tirsdag 4. desember 2007

Cyclists ! Watch your back!

Cycling is supposedly a low impact, aerobic sport.

However generally, as the exclusive content of a person's training, it developes specific weaknesses and susceptibilities to injury- acute or chronic.

I developed rather typical symptoms and problems. Firstly I had an outer quadracept-dominance issue. I don't know why this developed because I used LOOK pedals during my largest phase of training ( 8-14 hours weekly). Perhaps it was an existing predisposition or my lack of sportiness before taking up cycling! This lead to the typical floating knee cap with water on the knee, and associated discomfort. Worse, the rigours of mountain biking, with high cadence , impact and an accident or two lead to aggrevation in this area.

However, I took to the gymn and balanced my knees out. Upon coming back to cycling hard this autumn, I noticed a marked definition on my inner quads and also a tightening of the knee cap- the reverse of the previous situation.

A more serious problematic is the legnthening and weakening of the muscles of the lower back and lumbar region. The ham strings and the glut' muscels seem to work at odd with each other, excarebating the tendency to develop instability in the lower lumbar and dorsal-pevlic/spine interface. The ham strings tighten with use and expanding musculature thus pulling down on the glut' muscles which are conversely under employed and in a relaxed state under much of cylce movemnet.

The mid - upper -lumbar region of the spine is supported in a near weightless state by the majority of wieght being borne either end and this part of the spine in neither

1) compression
2) verticle movement stress
3) tortional challenge

These problems are well documented and to give a lay mans appraisal, a combination of the above leads to the following situation:

The lower back becomes weakened, with the discs and nerve/fibrous areas becoming prone to small prolapse and unusual pressure leading to pain and spasm. The whole spine is weakened as a result of excløusivbe and prolonged cycle training and is prone to various injury, spasm and irregular movements. The normal rotation of the pelvis in relation to the spine and thigh bones is compromised and developes discomfort and susceptibility to injury.

How to remedy this?

Well - three main ways- Pilates, Pilates, Pilates. OBS!! Avoiding the more stressful bending from standing until a very secure musculature has developed around the 'body core'. There have been various other techniques- socks on hands, and the use of ropes with foot and hand loops to introduce random challenge and develope supportive core muscles, but none offer the comprehensive approach of pilates.

Stretching the ham strings often - learning safe floor techniques and bent-knee squat style for outdoors. Stretching, general key muscle groups and the body core, after a light 10 mins warm up and gentle, slow stretching after all runs.

Also while riding, varying the technque conscioulsy - coming out of the saddle more often, recruting the spine in varied movements - dropping shoulders or pelvis on each side under 'hiking' up out the saddle. Cycling free handed. Rotating shoulders. Rotating pelvis forward and taking short, light sprints or climbs with a straighter spine.

Varying exercise form is also imporant- if you are a commuter cyclist along good cuity cyucle ways then it is good to maybe develop roller blading with X-country ski poles as an alternative for some days, or actually using the road skis. Consider jogging home or to a public transport point some days. If you have a reasonable hill of more than 100m between you and work, taking a pack, starting and 10kg and progressing up to 30 kg with a varied gate and sensible use of the spine is good. This builds bone mass as well as body core muscle.

In my own experience I found swimming did not do a lot of good for my lower back, pelvic rotation or knee problem. But in general it relaxed my body and built a stronger mid to upper back and built shoulders and arm fitness for my sailing exploits..that and the comfort of knowing I could maybe swim somewhere useful after a sinking or M.O.B.!

Weight training, pleiotropics, and general gymn iron and aerobic maskin work outs are good but often they isloate the muscle group and do not employ the core muscles. Learning to use free weights, starting with the bare '5kg' bar under strict proffessional supervision is a good way to build an all round stronger body and will contribute to you cycling prowess as much as the fixed machines for knee curls etc.

The other problem with gymn work is duration and committment/motivation- it can be dull, humid and individualistic for cyclists used to team riding out in the countryside.

Cycling is often not an easy bed fellow with 'court' sports ..the use of muscles is often at odds between the more stamina and high revlution explosiveness focused on the leg muscles rotating compared to the quick, darty explosiveness of tennis, volley ball or five a side. But for the less serious cyclist, perhaps a commuter as above, the inclusion of two court sports days is a good means of varying body movement. Pure cyclists are prone to injury when combining these, and some should seemignly avoid all sprint-running with such sharp turns and impact as these types of court sports entail.

