27 Jul 2016


I'm pretty sure that the last post I wrote was a whole pile of moaning about how I've not been comfortable riding the bike.

Little did I realise how much more that was to become.

I never thought I'd be an athlete, doing those things that athletes do, like stretching, and eating exercise food, drinking protein powder - and I certainly never thought I'd be seeing a sports doctor to get steroid injections to address physical injuries arising from the stress of what I've been putting myself through.

Around 300 days ago (not that I'm counting) I had a... mishap.

I was commuting home, just got back on the bike after moving house (and a bunch of kms further away from work), and was in the process of indicating to cross the highway to take the turn off to my suburb - because in New Zealand we put street lights along our motorways rather than these fancy 'interchange' things that are only just starting to catch on.

I'm not sure exactly what happened after that - I had my arm out and checked behind me to see if there was any traffic coming, then I hit the ground. I don't know if it was a catseye, or a slippery white line - perhaps I just lost my balance, or maybe one of these things happened and my arm couldn't take the strain of only having one hand on the bars...

Whatever did happen I hit the ground with my left elbow at around 40km/h.

I felt like I'd been dropped on my head - having actually been dropped on my head once I can testify that it was a very similar feeling. I kinda blanked out, and then came to in absolute terror as I realised I was laying in the middle of the motorway, which I will be eternally thankful was void of traffic.

The initially obvious mess was all the superficial stuff - the expected stuff like torn sleeves on my long cycling shirt, gravel firmly embedded in the bloody mess that was my elbow and knee, and the less expected like the holes in the top of my gloves (imagine you are holding a cup - the area on the base of your thumb which is facing towards the ceiling) and the scuffs on the face-plates for my shifters. Apparently I'd forgotten to let go of the bars when I fell off.

But it appeared that I was ok, and I was mostly concerned about the bike - had I cracked the frame on my new carbon steed? Would I ever live it down if I had, let alone be able to replace it? What ammunition had I handed my esteemed workmates for their humourous scathing comments?

I rode the last couple of kms home with a sore arm, a bit of a dripping bloody mess, left arm refusing to function correctly, and made the painful grind up my, thankfully short, 10+% driveway. I reported my injuries to my beloved, and based on my current position amongst the living and considerable inability to remember exactly what happened I'm guessing the berating and flogging weren't fatal.

It was sure sore (the injury, not the marital justice), but it wasn't Emergency Room urgent - it just seemed to be a good old dose of road rash and a mild case of bruised pride. I took a concrete pill along with a handful of anti-inflammatories, cleaned up, and got some rest.

The next few days were train days as I couldn't move my left shoulder properly. I saw my physio the next day and it was assessed that I'd done some pretty good damage, but not broken anything... I was under the assumption that it would go away, and a few weeks later it seemed to settle itself down and I was away laughing.

Or so I thought.

A few months later I decided to do Taupo, and started riding more intensely. Instead of riding to town and back I was putting in long efforts and hill climbs, sprints and max efforts here and there... pretty much doubling the amount of riding I'd been doing. I started to notice that my shoulder would complain after the long weeks, and then occasionally - usually when I had to put in quick reactions to keep balance on the bike, like correcting for a bump in the road - I would get huge pains.

This continued for a few weeks as winter started, until one week I had a few separate incidents in the work car-park, which is notoriously slippery-when-wet, where I was left with pain in my shoulder for the rest of the day, so I figured it was time to get some more physio.

I got a new physio at the recommendation of The Engineer, and started on those rubber band exercises, the light weight lifting, and as the weeks went by I noticed an increase in strength, and a constant increase in pain levels, until two weeks ago when I got to the point where I simply couldn't ride.

And I've been off the bike for two weeks.

I guess should have been more diligent when I had the original accident - something that I now know and won't let pass me by again.

I got a referral from Mr Physio for x-ray and ultrasound and and appointment to see the Sports Doc, whom I saw today.

After a thorough examination and consultation of the pictures he and confirmed what we thought - that I'd torn a tendon, and my bursar was inflamed due to the darn thing rubbing against it - likely in part having been aggravated by the strengthening exercises that I've started doing.

The theory is that when I planted my elbow into the road at 40kmh that my shoulder got shocked upwards upwards, my bursa got a massive bash, and my subscapularis tendon tore near the rotator-cuff while taking the strain of the impact. The tear is currently around 6mm long - and that's after 9 months of theoretical healing.

The remedy for this is more physio and an injection of cortisone as an anti-inflamatory to get the bursar to settle the heck down. I half expected the cortisone injection.

What I didn't expect was to get it while I was getting the consult done.

I hate needles at the best of times, and when Sports Doc bought out the needles I almost fainted. I started rambling like a crazed idiot and sweating like I was in a sauna. I did do Sports Doc the decency of explaining that this is how I, apparently, deal with panic and unexpected injections, and our combined laughing at my antics helped calm me so he could stick me with the darn thing. Thankfully he numbed the site with anesthetic as well so I didn't really feel anything as he did his thing, which seemed to take a long time, and then it turned out he was still waiting for me to stop rambling so he could stick me without being distracted.

And there was no topical anesthetic.


10 days off the bike then I should be good to go, and in 4 weeks I get another examination to determine if the steroids actually did what they were supposed to do.

Now it's one thing to have all this happening, but at the same time I've spent the last two weeks not riding, and when  you're doing upwards of 15 hours a week on the bike suddenly dropping to 0 hours has a surprisingly profound effect on your mood.

I'm still eating like I burn 4000 calories a day and I can actually see my stomach getting fatter. I've gone through mild depressive states bordering on deeper-than-mild, been irritable, slept really badly, and - of all things - started drinking coffee. I think the coffee gives me the adrenaline boost that I'm missing... or I hate myself, it's hard to tell. I've even considered taking up running - that's how desperate things are becoming.

The timeline for Taupo was also looking pretty shocking for a while there - originally it was looking like 6 weeks to see the sports doc, and after that another week to see the local outpatients for the injection - then 10 days on top of that, and rehabilitation on top of that... I was starting to get worried that I wouldn't be doing Taupo at all.

It also wasn't going to be helping matters that I have another bike fit this weekend to try to sort out problems I've been having with pain in my leg. There was one small point where I was almost... almost tempted, to throw the bike out the window and take up restoring antique siege weapons.

