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TRIA Orthopaedic Center Your Cycling Blog
As cyclists, we often experience pains that seem to come out of nowhere. Since the majority of us are not sports medicine or orthopaedic experts, we typically will either ride with the pain or stop riding altogether. Neither does any good for our cycling psyche, but, as untrained medical professionals, our options seem limited.
We are proud to offer the devoted readers a forum for these specific issues. Today, we’ll get the ball rolling with one popular question that plagues cyclists of all ages and skill levels. In the future, feel free to leave a comment and ask a question that we can answer here on the blog.
Our first question deals with lower back pain (LBP) and long-distance rides. So often, on rides longer than twenty miles, we experience some lower back pain. It’s troubling, but most of us can’t figure out why it’s there or where it’s coming from.
Thankfully, we have a TRIA Orthopaedic surgeon on board to answer this question, as well as all our questions in the future. For this particular question, Marc Swiontkowski, M.D. has provided us an answer to the question that has plagued us all, at one time or another, during our cycling career. Here’s what Dr. Swiontkowski has to say:
The way to avoid LBP on longer distance rides has several components. The first is to make sure you are set up on your bike correctly. A frame that fits accompanied by appropriate seat height adjustment, correct crank arm lengths, a well fit stem (the part that the handle bars attach to) with an aero bar extension will provide the best biomechanical situation for your back. Your local bike shop can help you be sure that your fittings and equipment are correct for you. Frequent rotation of hand positions around the handlebars and aero extensions will help take the strain off the back as well. Finally, standing out of the saddle for 60 seconds or so, 4-5 times an hour will help your back from becoming sore. Nothing can substitute for training miles though, and an available hot tub after the ride will fix what ails you.
Bill Metz, from OptumHealth, will be a frequent contributor to the blog. This is the first of many posts that Bill will be making, dealing with a variety of topics within the life of a recreational cyclist.
I should be riding instead of writing. Just about now the folks I spend countless hours behind, next to and in front of during the spring, summer and fall are about 2 hours into the Minnesota Ironman bicycle ride, and I feel guilty.
How can I feel bad sitting here with a hot cup of coffee in the warm confines of home after getting an additional 2 hours of sleep? I’m looking out on a cold, misting rain with a 15 mph wind and my rational self says ‘I choose wisely’ and yet, I should be out there. I should be out there pushing the headwind while the cold slowly creeps deeper and deeper between the muscles past the soft, connecting tissues and ligaments till it gets right down to the bone. I should be sitting on a wheel battling the spray, grit and occasional night-crawler lifted from the pavement into my face while imagining the black stripe being painted up my backside. I should be cursing the weather along with the others wondering why the heck we didn’t stay in bed while secretly knowing we are the better for it because, these are the rides that stories are made of.
Stories like the one from three years ago when the Ironman still came through my hometown of Northfield. We started off from town on a similar morning albeit about 10 degrees warmer. When we got to Lakeville we didn’t let our buddy Brendan know about the remains of a worm plastered to his cheek while he checked in. Yuk! Remembering him “thanking” us in his shy Irish accent as we rolled over with laughter is now part of the common history of the group and it comes up whenever we ride in the rain. We always laugh. Nobody remembers the mundane.
So, I should be out there building new stories. Stories I should be part of and the only way to be a part of the story is to be part of the ride and the only way to be a part of the ride is to fight off the voices that call me back to the warmth of the covers and coffee, to pull on the shorts, socks, shoes and slicker, to load up the bike, meet the mates and head out into the cold, lashing rainŠ and ride.
The mist has now turned to a steady rain with a bit of thunder mixed in and I regret the allowing the voices of warmth to win over the pull of the story to be written…next time.
It’s heresy to include criteriums (short circuit races) in a pro stage race. It’s just not done. Yet the Nature Valley Grand Prix has the top ranking on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar despite using criteriums for three of the six stages.
What gives? How can a race get the top ranking when it breaks the rules?
The Nature Valley Grand Prix is the NASCAR of bicycle racing. Most pro stage races follow the European model, which emphasizes road races that start in one city, finish in another and a spectator’s race experience can last for less than a minute. Here they come and there they go.
Well, this ain’t Europe and people in the US of A want a show.
Since criteriums are held on a short course (usually less than a mile), spectators can see the start of the race, they see the pack of racers whiz by every minute or so, they can walk the course to see different aspects of the race and they can be there for the finish. And because the course is short, it can be surrounded by a party with a bike race in the middle.
Even people who aren’t into bike racing have a blast.
And our road races are nontraditional as well. They’re the long distance endurance events that road races are supposed to be, but they finish with multiple laps of a short circuit to provide the spectator experience that’s the hallmark of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. So they’re really road races that finish with a criterium. The best of both worlds.
