Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Getting Sibo-nized: Part 1

Getting Sibo-nized: Part 1

Lately my obsession with training has changed, by necessity, to obsession with getting well. I'm trying to cover all the bases and use this opportunity for change, because

(a) change is good, right?
(b) you do the same thing, you get the same result, right?

Right. So we are in agreement let's continue. My knee thing is cycling induced, and hence the first place to look for a problem requiring change was in my bike setup, which I have meticulously tweaked and build up over 20 years of racing to a point I knew I had to be "in the box". This is Dan Rishworth's concept of fit being a box, not a point, with some range of variance. And since I thought I was there I was out of ideas. Fortunately in good old London, ONT I had an expert to turn to, so I shot an email off to Sibo: Fit emergency!

Sibo arrived and I hopped on the tri bike and he quickly confirmed what I had thought: I was clearly in the box. Seat height good, arms, seat tube angle nominal. Maybe raise the front a big, little more tilt on the armpads.

"Good work fitting yourself, rook. Now, step aside, watch and learn." Sibo's mantra is "fit starts with the feet, the feet are the only part of the body locked to the bike."

So we spent most of the next 4 hours focussed on the feet, and got some serious surprises/revelations/facts.

Our first move was to end the rearward cleat experiment. I had been placing my cleats as far back as possible behind the pedal axis, which is about 15 mm on my tri and road shoes. You can read about the logic in this article from Cycling News (thanks GR!). I had enjoyed this experiment and taking my calf muscles out of the pedal stroke definitely helps come run time. However, Sibo made some good arguments against this choice, including the fact that as your cleat moves toward mid-foot your ability to compensate for biomechanical factors by changing your foot position decreases, and in the limit of literally putting your clear mid-foot, it goes to zero. So we moved the cleats forward to nominally just in front of the pedal axis.

The first inkling we had of anything being up was when Sibo set up a laser level and target on my leg to track my leg motion when pedaling. Ideally your leg should move up and down in one plane with little side to side motion. My legs were really moving side to side, especially my (hurt) right leg. So measurement established what I had been told for years and could never fix: don't stick your right leg out when pedaling. It wern't me Maw, it twas my weird hip!

Sibo asked, do you have orthodics and indeed I have been running with them for about a decade since a battle with planar fasciitis. I used to wear then cycling but hadn't for awhile, so I popped them in and guess what: my right side fell into almost perfect alignment. But my left side when from bad to very worse. WTF?

So we said OK, no orthotic left, orthotic in right. Right stayed good, left went back to bad. My orthotics correct pronation, that is the tendency of you knee to move inward as you move you leg up and down. So the orthotic tilts the inside of my right foot to the right. It appeared that I needed to tilt the OUTSIDE of my left foot to the left, so my feet where tilted the same way.

So we try this (with a serious amount of shim in the left, ultimately 4.5 mm) and bam, my left leg drops into an acceptable range of variation (which should improve with some IT band stretching on the left side). Now why would my body be so tilted to the left? I dunno, maybe that decade of speed skating in a counter-clockwise circle gave me a hip imbalance? This wouldn't be surprising as many speed skaters, especially short trackers, develop a stronger leg due to the turning. This result is also consistent with:
  1. my "right side" saddle pain, i.e. constant moving on the saddle to the left during rides to take pressure of the right
  2. my lower left glute pain when racing
  3. CK's observation running in the Orange Grove (see April posts) that I was leaning to the left when we ran.
The next step was to allow for my natural foot position. With my Speedplay pedals this was straightforward, as the pedals have adjustable float, and this float can be centered around any arbitrary point within the float range. So we were able to adjust for my outward foot on the right, rechecked with the laser and all was much improved. We then made a few minor changes, that is moving the saddle back a wee bit (e.g. 0.5 deg, I'm now at nominally 80 deg seat tube angle), raising the bars a cm or so, with a more upward tilt to the pads and leveling my seat as opposed to the few degree upward tilt I was using. We also moved my pads 24 cm apart, about 2.4 cm wider than they were. Though less aggressive in front, this change does allow better breathing, and with my priority on distance events seems reasonable.

I can't stress enough what a valuable experience this was, and not being able to ride now is made even worse as I am excited about trying out the changes on the road. Sibo did a terrific job, and I look forward to working with him more in this area (we didn't even get to my road bike!). It is also worth commenting that with all the changes Sibo made, he didn't change my saddle height. Shows you that there is a lot more to fit then just having the right saddle height and stem length.

I tried to work on wellness today and had acupuncture and fascia massage done on the knee. I did some upper body weights yesterday and got absolutely schooled on the chin up and dipping bar: I'm going to leave that stuff in at least until I leave for BC as my body "strength" has dropped to pitiful and I need some more muscle to put into that fine new stroke Coaches Barbi and Len taught me in FLA.



  1. Glad Simon was able to help, he is awesome! How is the new stroke doing Bob? Let me know!

  2. The new stroke has been reduced to stretch cord swimming until I can start training again, but I swam enough to "burn" the new stuff in after Camp. I'm doing what I can up my upper body strength in the meantime.