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Cycling with Speed: Houston, Problem Solved. Mostly

August 2014
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In my post yesterday, I wrote about a serious lack of speed I’ve been suffering through for a couple of weeks now. Two weeks ago, when I got dropped on the Assenmacher 100 after 45 miles at only 22 mph, I was concerned but not too worried. There were plenty of factors that could have led to that. Because I haven’t been tracking my rides lately I figured, “Hey, I’ll push through it, I just need to work a little harder to get my form back”.

I set about it, pushing hard over the next several days before taking it easy on Saturday and riding hard on Sunday with a couple of friends, well it felt like a hard 60… I was a little perplexed by the 18.6 mph average but there were a couple of really slow miles during stops that brought my average down. We were closer to 19, so I thought I was coming back and all was well. Monday I took it easy so I could save some for the club ride.

Tuesday’s ride was rough.. I dropped off after 8 miles thinking we were flirting with 25-26 mph with only five in our group. I figured I’d finish with an average just shy of 20 mph… It was 18 even and that was the straw that meant something was seriously wrong… No way I worked that hard for only 18 mph – that was easy a 20 effort.

In that last post I also mentioned that I had swapped saddles with my 5200 (because the Spec. Romin from the Trek matched the Venge better, naturally). When I swapped saddles, I forgot to note the position on the rail before I took the original Romin off. Oops.

To make a really long story a little less long, I thought I could dial in the old position by feel. I was wrong. I thought I was close but I was wrong there too. Last night I checked it the right way, with a 4′ level, and found I was almost a full centimeter too far forward. I moved it back and:

IMG_4924.PNG
Yup, that’s getting stuck by a train, two stop lights and a couple of stop signs (I use auto-pause but it doesn’t pause till I’m dead stopped for a few seconds). In other words, that’s closer to 20 than 19.

Now, the forward saddle position wasn’t without its benefit… It was quite comfortable, as long as I didn’t have to breathe fully – and therein lies the problem(s). To put it in simple terms, I couldn’t stretch out enough to breathe well. The proper “breathe from your belly (diaphragm)” was impossible, which meant I was using my chest mostly.  As every mile ticked off I was going into lactic acid overload much faster than I normally would because not only could I not inhale properly, I couldn’t exhale fully either,  – this meant I felt like I was always riding through mud…

So, how much, exactly, was I off by? Between six and seven millimeters at the saddle. This meant that, at the pedals, my knees were too far forward by more than three centimeters (more than an inch). That also meant that my saddle was too low by a few millimeters… Which meant I was so far out of position that my power to the pedals, even though I was working hard, was crap.

Cycling is about balancing power and aerodynamics, so they say. In my case, riding with the saddle where I had it two days ago was very aerodynamic… I could get my head lower, out of the wind. Unfortunately I had to give up breathing and power to get there.

Now, that 19.2 (it was 19.4 before the last mile but I slowed it down quite a bit to cool down) was after a really hard 30 miles the day before, even if that 30 was slow – which meant my legs weren’t in the best shape for the little test.  Still, getting my saddle in the right position meant that I could recover from surges a lot faster because I was breathing more deeply. That translated into a slower lactic acid buildup and the ability to sustain a greater effort for a longer period of time than just one day earlier… Bob’s my uncle.

Now, undoubtedly, I have a little work to do on effort too, I know I’ve been taking it a little easier than I’d like and now that my saddle is back to where it should be, it’ll be possible to focus my attention there.

In all, this was an arrogant mistake.  I was cocky enough to believe that I could line my saddle up by feel rather than simply putting a level or plum-bob to it.  After all, I have all of those miles in and a small change feels like a boulder under the mattress… Two weeks of consternation could have been avoided with two minutes and a level.

Ride and learn.

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