Getting Yer Angles Right

This is rapidly turning into Animal Farm. Last week it was a story about two dogs, one wanting mega miles while the other one wanted to play a cool head. This week we’re kicking off with the story about a bloke whose car breaks down on a country road next to a field with two horses. As the bloke lifts the bonnet, horse number one pipes up “have you run out of petrol”. “No” says the man. “Well in that case, I’d check the spark plugs if I were you” says the horse… Eventually the bloke does as the horse suggests, takes out the plugs, gives ‘em a clean and pops ‘em back in. He turns the key, the engine fires up and he’s off on his way again. Later that night, he’s telling this somewhat unlikely tale in the pub, whereupon the barman interjects “was it the field with the brown horse and the white horse”? “Yes” says the driver. “And was it the brown horse that told you to clean the plugs”. “It was” says the bloke. “Thank feck for that “ says the barman. “The white one knows nothing about cars”!

Now the reason that this story is relevant is because the weather has been glorious all week and I’d set my stall out to bag mega miles. The record stands at 241 and I wanted 250. So did dog number 1. I got off to a great start with 47 on Monday followed by 54 on Tuesday but by the time I was homeward on Wednesday night, the tendonitis in my right knee was so sore that I actually thought there was a chance it would go on strike. Time to abandon ship as far as record attempts go, I’m afraid. But it made me think: and it made me think hard. “What is causing the tendonitis”?

The route is hilly, a fact that’s well documented. And I’ve stepped up the mileage since moving to five day weeks. What was once a regular 160 became a 180, but since the Highland Bike at the beginning of May, those 180’s have stretched out again to become 200 plus. Indeed, whereas the average was 180 a week through February and March, the transition through April has led to an average of 220 a week through May and June. Those are big miles, and I naturally thought that that’s where the problem lay. Strengthwise and endurancewise, I’ve been coping fine with the workload, it’s just that the tendonitis has been threatening to derail my progress. I can’t even start to describe how frustrating how that is when the weather is finally so inviting.

Then last night, in pain on the way home, I worked it out: or at least I thought I did. It’s all about angles. I have three bikes: my folding 26” mountain bike is the one I started this project on last summer. It was the bike that taught me that back pain could be a thing of the past. It was the bike that showed me, purely by accident, the correct angles between the seat,  handlebars and pedals that mean no low back pain. So when I moved to my main mountain bike for the dark winter nights, I set it up exactly the same. I chopped an inch of the end of each handlebar, I move the seat forward and it worked. But it’s an old bike and the muck on the A77 bike lane knackered the disk brakes through the winter. A new bike was called for long term. Father Birthday bought me a tourer, exactly the same model as Jane’s, and after a bit of frigging about with the handlebar position, I was ready to go. I‘ve ridden it ever since: and I’ve got to say, I love that bike. But on my way home last night, in pain, I thought long and hard about what could possibly be causing me damage. It might be the extra miles, but I’ve been a higher mileage guy before and got away with it. It could be the hills because there are so many of them, and I like to push hard. I’ve tried using a lower gear and going slower but (a) that isn’t my style (b) it wasn’t really making that much difference.

Then it hit me: for no obvious reason that I can explain, an idea came into my head. The pain is at its worst when I’m pushing hard going uphill. The harder I push, the worse it is. And the more I thought about it, the more I came to realise that that’s when the hamstrings are working hardest and that’s when the tendons are under the greatest strain. The answer, I figured, was to reduce the strain on the tendons by reducing the obtuse angle of bend at the knee by lowering the saddle.

When I got home last night, having cut the run short at 20 miles, I lowered the saddle by about 1/4 of an inch. It doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s significant in terms of power and stretch. And there was no doubt that on the run into work this morning, when I should by right have expected a fair whack of pain, I got much, much less than that. Promising!

I decided that for the home run, the one that really does the damage into the wind up the Ayr Road (it’s a climb approaching five miles from Eastwood Toll all the way to Floak) I’d take another quarter inch off the saddle height. I could not believe the difference. For the first time in weeks, I found that I could actually stay in the saddle and give it some welly going uphill: pain free. It was never going to be possible to do mega miles to make up the shortfall to 250 because I am still injured, but the change, and the result, was very, very encouraging.

As I write this shortened blog (through necessity because I’m heading down to England for a wedding tomorrow), the mileage this week sits on 187 with a day to go. It’s going to hit 230 or somewhere close, and that is a remarkable return in a week that promised much then materially disintegrated midweek. The ultrasound machine will be going away with me, because I’ll need to continue with the physio, but this is shaping up to be one battle that I’m going to win. Oscar would be proud… #NeverGiveUp

It didn’t look good for a while but at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of getting yer angles right. LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma has taught me so much, and continues to do so…..

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