But all is not lost, and I've learnt two valuable things;

Don't wait on injuries, and don't give up on them either.

29 May 2016

Free your mind

I don't ride with others as often as I would like to think I should. My commute is fairly solitary with the occasional ad hoc bunch forming, although I've noticed that people are generally happy to go their own pace when commuting, probably because they are all going to different places so are burning fuel at different rates. As I am often adding in extra hills on the commute - a grand departure from my original fear of not riding straight to work - it makes it hard to organise anything with anyone.

Plus most of my friends are sensible enough to live closer to their chosen place of employment.

The way I have my training set up also means that I'm not really settled on the idea of doing bunch rides on the weekends with the local groups. It's probably something I can get over fairly easily by just turning up and doing them, but at the moment I'm really focussing on sticking to the Training Plan, especially for the the longer rides which are generally planned for the weekend. There's also the family factor; being able to get out at 6am is better than the moderately civilised time of 8am when the groups tend to meet. My earlier starts allow me to get more time in during the day with the family, even if that time is spent bemoaning my aching quads, or lying on the couch with my feet up hoping that someone else will do all the housework (and trying to stop the cat from kneading my aching quads with her claws - you'd almost think that could be therapeutic, but it isn't really).

One strange phenomenon that I've noticed from all this solo riding is what I call The Hunt, otherwise phrased as 'hunting them down'. I like giving things names. This is the act of seeing someone else riding somewhere far ahead of me; when I start to judge their speed relative to mine, as well as what type of bike they are on, their apparent ability etc. It's actually pretty amazing what you can tell about a cyclist from varying distances, even from behind them. Clothing and posture tell a lot, and combining that knowledge with speed can indicate their relative ability. Lights are a give-away sometimes as they can indicate whether it's an e-bike, or possibly a weight weenie... I dunno, It's not foolproof, and it certainly doesn't go any way to proving anything, but at some level, deep down in the psyche - it's a moving target.

And a moving target must be chased.

I see them, and, almost unconsciously, start to accelerate. There's a small but discernible increase in pace that slowly ramps up until I notice I'm running a heart rate that's usually higher than intended. There's nothing particularly competitive about this - any more than there is anything competitive about a dog chasing a car - once I catch up with them I run into another problem, which is whether I continue at my current pace and pass, or slow down and draft them...

But what are you supposed to do when you catch them?

This problem is exacerbated when riding with bunches of people I know, especially when it's 'the guys' from work. This game of one-upmanship becomes slightly more serious than that of your average commute. For me it's mostly about keeping up, but also about pushing just a tiny bit harder. Taking turns, but not being the one that never takes the front, or ends up never getting off the front. It's generally amicable - we're not smack talking each other... much... and most of the time we're still riding within our own personal limits - and if we're joining someone else who is doing some specific training we'll often discuss the plan before, and then insert moderate amounts of smack on the road.

I'm one of the slower riders in the group of people I know. I could probably give the others a run for their money in the 'how far did you go' sweepstakes, but my outright speed is on the slow side, and my climbing ability is limited by a combination of strength, and all the pizza and beer I enjoyed last year - I have to work harder to maintain the same speed; especially up hills.

I like to think that when the weight drops I'll be faster, pound for pound, or more so because of my current built-in resistance training - but I'm not holding out hope; I'll probably just get smaller and not be able to catch as much of a tailwind.

Thanks to some strange ritual that I still don't fully understand - being the slow one on the climbs means I get the honour of seeing my riding buddies coming back down the hill looking for me. We have an unwritten rule that if you get to the top first you have to go back looking for the slower rider and then ride up again - repeat until they either die of embarrassment or get to the top themselves. It's good for morale though, keeps the fitter guys quiet because they're wearing themselves out, and slowly - slowly - I get faster at the climbs until there's not much point in them turning around to look for me. Once day I'll get to the top first - if I play my cards right.

Unlike I did on a recent commute commute home.

We decided to do a quick run up Ngaio Gorge on our ways home - a detour for me and and alternate route for others. Something that adds in a bit of extra elevation for me as I generally don't do climbs on the way home.

It started off innocently enough. We're riding up a hill, there are three of us and another cyclist who looked like he knew his stuff. We all hit the bottom of the incline and start to spread ourselves out for the climb. Now I'm not sure exactly what happened in my head, but I decided to make a break for it. I was having trouble keeping pace because The Engineer was going a tiny bit slow for my enthusiasm - probably due to differences in the way we accelerate/decelerate more than an actual difference in speed - so I passed him. Doing this on a road with a small shoulder and cars passing wasn't pleasant and by the time I'd passed him he was up to my speed - but I was going too fast for my pace. To fix this I decided to get some distance, and basically put the hammer down.

I smashed it. I went hard - the other cyclists melted into the background - unable to keep up. I passed the pro-looking dude who was ahead of us and kept on going. They gave chase, but I was going strong.

And my heart-rate was too. I had exceeded any concept of a sensible pace and was now pushing it into the red - and beyond. I was gasping. I started seeing stars. Then, as I reached the last corner near the top of the incline, I realised my heart rate was at my, theoretical, max.

And they all passed me.

It wasn't a gradual thing - they all shot past like I was standing still. I was straining, I was giving it everything I had and my heart was aching - and I was doing all of 9kmh... and I was unable to breathe.

So I did what any sensible person would do, and got up and gave it one last sprint. My skin started to burn, I actually stopped breathing for a time, and after about 7 seconds my legs gave up. I ground the last 50 meters to the top, dizzy, light-headed gasping like a drowning man; my stomach rising in my throat, skin steaming and legs on fire.

I had to rest for 10 minutes when I got to the top - all of which was spent just trying to stay upright. I managed not to throw up, I may have managed to have a conversation with another rider... it's all a blurry mess of a memory.

Then I had to ride home.

Ngaio Gorge is at the beginning of my commute - about 5 km from work, and proceeded to ride the hardest ride home. I had nothing left, and it showed. Every step of the way was at maximum effort just to keep the bike upright.

It took me about 2 days to fully recover and my lungs felt raw for days afterwards.

What this seems to boil down to is a continuation of The Mental Game - where a lot of the work done to ride effectively is really in the helmet area; I really just need to calm the heck down and think about what I'm doing.

