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Road Cycling and Saddle Height; Down to the Last Millimeter

I’ve been struggling, a happy struggle mind you, with the saddle on my Trek 5200. Specifically, the height of said saddle on said 5200.  The fore/aft location is darn-near set in stone, as I prefer my kneecap to line up with the pedal spindle per the normal setup of a road bike.

First, that Montrose Pro carbon saddle is one fine saddle and some the best money I’ve spent on that bike went to that saddle. It’s got the perfect blend of lightweight, flexibility, and padding for a long distance saddle. I can even wear my thinner chamois bibs for 70+ mile rides on it – bibs I once only wore for 25-35 mile rides on inferior saddles.

My biggest issue has been getting the height dialed in so my Trek feels like my Specialized, though.  So, second would be the disclaimer that I’m notoriously picky about saddle height. Obsessive isn’t really a good word, but it comes pretty close to reality.

When I picked the saddle up, I first set it just a touch too high (my measurement is exactly 36-3/8″). I lowered it once because my keister was hurting. Then I lowered it another bit because it still hurt my heinie and by that time, my back was hurting and starting to seize up on me every now and again.  The second lowering did the trick, and that’s where I left it for DALMAC. I rejoiced for the weekend because the saddle felt excellent, with only a minor flareup of baboon @$$.

It wasn’t until I got back and rode the Venge a few days, then took the Trek out once more, that I realized the saddle on the Trek was a little too low. It felt it at the time, but in reality, it wasn’t by much.  It just felt… off.  It felt like I wasn’t getting my full leg extension, that I was working just a little too hard.

Well, Saturday afternoon I raised the saddle up to test my theory, thinking maybe I lowered it too much the last time. I didn’t raise it much, maybe 1-1/2 to 2 millimeters:

With the heightened chance of rain on Sunday, I rode the Trek. At first he saddle height felt right, or better at least.  I was definitely getting full leg extension, and I felt a bit stronger.  40 miles in, I was antsy in the saddle and my back pain started in again.  I knew I’d raised it too much. There was too much pressure on the sit bones. On coming back, I split the difference and lowered it by about half… and nirvana!

I rode with my buddy, Chuck Monday night, picking my lightest pair of bibs, and I could tell instantly, I nailed it.  Finally.

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I almost can’t believe it, the infinitesimal amount I’m talking about, but I’m here to tell you, that millimeter made a difference (actual difference once I lowered the saddle is half the gap shown above between the seat post and the marker line).

So here’s what was messing me up; having the saddle high helps keep your butt up and your head down – it’s aerodynamic.  Having the saddle up also allows for a stronger pedal stroke.  Unfortunately, having the saddle too high also hurts like hell.

Does it help that I’ve got the Venge to contrast what I’m feeling on the 5200?

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*Does it or doesn’t it help to have a phenomenal race bike to contrast my other bikes against?  Look, this is going to be a matter of perspective.  It’s more a blessing than a curse as I see it.  Having the Venge to match the Trek to has made the Trek a significantly better bike.  I never could have gotten it to where it is, as fast as I did, without the Venge.  Mrs. Bgddy might disagree with that assessment as it pertains to cash, though.  Ouch.

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Cycling Legs; What They Are and How to Get Yours

The most valuable things I’ve acquired in all my years of cycling, other than happiness, contentment, and exceptional fitness, some awesome bikes, of course, are my cycling legs.  They’ve been just as important as the bikes I’ve chosen to ride.

Back in 2012, when I was just a pup, one of my friends mentioned that it would take about three years of solid, heavy miles to attain my “cycling legs”.  I didn’t know exactly what he meant back then, but I sure know now…

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This photo was taken at approximately 24-mph.  My friend, Doug, having just come off the front after a 2-mile pull, is obviously no worse for the wear and my friends are looking quite comfortable.  We’re 50 miles into a 100 mile day, after riding 100 the two previous days.

If we had to define “cycling legs”, it’s when one acquires the legs needed to put in the miles one wants to put in, without having to worry about the ability to complete a difficult ride (or several in a row).