Finally a quite sensible alternative second sport, and form of mid winter training, is martial arts like jujistu, shorinjii kempo, aikido and judo. Karate forms and dojos often focus on very stiff poise and explosive power strikes which do not IMHO mix well with cycling. THe others mentioned generally involve very good warm up exercises, stretching, meditation, warm downs as well as the actual art's movements and eventual sparring. Training usually takes place bare foot on soft or sprung floors with use of mats for technique development. This reduces the impact on the body in comparison to court sports. ALso the duration is often in excess of two hours, building fitness and stamina as well as range of movements and whole body stability.

mandag 3. desember 2007

One bike, nobbly tyres just add Oslo's Back Yard

A well kept secret`?

Despite being an expensive city to live in, Oslo has many compensating factors.

The mountain biking terrain, and in winter cross country skiing possibilities, are enough of an attraction for any budding MBC world cuppist to uproot themselves and live here. Generally the climate is MBC friendly April to end October. The current November-December season as usual, is down time whilst it sleets, thaws, rains, fogs and freezes over providing bad under foot and wheel conditions while also a total a lack of persisting snow for skis.

Nordmarka is the main terrain, but don't overlook the markas around Asker, Sandvika and Drammen and also the continuation eastwards 'Lillestrøm Marka' from Nordmarka. Worth a mention of note for it's satisfying range of terrain and circular routes is Eastmark (østmarka). This has something for everyone with chubby tyres, from gentle family outings to Mariestua cafe to ardous fartlek training up to the 'golf ball' radar tower.

Eastmarka boasts a charming mix of full forrest road, with flat out speed safe from too many idiots with loose dogs, to narrower cart tracks, pony trails and 'technical paths'. There are some great flat-trackable corners and traverses across bed rock to add to the variety and feeling you are "out there".

-( NB walkers on narrow paths or secluded forrest roads are not very accomodating or observant of bikes. A bell or even better a wee cow bell on your handle bars to alert of your impending arrival is worth the investment. Most want to let their badly trained dogs off the leash so the odd shout "pass poah" is to be engaged!)

The whole area (called østmarka in norsk) is easily accessible from the Ellingsrudåsen T banen (tube) station, the preceeding three stations, or access points to the SE. Ellingsrudåsen also has a large carpark right at the beginning of the track in from the north, which seems the most popular /populate attack point for itinerant bikers warming their thighs and calves along it's gentle slopes, wide span and nearly straight route.

Nordmarka makes for far more demanding riding. Conversely it is seemingly most popular of all amongst idiotic dog owners. Despite there being a clear mapping/marking for bike-priority roads and tracks, walking only paths and ski only winter routes, these deliniations abused by all types-

So for example dogs off leads to be expected on any fast descent or corner, or bikers on some narrow paths ! There are downhill paths which are strictly full on supsepnsion bike only, but they are easy to stumble onto and abused by the bloody minded "we were here years before bouncy forked bikes" tossers.

In winter, dog walkers and "forrest minded joggers" also have a habit of running in the ski-spors which can really mess up the nicely laid tracks and the smoothed out donwhills or corners!

With so many pleasant little paths reserved for those on foot, they really are a bloody minded bunch of sods who abuse the demarkation or just let their dog run wild on forrest roads with traffic doing 50kmh!

Anyway, nordmaka is demanding...a typical ride I do is from about 50moh at Smestad, through the "'burbs" and onto the peaceful forrest roads up to 450 moh, followed by the undulating joys of the high-land to the north of the Tryvannstua ascent. Cheats take the T banen (tube) which goes to about the same maximum climbing height for the day, taking out most of the effort by going off
at Frognersæterstasjon, but you are supposed to bloody pay for the bike too!

Nordmarka "begins" in the back yard of olso, and this is not very far from the sea front...think Thames to Hyde Park, Clyde to Maryhill. So you get onto forrest roads within a half hour ride to the midstuen area, as the best access point. The main drag is up from here towards tryvannsua, and for the masochists an ascent of the 500m Tyrvanns tower is on the cards, or turning right at the "drags" summit taking the torturous climb up to the old farmstead on the hill to the east of the towers.

The route up to the main drag's summit is a great training run but an ardous warm up for those who take the tube to Midstuen station, right on this marked trail. As mentioned you soon reach the highest point to the east of the TV tower in the dale between peaks. There is at time of writing a refuse container for Cabin trash there, making for an impromtu bike stand! From here you have the choice to carry on left towards Tryvannstua and thereafter the seemingly limitless northwards passages skirting by Nordmarks Chapel.

