Thursday, January 21, 2010

Keeping the Proprioception Going: Session 5

I did in fact recover from Session 4's freezing finally, although I'll admit it was a long day of serious body recover - like bonking almost - body weak, queasy stomach, lethargy. By night fall I was coming around, and by the following morning I actually, yes Phil you were right, felt better. Going into Wednesday's session 5 I had energy and worked through the warm-up exercises it great shape; Phil was back to picking on details of posture and execution rather than abbreviating the routine to save my spine.

Post warm-up we focused on what I can do to not lose my proprioception gains. I'm heading off to India for three weeks and simply put, it's not the best timing for my workouts. But since no one pays me to ride my bike, I have other obligations. Always part of the strategy of this growing older and trying to stay fit and active - managing time, and focusing on health, nutrition - life balance. Trying to avoid what the Hopi people call Koyaanisqatsi - 'crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living.

Right now my body is physically out of balance - a little internal Koyaanisqatsi you might say.

Phil gave me simple marching orders - try to get in the basic warm-up routine at least three times a week and do one balance exercise - a foam pad or pillow on the floor, then stand centrally positions on one bare foot at a time (we are working to develop better structure in my feet to assume part of the load off the back so much of my work is now done in bare feet), bending at the knee slightly, back straight, reach over and touch the floor (without supporting on the floor or pushing off) , then return to stand (remaining on one leg). Repeat left hand to right hand 10 times, then switch legs. Two sets each.

If all goes well my initial proprioceptor launch will continue successfully into orbit and I'll return from India ready to build on this base.

And of course we had to finish things off with the ICE BATH!!!! I won't go into it again - read session 4 if you want those frigid details. ps - it was fractionally more tolerable this time, sorta, kinda.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Tour to Die For

The Broom Wagon Brothers?

While the cold has not lifted from the pave of Paris-Roubaix and the peloton parading down the California coast has now been pushed to May, the cycling season does officially start this month. I don't mean that cake-walk sprinters race "downunder", I'm talk'n about a real race,... MANly cycling.
A true race of truth. A race that, to paraphrase pro cyclist Kenny van Hummel, I'd eat my handlebars to finish. A race that harkens back to the days when Henri Degrange ruled the roads of France and they were mostly dirt and racers spread cocaine cream on their shaved legs to ward off the cold. Yes, this month riders pull out from the start of the 8th edition of the "Tour d'Afrique".

Easily the biggest cycling race on the planet just pedaled off from the start line in the shadows of the Great Pyramids. This year from the 16th January through 15th May, a total of 49 true 'convicts of the road" will depart from Cairo hoping to compete and complete the entire distance across wilds of the African continent. Another 19 will "weeny out" and only do sections of the race. Of course only those that do the complete tour are considered for the final classification.

So that got me thinking,
Is there a Lanterne Rouge? Or do stragglers get pick off by the broom wagon brothers (photo above)? Just the prospect certainly inspires you to pound the pasta, gulp and extra GU and avoid bonking.

The total distance is 11,884 km, spread out over 120 days and 96 stages, dwarfing even the insanity of the original Grand Boucle which was a mere six stages over three weeks and a pedestrian 2,428 km. (Interestingly 60 riders took to that first start in France, about the same as participate each year in ToA.)
The ToA features 96 cycling "stages", averaging 123 km (77 miles) each, broken up by 22 rest days and 2 days of ferry boat travel for a total of 120 days in traversing Africa from north to south. Stages range from 80 km on rough terrain to more than 180 km on the best paved roads. All this before finally pedaling into the finish in Cape Town, South Africa mid-May.

