Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A Pain in the bum 

Well I've been riding the sleek red and white steed for a couple of weeks or so now and it feels like I'm acclimatising to cycling fairly well. I'm certainly glad that I had the first three or four months of the year building up some base fitness level, otherwise those first rides would have felt like some sort of medieval torture.

The distance covered on each outing has been increasing steadily and 17-20 miles in around 75 minutes is now fairly easy going in respect of muscular endurance and the capacity of the heart and lungs to keep pumping blood and air. However, we do have a small problem that is quite literally proving to be a "pain in the bum"

Now that the amount of time spent in the saddle is increasing beyond 60-75 minutes at a time I have started to experience quite severe discomfort in the area of my backside that supports a lot of my weight, to the point where it is painful enough to cut a ride short even though the legs and lungs are more than willing to go on. Experiencing a pain in the butt was something I expected and I am sure it is something that will go away with more time in the saddle and miles under those skinny wheels, however being the curious chap that I am, I wanted to understand exactly what was causing the pain and whether anything could be done to accelerate the process of becoming used to the presence of a an ever present "pain in the arse" (yes it's present all the time, even off of the bike doing normal things like sitting watching TV) 

It appears that I have rediscovered parts of my body that have not made their presence felt since my schoolboy days, when my parents made me cycle the seven or eight miles to school each day (no mums on school runs or taxis back then!) The parts of my body in question are my "sit bones" 

In normal modern everyday life these two fella's don't really come in for too much abuse due to the presence of the ample padding provided by everyday seating and sleeping arrangements. Subject your rear end to the instrument of torture that is the saddle of a modern endurance cycle and it is a different matter altogether. Your "sit bones" -- technically, your ischial tuberosities -- are the two protruding bones that carry most of your weight when you're sitting and as the above diagram illustrates, this is very much more pronounced on a skinny cycle saddle where much of the body weight is supported by the sit bones and .  (you didn't think you were going to get a biology lesson today did you?) 

Given that I really need to be regularly completing 4-6 hour rides a couple of times a week within the next couple of months, this is a pain in the bum that needs to be dealt with promptly. 

A quick bit of "googling" revealed that the pain is likely to go away or become much less noticeable as more time is spent in the saddle (the actual amount of time required varies from individual to individual and can be anything from a couple of weeks to several months) As well as the sit bones not being used to having to support the weight of the body, the cause of the pain can be down to a number of other things including saddle height/position, saddle design and size of saddle, as I don't want to spend an undetermined and potentially long period of time waiting for my pain in the ass to go away I will be exploring all of these options over the next week or so.

One of the cycle trade's tools for ascertaining what type/size of seat is appropriate for an individual is this device which is affectionately known as an "assometer"

Essentially this device works by leaving an impression of each bone in the soft black coloured material which is then measured. Now I could go to my local Specialized store and sit on their "assometer" or I could make my own out of a coffee table, some plasticine (modelling clay) and some grease proof baking paper - those of you that know about my tendency to let my inner engineer emerge and needlessly over complicate tasks will by now have worked out which solution I going to use! 

Once I know how large the gap is between my sit bones (essentially how big my bum is) I will be able to establish what width saddle I need and which design will be best (oh yes there are many design variations for these instruments of torture)

Googling also turned up this picture of a cyclist employing a slightly different method of measuring sit bone gap

Who needs an assometer to measure sit bone gaps?

Whilst I have been sitting here writing this, the thought has occurred to me that maybe a simpler solution would be to change my diet again and eat lots of pies in order to put some padding back onto my bum............

Thanks for reading, "pain in the bum" part two to follow in a few days


Saturday, 19 May 2012

January - May 2012 (the story so far) 

Well hello and thanks to anyone taking the time to read this, the first post on my blog which will attempt to vaguely document the next fourteen months of pain and preparation getting ready for l'Etape 2013.

I guess the first post on this blog should introduce you to Velo Pixie and some of the background behind his decision to ride a bicycle up a french mountain whilst taking part in the French based cycle race l'Etape du Tour (if you want to cut to the chase and find out more about the race rather than persevering with the following blog post I have put a short description of the event here http://velopixie.blogspot.co.uk/p/letape-what-is-it.html )

January 2012 to May 2012

Following the 2011 Christmas and New Year celebrations I decided it was time to reduce my weight and maybe try and improve my fitness levels (which had gradually declined over the ten years or so since I had last participated in any form of regular sport) In early January 2012 my weight was 17 stone (238 pounds) and to be honest a moderately long flight of stairs was enough to make my 49 year old lungs start to struggle.

