Bike Fit and a few more things from last week

On Tuesday (yes, I am “blogging backwards”), Coach Mike K, Helen, Mentor Margaret, Iron Melissa, Susie, Lessanjen (you know, like ‘Brangelina’ (smile)), Paula and I did our Lactate Threshold test at my house. It was a LOT of fun to have everyone over, especially on the day that H left for Austria. Doing the test basically involves riding your bike on a trainer until you puke. Well, not QUITE until you puke. But nearly. ;-)

I had been having some issues with the gearing on Angelina when H and I went on the ride during the weekend – slipping out of the lower gears. He had worked on it a bit, and Coach Mike worked on it a bit and looked at my fit in general. But he, and Sedonia, and a number of others had urged me to get a “professional bike fit”…and that was on the books for the next day. After the LT test, I had that nagging ache in my knees that biking – since my USMC knee thing – leads to. I had told Coach Mike that on my ride on Angelina during the weekend (slipping gears aside) I had also had trouble climbing hills that I could climb with Vlad’s granny gear (H, on Vlad, actually went up and down the hill cheering me on…at least I didn’t walk!) Mike said that with a proper bike fit, I should have more power and it might affect both of these issues.

So the next day I was up to Aria Velo in Santa Rosa. Rand Libberton is considered by members of my Team whom I really respect to be one of the top bike fitters anywhere – and the price was 1/3 of what another team member had paid. So though it was still expensive (given my current low low income state), I figured I really HAD to do this.

Eight hours later, I walked out!

Okay, some of it was talking about the whole fitting “thing,” Ironman racing in general and the like. (Moi? Get someone talking? (smile).) Rand had been a TNT Cycle/Iron coach in the past and has 5 Ironmans (Ironmen?) under his belt and is doing IM Canada this year – so there was a lot to talk about. My favorite story actually had to do with when he decided to move from being an ultradistance cyclist to doing his first Ironman because a 56 year old family friend from his home town in North Carolina was doing IM Florida. I was in stitches when he explained the training regime he concocted for himself…which included the story of his first run. After he’d sent in the $ for the IM, he went out, bought some running shoes, and then figured (since he could cycle for hours and hours), that he’d go out “for just an hour,” on his first run. He wound up giving himself, all at once, the top 4 running injuries, including plantar fasciitis and shin splints!! (Then, in his first Swim – which he did under the auspices of my old swim coach DeAnn Joslin in Petaluma, small world! – he thought he’d “just swim for an hour”…and wound up getting 1/2 lap before he started to drown and gasp! :-) )

“Fitting” includes having all your “measurements measured” – from your shoulders, arms, hamstring flexion, hip and ankle flexibility, where the ball of your foot is, etc….to a special little number that you push down, stand over, and then let slowly rise up until it gooses you to show your “true” inseam! (Wonder if the guys step off this thing singing soprano for a few seconds…?)

Rand measures your bike, and transfers the measurements exactly to a machine that looks sort of like a bike/cyborg combo. Then he puts you on it, and sticks electrodes to your various “moving parts” (ankle, knee, shoulder, hip, etc.) so that he can “motion capture” you riding. The whole time, we were talking about “all things Ironman.” His girlfriend Lydia (who was one of the founding members of Counting Crows) actually also got bitten by the Iron “bug” and not only got into Kona the first time that she entered the raffle, but also had an AMAZING moment on the Ironman video that year! (He played it for me.) We talked a LOT about nutrition, and I recounted my ‘issue’ with the 70.3 and he had some ideas on what to potentially do to address it. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Compute, compute, compute. Chat, chat, chat.

The motion capture not only shows you in all your glory and where you should be straight instead of bent and vice versa (oy), but also it tracks where in your pedal stroke you are gaining (or losing) power. It was fascinating. Rand then shows you (off the bike, in chairs) WHY your power gets messed up if you are not in the right position. The one that really stuck with me is this: Sit in a chair, feet on the floor, sitting up straight. Now, stand up. When you go to stand up, you lean forward an exact angle (everyone does – I forget the angle but it’s specific). Your body “just does this” to engage all the best muscles to give you the power. If you lean forward farther than that angle, you don’t engage the muscles correctly (though you can do it, just not as efficiently). And if you lean BACK away from that angle and try to get up, you can’t even really engage those muscles at all (imagine trying to stand up from a “slumped back” position without leaning forward – impossible).

As Rand explained it, the fit on my bike as I brought her into the shop was more like that “leaning back” position. I had asked him in particular why I felt most comfortable riding in the drops – though all Cycling books and magazines detail that you should spend about 80% of your time on the hoods. He said that by getting down in the drops, I was trying to “get down to” the angle that would help me produce that power…up in the hoods, the “angle made” by my body in relation to my legs was more like that “lean back position” in the chair and my body just couldn’t sustain that for very long.