So, armed with some humility after my recent crisis of faith, and some learnings from my field-research in cauldron of Cat-6 Racing, I've been focussing on what each ride is about. It is about an average speed, a min/max perceived level of effort, or just about getting around? Is the goal just to get home after a long day, or to break myself so I feel like my upcoming rest-day is well earned? Perhaps it doesn't even matter for some rides and I just go out and have a good time.

Knowing roughly what the rides are about has really helped - it helps keep the eyes on the prize and not be led astray. Not that I always stick to the plan; there has to be room to improvise, but that probably doesn't mean smashing out a breakaway that ruins you for 2 days just so you can say you got the top of your local climb before the rest of the commuters - especially when you don't even get to the top first!

Since the fated day of trying to tear myself a new lung, I've been working on my climbing a lot.

I love climbing - whether it's on the mountain bike or road bike; hitting the hills and climbing to the top of ridiculous looking pieces of road or trail just pushes all my buttons. I've started adding in extra climbs on my way home, and when I plan my own rides I'm looking for as many ways to appreciate gravity as possible. I can't say that descents do the same thing for me - probably only because it is harder to get road-rash when you're going uphill - but going up... there's something in that.

The key, really, has been to pace myself.

Not pace as in go slow, more like 'keeping it at this level, thanks' - and it's paying off slowly. Putting more sensible gear-ratios on the bike has helped me spin up hills, and my skill has professed from grinding up the hills in bottom gear to spinning up the hills in a lower bottom gear instead. It isn't always faster, in fact it's often slower, but it's smoother, instead of being an all-out effort just to keep the bike upright. The same thing applies on the flat, but no-one is ever impressed by how flat your ride was.

But the key thing here is the mental effort required to keep that pace - to go slow, or to go fast - to know when I need to stand up and give my legs a rest - to know when I need to just keep pushing even though my ham strings are burning. To keep the cadence up and the gears low and to push through the pain - or to drop down a gear and spin it out.

Being able to spin up Korokoro climb recently, was an achievement - one that Strava didn't - possibly couldn't - pick up on. It wasn't a record speed; it was the first time I got to the top of one of my regular climbs just spinning. My cadence never dropped into 'grind', I managed to keep it around 75rpm the whole way up.

That's actually progress - now I just need to do it in a harder gear.

Chasing people down is also further down my priorities, unless I'm riding with the crew. Knowing how much effort I want to put out - in essence having a general plan and sticking to it. It's still hard to watch someone sail past on an e-bike, or be overtaken by a Mountain Bike when commuting... and watching a road-rider tear past always leaves me feeling that I should be jumping on his wheel - but a quick check of Strava when I finish up inevitably shows that they were commuting straight to work - not via the crazy hills that I've somehow managed to rope myself into climbing on the way in. So there; road rider!

So I guess what this comes down to, overall, is something resembling discipline. My parents would no-doubt be the first to comment that this would be something that I'd struggle with (thanks Mum and Dad) but from what I can see - and from some anecdotal research on what other long distance riders have said - long distance riding is really about what goes on in your head. You do need a good set of legs, and there are many things that go into the planning and execution - but if you can't keep your focus and you end up getting your thinking swept up with what other people around you are doing or thinking, then you'll burn yourself out chasing them - or potentially cool yourself off by not breaking off - and the long term game plans all go out the window.

Thankfully the Velominati have already thought of a rule for this;

Rule #6 - Free your mind and your legs will follow

26 May 2016

You just go faster

The challenges I've been facing so far in my preparation for Taupo have been physical and, to a point, intellectual. Hills that never end. Headwinds that suck your soul and then demand more. Fridges that never hold enough food. Things that can be solved by observing our honourable Rule 5. I've also had to research into everything from bike fits, to components, to nutrition; filtering through endless opinions, points of views, advertising and, when it comes to nutrition; pop-science - debunked or otherwise. It's relatively hard gaff, can be frustrating, but it's doable - you can kinda train yourself for this type of thing and bite it off in chunks; plus it doesn't matter too much if you get it wrong because unless you are doing something really really wrong it's hard not to get a second shot at what you have for breakfast.

All this is pretty normal now, but recently I've been blind-sided by the Mental Game.

When I started on this crazy journey I was all of the opinion that 'it's only 320km' - it's a couple of long rides thrown together - I've got plenty of time to train and all the support I need to do everything necessary. It didn't seem that hard, certainly not on paper, and that fire burnt hot for a long time, slowly getting me into this whole fine mess.

But in the last few weeks my optimism started to slip.

It wasn't anything in particular - it just slowly ebbed away, piece by piece, until half way up Sweetacres Drive in Belmont the other day and I found myself lagging, grinding, hurting everywhere. I felt like I wasn't moving, and I was so frustrated I got to the point where I was considering just tossing my bike over the fence, and walking home.

It's been lots of little things chipping away at my gleeful bike riding. Some of these I might be giving more weight to than they're worth, and some which I might not have fully realised the importance of - this in itself, knowing what is upsetting my game, is something of an art-form that I'm still learning - just in life in general.

My woes are endless... let me tell you of them...

My bike still hurts to ride - I went through the process of getting a fit done and I've ended up with a severe pain in one leg that is fleeting but almost debilitating when it strikes. I can't tell if it is a fit thing or something else I've done and broken, but with my fitter based in Christchurch, and my fit measurements having been written down seemingly incorrectly after the last fit, it's proving hard for us to work out what the problem could be - if it is even specifically related to my bike fit. Moral of this story is probably to use someone local...

My overall enthusiasm isn't helped by a few unsavoury experiences I've had on the road with other road users behaving badly. It's to be expected to a point - especially if you're doing several hundred kms on the road each week - that you'll run into something less than ordinary at some point. New Zealand is slowly evolving to be cycling friendly, and for the most part people are good regardless, but when they're not it's positively perilous. I followed this one up with a post on Facebook after I had about 6 run-ins in one night, but it feels like I'm pissing in the wind a bit - and it's effectively impossible to avoid traffic if you're a road rider.

