Monday, November 30, 2009

Bike Fit triangle

Bike fitting is a topic that evokes strong feelings amongst cyclists. Some think it is absolutely essential to have the perfect fit. They tend to think of that perfect fit as the one and only optimal solution. It exists somewhere in Plato's cave and it takes a real expert to discover it. Once discovered untold magical benefits will befall the fitted.

I am quite skeptical when it comes to fitting. I believe that humans are very adaptable and that they can get "used to" and perform well using a wide range of possible fittings. I know from personal experience that I did well on frames as small as 51 cm and as large as 61. I am 6'1'' or 182 cms tall and when I plug my measurements into a fit calculator the recommended frame size is always 58 cms (the old fashioned c-to-c seat tube or equivalent length). Currently I ride a 56 cm frame because I feel better in a slightly more upright position.

There is a way to bring some order to the chaos of fitting. Basically I view fitting as a compromise represented by a triangle of power, comfort, and aerodynamics. The optimal fit, or the range of optimal fits is somewhere in the inside of the triangle. Even though it is customary to think of the triangle as equilateral, the "exact shape" really depends on the person. In some people optimal power and optimal aero are close together, whereas in others optimal power is closer to optimal comfort. In most individuals however, we have a real triangle and serious compromises need to be made.

Furthermore, not the whole inside of the triangle is accessible to all. There are limits to how far an individual can go along the major axes. The range represents how adaptable a person is. Some people may never be able to get close to optimal power while in aero while others may never be aero while comfortable.

Boonen, road bike

Even in the textbook case of an equilateral triangle where the whole internal area is accessible, the optimal fit is not defined. It depends. It depends on the type of riding a person does and there are optimal fits for every riding experience. Many competitive cyclists will have two fits, one for regular racing and one for time trialing. They will use different bikes for these activities too.
Cancellara: road position

Cancellara TT position

If you predominantly race in packs, you probably want to bias your fit towards optimal power. Although aero is important, it is far less important in pack riding where you can draft. Comfort too can be compromised if the usual races are short 1-3 hour events. If this is your typical ride you will do best with a power fit.

If you predominantly ride alone and compete in long time trials or triathlon you will prefer a good aero position. You can give up some power to get there as the overall result will still be favorable. Experience has shown that nearly everyone has to give up power to get good aero. How much you should give up depends on how adaptable you are.

Finally, if you are an endurance cyclist and often ride in excess of 100 miles, you will value comfort more. Even ironman athletes will want to give up some aero and some power for comfort, especially when comfort means keeping the legs fresh for the run.

It also matters whether you prefer to climb or sprint on the flats, and whether you mainly ride on the track or on the road. Once again, you need not find a globally optimal solution and you can easily train two or three optimal but different positions. The only thing to keep in mind, is to do your race training using the position (and bike) you will ride in the race. Otherwise you may be in for a nasty surprise.

Today I rode 30 miles.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving week

Today marks the end of the Thanksgiving week vacation. The kids were off from school all week and Barbara took three days off. The weather was gorgeous except for Friday, when it rained and was overcast pretty much the whole day.

I got a lot of riding in this week, despite being quite busy at work. On Tuesday I rode 23 miles with Alistair. On Wednesday we rode the South Loop of the Grizzly century, or 42 miles into Castro Valley. On Thanksgiving day, we rode with the California Pedaler group in Danville, a very fast 2:30 ride along the flats. The distance, including riding to and from the event was 56 miles.

Friday I decided to stay indoors and ride an easy 1:10 minutes on rollers. I burned 800 calories total. The first hour I averaged 180W and burned almost 700 calories.

Yesterday I rode the "fruitstand" ride in a near-continuous headwind. It was very gusty and at times extremely hard, even though it was sunny and the temperature was very nice. At one point between San Ramon and Danville, I was trapped in a whirlwind of yellow leaves that created a surreal scene. There was debris everywhere and I had to ride on the road most of the way. Then on Grizzly, very near to Marlborough I almost got blown off my bike. Overall 58 miles and very hard. I was thrashed.

Today I built my 7th bike (an Orbea Diva for my friend Barbara) and I ran a 10K in the hills. It was quite warm today and I was able to run just wearing a one-piece trisuit.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Coaching upgrade

Over the weekend I took the Level 2 Cycling Coach test and passed. I am now upgraded to a Level 2 Cycling Coach. There is one more level to challenge but to do so I have to wait five years. It therefore appears that I have now reached the peak of my coaching career.

To reach Level two took a review of exercise physiology -fortunately, it appears nothing much has changed since I last took a comprehensive course in physiology in 1980-, biochemistry -at least as it pertains to energetics, where some changes did happen- and training specific topics such as training plan design, race strategy and tactics, overtraining, overreaching and other current topics.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the clinic and the discussions. The instructors were high caliber and the lectures were interesting and fun. Even though I was familiar with most of the stuff -I guess medical education does count for something- I did not get bored or frustrated listening or participating.

If anything needed to change, I would recommend USA Cycling spend less time on muscle anatomy-although the sliding filament theory is everyone's favorite, there are few practical implications here- and more on fluid compartments, acid-base buffering, and fluid balance -which does have a practical side to it.

