** --- maybe THIS is what they were talking about! That explains the mild, but manageable, knee pain after the MS-150 this year (done on the Kogswell).
DUDE, sometimes your dumbness amazes me... talking to me. Wow.

So, not low enough to hurt the knees, obviously - but low enough that the over-use injury itself was probably brewing a lot longer than just this recent Tejas weekend -- it was probably brewing all summer long on commutes on a saddle that was just about a centimeter too low - but, at only 11 miles at a time I would never have revealed it.

Not even on a century, perhaps. But it was indeed causing heel-drop at the bottom of each pedal stroke, and giving the achilles a slight tug. The twisted ankle probably sent things over the edge at Tejas, and then riding on it just made it worse.

But wait --- I wasn't ON the Kogswell in Texas... I was on the Weapon... the Cannondale. Could I have screwed up there, too?

Well, probably so, foolio.

I then took the tape measure to the Cannondale and found the same issue - just not to the same degree. The saddle was actually fairly close - but still about 1/4" too low. While this might not have been enough to cause the initial injury, it was certainly enough to make life a little less comfy. Still, it probably saved me from having to bow out of Tejas after only 100 miles, instead of 220. Who knows... but again, the revised "heel test" after adjusting the Cannondale proved the same as it had minutes before: It was much more apparent what *BARELY* meant in those instructions. The Cannondale is now the same as the Kogswell, and now BOTH bikes are the same as the old Schwinn had been - which was PERFECT at MV24.
I tossed C'Dale into the trainer next and spun for about five, pain-free minutes -- of course that's probably the ankle wrap, ibuprofen and Flexoril talking... I'm still taking the doc's advice -- no riding for 4 more weeks: but I can't WAIT for December 1st to get out and ride a short 15 miles and see how things feel - based on that short trainer session, the bike feels more "dialed" that it has since I bought it.

Why I didn't notice this sooner is beyond me, because it could have prevented a LOT of hassle and pain. I'm very glad I read that piece on saddle height relating to tendinitis: Otherwise I would've jumped on the bike on December 1st and started the injury process all over again on the Kogswell with too-low a saddle. Now, the position, and the way my legs are behaving in that new position, everything feels neutral, efficient, and fluid. I never felt like my knees were coming up too high before - but now, it's clear that something was "off" -- both bikes not only feel identical to each other, but they both also seem to fit me better now. I'm really disappointed that my stickler-ness didn't catch THIS important detail.... but, hey; at least all my crimp ends are color-matched.


So, there ya have it --- saddle height is not something to be messed with, and not only from a knee perspective. Now my heels don't drop -- my toes have to point a little to make it to the bottom of the stroke, and that relaxes that tendon nicely... this is how it SHOULD be. No hip rocking, no pain; nice and smooth.
The only reason I didn't have this issue at Tinbutt is likely that the Cannondale's saddle WAS closer than the Kogswells - but also, I didn't stumble on any campsite debris, either.

The mystery is solved: A combination of too much mileage on a bike with too-low a saddle all summer, the transition to a bike with a slightly different saddle height, a 12-hour drive in a car with no cruise control, a stumble/ankle-twist on a walk to/from the tent, a hilly course, and a jump in mileage from 110-per-week to 220 in less than 24-hours, and not ramping-up with weekend rides of ANY distance for over a month leading up to it.

All that equals a painful mistake that didn't have to happen. But that's life.

Man, this is gonna be a LONG month.