The sections are:
  • Pharaoh's Delight : from Cairo to Khartoum : 16 JAN TILL 04 FEB
  • The Gorge : Khartoum to Addis Abeba : FEB 6 TILL 20
  • Meltdown Madness : Addis Abeba to Nairobi : FEB 22 TILL MARCH 12
  • Masai Steppe : Nairobi to Iringa : MAR 14 TILL 25TH
  • Malawi Gin : Iringa to Lilongwe : MAR 27 TILL 05 APR
  • Zambezi Zone : Lilongwe to Victoria Falls : APR 7 TILL 15TH
  • Elephant Highway : Victoria Falls to Windhoek : APR 18 TILL 28
  • Diamond Coast : Windhoek to Cape Town : APR 30 TILL MAY 15

You can follow this mad cap adventure on the ToA blog and learn more at
Tour d'Afrique

Burrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Session 4

I'm writing this the morning after. I've finally recovered. My eyes have cleared, my speech is coherent and my brain has confirmed I am still alive. Yes, this is about workout Session 4, not a post-ride, pub-crawl, pint-fest with the boys.

After a weekend of struggling with low grinding pain in the back and upper right hip Monday's session four was destined to be slow. I could only make it through a partial warm-up as anything forcing the deep stretching of the lower back was just to difficult or near painful. So a lot of time was spent sitting or laying on a large inflated ball. I have one of these at home and use it daily for a variety of stretching as well as a chair at my computer desk. Everyone should own one of these exercise balls - one of the best overall exercise resources I ever adopted (and my new love for the foam roller :")

Now, the fun began. Ya know, there is a saying attributed to Goethe,
"until one is committed there is hesitancy, always ineffectiveness..." so until something seems totally insane I have to trust guys like Phil and Dr. Jason. Phil's worked with athletes like David Zabriskie and Danny Pate (ok, maybe Pate, from what Tyler Farrar says, isn't a good choice), he was a USA Cycling coach, even a juniors coach, I mean c'mon, they wouldn't let him coach juniors if he was insane... would they? What Phil was about to suggest was tip-toeing right up to the precipitous ledge of insanity. Ice Bath!

He says come here and strip down to you shorts, you'll need your dry clothes for after wards - hell ya, and some thermals and a down suit as well as an electric blanket!! All the while he was dumping three bags of crushed ice into a large black bathing tub.

"Climb in there and slowly (remember we do everything slowly) submerge yourself up to your neck", with a smile as he stirs the ice like a giant slushy drink.
"go ahead, and it's ok, call me anything you like, I've heard it before." Now wait! Doesn't this seem strange that someone would do this to someone knowing someone will then want to call someone profanities? He knew, I would be so frigg'n freezing that profanities (other than the initial shit!) were the last thing on my mind.

Gerry," pausing I think to see if I'm still alive, "now go to a happy place" he says in his animated style. Are you crazy, I have no happy place that is this cold!

With shaking deep breaths I tried to think of a hot place - the deserts of western Egypt maybe, I've been there - burning sands, baking heat,... great, ... go,... quickly, get there! breeeeeath.

According to some the benefits of an Ice Bath are (from After Exercise Ice Bath & Recovery &
  • Helps promote neural system recovery.
  • Promoted cardio-vascular system recovery.
  • Helps reduce pain around joints and muscles.
  • Enhances muscle fiber remodelling and regeneration
The logic [this is still being debated] behind ice baths relates to the muscle damage that results from hard workouts. This damage is actually a good thing, because the “microtears” are what stimulate new muscle growth, says Greg Wells, an exercise physiologist... in Toronto who advises several Canadian Olympic teams.

But the damage also produces muscle soreness, which peaks one or two days after the workout and can interfere with subsequent training. Ice baths cause blood vessels to constrict, forcing waste products out of the affected area. “It’s almost like wringing out a sponge,” Dr. Wells says. Then, when the area warms up again, new blood rushes in to help the healing process.

I have a general hatred for cold - most have to do with malaria - and some evolutionary hard-wiring for survival. Ice bathes are not going to be my favorite part of the reality show Me & Phil.

As Phil advised it would take a few hours for my body to fully come back around from this initial ice bath - apparently according to him and the things I have since read your body gets better at recover after future dunkings in the slushy tub - brrrrrrrrrrrrr! It did take part of the day to recover - I felt as though my entire body had been whacked.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Keep it simple stupid!

