What a week. My manager is gone, last day (or really hour) was Friday. Bit of limbo to be sure but early indications are that the status quo will remain, i.e. myself, the lower manager, filling the gap upward of one and 13/15 headcount, with the manager above helping out for that 2/15 th’s part. I don’t complain that much about all of this, surprising even me (and likely surprising SurlyLady who’ll be rolling her eyes), but I think it’s cuz I recognize this has been a period of forced growth, and I am definitely the type that learns more quickly that way, i.e. cut off those apron strings and let me go and fail and flail a little bit then boom I’m running smooth for six months then I’ll get bored and look for something else to do.
In spite of all the work shenanigans, Friday was a two-appointment day – one in the morning to return a 24-hour blood pressure monitor, the other in the afternoon to get a bike fitting at my physical therapy clinic on First Hill. First the blood pressure monitor. Ugh. Kept me up pretty good Thursday night. You wear one of those BP cuffs on your upper arm, tethered to a smallish unit that, at 15 minute intervals, performs an inflation and BPM/BP routine. At night it cycles down and does it infrequently, but enough to make the whole sleeping thing hellish. Even worse was the ride in the morning – according to the tech at the hospital, oh yeah you can wear that cycling, no problem! What she failed to say was that in the middle of exertion, having a torture device come on every 10 minutes or so (it came on more frequently because I think BP drops during exertion, or maybe I was only imagining the stepped-up frequency) that squeezes your arm so hard it goes numb, and you have to pull your hand down to your side because touching anything at all is too much. This all sounds so exaggerated but I think what was happening was that after 24 hours of my left arm getting squeezed periodically it was going over the top. One of the last sessions, just before I called a taxi (raining, had to deliver a 3 hour presentation/work session in half an hour), I watched as my left hand almost doubled in size, became a deep chestnut red color and had veins popping up all over the place… so glad to take that off. I wouldn’t recommend riding with one unless it’s daylight out – on the dark Burke, having to go one handed to pass around people and prepare for unseen roots was a bit challenging.
Later that day, glad to leave the building as the gossip vultures circled regarding the news of my manager as it started to circulate, I jumped into my bikey clothes and onto the Poprad and rode a little over a mile to First Hill. Walked my bike into the reception area and smack dab into the coolest bike fitter therapists ever. I had two, each representing a different ‘school’ of thought on bicyling and physical therapy (Dutch versus Flemish perhaps) – an instant ‘second opinion’ as I quipped and they dutifully laughed at. To get down to the essentials, I was in there secondarily to talk about the shoulder (still having pains) but primarily due to the knee. Ever since I started riding I’ve paid no attention to lactic acid thresholds (something about dairy intolerance?) or VO2 max threshold (hair spray?)… I’ve read the articles in Bicycling Magazine, nodded my head, and understood not a word. In my world, I have only been concerned with KPT – knee pain threshold. Friday then, I was going to get the benefits of two physical therapists who had each been trained as bike fitters – a mix of mechanics and pain. Perfect!
As I was saying, I pulled in and we swapped out the skewer (amid bike talk, the main therapist liked my Carradice, buddy flaps, Brooks saddle, Speedplay Frogs, Schwalbe tires… she apparently recommends the Frogs and Brooks as often as possible) and hopped up on the trainer. Immediately she noticed the Brooks has a nice dimple on the right side only. Apparently not only is the Brooks great for short and long rides, etc, but it’s the only seat, including the Selle Anatomica, that is actually anatomic-forensic friendly. In this case, my bully right cheek showed that I possibly have one leg shorter than the other, a condition my dad enjoys. Hmm. And it’s on the right side. And my right knee is the one that always hurts. Hmm.
First off, while on the trainer, they spotted that my handlebars are way too wide, ‘pparently cross-bars are nice and wide for leverage when sprinting through the mud etc, or possibly the 44cm size is just a lowest/highest common production bike denominator. She recommended a 40cm, after measuring my shoulders in front, back and with arms straight out front (zombie pose). Secondly, they saw right away that the seat post was wrong. They raised it up quite a bit, several centimeters. I could tell a huge difference. Not satisfied they raised it another centimeter. Wild. I never dreamed I was off that much. Guess my home school measuring is about a good as you could expect. One trick for measuring (the two therapists used two, one a bend-enabled sort of compass plastic thing held up to the knee) is to have your crank arm at a parallel angle to the ground, pedal out in front. Take a plumb and line and the tip of the knee should line up with the center of the pedal spindle (Knee Over Pedal Spindle, KOPS). My left was okay, the right was bad. Good KOPS, bad KOPS. Raising the seat sort of evened out the differences between the two legs, I guess for a relative ideal. I was curious to how raising the seat height could help with the knees. Their explanation, and it’s a good one: Stand with feet held shoulder width apart, but feet placed as far behind the knees as possible. Bend down. It hurts. I can’t even do a couple. Move the feet forward, keeping the relative width the same, and it’s much better. You get the same squat motion executed, but the pressure on the knees isn’t as bad. Next up was some pedal technique eyeballing from straight ahead to see deviation from the up-down mean. And boy did I have some deviation! The right leg, unsurprisingly, had a tendency to flop all over the place. I had noticed this in a spin class once while I was checking myself out in the mirror, saying, Oh yeah, you’re the guy, keep on pedaling, Travolta? Ain’t shit. Mel Gibson? Val Kilmer? Don’t ask. Julian Sands? Who? The therapists explained that this was causing the knee pain. In spite of all the mitigating steps (pun) I’d taken, Speedplay Frog for maximum float, trying to stick with a high cadence spinning style in easier gears, it still wasn’t enough. Essentially my problem is I have a dumb ass, i.e. the right cheek especially isn’t working the way it should, and the foot is compensating, either for being a shorter leg or for the relatively weak hip action, meaning the knee is flopping left to right. On top of that, the seat height was way too low, and so even though I wasn’t putting pressure on the knee (mitigating steps) it was getting ground between two out-of-synch forces, the foot and the hip. Curiously, the two therapists each had a school of thought about the Frogs; one felt they allow too much float, that something like SPDs enforces the good stuff whereas Frogs encourage laziness; the other felt that Frogs are great for the float, and to really fix my knee problem it’s not the pedal, it’s the hip/core/abdominal and strength/pedal training and technique). They had me do some one-legged pedaling (what is the sound of? ideally, it’s the sound of a constant pitch whir with no speedup/slowdowns or dead spots) and hot dang that helped. When I looked down and watched myself and concentrated on keeping everything lined vertically, and also sort of clinching the dumbass, all per instruction, it felt better. They recommended I do the one-legged pedaling (I’ve heard about this in magazines, nodded, didn’t understand a word) several times a week.
Verdict: on the ride home, on that high, high seat (so high I felt like I needed a bib and some airplane/hangar inducements, or, conversely, so high that I could almost see eternity) was freaking awesome. Huge reduction in knee pain, and that was with still poor form – hard to concentrate when in the middle of a deluge such as the SL described (odd how she never ever exaggerates). Early days, but I’m happy. And happy in a way because I know it couldn’t have been a ‘one thing’ fix, that they gave me a range of fixes to try, namely 1) seat height, 2) pedal/knee/hip alignment technique, 3) strengthening/training work to develop the technique. I guess we’ll see. I do know that if I’m ever to get to my goals of one-day STP (200+ miles) and 4 days a week of commuting, maybe even 5, then I needed some help.