During January and early February I started to use our indoor water rower on a daily basis (starting at 20 minute sessions and building to 30 minute sessions) and sometimes managing to fit two sessions a day in.

I could feel my fitness improving and the weight did start to move but it was a bit variable in terms of the amount lost (or not each week) At the same time I resolved to try and improve my diet by cutting out as much fat as possible and other things that didn't instinctively feel healthy.

This regime continued until 14th February when I decided maybe it would be useful to understand what my heart rate was and try and monitor improvements in my fitness through some numbers rather than how out of breath I felt at the end of each rowing session. Some internet research was done and a Polar FT60 combined watch and heart rate monitor was purchased.

The introduction of heart rate monitoring into the "Get Pixie fit" programme highlighted a couple of things,  firstly, whilst my fitness was improving it was still woefully poor and secondly the beta blockers I was taking at the time to manage persistent migraine headaches were artificially suppressing my heart rate. So as my GP confirmed, it didn't matter how hard I worked, I was never going to get anywhere near my theoretical maximum heart rate and therefore any associated weight loss benefits would be also to some extent be compromised.

Time for another introduction to the "Get Pixie fit" programme. On 22nd February I discovered an app for my iphone that has honestly transformed how and what I eat, the app in question is www.myfitnesspal.com  My Fitness Pal allows me to monitor the nutritional and calorific values of the food I eat, as well as providing a target number of calories to be consumed each day taking into account, my weight loss target and the amount of exercise I undertake each day (if you are trying to lose weight, check it out) On the day i started using My Fitness Pal I weighed 225 pounds, so a not to shabby loss of 13 pounds had been achieved in around six weeks.

Fast forward to April 2012 and my fitness levels had been improving steadily, I had come off of my beta blockers (after seeking the advice of my GP) and my weight had also been steadily dropping. The amount of exercise I undertook had also been increasing to the point where I was averaging around seven hours a week of a mixture of rowing, walking and jogging. I was starting to feel pretty good and at this point and had lost 40 pounds (almost 3 stone) since the beginning of the year.

It was around this time that I thought it might be fun to get a bicycle and add some cycling into the weekly mix of fitness activities, at the same time I started to wonder whether there was some sort of endurance cycling event that i could participate in (didn't want to run the London marathon, I actually don't really like running, despite running four or five times a week now) and through a bit of internet research found out about the madness that is the l'Etape du Tour, 100-120 miles cycling up a French mountain in a day, whilst also staying within the organisers prescribed minimum speed requirement. Sounded just like the sort of thing I was looking for, but I decided not to tell anyone while I pondered whether I actually wanted to do it. In the meantime my new bicycle was ordered and I started to read anything I could find relating to l'Etape and competitive endurance cycling. 

l'Etape Start

We flew out to America to see Hanna's mum and step dad Bob in the middle of April and during this holiday I found myself in the hotels gym each morning with Bob doing a round 20 miles in an hour on the exercise bike. Maybe completing l'Etape would be possible? Then one evening it happened, after a few gin and tonics I found myself explaining what l'Etape was to Hanna's mum and Bob and also declaring that I would be doing the 2013 event. There, it was out in the open, I'd said I was going to do l'Etape, so I was committed to it.

A typical l'etape climb 
Early May and my Specialized Secteur Elite arrives at Melksham Cycle Centre (along with numerous e bay purchases of cycling kit and cycling training books) I actually still can't believe how excited I was when I went to pick up my new steed (remember I am fifty this year and shouldn't really get that excited about a bicycle)

At the time that the bike arrived the combination of eating healthily, running and rowing had seen me lose 50 pounds in weight since the beginning of the year, I weighed 13.5 stone and I was feeling better physically than I had for as long as I could remember.    

And so in my fiftieth year on this planet, the journey to l'Etape, and whatever cycling adventures follow it, had begun. 

To be continued......