Monday, June 15, 2009

Boise's 70.3 Ironman How'd They Do That?

A lot of people don't understand cycling and even more in tri events. It's more about "Why not try, and just finish the race!" The styles of movement are many!

I do recall the hours on the phone with a guy named Ed, sharing our insight on fitting. We were under the impression he was wanting to learn from us to become a dealer. He started his own fit system, has his own schools and dealers. He also has a website that is Tri focused.
We don't mind the competition, we just find it funny all the many different ideas on how to go faster(?) on a bike.

We had a very nice chance to do some field testing here in Boise, ID this past weekend. We watched swimming and distance running along with the highly variable nature of tri cycling. No drafting, many different tactics, environmental wet/wind and lighting. Meaning, it is more of a means to monitor the real world of cycling. We could note what athlete (novice to elite) failed to achieve optimal performance and we have it on film. You just need to know what to look for.

Ok, you swim in snow runoff in a lake, jump on the bike and do 56 miles with many uphills, then finish it off with a 13 mile run. Not easy in good weather, but this spring in Boise, ID it was very wet, high winds, storms, flash floods and more lighting for this spring than normal.

We were at the race to watch a number of users of the Wobble-naught & Myo-facts sEMG/Dartfish. We even have a 6th rank tri pro Kevin Everett of Boise, ID in the event. We have worked with Kevin on his bike in the real world for a while now, our focus, his bike skills.
He has the swim down and knows best how to run with his own style. It must be noted that Kevin was first out of the water and even had a very good bike lead until two "course marshall's" working to keep cars from getting on course had the lead car stopped in the middle of the course, only for Kevin to have to slow, even having to go to the right of the parked car to pass around and get back up to pace? This was at a point where he came by 1/2 the distance to an area called "The Birds Of Prey". I could not believe how quick a much too tight group of pros working together started pulling him in! This had to break his focus! You just put time on the field and now they are coming hard. A big deal when you are racing world champions and it came down at the very spot I was attending. I have to say my blood pressure was up! The lead car stopped in the course and my guy has to go around it and put that much more effort to get back up to pace! Can we say the group of racers behind Kevin jumped on that one? I didn't think they where allowed to draft? Why where they riding in a group?

Kevin, who had to slow and the racers in tow where also headed west into a solid black storm, full of fire works, heavy rain and high wind. Talk about Ironmen! No way would I wish to ride in that! I am just pleased that no one was struck by the fireworks in those black clouds that hit the ground; on that open ground with no trees. I would think that they all wanted the bike stage to end in short order and questioned if their life was worth the race.

Perhaps that's a good way to think? When you have about 1,500 people on the bikes coming by you're going to see a number of styles that play a role in how much "time" they spend out on the nasty day. We had a chance to see them all coming & going not only on the bikes, but also during the running.

We also had a chance to watch our 3 time World Tri Champ Matt Perkins on his bike headed out! Just to think that he does this with only one leg. We even saw a guy with no legs, just using his arms. Then after the race, the local news pointed out that someone had even had a liver transplant? Ironwomen! Hats off to them all!

No question, the weather was a major factor to all the racers effectiveness, as in tt, the velocity of the cyclist depends on the amount of mechanical power produced by the energy systems and the amount of mechanical power lost to air and surface friction come into play, plus down pouring rain, wind and lighting on this day!

If you are reading this, you already know the amount of mechanical power depends on the rate at which the aerobic and anaerobic energy production systems are working and the mechanical efficiency of the body-bicycle system.

The performance of the body-tri bike is affected (the direction of) the pedal force, the timing of muscle activation, gear selection, and saddle height! Kevin and Matt both have learned this one. Boy howdy, did we see a lot of saddle heights that didn't make any sense and it could be seen how slow they where going? The feet moving, but the bike going slow. The question arises as to what is the most appropriate setup?

There are a lot of ideas out there i.e. slowtwitch, etc... A test cannot be truly deemed sport-specific if a cyclist is made to ride a laboratory ergometer in which the position or the gearing differs significantly from real world competition. Just the cold wet wind effects a differing physiological responses just like heat would. How do we claim normal? Although this sounds obvious, a indoor testing procedure does not accurately measure what it is designed to do, the interpretation of results may prove difficult at the very best and, at worst, impossible! Consider an athlete wishing to relate maximal O2 consumption with performance. No power, no go!