- Charlie Brown, commentary by Snoopy

(If I can quote someone with a sense of aesthetics and style)

Okay - look at those kits (if you can stomach it) - arms up in victory or flying half mast, it doesn't matter, they are butt-ugly! I've seen $19.95 sale jerseys at Performance with more going for them. And what's scary is Greg Henderson (pictured) is a fine sprinter - so that means unless something isn't done fast, we're going to be looking at that design disaster for the next several months.

Listen, Team Sky, think forward.... it's July, the big dance, your man, Wiggo, plodding
sloooooowly up the Tourmalet, and we have to stare at that design road kill? What are you thinking? I'm not even sure you could coax lammergeiers into descending on that.

C'mon guys how frigg'n difficult does this have to be? Over on Cycling Weekly (.com) they ran a little adhoc competition (one that cost Sky and Rupert Murdock absolutely zilch!) and based on the stuff shown in Design A Jersey For Team Sky they got a nice diverse collection of designs. From the article one entry came from Kevin Dakin who said,
"Sometimes, simple is best. A mate of mine once said to me of jersey design, 'can you see it from the helicopter?" And actually his design was nice, simple, and light years better than that Life Aquatica-looking bit the boys are being forced to wear downunder.

Some of the contest designs have a lot going for them and would make nice editions to the peloton - okay, maybe not the giant sun burst in the crotch on design number four.

One of the bits in the contest was that
"We'll also send the best ones on to team boss Dave Brailsford and ask him what he thinks." Bravo, excellent idea, now quit mucking about, SEND THEM NOW!!

And if there are any left overs invite the RadioShack kit designers over for some chips and a pint, show 'em what ya got and for all our sakes, and a plea from the peloton, give them a design!

Seriously, I have a pretty decent vintage jersey collection - frankly, more than anyone has a good reason to own - but looking over the kits from the 80's and how hideous some of them are, I'm now starting to scratch my head and wonder how bad they really were?

Photo copyright Graham Watson Photography

Friday, January 15, 2010

Session 3: Going slow, to go fast

Good session 3 today - not so sore - less thinking and more focus.

The warm up is starting to make sense - about half of the 16-steps are committed to mental memory, inchworm, toe-flicker, prisoner walk, over-under hurdle,... still working on the kinetic memory.

Phil occasionally says, "them" in referring to the body or parts I'm not use to talking to. "open up - teach them , open up - teach them", he says. It's all about doing things correctly - good spine control, good body position. I'm still rushing things a bit, and when he says, "relax, slow it down" I get too mechanical - old habit of thinking the movement rather than moving through the movement. Did someone say "white boy ain't got no rhythm"?

"Going slow, to go fast", so he says. It's all about teaching my body the right things to do, while my head is still muddling around in the past 50 years of bad habits and compensation. We're going at this three days a week. Consistency is critical to building body memory and to give Phil a chance to see response, not negative or positive, just response. It's clear he is looking at me in a far different perspective than I can see myself; there in lies the value of a coach. I have never had a person coaching just me. Ya, I have been on some teams and as a runner had enough success to garner some individual coach's attention, but a coach actually focused on the whole me? No.

So going slow to go fast is like learning to drive a car. He's got me in the parking lot of the Formula One race track. For now, confined, I'm little danger to myself. It's in there I can safely knock a few things over as I learn to get control of the whole body. Mentally, I long for the open road. Right now it's about, "Going slow to go fast".

We spent a bit of time on the wobble board's (see session 2) cousin - the "eye ball", as he calls it. A big circular board with a half rubber bubble on it. Like the wobble board, in the short-term you are reminded of how unstable you are, in the long run, core stabilization and strength are at the heart of it. In various two-footed and single-footed slightly squatted positions my objective is to balance. At first it's akin to watching geese land on an ice covered pond. Every movement feels like a semi-controlled crash. Frankly one of the toughest things was standing there, arms spread, on one leg, and having Phil just nudge me in the slightest manner - little more than breeze-like - my hips, legs, arms, hands, etc., staying still was a ridiculous challenge. In the back of my brain I start asking myself "what the hell have I been doing (or not doing) all these years to be so... so... unbalanced? I have some work to do.

