Monday, December 28, 2009

Bike Saddles, Butt Size and other B.S.

When I found out there was a device that helps size bike saddles by measuring the distance between your sit bones, I thought: "how ingenius!" When I found out that it was affectionately referred to as the "butt-o-meter," I thought: "how embarrassing!" But my fear of pain overcame my fear of knowing my butt size, and I made my way (at the owner's request) to Bike Authority in Broadview Heights to get the dreaded measurement and discuss bike saddles with the people who know best.

As a background, before I went to Bike Authority, I read about triathlon-specific saddles in order to sound educated. The best resource I found was Bikesport Michigan's Review of Eight Tri Saddles. I already had my eye on the Profile Design Tri Stryke. I added the Blackwell Flow to my list (because it was recommended as the best of the eight for women). I also went to the Fi'zi:k Web Site (fun stuff! It asks you to determine which animal you are, leading to choice of saddle). I also noticed a new tri-specific Terry women's saddle (the TRX Gel) but could not find a single review of it. I noticed two major differences between women's and men's saddles: women's saddles are slightly wider to accommodate a (typically) wider pelvis, and positioning of the cut-outs or padding may be different. I gathered other info on tri saddles from these sites: Beginner Triathlete's Selecting the Right Saddle and Coach Tony's Triathlon Bike Fit: Saddle Selection.

Enter the Butt-o-meter. It's a device made by Bontrager for choosing their bike saddles based on measurement. It's a bench with a very thin plastic insert that has thick opaque gel-like-substance inside. When you sit on it, your sit bones make an impression and you can see through to a color-coded measuring plate underneath. I couldn't help but think it was a mood-ring version of the Etch-a-Sketch. The color determines your saddle size. My saddle measurement was 150 mm and my sit bones were approximately 135 mm apart.

So, yeah, I did it, I sat on the butt-o-meter (photo at left), but what if I don't want a Bontrager saddle? They only make one tri saddle anyway and it's not butt-o-meter sized. What now? What I found out from Mike at Bike Authority is what I read in many online resources: butt size doesn't mean diddly. It's a good starting point (and ice breaker!), but bike saddle fit has more to do with personal riding style than your anatomy. What matters most is how you position yourself on the bike and where your pressure points are. My current saddle, the Selle San Marco "Arami," was great until this year when I changed my aero position on the bike. My saddle is now positioned more forward and my handlebars are dropped so my pelvis tilts forward and I'm almost lying on the nose of the saddle. The Arami was great for a more upright position ON my sit bones, but with stitching right down the middle and a narrow nose with very little padding, it is now wreaking havoc. Although I do love the position of the cut-out, something I didn't see on all tri saddles.

On to the hard part(s): saddle choice, cost, and satisfaction. Today I am reminded of the value of having a good relationship with a local bike shop. Not only do they not laugh at you when you ask them to measure your derriere, they don't sell you something just to get the sale. Mike generously sent me home with three different saddles to try: the Tri Stryke mentioned above (which, because of narrow contour, doesn't have a chance in hell of fitting my sit bones), the Fi'zi:k Arione (the same one recommended by Fi'zi:k on their site-o-meter and a standard on many tri bikes), and a Felt saddle that had a similar contour to my San Marco but a wider and flatter nose. My job now is to ride and decide (on one or none). I will blog my evaluation in a few weeks. Photos below.

L-R: Fi'zi:k Arione, Felt 3.3 tri saddle, and Selle San Marco Arami (6 years old):

The Profile Design Tri Stryke on my Cannondale IM 5000:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Not Quite Resolutions

Before Christmas, my husband Jim asked me if I would like a triathlon coach as my "present." Although I thought about it, I decided that the things for which I need a coach are the things I'd like to figure out myself, so I declined. His compromise was to buy me two books specifically dedicated to Ironman training.

Yes, I get the hint! Jim wants me to figure this thing out. This year. He doesn't want to be a broken record: "you just haven't figured out how to train and race Ironman yet." He doesn't want to hear anymore complaining about not knowing whether I've run enough, biked enough, swam enough, done the correct speed work, tested my nutrition adequately, or properly tapered. Actually, it's not that he wants me to stop complaining - he just wants to help me get it right. (It took eight years of marathoning to get THAT right). After every triathlon, we discuss "what went wrong?" In 2009, it was mostly that I just didn't have anything on the run. In Coeur d'Alene, I didn't expect the unexpected (i.e., didn't dress for the cold).