It is also the onset of winter at the moment, so it's dark and cold /all the the time/, and the weather for the last few weeks has been simply /breathtaking/; solid headwinds in every direction; cold damp and slippery on all the riads; crazy windy rain... thunderstorms and lightening - the lightening was so frequent I actually thought I'd get fried if I took myself out on that day. Some mornings I just want to stay in bed rather than get up and go for that 80km hill ride, even though I do go for the ride in the end.

My weight is annoying me - basically because it isn't going down, which means I'm carrying all this extra... stuff... around everywhere I go. When I think about myself from a logical perspective and compare myself to other people I know - I'm think I'm doing all right, and size isn't everything, really. 300km and up to 15 hours each week on the bike, decent average speeds, lots of hill climbing... I'm mostly able to keep up with The Tester and The Engineer; and the measurements say that I'm loosing fat and theoretically gaining muscle even though my weight isn't changing all that much.

I was decently overweight when I started riding - around 100kgs - and had managed to get back to that weight when I came out of a tasty pie and wine-laden Christmas. Upon deciding I was going to do this enduro event I wasn't the lightest cookie. More specifically, though, my belly gets in the way when I'm riding. I have trouble physically getting into the drops because of my 'spare tyre', and combining that with a bikefit that doesn't seem right... it's antagonising. It's not just a physical problem - logically I know that will go away - especially if I keep up this madness - but this is barrier that I can't get around. If it was a hill I could climb it, if it was cold fingers I could get some new gloves - losing fat isn't anywhere as easy to quantify or control, so I'm relegated to watching the scales get slowly lower and the pants get slowly looser. I did have to buy new shorts recently, but on the other hand my next-size-down jeans don't fit because my thighs are too bloody big.

This is what it is like in my head - it's like listening to a big constant despairing whinge, and I have to say that I'm not terribly proud of it, but it is something that is, well... happening. These things play on my mind and affect my performance simply because my mind isn't able to cope. A bike fit that doesn't work is a disincentive to ride simply because it is going to hurt - bad drivers are a reason to avoid being on the road... or at least a distraction from putting in effort because I'm too busy looking over my shoulder, and the weather... can't do anything about winter but it has an effect on people, and even if those people aren't me it can still have an impact - if the kids are under the weather I'm not about to dump them on B and leave them to it while I go out for the day.

It all contributes to the Mental Game, and the largest part of that, for me is the perception of something resembling progress.

This is a classic in cycling, and luckily there's plenty of commentary about it. It is quite simply the problem that resulted in the following quote:

"It never gets easier, you just go faster" - Greg Lemond

Damnit Mr Lemond, you're right.

When I'm riding, the level of effort I'm putting out is - usually - directly proportional to how long I think I will ride for. In the case of hills it's usually the minimum possible effort required to go up the damn thing and not fall off the bike - but it amounts to the same thing; that I'm outputting as much as I have at any given point in time. Because I'm always going flat-stick and going as hard as I can, I'm always giving it everything I have, and it always feels the same to me, regardless of what the actual speeds are - and so it never gets easier.

So how does one track improvement? Personal records are about the only tool I have to hand to see how well I am doing, and they are based on time, and therefore speed, alone - the amount of time it takes to smash out that climb, or how long it takes me to get to work in the morning - but these records are fickle beasts as they don't take into account fitness, freshness, adverse weather (including those pesky headwinds).

When I break it down, at the end of the day; it is always just as hard as it was last time. And so I get to the point where I was at the top of Sweetacres Drive; driving into an unforgiving headwind, in complete dispair and ready to throw the bike into the sea...

And it turns out I'd actually set a Personal Record that was nearly 12.5% faster than my previous record, which I set back in 2014, and over 20% better than anything I've set this year.

You just go faster

In the time since this fateful ride I've had to think about this more than anything else. I know I am getting fitter, and I can see that I'm getting faster. My bibs don't fit like they used to... Getting to know these signs and heavily reading between the lines, and remembering that I'm here for the endurance game - this isn't always about going fast; it's also about how long I can go for.

I also have to give big ups to The Tester, The Colleague, The Engineer, and B; for listening to me talk through it and giving me all the support. Thanks for dragging me up the hills guys.

My next long ride will be my longest since I started 'officially' training this year - 120km. Not long by any stretch of the imagination; but still the longest so far. And the proof of me actually progressing?

It isn't going to seem that far.

80kms is practically nothing now - I get back from an 80km ride feeling refreshed and ready to get on with the day, 120 will just be a bit longer - like 80kms used to be. This month, so far, I've ridden 1250 kms, and I've still got a few days to go. This is by far the longest month I've ever ridden. Now, some of this will be the good grace of the weather, health, and family - but I reckon it's still a pretty decent distance for a guy who still has a relatively normal life.

Again, 1250kms isn't a lot if you measure me up against any number of other riders out there, but it's progress. I can almost imagine upcoming months where I'll be doing nearly 2000kms, and the same rule will apply...

It won't get easier!

20 Apr 2016

Bike Fit

Cycling isn't inherently comfortable. There are so many things that can hurt when riding, and as one accumulates years, so one accumulates... 'aches and pains'.

But there is pain, and then there is pain. (There is also the other pain - the feeling of parts of your body that have had their structural integrity compromised... but I think our imaginations have this one covered, and I'm going to leave this one out so I don't tempt fate.)

There is what I would consider to be fairly normal pain. The post-training-week bruised feeling of thighs that feel like they've been used as punching bags. That general overall feeling of dehydration and gnawing hunger that is only sated by the pizza and beer that your Top Secret Trainer has 'recommended' you avoid. The two-days-later ache of giving it everything you've got (and then forgetting to stretch), and the infamous burn of just going as hard as you possibly can.

I'm led to believe these things are character building, and have something to do with the general concept of getting fitter. For these, I'm told, the cure is a good stretch, some rest now and then, and a heaped teaspoon of cement powder stirred thoroughly into a hot cup of coffee, once per day (or as required), to improve intestinal fortitude.

Then there are the niggly pains. The ones that creep in over time, or don't even seem to be related to cycling at all. The ones that can't simply be attended to by meditating on Rule 5. Toes and fingers that go slightly numb, shoulders that seem to retain some form of tension that indicates they've forgotten to relax in the last week or so and make it hard to get comfortable on the bike. The hips hurt, the lower back burns, stabbing pains in the knees and a constant aches in the triceps, and it can get bad enough to suck the life out of you. Over time a couple of things seem to happen - either you get used to it, which isn't always a good thing - or it simply never stops hurting, and possibly gets worse as time goes on.

