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.


Anonymous said...

C'Dude - A 1/4 to 3/8 change is huge in biomechanics. I would suggest, and you could check with the Doc to see if you would be allowed to spin on the trainer with little to no resistance, just to get the leg "parts" accustomed to the new position. You know something like 15 to 30 minutes a day… no effort, just stretching and spinning. Good luck to you man. Mac

kG said...

Yeah -- that IS a huge change -- and I've been doing exactly that -- not really "riding", but spinning in the trainer on low/no resistance, and just letting things get into the feel of the new settings. It seems to be taking hold, and it's not aggravating the tendon, which is EXTRA good. Yeah, if it was only a MM or two, I wouldn't be concerned, but dang -- I was WAY off... in part, I'm glad this happened: it's my way of attaching a silver lining to it -- if I didn;t find this out NOW, I might have only made things worse. Now I just really want to ride again, for pete's sake. Yeesh - life without cycling is BORING.