For instance, after the four-day tour mentioned above, I didn’t take the day after off.  No, I went for a ride with my friend, Mike.  It was certainly an easy pace and we didn’t go very far, but we were out riding nonetheless (37 miles at 17.5-mph).  The day after I turned in a 21-mph effort on Tuesday night for the club ride (though I dropped off the back after 11-ish miles because I didn’t feel like working that hard – we were above 22 for the average when I dropped).  I didn’t take a day off till it rained that Friday.

That’s having your cycling legs.

So, how does one acquire them?

Well, that’s a little easier said than done.  Going all the way back to 2011, my first year on a bike, I put in 1,820 miles for the year.  Not near enough to begin working on my cycling legs.  2012 was much better at 5,360 – really, that was the first year that mattered.  2013 I barely broke the year before with 5,630.  2014 was the year I really took off, though; 6,000-ish (I didn’t keep any records that year, so I guessed low – 2015 was 7,620 and 2016 was 8,509… I’d say I guessed low by about 1,000 miles, give or take).  It was the three years in a row, north of 5,000 miles, that really got me there.

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Cycling legs are half physical and half mental.

The physical part of cycling legs is simply getting the miles on your saddle to get your body prepared for the regular load we put on them as cyclists.  That’s the easy part, and I felt different once I got my legs under me.  Now, I’m particular about what I’m feeling – I pay acute attention, so I knew within a month of when I hit my stride.  I didn’t hurt the same after a big effort.  I tended to recover a lot faster from hard efforts and could expect more out of my legs.

The mental side of cycling legs is knowing that if you go out for a 100k (or some other distance) ride, you’ll make it back home.   It isn’t “hoping”, or “speculating”, it’s knowing.  Not only that, it’s knowing how hard you can push yourself before you crack.  There are some extenuating circumstances, of course.  Maybe you bonk or you cramp up… but even in those situations, you know you’ll be able to spin home without too much trouble.

There’s one word that really encompasses the whole gamut; experience.

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I’ve been there, done it, got the t-shirt and worn it out – now I use it to clean my chains.  That much experience.

Michigan Cycling Law and Passing Slower Traffic; Why Did the Facebook Crowd have a Meltdown Over This Photo?

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I took the photo above on DALMAC and sent it in to the staffers to enter a photo contest.  Apparently, whether the TCBA posted it, or one of my friends, on Facebook, social media had a huge meltdown over this photo. Folks, motherf***ers were pissed.  At issue was the fact that we crossed a yellow line to pass a miniature horse and buggy being driven by a young boy.  First, before we get into this, we need context to keep the idiocy at a minimum; we were roughly double the speed of the little guy and his horse.  I’d guess they were about 10-mph and we were around 20, probably a little higher.  Our average pace for the day was 19.48-mph, so common sense would dictate between 22 & 24 (we do, for the most part, stop at stop signs and always at traffic lights, so we have to ride a little faster for the average).

Now, I’m second bike behind my buddy, Mike in this photo. I started calling out to move wide, early and that’s exactly what we did to pass.

If you don’t know anything about cycling, passing horses and buggies, and traffic, and you’re ignorant of Michigan law, well, I imagine you could get your dander up over that photo, but another’s ignorance isn’t enough to get my undies in a bunch, either.

So, here are the things people miss in their ignorance, intolerance and desire to jump on someone else out for a leisurely stroll:

  • It’s hard to see from the photo, because I was holding the camera down pretty low, and I was angling it down as well, to get the shot right, whilst riding in a pace line at  better than 20-mph (everyone within earshot knew I was taking the photos), but adjusting the height a little bit, to eye level, we can see all the way down the road beyond the stop sign. We knew we had the room to pass and gave the horse and buggy a little more than three feet, because that’s what decent people do.
  • We had complete situational awareness when we passed the kid riding in the horse and buggy. Complete.
  • It’s a kid driving that buggy…
  • Anyone who knows anything about horses, when they get spooked, they freight train. We weren’t about to spook that horse and have him go all mental on a kid, so we started talking so the horse (and the kid) could hear us coming, then we passed wide, where and when it was safe to do so, and in a manner that we hoped wouldn’t spook them.
  • This is a photo taken just a few seconds earlier when we were in the process of moving over – you can see the lead cyclist on the right motioning to get over (or, if you didn’t know, that’s the end of the motion to move over, an obstacle is ahead):

As we are a vehicle on the road, subject to the same laws (as the angry mob likes to say), we assumed a little bit of the new Michigan bicycle passing law ourselves:

 (3) Notwithstanding section 640, if it is safe to do so, the driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction may overtake and pass the bicycle in a no-passing zone.