The back got a bit inflamed today. We're communicating a lot about that - trying to find that balance between constructive rebuilding and tipping the scale into damage. There again we are going a bit slow now, until we both know my body better, so later we can let the F1 out on the streets.

Every session is a learning lesson - my body relearning to move, my brain learning to stay out of the way - but proprioception remains the over arching concept. I still need to create a body that communicates with all its parts.

Then it was roller time. Still discovering my body with the roller as well. Funny how a hard piece of foam can be so enlightening.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rebuilding the Back: Session 2

Today's session was tough - the body was sore coming into it. After back-to-back 80 plus milers and then Monday's initial workout session I was really feeling it - especially the legs. But there are no excuses with Phil - so I barely slip in the door and he slides out of his animated (a word I will use often in connection to Phil) conversation to tell me "four laps when you are ready" which meant now.

Despite being sore as hell, especially hamstrings that felt like a twist-tie on a bread bag after an NFL lineman had made a sandwich, I actually felt mentally more connected to the warm-up routine than I thought I would. Now, that doesn't mean that I didn't need Phil, with a smile and an intro mime routine, reminding me of each of the exercises, but still, a few new synapses were firing in that proprioceptor part of my brain.

Today I also discovered my new friend - well, I hope we will be soon - the wobble board, or balance board (photo above). Trying to balance on this thing is a sobering experience under normal conditions - probably not improved by the number of pints I had at Alex's birthday fest last night. The idea is you stand, at first with both feet spread and try to maintain a balanced position so the platform remains parallel to the floor. Oh, so much easier said than done. But after a few tries I got the basic hang of it.

Now comes the fun part, something new. Phil hands me to sword-looking things - flexible metal blades about five feet long with a centrally placed rubber handle. They looked less like a battle instrument and more like a strange musical one. Okay ready, squat, balance, and start gyrating these sword blades up-n-down - YES - while continuing to maintain balance on the wobble board. Quickly I was wobbling out of control and Phil says, "relax" and I try, "relax" again he says, now I'm trying to be a jellyfish of relaxation while holding on to two gyrating blades on this tipsy little board... "RELAX... get off the board", he says. OH, I get it! relax equals - get off the board. Ya, I guess I was more tensely focused than I realized. So we start again only with the sword blades vertical - not any easier trust me.

Finally we try the "dragonfly" version. This one has me standing on the WB, squatting with one leg while extending the other leg out behind me (ala the dragonfly's tail) and then gyrating the sword blades to imitate the beating wings. Mostly I got it, except for my dragonfly's tail has trouble remaining aerial. Of course I have watched plenty of dragonflies over the years and females depositing eggs on a pond do exactly what I was doing, although after several reminders to keep my "tail" up I assumed Phil wasn't interested in my natural history acumen.

All this gyrating is about stregthening my core - and anything else in the neighborhood of my L5 vertebrae. If that fails maybe I take my egg-laying dragonfly routine onto some reality talent show.

During the cool down with the roller it was clear the soreness from the weekend and Session 1 had not flown the coup - maybe it was that grimacing expression while doing little more than lying on my side that gave me away? That's when Phil breaks his animated monologue of cycling in the early '90s in Europe and says, without missing a breath, "that's good [the pain part] Gerry, we're going to rebuild you from head to toe" and then he tosses this in, "we're tak'n it down to basics, peanut-butter and jelly stuff". Well, basics like crying for your mother might be another version!

Then it was off to icing down the back and ten more minutes of colorful life at the back of the pack pro racing in northern Europe stories; Phil has forgotten infinitely more about what I like to call the "beasty boys days of cycling", those pre-1993 times, than I will ever discover - but my anecdotal archive keeps growing with every session - hopefully so will my core strength and proprioception.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gran Fondo Deadline (for cheap seats)

Just 4 More Days!
ntry before January 15th is just $25 with a fund-raising minimum of only $125.

Entry goes up to $50 if you register before March 15th and $75 if you register after March you better sign up before next Friday.