It also appears the two days rest were beneficial and I feel better now than before.
Thursday: 40 mile ride through Orinda-Moraga;
Friday: rollers for 1:20, burning 1,250 calories -with a calibrated meter;
Saturday: 42 with Alistair over Papa Bear, Happy Valley, and Pinehurst;
Sunday: with Darryl and Marcus, about 38 miles, first to Peets, then to top of Redwood and back;
Today, 8.85 mile run in the hills, up Broadway Terrace.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Training and dieting

Have you noticed that there are striking parallels between training and dieting? Both are areas rife with magic rituals, special formulas, "secret tips," and an abundance of pseudo-scientific utterances. There are clever tricks that "will shave off the pounds, or increase your aerobic fitness in less than 2 weeks."

We have all seen ads where it is proclaimed that you can eat whatever you like or however much you like and still lose weight. Similarly there are ads that tout significant improvements after working out only minutes a day. In both cases it is implied that you can sit around on the couch all day and wonderful things will happen to you if you just follow a few simple rules, or ingest a few special capsules.

Both dieters and would-be athletes abuse supplements, vitamins, anti-oxidants and other pharmacological aids in large numbers.

However, just like it has been shown over and over again that any diet works by reducing calories, and reducing calories alone, so any training program can only achieve results by adding intensity and intensity alone. Furthermore, just as all diets are successful to the extent that they achieve calorie reduction, so any training program works only to the extent that it introduces intensity.

Ironically enough, the failure modes for both endeavors are rather similar too. Dieters lose because they fail to stop eating, and would-be athletes fail because they shy away from intensity training.

Sun, 28 mile ride with Alistair (moderate to easy);
Monday, 34 mile ride (hard);
Tuesday, 10.5 mile hilly run (hard);
Wednesday 7.25 mile run.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Coaching clinic

Today I am in Davis for a level 2 coaching clinic. The event lasts through Sunday noon. Two full days of lectures plus one morning. It is pretty intense. Overall I was pleasantly surprised with the quality. The level is quite basic -esp. the physiology parts- but the scientific rigor is good and that is reassuring. It is not so much that I am learning new stuff here, but reviewing everything from a training/coaching perspective is good to do. And it is good to hear that people take all the training hype with a decent grain of salt.

I will use this event to insert a break in my training. I plan to take two days off and then maybe I will do something light on Sunday. That will be a nice change now that the season is over. So far this week, I have run 7.5 on Monday, and another 8.75 on Wednesday. I also did two rides, 30 on Tuesday and 35 on Thursday. Together with a light workout on Sunday, it will make for a good recovery week.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Creaking and squeaking

Monday's ride over the backside of Papa Bear -Bear Creek Rd. if you aren't familiar with Berkeley- and Happy Valley was a lot of fun. But it also bothered me that the new KOM was making a lot of noise. The saddle creaked, and so did the handlebars. Tightening the bolts did nothing to alleviate the noises. It may even have made things worse.

The remedy turned out to be very simple: undo the bolts, apply some grease here and there, and tighten again. That took care of it and creaks and squeaks are now a thing of the past.

On Tuesday I ran 8.8 miles in the hills. On Wednesday I rode on rollers for 1:15, burning my customary 1,221 calories. On Thursday I had a pretty busy day going over to Marin for work, so I rested. On Friday, it drizzled and rained all day and I went for a run. It was clear when I took off, but as soon as I was down the hill a light drizzle started. I ran intervals up Bay Forest for a total of 7.5 miles (7 laps). It turned out to be a great choice.

Saturday was clear and I went on a 40 mile ride through Orinda and Moraga. I felt good and rode the hills quite fast. All went well until some guy passed me on the last hill. By now I was pretty tired -and I probably should have eaten something too- so I had to let go of him. Even so, I felt good and I think I got a good workout.

On Sunday I rode 28 with Alistair going up past Bort Meadow and coming back over Redwood. It was sunny but rather cool, especially on Redwood Rd. This time of year, Redwood is shaded for most of the day and it is also protected from the wind. That means it can get quite cold there, and near the bottom, ice may form in the early morning and at times it lingers until noon.

The bottom or Redwood near Pinehurst, and the intersection between Pinehurst and Canyon Rd. are some of the coldest spots in the East Bay.

Today 7.25 mi run in the hills. Overcast skies, cool weather.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Boston and more

The Brain Aneurysm Foundation is overwhelmed by requests for the 10, 2010 IM Lake Placid slots they received so I asked them to sell mine. I will do a fundraiser at the Boston Marathon instead. This is really a win-win for everybody. I can take a break from ironman -finally- and the foundation gets an extra fundraiser and a presence at the Boston Marathon to boot. The latter is key since they were denied official charity status for 2010. Now that Seth qualified maybe the two of us can break the ice here.

More great news: the feature in Competitor magazine was published, complete with a masterful shot by none other than Larry Rosa. It looks great and some people already noticed it too. By sheer coincidence I stopped at the bike store on Saturday and found the article in the most recent copy. Hopefully this article will raise additional awareness for our cause.

IM Lake Placid, shot by Larry Rosa

November and the weather is gorgeous. It is not for nothing that Oakland is said to have the best weather in the US! Yesterday I joined Team Specialized for a game of mountain bike polo in Fremont. It was great fun even though I had to play right-handed (I am a lefty), which certainly contributed to my rather frequent crashes. However, other than a little pedal mark on my left shin, no permanent damage was done.

On Tuesday I rode on rollers for 1:15, burning 1,221 calories.
On Wednesday I rested.
On Thursday I rode 28 miles on the KOM
On Friday I ran 10.5 in the hills (the shepherd loop)
On Saturday I rode to Danville with Alistair (56 miles).
Sunday was mountain bike polo day.
Today 40 miles, over Papa Bear and Happy Valley