And then, he started to change the geometry. Everything. From where my cleats were on my shoes, on up. Hooooooly cow! The motion capture from the beginning to the end went from me with a bowed back, straight arms out of my shoulder sockets (and widely spread hands due to the “extra width” handlebar) and my knees (at the “up”/bent position) well below the bar, to a straight back, relaxedly (is that a word?) bent elbows, shoulders down, and my knee actually ABOVE the bar while pedaling. The only ‘change’ that cost me extra were the new handlebars (and they were only $40) – he threw in the new stem -and he even took all the stickers off the bike and the ‘pie plate’ behind the gears gratis so I “wouldn’t look stupid” (no mincing words there). Everything changed. Every-freakin’-thing. I guess the biggest one was that the seat went up –  nearly THREE inches. (He said it in centimeters, which sounded even bigger, of course.) I got up on the bike and started laughing and making “altitude sickness” comments! I haven’t actually been out on a ride with her yet – I don’t want to go alone – and I had ALREADY, before, been having trouble catching the tip of the saddle on the “pad” on the back of my bike shorts when I got going. I can’t even IMAGINE how I’m going to ‘get up there’ now!

Speaking of saddles, Rand said that my saddle is “OK for now,” though he had a number of woman-fit saddles for me to look at. My saddle on Vlad was rubbing me because it was too “flared” in back. Angelina’s new Fizik saddle is WAY harder, but it’s narrower and the shape seems good – so I’m going to see how it goes.

Aria Velo even has a room called “The Lab” with a trainer that you put your bike on, where you can queue up any race you want (including of course Ironman Louisville) from a biker’s perspective and ride it. The trainer simulates the hills, etc. Even the water stops and special needs stops are on the film! I definitely plan to take advantage of that.

I think my favorite times in the whole experience were when he said I had “professional cyclist level” knee/hip side-to-side movement (I had pretty much none, which he said is basically unheard of for a complete non-cyclist like moi, or even for most “real” cyclists). And also when he showed me how to affect my pedal/power stroke on the computer screen attached to my movement. I got very competitive on that one! He said that people generally stay under 50 or so (I think that was the number). I could get it up to 73. (He said that he can get it to 80 for a few counts). Yes, yes, I might not have the most expensive bike in the world, and I might not be the best cyclist in the world, but I have “world class” knee/hip (non-)movement and can “get the numbers” on the pedal/power machine. Who-hoo (laugh!) The thing that I learned and could dramatically SEE was that if you can get your RPM to hold at 90, your pedal stroke loses some of the “loss of power” points at just about 1:00 (on the clock of your pedal stroke) and 5:00 that it has when you pedal at a slower rate. Also, because you could see each foot’s power separately, it was very easy to see that you really only get power when you are on the “front side” of the circle, not on the “back side,” regardless of how many exercises you do to “pull up” on the stroke or imagine having “equal power” all the way around. Pedalling is all about the foot that is on the “forward side of the circle” pushing “out” not “stomping down”, and then “riding back up” when the other foot is doing the front side of the circle. Rand had me do an exercise where I tried to “relax” my foot and ankle (reminded me a lot about what I learned in the Chi Running seminar) and just keep the RPM up without “pushing down” but rather, by pushing “forward,” then riding the pedal around. That’s when I got the highest numbers and the flattest “power loss” profile. I explained to Rand that I found 80 RPM to be a good “sweet spot” for me – he said I really had to try to keep it in a lower gear and up at that 90 RPM as much as I could. He said he knew that, once I got used to it, the new geometry was going to help a lot.

Rand asked me how I had set up Angelina in the first place – and I explained that H had pretty much tried to match the geometry on Vlad – which had been matched to geometry from my bike before, and so on, and so on. And, of course, NO, I had never been “professionally fit” on “Bike Zero,” the bike that had started it all. Rand said that, given that my hip/knee movement were at “such a rock solid level,” he was pretty much 100% sure that all my knee issues on the bike were from the ‘completely idiotic geometry and positioning’ I had ridden with for so many years. (No mincing words there.)

After he realized that I could take his Love Through Sarcasm brand of coaching, Rand convinced me into replacing not only my under-saddle tool/tube case (“If you’re carrying that suitcase to put your jacket in it, suck it up and put it in your jersey back pocket like the rest of us”), but also my pump/CO2 combo (“Can you pump anything up using that? I didn’t think so. So why are you carrying it?”) When I explained that I was terrified of “doing a Chrissie Wellington” with a CO2 cartridge if I had to fill a tube since I’d never used one, he actually took the air out of my tire and made me fill it not once, but twice. (The Ironman DVD that we had watched with his girlfriend on it was the one where Wellington got a flat, then didn’t fit the CO2 cartridge on  correctly and had to go begging for one from a fellow competitor.) He threw those in, for free, an extra tube, some “non-idiotic tire levers” to replace mine, etc. Pity is a wonderful thing.

The thing that I was sad about was that my IM Louisville-training friend Missy couldn’t fly out to have her bike fit, too! She is a cycle “nut” (said with love) and Aria Velo would be an “ice-cream-with-whipped-cream-and-fudge-sundae-cherry-on-top” experience for her. She has been tinkering on her own with the fit of her tri bike, her road bike, and her mountain bike and I know that if she could bring her “rides” to Rand, she would be totally set.

So, there ya go – that’s my bike fit story. I gotta get on Angelina this week, and see how it goes! The geometry is so different, it’s almost like I got a new bike!