What is a Gran Fondo? A Gran Fondo derived its origin in Italy and is commonly translated "Big Ride". In Europe these are mass start rides, often honoring a former renowned bike racer like Eddy Merckx, attract up to 10,000 riders of all types. True European fondos are like races for the masses, sometimes with full road closures - a cool concept but not practical in America. Moreover, racing alone is not what all American cyclists want. They do want a timed challenge but also the experience and fanfare of riding a stage in the Tour de France and they love doing it for a cause.

Is this event for racers or recreational riders? Both. We time the whole event as well as epic hill climbs. Whether you are riding to win in your category or just trying to hit a new PR, there is an exciting challenge for everyone, not to mention a great experience on some of the most scenic rides in the country. Racers - yes, Spandex - yes, Tri Geeks - yes, Weekend Warriors - yes.

If I am a licensed racer, do I have to get tied up with the masses? No, see race categories and seeding under FAQ.

Will professional riders be there? Yes, as hosts and ambassadors of their sponsors and cycling but not to race.

How does the timing work? Each participant in the 60 and 100-mile options will get a timing chip similar to what the pro riders get in the Tour de France. Riders are timed from start to finish as well as during an epic timed hill climb section—usually about 15-20 miles with a KOM. Prizes will be awarded to top finishers by age and category as well as teams. Your chip and mounting instructions are included in your Echelon packet at registration. Your official time starts when you cross the start line and runs continuously until you cross the finish line. Timing does not stop at rest stops. Intermediate timing points are recorded on hill climbs and key positions on the course. You do not have to finish the entire ride to get a hill climb time. Results will be posted at the finish line and at

Is it a mass start? Yes, riders will be seeded or arranged by age and category. The first 15 miles or so will be neutral and casual until the timed section begins.

What happens after the Echelon Gran Fondo is over? A party! Awards, a festival, great music and food. Regardless if you fundraise for our cancer constituents, this event is also about you. Stick around for a great party when the ride ends.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back to the Back: Session 1

As promised I'm going to try and post after every session of my back rehab and overall rebuilding of the body - for cycling and life. Today was the first real workout with Phil. After time for the holidays and giving Phil a chance to analyze an approach, we got down to actual gym time this morning. I was coming in as a blank slate - mentally letting go, putting my body in Phil's hands and focusing on building this body into something better than it was before.

A focus of today was a new term to me - Proprioception. It's something that I'm, ...well, maybe more accurately I'm not. Ya see, I can't dance (except that silly excuse for a thing Jenn is kind enough to laugh at with great kindness) or anything else that requires independence and rhythm from my arms, my hands, feet and brain. Coordinated communication is proprioception:
"Proprioception (PRO-pree-o-SEP-shən) is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body. Unlike the six exteroceptive senses (sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing, and balance) by which we perceive the outside world, and interoceptive senses, by which we perceive the pain and movement of internal organs, proprioception is a third distinct sensory modality that provides feedback solely on the status of the body internally. It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other."
Today's first session was about dumping old data, and rebooting Ger's mental hard-drive so we can start reprogramming the new Ger. According to Phil that's the first step before we can ever get to rebuilding what 50 years of active living on this planet has damaged.

This first session was about "bookend" as Phil called it - teaching me how to warm up properly, and cool down. As he says, "We're gunna go slow, and do this right". That began by telling me he was going to break me of the habit of stretching before warming up. See how little I know - I thought stretching was warming up?

We began with a light easy (a word I'm going to become reacquainted with) with a few laps of jogging. Then a series of walking, then walking while bending, walking lifting legs, and walking swinging arms, etc. None of these to any length or extreme. C'mon how tough could thsi be? After 45 mins of stopping and starting to focus on my back position, proper body alignment, proper movement and technique I finished extremely "worked" and completed the warm-up that someday I'll do on my own in 10-12 mins max. For now that was it.