We, as cyclists and motorists, are accutely aware of what three feet actually is.  In the first photo, I’d call that four or five feet, but again, we didn’t want to spook the kid or the horse.  So, in other words, we followed existing law and did what was intelligent.  We overtook a horse and buggy, on a bicycle travelling roughly double the speed, where it was clearly safe to do so, in a no-passing zone.  We used the existing law on the books as it was written, passed, and intended.

It’ll never be good enough, as cyclists go…

Just yesterday, our small, four-person group was yelled at by a motorist because we didn’t stop at a stop sign and put a foot down… 40 feet before we even got to the intersection.  We hadn’t even made it to the intersection!  First, we are not on motorcycles.  We have the ability to stop without putting a foot down.  Let’s take that argument at face value, though.  You think motorists are mad at cyclists now, let’s follow the put your foot down notion to conclusion.  Rather than take 20 cyclists 20 seconds to clear an intersection, let’s go two at a time, foot down, then go, foot down, then go… those same twenty cyclists would take a minute and a half to clear an intersection.  You think motorists are irate now, good grief.  Better, let’s follow knucklehead’s suggestion and stop, foot down, 40′ from an intersection, and hop our bikes up to the stop sign.  20 cyclists, we’d clear an intersection in two minutes.  You can’t even quantify the squitters that would cause.

Where the rubber meets the road, as they say.

It doesn’t matter why the angst, it’s directed at the wrong people.  Cyclists would rather be on a paved shoulder almost as much as motorists want them on a shoulder.  I’d be willing to bet you wide shoulders would approach 90% voter approval, so why doesn’t every road built in the State of Michigan have a wide shoulder on either side of the road that we would gladly use to avoid angry nincompoops?

Ask your politician.  And therein lies the rub.  One thing is for sure, I’m not going to quit using the roads till they put shoulders in we can ride on, no matter how angry someone ignorantly is that I’m legally there.

Just remember, if it’s a “speed” thing, you’ll have to ban mail vans and farm equipment from the roads as well.  My friends and I pass them on a regular basis.  We passed a mail truck just Saturday morning.  The driver never came close to catching us… and we take up less space on the road.

Bike Handling in a Group Setting; The Friendly Shoulder Bump… Or Elbow, as May Be Necessary (and Probably Wiser).

This post was prompted by reading Bike-Handling Basics #6:  How to Do Pro Tricks (Read number 5 for the cool shoulder…)

A few weeks ago we had a double pace-line going of around 20 cyclists.  Not big by our standards, but not small by any stretch, either.  We were cruising down the road at a spirited 22-mph pace when the road started getting choppy along the right side.  I was in the left part of the right lane.  My counterpart up front started inching closer to me, to the point he started going over the center crown of the lane.  He pushed me closer to the double-yellow until I simply wouldn’t go any further left.  I’m not getting my handlebar anywhere near over the yellow for anyone… he inched closer.

Now, right there, most people will freak out a little and say something.  Not a bad reaction, indeed.  Another cyclist starts crowding you like that, it gets dangerous.

Well, folks, there’s no need to get belligerent about being crowded a little.  Also, there’s definitely no need to cross over the yellow line into opposing traffic.  The key is to ever-so-slightly bend your elbow so it extends beyond the end of the handlebar so it rubs against your counterpart’s elbow.  If they’re novice enough to crowd you during a ride, they won’t be able to hold it together when you start putting an elbow into them.

In my case, I wasn’t nasty about being crowded.  I didn’t jab my elbow into him, and I certainly wasn’t trying to get him hurt.  The elbow did its job, though.  I just kind of eased it out there till he bumped into it…  After bumping arms with him twice, he moved off of me to the right a little bit and that was the end of it.

