Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Prescription from the Spin Doctor

Y'all will have to excuse the extended absences from the blog these days. As you know from previous posts, I've been wrestling with issues both existential and physiological.

This week, I've been testing the new fit on my bike and my shoe inserts, trying to see if they make enough difference that my re-injured knees will recuperate as I continue to ride. So far, the evidence is tenatively encouraging. Out of the two years I've been back on the bike, there've been many months when I've been mostly or completely out of commision. So, for right now, I'm just trying to keep the chin up and focus on what I can do, even if it seems worlds below what I stubbornly feel I could do.

And, in that vein, I had a great, one-hour jaunt this morning, shooting up and down rollers not far from my house. I'm trying to re-learn riding at a higher cadence (should help the knees), and I think alternating between flats and big rollers might be a great way to do so. It's really interesting how much less tired I am overall at the end of each ride when I spin more. I think I have a muscle-structure fairly well-suited to the roleur style, pushing tough gears and moving ever faster over ever-greater distances. In each of the last two years, I've ended up in that groove at some point mid-season. Muscularly, it works great, but apparently, my knees just will not take it. (They're built a little off-center.) Especially not on the much more serious hills out in Western Mass (compared to the Boston area, where we lived until a year ago).

At the beginning of each season, I've been a serious spinner, because I spend months on the rollers during the winter (and, yes, I like it!). I'll average around 90-95 rpm on the road early on, and will often go higher. But once the meat of the season rolls around and I've built up some serious quad-acity in the hills, I get lulled into pushing harder and harder. Before the knee stuff set in a few weeks ago, I probably had a cadence in the low 80s (but I was moving much faster). Let's face it: It's fun to feel the power in your legs rocketing you over hill and dale. You feel invincible!

Well, it seems my knees are very "vincible." I'm going to try teaching my body to spin a little more and push a little less; not a dramatic change, just maybe get up to somewhere in the low-to-mid-90s. I've never been able to do that when riding really fast; most of my leg-speed drills happen at lower speeds. So this will be interesting, trying to find the balance between muscle and grace.

On top of that, I'm considering buying a compact double chainring for the CAAD 8. The combination of going from a hill-flattening triple chainring to a standard double, and trying to surpass last season's feats while on some very serious altitude out here in the Western part of the state, contributed mightily to the Chondromalacia and ITBS resurgence.I bought the bike as NOS on eBay, so I didn't have many options about components. Also, I was lured by the full-Ultegra set-up. But I have a feeling that breaking up the Ultegra will be worth it. (I know Shimano makes an Ultegra compact double, but come on: $250?!)

So if you see someone out there in a month or so, spinning fast on a bright red bike, it may well be me. Say "Hi"!


Glenn_in_MA said...

Several years ago I suffered badly with ITBS in the right knee...ended up no riding for a month and PT for a few more. Then I got away from cycling for a few years (when children born!!), but when I came back I got Speedplay pedals. Presto, ITBS gone!! Plus I still do the ITB stretches they taught me in PT...I'm afraid not to do them! Anyway, something to consider if you're not already using them.
I have the other condition too in both knees, so I always have to ease into the season...but it's so hard not to over do it. I have a rule that I never violate. 500 or more miles spinning on the small chainring before I even consider pushing a big gear. For the last two weeks since I decided to try TTing, I've been adding tempo and intervals to my rides with at least one full day of rest in between. So far the knees have responded well.
Best of luck with your cycling!

Velosopher said...

Glenn, always interested in others' experience. I do have Look pedals with 9 degrees of float, so I'd be surprised if another pedal system were to improve on that. I have heard, however, that the full-pivoting Speedplay action is better for the knees, though my fitter last week waved away a suggestion that I switch pedals. Guess I'll have to test out some SPs somewhere, somehow.

Good luck with your goals this year -- keep us informed!