In general, sources suggest having a high maximal oxygen uptake and peak aerobic power output may prove beneficial to endurance performance. The goal, to have the athlete use the amount of oxygen possible to produce the highest work by the muscle. What is most over sold or looked is the fact that both tt & tri events requires both anaerobic power and endurance capacity. We saw this same debate with training at the UofU with downhill skier vs. xc skier training. One being power i.e. downhill skier and the other more endurance i.e. xc, both are important, and now even the endurance xc has become more powerful! The same is true for the XC mtb events that are full on from the gun. So it's hard to view them as one is more important over the other, but we know that endurance and endurance training makes a difference.

The one thing that is clear (e.g. Hopkins et al. 2001) pertaining to laboratory-based methods of measurement, it is clear that there is no definitive lab-based test that can be used to determine the physiological characteristic of an athlete.

A cyclist would hope to have the highest ability to consume oxygen to deliver as much power as possible. A rider who hopes to achieve a high power output for a short duration would also hope to have a high absolute VO2max. Changes in body mass have a bearing on changes in specific measures and performance outcome.

As a rider becomes more biomechanically efficient, the O2 cost to work at a given intensity will fall. Then their training status increases i.e. the delivery mechanisms. Train the breathing muscles and they help transport oxygen better. Your reach is very much a part of this mechanisms.

We all know that the average cyclist needs to optimize the range of lengths for important power-producing muscles and today it really was needed due to the winds, rain, etc... Clearly, saddle height affects the range of joint angle, it will also affect the contact forces in the joints, which is very likely to be related to the risk of injury. To come up with a profile for more success, athletes should undertake a full physiological profile that is more real world over a submaximal laboratory setting.

So, why in the tri events, are there so many ideas? Good question. All we know, the exact importance of mechanical and metabolic factors in determining the optimal cadence in steady state cycling is still unclear.

In running, there seems to be a direct relationship between speed of progression and the angular velocity of the leg segments. Can we point out that first, the higher the running speed, the larger the negative muscle work. Second, the higher the angular velocity of the leg segments, the higher the shortening velocity of the muscles.

From our science, concentric muscle power is reduced when the speed of progression is increased to high values that so many in tri cycling fits place importance. As I filmed all the pros, review, we don't see it!

Understand, the presence of a gearing system, de-couples the velocity of the cyclist's leg from his speed of progression. In other words, we could not believe our eyes, rather the film that had about 1,400 people going no where fast?

So what is the saddle height, the gearing system, what is the pedaling rate a cyclist should select? How does anyone fit you to the bike and then claim this is the best factor for optimal rate?

We know that sprinting and steady-state cycling require different focus. In truth, you only have a zone of fit that allows you with more options. You move all over the bike, and if you throw in the wet, windy conditions we had, you start to understand why so many are so slow! Perhaps the focus is to just finish the race over be faster, rather to focus on the submaximal steady-state cycling that is a myth? That someone came up with the idea that to finish is good enough, that the tri event is too strenuous for a correct saddle height?

Can we say that becoming more aerodynamic is uncomfortable! That racing is uncomfortable, the cold water, the bike, the run. Do you ever eliminate the discomfort? People choice to alleviate by adjusting their distributed pressures only to go slower and fatigue as they are on the bike longer. True, this discomfort is reduced with training, but to train to go slow is just that. You spend more time on the bike the more you are going to fatigue!

The sprint is to maximize power for a short period and that is done by standing, allowing the bike to become a lever to help make more power. So that has more to do with where the hands are in space. Consequently, the higher pedal rate, the lower the average force over the period of shortening , thus the lower the muscle work per contraction, the more time on the bike.
Both come from force build up! Central physiological processes mediated by the cardiovascular system are not the sole performance-limiting factors!