Then he pops out the "roller" - I thought I knew about this - a 6" x 15" hard solid foam tube. But like everything else today, it was time to learn. We started with the IT band (Iliotibia band). Ouch! This is good, I kept telling myself, Phil called it, from where he was comfortably sitting, "pain is your friend", and then remind me to slooooooow down. The goal here was to sit for 15-20 secs on pain spots in the IT band before rolling slowly on up towards my hip. If stoping at pain was my goal, then I wasn't going to be making swift progress - but "slow is good" Phil kept reminding me.

After the IT band was adequately mutilated - so it felt - we moved on to the interior of the upper leg and the same slow roll from interior knee. It's truly amazing the body parts and pain you can find when you go looking for them. OUCH! Slowly I was reminded. Repeat on left leg with equal pain and then it was off to ice the back for ten minutes - more on iceing later.

Session 2 on Wednesday..... think proprioception

At this Crossroads - we all should stop and think

The following I think is worth a read, especially if you haven't been following the case. It's the conviction of a California driver, Dr. Thompson for violently injuring two cyclists on July 4th, 2008.

Well worth repeating, in sentencing the judge said:

“The first thing I want to state is that this case illustrates to me the incredible tension between cyclists and motorists on Los Angeles streets, and honestly should be a wakeup call to everyone,” he said. “Government must become aware of the dangerous conditions existing on our city streets and the threat of injury to cyclists and should provide safe and accessible bike lanes to cyclists.

“Cyclists and motorists should be respectful of each others rights to use the common roadways for all.”

Full review on A reporter’s notebook: Sentencing Dr. Thompson

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jens Factor Training Guide

Winter sucks, we have a love/hate relationship with the trainer, but mostly hate. We all wish we were Pros so we could be prepping for the upcoming season on some island in the tropical Atlantic or even the dry desert of Arizona, and if only our season opener could be in sunbathed South Australia instead of some icy circuit of chip-sealed backroad. Well combing the New Year internet offerings over the past few days I think I have arrived at a combination of resources to make the trainer schlogs a bit more exciting and help keep things focused on the future, i.e. riding without booties and base-layers.

First - about that trainer - forget the rollers, and cyclopian-whatevers - introducing Smart Cycle Extreme! Yip, time to put childhood fun back into your ride, even on the trainer. For those that never heard of the Smart Cycle Extreme, this “stationary bike” (their quotes not mine) is made by Fisher Price, and is designed for children - but don't let that fool you - they mean "children at heart", and isn't that any of us grown adults that spend thousands of dollars on a bicycle and thousands more traveling to places and races? Anyway, according to the adverts "With the Smart Cycle Extreme your [inner] child can stay in shape, learn with the creative games they have available, and possibly become the next Lance Armstrong. Available are different cartridges with different game types and characters, allowing your child to learn different tools in life." What's best is their patented "Physical Learning Arcade System
". This is no spinning mindlessly to some hack cycling coach software - this is stuff you can use. Sold separately (of course) are titles like Software Thomas & Friends™ - you can race against a train! Or practice real life traffic training outside the bikelane with Software Hot Wheels™. You can find the Smart Cycle Extreme at any of those big box chain stores, anywhere they don't have a bike rack out front and the parking lot is at least the size of a velodrome.

Now you've got your Smart Cycle Extreme home and unpacked, thrown on the old kit, downed a GU and ready to work on your post holiday power to weight ratio - you need Pro inspiration. They guys at Cyclocosm have come to the rescue - The Jens Factor Inspirational Training Chart:

Just download a larger version of the chart, print it off, and presto! you're ready to ride... on the trainer. As Cyclocosm explains, "Jens Factor, as defined by this chart, is just that—an integer value you can factor into your training data to properly reflect the increased benefits of staring down winter weather. Jens Voigt, a veteran rouleur known to take particular glee in miserable conditions, is its obvious namesake.

And if you burn through the SCE software, over stimulated on all that learning, or had enough of the 13-hour version of TdF 2009, then then maybe listening to the word of the man himself, as he describes dishing out pain on the Col du Tourmalet and the glee at dropping the likes of Valverde and Cunego can be just the inspiration you need to stay put on that trainer and avoid the crappy weather outdoors.

Happy training everyone!