All this makes it painful to ride a bike for any amount of time. We spend hours on road bikes in one of a few pretty silly positions, physically, and when it isn't comfortable... well it can literally be a pain in the arse.

And that is why we, apparently, invented bike fits... and I've had one on my List Of Many Things as something to get done well in advance of Taupo.

I've never felt that my bike was quite right. The general size and shape of it fulfils a bunch of basic requirements - two wheels where you'd generally expect them to be and a couple of other handy components that, for the most part, make it go forward and around corners. It was also infinitely more comfortable than the last bike I'd ridden - the one The Engineer had lent me for approx 2500km. The thing that bugged me was the little things - the exact positioning of the components - it never quite felt quite right to me, and while I could probably tweak it myself, I'm not exactly sure where to start, so I've been intending to get someone with a vast amount of experience to, basically, do it for me.

When I purchased my bike I was given a bike fit. This was after I'd agreed to purchase the bike - a decision that I'd made based on a bit of research that, in itself, might be topic of another blog post altogether. Save to say that the basic requirements at that time were price and the frame has to be the 'right' size.

This original fit went rather smoothly. Nothing needed swapping out, all the parts were exactly the right size for me, and the bike seemed, magically, to be exactly what I needed. A couple of washers were added to the pedals to space them a bit wider, but that was about it. I rode away from that with a bike that seemed to fit exceptionally well and rode it for months, quite happily. But I also rode away with this idea ticking at the back of my mind - a feeling that it was all too easy. Like going to a tailor to get a tailor-made suit and being handed one off the rack that is, according to the tailor, exactly the right fit.

Purchasing a bike before getting fit for it wasn't necessarily the cleverest of ideas, but you need a bike to get fit to, and if you get the wrong bike you'll end up having to get another one. At least the second time around you'll know what you need to get. I'm now realising that I don't know how you'd step into this cycle without buying a bike fairly blindly in the first place... perhaps some clever person has come up with an answer for that?

Because I've been getting uncomfortable on the bike, and because of the lingering feeling that it might have not been set up in the first place, I asked around about bike fitters and The Colleague, as full of awesome advice as ever, recommended Anthony from Bikefitter. I looked the guy up, and found that Anthony is a cyclist, a physiotherapist, and a bike fit expert. He's also a bloody nice guy to work with. Friendly, knowledgeable, and refreshingly straightforward.

And he wasn't invested in selling me any parts.

Anthony works out of Christchurch and does a few fits a week as a part of his practice as a sports physioherapist. Luckily for the rest of us he also does a world-tour of New Zealand once every three months or so, and I managed to catch him while he was up in Wellington last week. While travelling he bases his fits out of a friends' garage, which sounds sparse - but to me is the quintessential bike experience - setting up your bike in the garage with a mate seems the exactly the right way to do it.

I was slightly nervous going in - the fear that I'd be told that I had to replace my whole bike because it wasn't going to be suitable for me, or what I wanted to use it for - the concern that I'd have another "na mate, looks like it's all set up pretty sweet aye" bike fit and waste my cash. My nervousness probably didn't show though - even though the first time I went up to meet Ant I actually forgot to take my bike with me. Thankfully I only left it on the car so didn't have that far to go and get it!

We got down to it, and the rest of the evening was a blur of video cameras, dots, allen keys, callipers and the fan-blades of a stationary trainer. We talked a lot, lots of things were moved around, and I came out the other side with a lot of information - some of which I'm still percolating as I go about my training.

We started with a pretty thorough run-down of my collective injuries and how I feel they affect my cycling, then he watched me cycle for a bit. We then talked about my posture, he took some video, measured some angles, watched my technique and made some more very accurate measurements - and along the way he made a observations about my... everything.

It went something like this: My cleats were too far back so my foot wasn't sitting in my shoe properly, and my ankle was too high to pull through on the stroke properly - though this was also partly because of my technique which 'could use some working on'. My saddle was a bit too low, and with my cranks a bit too long, my belly getting in the way and my tendency to sit forward on the saddle because it isn't the right width; meaning that my hips had to lift out of the way to allow my thigh to come up high enough to clear the top of the stroke. This caused me to want to lengthen my back and lift my belly and hips out of the way, so I was lifting up my shoulders to make my back longer. This rotated my shoulders, moved my arms, caused my elbows and wrists to get in strange angles, made it harder to breathe, and put my neck in a funny position. My handlebars were, thankfully, the right width, but the angle on them - rotated forward/back - was a bit off, and they were a bit too high, which had further impact on the way I was using my hips and holding my shoulders.

It turns out that the way the bodys' bits interact is pretty darn complicated.

A lot of the outcome was fine adjustments to my existing setup - cleat position, saddle height, bar height and angles. Just having those things tweaked a tiny bit moved the pedals away and brought the whole front-end of the bike closer to me so it didn't feel as if it was as much of a stretch to get there. He even adjusted the reach on my brake handles so I don't have to go grabbing for them when I am in the drops. Awesome!

There are a few things that have to change though, and it's a good indication of the type of thing that can come out of a bike fit. In theory I'd rather change small things than get a whole new bike, but this could be a fairly expensive set of changes.

So I'm in the market for a new crankset with 170mm cranks to replace the 172.5mm cranks I'm currently using. On the up-side though I'll be dropping my gearing down too, which is more of a recommendation than a requirement, and something that I've been thinking about on and off. As I live in Wellington hills are pretty much unavoidable and with my current weight and level of fitness I can't currently spin up some of the gradients around here with my 36/25 gearing, so when I replace the crank I'll be dropping to a full compact. I might also be dropping the cassette for a 12/27 - currently 11-25 - for the same hilly reasons - not to mention that I've managed to wear out the first two gears in my current cassette because I simply can't go up the hills in anything higher. It seems like this will all work out nicely.

There is also the possibility that I'll need to change the stem from 100mm to 90mm or so. At this stage we're not sure if it will be required though, as first I need to change the saddle.