Unlike marathoning, I don't want to wait many years to "figure it out," so this year I'm leaving nothing up to chance. Ironman prep starts Monday with 30 weeks to Ironman Lake Placid. In the next few weeks, I plan to make decisions on equipment, a training schedule for all 30 weeks, thorough research of proper nutrition for training and racing, and a racing schedule.

It's time to get serious. To start, I've identified several key things that will go into my training plan:
  1. The emphasis will be on bike fitness. This translates to: no more lollygagging on the bike! Cycling is my limiter and after reading my new texts, I have learned it's not my run in need of help, it's actually my cycling fitness. Superior strength and endurance on the bike is the key to a strong run.
  2. Add strength training to the equation. Time to bite the bullet - no more avoiding the weight room. Weight training builds strength - strength that has huge payoffs on the bike (there's that cycling thing again). It is highly recommended for females, veterans, novices and cycling-limited athletes.
  3. Get more sleep. Ironman training is tiring enough, no need to push myself into the wee hours to read, watch TV or spend more time with my husband and the cat. If I stop working late, there are more than enough hours in the day. And TV is boring anyway... new rule: I will watch TV only if I'm on the treadmill or bike trainer or strength training.
  4. Train smart. In the past, I have often been a victim of overtraining. This year I will learn what "easy" means, I will learn how to rest, and my workouts will focus on building efficiency, endurance and durability.
  5. Learn to relax. I will teach myself how to sleep before my races by eliminating anxiety.
I hope to blog regularly about the lessons I learn from my new training schedule. But I'm going to start with discussions about whether or not I need new equipment. To start, I've decided to get a new bike saddle - something that may make me happier in working harder at cycling fitness this year. I will be going to Bike Authority in Broadview Heights to be fitted on their "butt-o-meter" (their name for a device that measures distance between sit bones). Stay tuned for the details of how that goes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Yearly Recommitment... or Something

Upon updating my Facebook status that I was riding my trainer while watching the Ironman Hawaii broadcast on TV Saturday, I found myself in a discussion with a friend about the inspirational stories. Although my Ironman story is far from inpirational, I noted that I was reminded of my own personal trials in finishing the 2002 Kona race (read). I called it a "vomitfest," prompting her to ask: "and you do this...why?"

To which I replied: "to get to the finish line" -- a statement that could mean many things to many people. Last year I wrote a blog about why I "do this." Yesterday, I found myself pondering that same question -- "why?" -- for the entire 12 miles of my run.

Why am I compelled to do another Ironman, another marathon, another 6-hour ride, another 8-hour brick, another 3-hour run? Is it a compulsion? an obsession? both? something else? My only answer is that endurance racing is "what I do." It's my thing. I love the high of finishing a marathon. I love the feeling of pushing through long runs and long rides in 90-degree temperatures. I think I even love the pain. I love learning how far I can push my body. It make me feel alive and gives me self worth.

Some people may think "self worth" should not be a function of athletics. But for me, I don't have anything else to hang my hat on. I am reminded of the words I wrote last year - the reasons "why." Endurance racing is the one thing I do that depends on nothing but me. The accomplishments are mine. The failures are mine. My success does not depend on how much other people like me or rate me or score me. Success or failure has nothing to do with who I "schmooze" or whether I show up to a party or not. It has nothing to do with if I say the right thing or if I'm in the right place at the right time. Oh, there's a collective camaraderie among endurance athletes, but in racing there are no lies or backstabbing or people to impress. It's just me. If I work hard and make smart decisions, I am successful. If not, I fail. But when I make mistakes, no one holds a grudge. I apply the lessons learned and then I make the gains.

There are other things I could do to pass the time, but nothing I enjoy is more quantitative and objective than training and racing. Even in my other hobbies -- art, photography, guitar playing -- being successful is often in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. Which is why I don't attempt to show any of my art. For now, I'll stick to triathlon.