Category Archives: accident

Bike fitting in Boulder

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I’ve rented a bike probably a half-dozen times while traveling. When I pick up the bike, I pull out my tape measure to set the saddle height, then ask if I can put on my 120mm, -17 degree stem. I tell them it just won’t feel right otherwise. Then they look at me as if I’m straight out of The Princess and the Pea.

For the last year my bike hasn’t felt right. I’ve told people that I felt “crooked” on the bike. It didn’t used to be like that.

The person who did my last bike fit (Andy Applegate) suggested that I visit the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM), as they could do a real ‘medical fit’. I filed it away as an interesting idea — maybe, some day. The thought of getting 2 bikes to and from Boulder seemed like a hassle. But then everyone I mentioned it to said, “wow, that sounds cool. You should do it.”

I exchanged a few emails with a guy who works at BCSM, and when he told me that I would be seeing Andy Pruitt were I to come, I said “ok, let’s do it”. How could I turn down the chance to be fit by a rock-star bike fitter? Andy Pruitt has literally written the book (well, “a” book) on bike fitting and has worked with many Pro Tour cyclists.

As an added incentive, there are like 1000 microbreweries in Boulder. “Beer is everywhere”, Shawn Adams told me.

Arrangements were made, the bikes arrived, and I showed up first thing Tuesday morning at BCSM.  I showed Dr. Pruitt a picture of my x-ray.  He had a similar break, years ago.  I felt like I’d hit the jackpot — not only someone who knew about cycling fit and problems, but who know about my specific problem, first hand.

He poked and prodded, noted the still-apparent muscle atrophy (18 months later!), noticed that I still limp a bit, have leg-length imbalance, and reiterated what I’d been told previously: the anatomy of my right leg is just different now.

We got a baseline with my current fit, with Dr. Pruitt watching me ride.  The motion capture confirmed what I had been saying: I was crooked on the bike.

First step was switching pedal systems (to Speedplay, since they are so adjustable). Next was putting a wedge and shim under my left cleat. Then moving the right a bit on my shoe.  Lowering the saddle a bit.  Raising the bars a bit.  Another capture, and I was indeed straighter, but  still a bit off.

Next step was putting a pressure-sensor pad over the saddle to get a ‘heat map’ of the pressure points.  Before doing it, I said that I felt like most of the pressure was on my left side.  The pressure map confirmed it — bright red on the left side. We tried a different style / shape of saddle — one where I would be sitting more on top, and that would encourage me to rotate my pelvis forward more.

Another look at the pressure map, and wow, it was amazing how it had evened out.  This got me pretty close to straight on the bike.  It felt good.  I liked the pedals.  The saddle would take some getting used to.

We moved to the TT bike, which went much quicker.  A few minor adjustments, but nothing major.

By the time I got dressed and got my bikes back in the car, it was after 3pm.  I’d been there most of the day.

It’s been over a month now, so I’ve had time to adjust to the changes.  The new setup is most definitely better.  I love being on the new pedal system.  It took a while to get used to the saddle, but I like that too.  It’s clear to me that I am sitting straighter on the bike, with more even pressure on the saddle.

It still doesn’t quite feel like the “old me” on the bike, but the gap is closing.

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Someday, maybe

For those of you following along at home, today marked 4 months — exactly — since I broke my femur while training on the velodrome. And one month (and a couple days) since I last saw the doctor and was given the OK to start putting weight on my leg.

Today I had another appointment.

Like last time, I took note of the progression: today I drove myself, got out of the car and walked inside using only a cane. I’ve ridden the trainer every day since I last saw him. I had planned to ask him about riding out on the road again, but even if that didn’t work out I would still be grateful having come this far.

Every time I’ve see the doctor I feel like I learn a little bit more about the situation. Or rather, I feel like the doctor chooses to reveal a little more about it. It can be a bit maddening — afterward, because right then I just want to know.

The ‘bad’ news is that as a result of the surgery my hip is aligned somewhat differently now — a little narrower — and that affects how the muscles work. I might have a bit of a limp, hard to say now. There’s also likely scar tissue which makes the hip feel very strange when pedaling, and that might not ever go away.

Then I asked the question: what about riding out on the road again. He said, “well, I’d tell you not to ride again, ever, but I know you guys probably won’t do that.”

The danger is that if I were to break that bone again, it could be very messy to fix a second time. But he said I’m not any more likely to break it now than before.

So … basically … I can ride when I feel able. Personally … I will need to be confident that I can unclip, put my foot down, and then be able to swing my leg over the saddle and get on and off. I’m not quite there yet.

But maybe I will get to ride in shorts yet this year and feel the sun on my legs.

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I’m putting my foot down!

Literally.

I went in to the doctor’s appointment hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. I figured I’d made it 3 months, and if he said it was still more time on one leg, I could handle it.

The x-ray tech led me down the hall. I noted the difference between now and the first visit back in June. Then: wheeled down the hall in a wheelchair, needing help getting on the table. Now: walking with crutches, able to sit down on the table and swing my legs up.

The doctor looked at the x-rays and showed me the difference between then and now, pointing out the bone growth. It looked good, he said. The plan: over the next 2 weeks work up to 100% weight bearing, still using crutches. After 2 weeks, try going without. OK to drive at that point.

This was what I was hoping to hear.