When you rewrite the rules, the real test of success is whether the insiders buy in. The professional teams attend in force because they need the crowds and media coverage to give value to their sponsors. And USA Cycling, the sport’s governing body, must buy it because they’ve given the Nature Valley Grand Prix the top ranking and invite the promoter to their symposia every year to share our radical ideas with others.
And, most importantly, the public loves the format and vote with their feet. The crowds are huge and enthusiastic and non-fans who come to one race come back for others, except that they come back as true believers.
At its best, cycling is a social activity. Sure, you can go out there and grind along by yourself. More often than not (e.g. commuting, training), that’s what makes the most sense. Seasoned riders know from experience that cycling is the most satisfying when you’re riding with a group of like-minded roadies.
The easiest way to find these rides is to join a club. Most clubs host group rides and many are open to non-members. But finding the right club and the right ride can be hit or miss. Some of these rides are really mock races, blowing stop signs and dropping newbies (and even regulars) like a bad habit. Other rides use bicycles as a means for getting from one Dairy Queen to the next.
So, how do you find the club (and ride) that’s right for you?
Ask around at bike shops. Unlike McDonald’s (where the workers are in it for the glory), people who work at bike shops are almost always passionate cyclists. No one bike shop will know every club and every ride, so ask around at a few. Tell them what kind of rides you’re looking for and you’ll likely get some great suggestions. And maybe buy some Sports Beans or something, so you aren’t just begging for free advice.
If the clubs publicize their rides as open to non-members, you can just show up. If they don’t, you can contact the club and ask. Introduce yourself when the group gathers and ask if it’s an open ride. Even if you already know that it is, asking is an ice breaker.
And then see how it goes. If it’s a great fit, join the club. If it isn’t, try a different one. Once you join a club, be active. Do their rides and participate in their functions. The club is your gateway into the cycling subculture.
Does this sound familiar?
Your group ride started out at an easy pace. Pretty soon, one of the stronger riders makes his way to the front and picks the pace up. Your little ego demon says “he’s not faster than me,” so you follow suit. So does everyone else. The dance continues until a stop sign or red light kills the momentum. Pretty soon, everyone’s heart rate is pegged out, white knuckles threatening to bend the handlebars and you’re left coughing up little bits of your lungs.
What does everyone says in the parking lot before the ride starts?
“Easy ride today?”
This group delusion was followed by “I’m toast from yesterday’s century”, “I haven’t been on by bike in a week”, “Today’s a recovery day” or “I’m tapering.” From Jump Street, the complaints are indicative of strong legs. No one ever laments about having fresh legs before a ride.
What would have happened if one person (just one) had said “Hey, dude, back ‘er down. This is an easy day” when that first knucklehead started the speed demonry? Everyone would have given a deep sigh of relief, because they needed an easy day. Rarely do groups have big enough egos to stray from impressing new riders. Asking to have an easy day is seen as a sign of weakness. The group think is usually “ride alone if you want to ride easy.” Hardly.
Easy rides are an essential part of training. You can only ride really hard on hard days if you’re rested. If you ride hard on days that are supposed to be easy, all you’ll manage on the hard days is to ride a little (but not much) harder.
If you want to be fast, keep your easy days really easy so that you can make your hard days really hard.
And what do you do if the dude that amps it up doesn’t slow down when asked? Before the ride starts, agree that anyone who amps it up will be ignored. Then, when Mr. Macho picks up the pace, tell everyone “let him go.”
The fool will ride up the road alone.
Welcome to TRIA’s Your Cycling
Thanks for stopping by our blog! Enjoy what we have here, and let us know what you think!
We’re best known for our Nature Valley Grand Prix pro stage race, which will begin June 10th in St. Paul, Minnesota. We’re also hosting the Minnesota Bicycle Festival, which is a celebration of all forms of cycling. No matter what your focus, we’ll have you covered! Cycling is one of the most popular forms of recreation in the country. With the push to be as “green” as possible looming, the cycling boom will continue to exist for years to come.
The Your Cycling blog, sponsored by the TRIA Orthopaedic Center, is being created to help you get more out of your cycling. We’ve assembled a panel of nationally known experts, some every day Cycling Freds, and even some professional cyclists competing in the Nature Valley Grand Prix in 2009, who will blog on subjects ranging from training programs to nutrition to sports psychology to cycling techniques. Whether you’re a novice rider or a seasoned domestique, you’ll learn a lot from these folks and will be a better cyclist for it.
Keep watching the blog for updates or, better yet, subscribe to our RSS feed for instant updates when we make a new post! Regardless of the weather outside, we’re always here to serve up a nice steady tempo blog, rain or shine!