.......Or rightwards which makes for a fun little tour to Ullevålsæter ..from where you can either complete a circle to the town(maybe merely an hours ride for the tour-de-francaise amongst you!) by the fast descent to Sognsvann and back to terra tarmacaddam therafter. Or you can do the loop past Nordmarks Chapel and on to Tryvannstua, or carry on north...for ever... parallel to the western route.

A sharp little end to the day is to be had down to the west of Tryvannstua and the towers/ski centre (oh yes, a fully fiunctioning mini resort with snow canons, and two big chair lifts!) This is the Bogstad route and is not for those with tired wrists and fingers. It's a steep blast down to the dale and lake at Bogstad, over all to qucikly for me, but worth the run to cool off and get down asap. It's the quikest way back down to the west end of the city, with super fast main roads taking you further downwards on this side of town past Røa etc.

As an alternative descent from Tryvannstua, as mentioned, you can go via Ullevålsæter to Sognsvann, or begin with this "dog leg" (refer to the map you WILL buy now) then to take a short cut to the west of sognsvann which provides an exciting descent to the west of the lake. But given all this, the "main drag" back down to Midstuen is a good compromise, offering a fine warm down for cooler weather. Watch out for those bloody minded dog walkers, the odd unexpected car and not least the Boom on the steepest part just around a blind corner! Be respectful of walkers but don't let the idjit "five a breast brigade" slow your progress.

Thinking of the entry for a different choice of route, you can of course choose the ascent up from either side of Sognsvann. For me the east side is often too busy with everyman and their dog on my usual departure times, and it does climb quite hard after only 10 mins in from the tube station...also it's a boring ride on tarmac to get there through the town. The ride down along sognsvann is a blistering pedal powered descent for later in the evening or on a quiet early morning as mentioned, but gets very busy and is quite narrow at points.

For the more adventurous, you can instead forge westards from Sognsvann and take the rather brutal climb option there ......often I ended up doing this on foot as there was loose gravel and sand last summer...........this track/path forms the aforementioned shortcut back to sognsavvnan in the other diretcion from Tryvannstua by means of "dog leg". However in this driection it provides a peaceful ascent with few distracting dog walkers and no kids on wee jungle bikes to waver in front of you as you may find to the eastern route described above.

Taking the second right path off this western route, provides a hidden distraction along a cart road which narrows to a path along the high sides of the next water north of Sognsvann. This is really quite secluded. You get a feeling it's your own private piece of the day if you're lucky. The natural meander of the path needs to be eventually left, turning hard left, back uphill instead of ambling downards at the obvious fork with the easiest flow. Follow the cart road up over a nice harpin climb to the main route between tyvann and ullevål- left and right respectively.

If this were southern Scotland, N England or east wales- as it resembles - then you would expect not much by means of wild country services and to be forced instead drop back to civilisation for a cuppa or pint. Not so here, there are two major forrest cafes (stua) - one at tyvanns and one at Ullevålsæter, which have good , if pricey, fayre.

My favourite hard ride in the summer was to ascend the last route mentioned, continuing to Ullevålsæter then to forge hard right and up the big hair pins towards the due west. This forms a shorter loop back to tryvanns than goign Nordcappel but is a punsihing climb in any humindity. It rises up to about 500m in about a mile under wheel from the cafe. The run down hill to tryvannstua takeas a matter of minutes having probably stopped to take in the never ending view at the last big corner and summitted( there is a nasty little climb to go after this with the steepest part of the day between here and the top !) This descent was exciting but later they had dumped soft sand in places as filler, left to bed itself under foot and tyre! Second last time and on my last tour ther the ice was setting in on the shadows.

By this time I would have earned a 'princessboller' - an iced bun - but as I got fitter I often just rode home rather than cooling off here. Anyone with tired extremities and derrier should avoid descending to Bogstad and instead choose the "main drag" down to midstuen. ALternatively, if the weather sets in, you can punish yourself a bit more by zig-zagging up and past the towers to take the train or tarmac all the way down to town from the towers or T banen station.

I write in a very miserable Desember and only hope to get a turbo trainer from santa to power my legs up to make both the coming seasons X-country ski attempts more enjoyable and get a kick off fitness for the later biking season.

GOOD Pedalling!!

PS,, oh and boys, the girls are kinda easy on the eye ;-)