The saddle needs to go because, basically, it isn't wide enough, and therefore I sit on it funny. I'm not devastated as I've actually not felt comfortable on it for a while anyway, but now I have a clear idea of why it isn't comfortable. Great news is I'll get to try out some of the saddles that The Mechanic at Kiwivelo has been raving about. I'm not going to miss this old saddle - it was a pain in the arse. Ha!

Discussing saddles revealed another thing that amazed me about Anthony. I asked him a lot of questions about replacing the saddle because the darn things are bloody expensive to make too many mistakes on. Replacing gears and cranks is pretty straight-forward - you get a very limited range of options so there is very little thinking to be done. On the other hand - saddles - there are probably 1000's of the damn things out there all with their different advertised forms and features... yet here he was; standing in a garage in Wellington, rattling off which brands were likely to have which sizes, what width-increments some of the major brands had, which brands didn't do different sizes, who had good saddle-try-out systems. I admire a mind that stores that kind of information for immediate regurgitation.

Anthony was so impressed with my physique he requested to see me again in 3-or-so months when he is next in Wellington. I'm pretty sure it's because he needed to remind myself of my prowess as a cyclist, and has nothing at all to do with the fact that I need to change a lot of things about my set-up, lose up to 15kg, get better at riding up hills, have improved core stability, and learn to pedal properly.

The feedback was awesome and I have a slightly better idea now of how I should be holding myself when I ride the bike - how I should be pedalling - and I can do all of this knowing that the bike is set up for me by the same person who is doing the recommendations. It all fits together.

But how does it ride?

So after getting the bike fit done we'd actually planned to take a week off so B could attend and present at a conference in Hamilton. This had originally been a week that my Top Secret Trainer and I had discussed as a no-riding week, but in light of the bike fit, and with my beautiful wife's seemingly endless tolerance for my cycling; we decided to take the bike away so I could do some sweet riding around other parts of the country.

So I got to take my new set-up on holiday, and took a spin through the back-country of the Manawatu, checking out the awesome countryside between Kimbolton, Rangiwahia, and Mangaweka. This is the type of cycling I love - beautiful scenery, being chased by enthusiastic sheepdogs, long winding descents down sheer sandstone cliffs, and rickety one-way bridges that cross crystal clear rivers.

And the whole thing hurt, and the bits that don't hurt feel... strange, and when it all seemed to be working well everything felt... smoother.

It seems the tweaks in my posture have moved the niggles around, or set right imperfections in my pose, so it seems that a lot of the ongoing pain of imperfect posture have been magically turned into the other type of pain - the one that can be handled by mulling over The Rules while sipping a nice warm cup of Harden Up.

I am struggling with changing my technique and I can see that I'll be working on this for a while to come. I have to keep reminding myself to roll my hips forward, or to lower my heels during the bottom of the stroke. It is a flow-on effect that starts when I realise that my shoulders are up around my ears - lower the shoulders, the hips, lower the heels - or when I realise my feet are doing the wrong thing; the reverse happens; lower the heels, reposition the hips, feel the shoulders lower themselves.

I'm not breaking any records, though it is also fair to say that I am probably not breaking myself any more.

Or, at least, not as much as I was.

I'll follow this up with Part 2 when I get my second fit done in three-ish months - then I can do some of that long-term reflection and see what differences I think it has made. Overall, though, I would recommend that you check out getting this done by a professional, and I highly recommend Anthony for the job.

11 Apr 2016

Itchy Legs

It's hard being off the bike.

At first I felt great, like my legs just got to the weekend and don't have to get up in the morning. Nice and relaxed and, well... lazy.

But then my legs start to itch.

This week I've been sick. It's just a cold, a tickle at the back of my throat and a snuffly nose. I can't breathe properly and I've been feeling pretty rotten, so that means time off the bike to ensure I don't wear myself out and make it all worse.

When you ride 14+ hours a week it takes up a certain amount of time, including the extra time outside of that where you're washing bikes, greasing chains, and making sure that all your gear is washed and dry. Making sure that lights are plugged in and charging, that the training logs are up to date and the burn-down chart has all the details in it. Weighing in to keep an eye on the general mass that I'm dragging around... Eating lots of extra food, and generally apologising for doing everything I just mentioned.

When the routine is broken. There is nothing to do, and I found myself doing strange things...

I started eating breakfast at home - normally I eat after my morning ride. I also usually shower when I get to work. 3 mins in and out - I'm infamous for my quick showers ("I've been doing it for years, I got good at it"). Using the shower at home means I have time to laze around a bit more, and even shave off that pesky facial hair - so instead of my signature week-by-week stubble I've been relatively clean-shaven for the last 5 days. It's all a bit weird really.

I've also been re-introduced to the horrific concept that are Public Trains. Now, I'm not against mass transit - in fact I'm certainly in favour of it for many, many reasons - but going from the feeling of being free and out in the open to take in the world, to being smooshed into a fast moving tube - it's a juxtaposition that just isn't all that pleasant. At least I don't have to drive - trains have a relative lack of congestion and you can kick back and ready a book - not have to pay a hideous amount of attention to what people around me are doing; as I'd have to do if I were driving a car.... or riding a bike... ok, but it's different when you're on a bike... totally.

Trains aren't a completely foreign concept for me though - I do take the train when I am not cycling - bad weather or the need for a rest day - so on average I take the train once a week. When I do use it I feel like a visitor, a proverbial tourist of public trains - I'm having a rest from cycling, and I even get to feel a teensie bit smug that I'm only there because I've worn myself out from my primary commuting option. It really is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there all the time.

Plus my legs itch... I just want to get out and cycle around!

Then there is this 'walking' thing that one has to do to get from the train station to work. It simply isn't natural. After doing this for a few days my legs are starting to hurt in strange ways - my calves and ankles just weren't designed for this type of activity.

On the flip side of all this, though, I've had a lot of time to think about things.

I've finally read through the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge Guide by Amy Tailor that I've been reading since the beginning of the year, and do some reflection on how things are going, and some concentrated thinking about where I'm going go next.

In March I rode 1261km and climbed around 10km in elevation. I spent around 52 hours in the saddle. The month seemed pretty good - I had a weekend where I didn't ride and another week where the weather must have been feeling about as bad as I do now. The training has been a nice mix of endurance and strength work, and I've seen improvements on times and efforts on some of the more regular climbs. I've also managed to consistently go slower on one particularly clallenging climb - every, single, time, but I also managed to smash 3 minutes off one particular climb, taking my time from 9 minutes down to 6. Much wow!