UCI rules prohibit forward seat positions for tt, you have to have the nose of the saddle 5cm behind the middle of the bottom bracket. At tri events you see the saddle much more forward and it's viewed as a low drag-area for the triathlons. Now comes the real issue, the individual morphological characteristics. We have many top pros, who know this to be a myth, that is why they kill it on the bike.

To just say (x,y,z) should have their torso horizontal or just rotate the body about the bottom bracket and attempt to find joint angles to achieve that torso position
is not always going to make you faster! Another issue, is the steep seat-tube angle that causes a rougher ride over the less steep seat-tube. Again, more time on the steep type of seat-tube is gong to fatigue you!

Just the shape of your body, more the muscular characteristics i.e. tall slender riders require less steep seat-tube angles and can get on the stroke quicker, should they find the best zone of movement.

Like our local pro Kevin, he had to learn how to use his best zones! Only after he learned that their is no position, rather learning the many ways to ride the tri bike did he get faster. It's not just about getting a low saddle, low drag-area. Its not just about setting a certain hip angle, width of hands/elbows, rider's shoulders that so many sell as the fit.

True the rider's torso being more aero has a little influence, but if you can't go faster, you spend more time on the bike.

Both novice and elite cyclists will find benefits from improved aerodynamic positioning i.e. 1,400 racers at the Boise 70.3 Ironman. But as a large % of them learned, uphill cycling, head winds, rain markedly reduced their high power outputs so needed for the course. So adopting some position is not recommended. Even with a good tri fit, for any given cycling position, a position can be affected by the movement of the knees, elbows, arms, shoulders and at what time to fire the muscles.

If you want to stay on the bike longer is your choice, setting it up according to the idea of submax comfortable position might allow you to finish, just understand in the real world cycling takes more out of you than you know. Its hard work, or better a labor of love?

The race started at 2pm and many of the racers didn't stop until midnight! Ouch!

Then it occur to you why we win so many 24 hour races? We set the bike up for the best pedal stroke and allow the rider to press the gas pedal (slow or fast), they can decide to get good gas mph or not. But to set them into a submax zone that they can't go only causes them to wear out more and not achieve their potential.

I have to say that the racers who rode faster, achieved their real potential, spent less time on the bike because they hold the knowledge and ride better than the competition.

We are just pleased that Kevin was at the lead of the pack when we saw him! That is success when you note the level of the racers. The best in the world!

We understand the importance of good aerodynamics and at what speeds a cyclist uses most of their energy to go! Funny, this increases with the square of the speed, wind and is even more important at higher speeds.

But to take a person and put them into aerodynamics lab and record the drag area, knowing they can't make the speed (know how to pedal) is not going to help them gain minutes to reduce the time on the bike.

As we saw it, maintaining the same body position with whatever bike didn't increase the velocity. It is assumed that getting more aero provide more savings? There are several variables that can influence exercise performance. We also know there is a ton of advice given, or better to make the decision for you.

We are also not surprised to note a fit service on the front page of the Ironman site state you can't do what we do. That we can't just measure the bones and allow the muscles to be trained to enhance your performance? It will not surprise anyone, that training is perhaps the most important factor influencing performance i.e. novice cyclist. But as the fitness rises, the speed rise also and what can be gained from training decreases, thus in our world, training is not the most effective performance-enhancing variable.

The novice rider is on the course for a longer time, therefore benefits for going faster (increased speed) would be good for both the internal & external factors, leading to larger improvements. Longer time in discomfort (always there) or poor biomechanical position will reduce power output.

Myth - In general, it can be seen that someone with a suboptimal position easily can gain significant amounts of time. You got that right, you stay on the bike longer! At the elite level, enormous efforts may result in (real world) relatively small improvements of power output.

You have to think carefully about all the factors that will help improve your performance and time on the bike is a big one! In the race, the less time, the more distance, the better! All of these people had to then run 13 miles after the 56 mile bike. You should have see the looks on their faces after the bike stage, that tells a real story!

In summary, assessment for any sport can give a coach and athlete useful feedback. Standardizing some factor in a lab setting is easy, the field - based testing also provides valuable, meaningful comparisons i.e. the ones who are in the lead and riding off into the sunset!

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