As it turned out, I didn’t know why my friend was crowding me like that until he mentioned that the right side of the lane was horribly choppy and he couldn’t keep the pace in the bumps.  Things get chippy in a group sometimes.  The elbow, or even pushing a on another cyclist’s hip to let them know they’re getting into your personal space a little too much is a great way to set boundaries and diffuse a situation before it gets too messy

Just remember, you get too pushy and you could end up knocking a bunch of your friends down in the process.  It is very important that we exercise care, caution and restraint, always remembering that we’re traveling down the road at 40 feet per second.

You Can’t Recover if You Don’t Quit; Paging Captain Obvious

Recovering from addiction, if done right, will be the hardest thing you ever do in life.  If you’re doing it wrong, then doing it right will be the second hardest thing you ever do.

For the last, oh, I don’t know, several thousand years or so, alcoholics have been trying to switch addictions to cope with quitting their drug/drink of choice.  Beer only, wine only, liquor only, foo-foo drinks only… weed only, pills only, heroin only, cocaine only, weed and beer, coke to get up, booze to come down… you get the idea.  Hey, why not swing for the fences and throw meth in there for good measure?  I’m sure that’ll end well.

Friends, there is no escape an addict won’t exploit.  If it makes us feel good, without proper motives and checks, we’ll abuse it.  It’s what we do.

The problem is not that we abuse the $#!+ that makes us feel good, it’s that we have to escape what is happening around us, that we want to escape life (usually synonymous with our bad decisions and the wreckage we create).  As addicts, we used to escape, to hide from life, therefore anything that gives us that escape in recovery has to be suspect (even, gulp, cycling).  If it’s mood or mind-altering, in the form of a drug, it’s simply off limits (there are exceptions, obviously, but none of them include self-diagnosis or pot – though feel free to kid yourself.  I won’t try to stop you).  If it’s something that simply puts a smile on our face, like cycling in my case, we must constantly assess our motives and our behavior.  If we don’t, we risk creating more, new wreckage from which we’ll seek to hide.  And that will start the cycle of destruction and the downward spiral to relapse.

That’s how $#!+ works.

In the end, Captain Obvious, it’s very simple; quit first, recover second.  Sadly, we don’t get to put the cart before the horse.  I can’t have the benefits of recovery if I won’t quit in the first place.

 

On Gratitude… for Simply Being on the Right Side of the Grass, Pumping Air

It’s easy to be sucked into the morass of the news cycle. It was a dark day in America way back when the big whigs at CNN, on their second day of the network’s existence, realized that 24-hour news was really hard. It seems shortly thereafter they figured, well, if the news won’t come to us, we’ll start making it ourselves.

This isn’t going to be a critique on CNN, though. The point is, when we’re bombarded with crap designed to keep us glued to a TV screen, eventually, to use a phrase seemingly designed for CNN, throw enough crap against a barn, eventually some is going to stick. Therein lies the rub.

I have something rare going for me. I’m a terrible, raging alcoholic.

It’s rare that being an insufferable drunk is looked at as a benefit, but if given some decent perspective, it’s the best thing ever to happen to me.

Being an alcoholic, recovering from it, specifically, has put life in perspective. The hardest thing I’ll ever do in my lifetime is recover from that pit of despair and hopelessness. I did it at 22 years-old, and with just under half of my brain constantly trying to get me back to the miserable relief of escapism through drinking and drugs.

Not only have I stopped mood and mind altering substances, I’ve flourished in this new lease on life, and if I can do that, after all of the despair I suffered through, anything is possible.

One final note on gratitude. The moment after I gave up and asked God for help to recover, I had a complete change of mind and heart. My compulsion to drink was lifted. Maybe “eased” is a better word, but it was something tangible, something I could feel. A crushing weight lifted off my chest… real relief.

People often speak of “being saved”… I get to know, deep down to my baby toes, exactly what being saved feels like. And I know enough not to waste what I was given.

My friends, life is all about how we choose to look at it. Injustice exists everywhere. So does great joy, friendship, happiness and love. Everywhere. What am I going to choose to see, and share with those around me?

Life is never perfect, but if I remain grateful for what I’ve been given, it’s never CNN bad, either.

Everesting 2 – So Close, Yet So Far

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My friends, if you’re ever in need of motivation to push on, read the linked post.

I missed this one, it was written back in may, when I was buried under work. Check it out if you get a minute.