Next week I have a bike fit booked in with Anthony from BikeFitter. I'm really looking forward to getting my bike set-up done properly, and being in a place where I know all the niggles I'm feeling are expected and that I just need to harden up. More on that after it happens!

I've also been reminiscing on the darker days. The ones that come now that daylight savings has come to confuse our brains and have us wake up at 5am. Thanks Daylight Savings Guy. This, along with extra training rides in the morning has been putting a strain on my bike lights - the excellent Moonlight Comet and not-so-excellent-but-cheap $40 headlight I got on Trade Me - are struggling to keep up with my extended commutes, so I've spent the evenings snuggled up with a cup of herbal tea and the laptop, reading reviews on the different lighting system options out there... oh and also and watching video reviews, in German, with auto-translation-subtitled... seriously this is a source of complete amusement - if you thought that Bad Lip Reading was funny...

It simply is amazing the amount of time you can spend researching a product - something else that takes time away from the family and adds to the seemingly-infinite list of things that need to be sorted before the end of November. I think I've figured out what I'll order, so I'll put up a *gasp* product review (more like an expectations vs reality review probably) when I get around to ordering it.

I also got new pads for my old helmet this week. My helmet is a Scott Groove II - something I mention so you can laugh at me, rather than as a recommendation. I got it after I was hit by a car about a year ago and my old helmet split. It was pretty much the only thing I could afford that didn't have unicorns on it. After a year of sweat and general use the pads fell apart and I started shopping around for a new lid. I was seriously tempted by the POC Octal, but The Engineer brought me back to earth and suggested I look around for replacement pads. Who knew! They actually sell spare parts for helmets, so I got a couple of spare sets from Avanti Plus in Lower Hutt - only to find out that each 'set' comes with two sets in it, so I have enough spares for my helmet to last about 4 more years!

Aah how the mind wanders when I'm not doing anything...

I can see a guy cycling alongside the motorway as we trundle along in this hulking beast, and I'm jealous.

...and my legs have started itching again.

28 Mar 2016

No surprises

I went for a mountain bike ride on the weekend. I love my mountain bike. It's a Giant XTC, a bit more cross-country than the full-suspension bikes that my riding buddies are all throwing around, but from my experience it's about the closest thing that you can get to a BMX and still be riding a mountain bike. A sweet, sweet ride.

Even though it was technically a training ride I didn't see the problem with inviting a few extra people along, so The Lawyer and I started off with a nice ride down the Hutt River Trail to get warmed up, before heading up Wainuiomata Hill and smashing out some trails in the Wainui Mountain Bike Park. We met up with a couple of other riders who knew the trails really well, so we were able to follow some sweet lines and had an absolute blast. It was absolutely awesome. After a couple of hours everyone had pretty much had their fill and were ready for the rest of their weekend, but I had a small problem - my training wasn't completely over, and I still had to get home.

The plan was to ride along the fire break/4WD track that runs along the top of the hill and provides access to the ECNZ Power Pylons. This track, on paper, connects the top of the Wainuiomata Hill with the top of the Pinehaven valley, where I live. The track goes through private land at two points, both of which appear to have public access but the common restrictions on motor vehicles and dirt bikes. When I say 'on paper', that's basically because there isn't an official track, so there are no directions or signs, and at some points there isn't even really anything that passes as a track. I love this type of riding.

I got lost. I hadn't actually deviated from the path I was supposed to be on... much... but the whole time I had one growing problem.


The ride was planned to start at 8:30am and finish around midday, based on the numbers that were in my personal training sheet. At one point, about an hour after I was supposed to be home, I texted B to let her know I was at the top of the ridge and about to descend into the valley. In reality I was actually still miles away from home, with no proper idea where I was going. Turns out it was pretty straight-forward to get out, but with an additional 15 minute deviation down, and up, someones 13% grade driveway doesn't count. It totally looked like the way I was supposed to go! Who the heck has a driveway like that anyway?

I got home at 2pm.

When I got home I wasn't in trouble. In fact B cooked me tuna wraps and bacon wraps (tuna and bacon wraps?), plied me with hot cross buns and a beer, and listened attentively as I told her about the amazing ride I just went on. She also shepherded kids for the afternoon while I recovered.

And she did this instead of doing work on her PhD.

All my cycling has an impact on the family that comes along in a number of ways. There's the constant tiredness, the obvious time that it takes to actually do the riding, and the expense of pursuing such a ridiculous endeavour, but some of the impacts are more subtle than being 3 hours late for lunch. One day last week my legs were so sore I couldn't walk properly - they felt like someone had been punching them. Hard. It was a really slow walk around the supermarket that day.

I am scared by stories that I've read - Josh Kench mentioned a relationship breakup which seemed to be due to his excessive training. Tyler Hamilton, who rode for the US Postal Team with Lance Armstrong, mentioned a break-up with his partner due to the incessant nature of his training and, little things, specifically, not being able to walk around markets because his legs were basically only able to cycle. It's a bloody good read, I recommend.
I'm not in the same league as either of these guys, I can assure you of that, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a similar impact on those around me.

Right around the time that the Taupo events are on it is my daughters' birthday. It would be complete madness to drag her away on her birthday weekend, or even for just me to go away for that time, so I asked her what she thought. To my surprise we agreed that she would have her birthday and some awesome experiences in Taupo, and I am allowed to do the race as well - on the proviso that I have enough energy left over afterwards to sing Happy Birthday. Pretty awesome for a 10 year old. She's even taken to the idea of doing the kids race, where they get to ride the last 5km with a parent who is taking part in the even. It would be the last year she could do it as she is turning 11 on the day, but I just got told "there's nothing you can do to stop me!". You couldn't expect a better answer than that.

The trick has really been in talking about it, which is made slightly easier because talking about it is something I do all the time.

When I decided I wanted to do this it was in my typical manner; I got an idea stuck in my head and then carried on about how this was just the most awesome thing ever and that I really really wanted to do it. I obcessed. I researched, I planned, I gathered information; I talked about it non-stop. I think at some point it simply became tangible for us both - the realisation kicked in that this was going to happen, it wasn't just passing fad, I wasn't letting go; I was actually going to ride around Lake Taupo twice.

I still talk about it all the time, perhaps in a little more moderation, but all that talking helps; assuming they are not secretly tuning me out. Regardless, I natter on about how long my training rides are going to be in a few months time - My Top Secret Trainer has indicated that I'll be doing 200km+ rides on the weekends. That's a pretty long ride when you think about it, and it might take me hours to complete. This pretty much wipes me out for the whole day, and that has to be managed by us all; but everyone already knows about it and we are already starting to have conversations about how we'll handle it when it happens.

Last night we were working on the budget for my cycling for the year, scheduling in the regular maintenance that my bike will need and the parts that I'll be wearing out - if my chain needs replacing approx every 2000kms I'll theoretically have to fork out for a new one every 8 weeks. We worked through the numbers for all the parts and supplies that I'll be needing and came up with a timeline, a budget, and a plan. We talked about when things need to be booked in. B doesn't ride a bike, but she can organise a bike maintenance plan with the best of them. While I'm constantly amazed at how much money you can actually throw at a bike, we both know it and can plan for it.

It's about making sure everyone knows what is going on. Being open, honest. Planning ahead.

No surprises.

And so we move things around, we negotiate - I spend as much time as I can with the kids to allow B to get to her PhD. She lets me ride, encourages me to stick to my training. I make every effort I can to arrange my cycling around the family, and we schedule it in. I actively work at not being selfish about it, and when it comes to the crunch, if something has to give, I don't go for the ride - I figure out how to make up the time later, or I just write it off. We are going away to a conference for B's PhD at a point in the future, and for that whole week I can't ride. There isn't the time or space, so I've simply chosen to take that week off.

At the end of the day we all know what I've signed up for. We didn't realise it at the time, perhaps, and I know we'll find new and interesting ways that it will test us, but we are all on board with it, and that is the biggest reason I'll complete this event. Not because of all the training, but because they are all behind me every step of the way; because I know that I'll still have a family to come back to when it is all over.

21 Mar 2016

Keeping it ticking over

It seems to be the month for it! 3000km have come and gone since I purchased my bike and it's time for some scheduled maintenance.

I'm relatively happy about this. It's not going to be overly cheap, but apparently this isn't a cheap hobby (although a quick Google for 'expensive hobbies' returns plenty of lists which 'cycling' is not mentioned in. Perhaps I should take up Aviation?)

Throughout the rigmarole with the strange noises coming from my bike I've become more conscious about the wear and tear on the bike. The idea of losing brakes, traction, gears... any number of things could be devastating at any given moment, and even the best-case scenario means time off the bike or training rides cut short.

With this in mind I've been keeping an eye on my chain wear using the old 'measure it with a set of callipers' method, and at the time that the chain showed noticeable amount of stretch. I also noticed that the chain started to get louder, and the shifting started to get a little rougher - kind of louder and less crisp feeling.

So off to my Favourite Mechanic I went, bike in hand, and today the bike is in for a few little tweaks and upgrades:
  • new shifter and brake cables
  • new chain
  • new bar tape
  • headset tighten and check

I'm led to believe the shifter cables that came on the bike were pretty inexpensive. They were coated with some form of plastic that has worn off and gotten everywhere and all jammed up in the cable housings. The brake cables didn't seem to be that fancy either and have effectively corroded, and the rear brake is feeling sticky. It's not terrible, but there is a definite lack of modulation. Actually it's pretty terrible. The plan is to replace the cables with either Jagwire, or stock Shimano cables. It's going to be a bit of a surprise to see which one the mechanic goes for - either way it will be better than what I've got now.

I'm a bit sad about the bar tape. I was running bright orange Lizard Skins, which were tacky (as in 'sticky', thanks!) as heck and BRIGHT ORANGE! Unfortunately they have worn through and are rather dirty from all the use. The plan is to stick some orange fi'zi:k tape on there. It's more 'Orange' than 'ORANGE', but slightly more padded, and hopefully should stay a bit cleaner for longer. I've used the black version before and been pretty happy with it. The extra padding will be nice too; I broke my thumb a few years ago and it gets a little annoyed over longer rides. Of all the things, the bar tape is the one that I'm most attached to.

The headset is an interesting one that I've learnt an interesting lesson from, I think. A few months back as I was breaking in the bike the forks got a little play in them. I didn't think anything of it and got some tools out to tighten it all up - and accidentally pulled apart the compression plug that holds the top tube cap on. I managed to get it all back together, but in the process noticed that the top headset bearing had no grease around it. I had a look at the bottom bearing and it was all greased up, and after talking to a mechanic confirmed that I did make the correct decision by greasing it before putting everything back together.

The thing that I learnt from this, along with the bottom bracket going, was that it isn't to be assumed that a bike is put together correctly to begin with. The mechanics who were looking into the BB mentioned that they don't always get put together properly in the factory and it does happen that they miss things. If (or more likely when) I purchase another bike I'll be ordering a complete strip-down and re-build of the bike before I take it out of the shop. I might even have some idea of parts I want to replace before I ride it, like the cables, brake pads, and a stronger BB for example. I can't imagine this will be free, or even cheap, but knowing that these things happen out of the box I can see the advantage of fixing these problems before they even happen. Something about prevention and cure?

But for now, it's time to part with my money. I could do this myself. I know I could do it myself, but the idea of dropping the bike off in the morning and getting an overhauled machine back at the end of the day tickles my fancy.

Plus, I'm shit at wrapping bar tape.


The results are in and they are pretty awesome - the new tape looks mint and matches the colour that I have in my head when I think about the colour of my bike.
The brakes are smooth and responsive - just how I remember them from the first time we rode (awww...)
When I first picked up the bike I noticed that the chain didn't mesh quite right with the rear cassette - the occasional 'click'. Apparently this is because the chain needs time to wear in to the cassette (unless I want to replace the cassette as well) and it should wear in within a few hundred kms - so by mid-next week basically!

Shifting on the way home, however, was another thing altogether. Silky smooth, highly responsive - she shifts so quickly, and next-to-no chain noise whatsoever.

I could get used to this. What a way to start the weekend!

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