Here’s the strange thing though: I’ve been like this now for long enough that this is what feels like normal. This is my life, on crutches. And using crutches is like … having a crutch to lean on. It’s like I have an excuse — for needing help, for moving slowly, for not doing what I am normally able to do.

Without the crutches, I’ll just be slow and lazy with no visible excuse. I was feeling like I didn’t want to give them up. And that was a weird feeling — and quite unexpected. I can see first hand how we adapt to things that happen to us, and how the inertia and comfort in the familiar makes us resistant to change. Even if that change will likely be for the better.

Leaving the doctor’s office I tentatively tried putting some weight on my right leg for the first time in 3 months. It felt like this:

In 24 hours it’s already gotten a bit better. The leg is still pretty wobbly, but it is a “first step”.

The other piece of good news: I asked, can I ride a stationary bike? Sure, he said. I didn’t explain that it is a time trial bike on a fluid trainer. I figured he didn’t need to know that.

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Ten years after


If you were following bike racing 10 years ago, you undoubtedly have a lasting image of the dramatic Joseba Beloki crash on the melted-tar descent, with Lance Armstrong going off-road to avoid him.

Today the Tour de France finished in Gap — the same destination as that day in 2003. I still remember the pictures of Beloki laying at the side of the road, his face showing the agony.

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What I hadn’t remembered was that he broke his femur in two places. It looked like a bad crash (well, most crashes look do look bad). But I now have a real appreciation for the suffering that is evident in those pictures. I know that look.

I also know that he did recover, and came back to race again, although he wasn’t ever quite the same.

Wonder if he’s available for rehab consultation. He would surely understand.

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If I can’t win any races …

Hardware

… at least I can have an exceptional injury.

Above is the most recent x-ray (as of today) of my repaired femur, complete with stainless steel plate and screws.

I got a brief look at the x-rays a month ago, but didn’t take a picture that I could save and look at. The screws are a lot longer than I remember. There have been times when I swear I can feel the plate and the screws but am not sure if that’s just my imagination getting the better of me. Now I have a real visual.

Early on I didn’t care to see pictures. I knew it was bad, and I didn’t want to be further haunted by the image of how bad. But once things started to heal and progress, I wanted to know.

I asked the doctor to show me where the break was. “Breaks”, he said. He pointed out the multiple places where it had broken. That piece below the hip that’s near the pelvis? That is a piece that’s broken off. He said he tried to pull it in with a screw but gave up because it was “a bunch of mush in there”. I’m glad I didn’t hear that 7 weeks ago.

The good news is that there is evidence of bone growth, and things are generally progressing as expected.

Which unfortunately means still another 4-5 weeks before I can start putting any weight on it. But maybe the next time I post one of these pics I will be doing it with both feet on the floor.

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Life out of balance


About 10 years ago I was having some shoulder and back soreness and went to see a guy who did trigger point therapy. Surprisingly, he didn’t focus on my shoulder. My problem was one or two joints away from the shoulder, he told me. The shoulder was the effect but not the cause.

When one area is out of alignment, it throws everything else off.

At the moment, my main problem is the broken leg. But it’s also messing up other things: my shoulders and upper arms are now sore from using the walker and crutches. It’s gotten bad enough that I went to see a massotherapist to help get things lined up again.

It occurs to me that this is also a metaphor that applies more widely.

People tend to think that when you ride so much, you must be really healthy. I’ve often joked that, yeah, I’m fit for cycling but I’m not sure it’s healthy. I’ve actually felt more healthy overall in the winter, when I’ve mixed cycling and running, and the training intensity is less.

Sitting here now, having gone 6 weeks without riding, it seems quite obvious that what we do is out of balance.

This isn’t a new thought for me. Back in late 2001 — and I remember this clearly — I finished reading a book by the Dalai Lama, and concluded that bike racing was an addiction not unlike other addictions. Sure, it’s better than substance addiction, but it still seemed clear that from a psychological (or spiritual) perspective it was an addiction.

I thought about dialing back the racing, and wasn’t sure how much I would race in 2002. But then it seemed that just recognizing the addictive quality was enough. I knew that I wasn’t going to race forever, and wanted to do it while I could.

If I recall correctly, I had a pretty good year racing.

Right now, I am out of balance again, in more than one sense. In addition to the physical issues, I’ve gone from being super-active to mostly-sedentary, spending way too much time in front of an open laptop. From one extreme to another. I think I need to go find and re-read that Dalai Lama book.

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PS. The movie that is referenced in the YouTube clip above is worth watching. Not sure how available it is these days.

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Stepping back for minute …

It’s been 5 weeks since I broke my femur, and 4 weeks since I’ve been home from the hospital. People often ask how it’s going, and if things are getting better. I usually respond by saying something like, “it gets a little better each day, but it’s slow going.”

If I look at the bigger picture, and compare where I am today to where I was the day I came home, it seems a lot better. Four weeks ago I could barely bend my knee, struggled to get out of a chair and into and out of bed, and needed someone to get me important stuff … like coffee.

Today I can:
– bend my knee about 85 degrees
– do some simple PT exercises
– get in and out of the chair, on and off the bed using just my arm to lift my leg up
– walk with crutches when I don’t need to carry something
– sit on a bath chair, take a bath and wash my hair
– negotiate a step down to get outside on the patio for some sunshine
– make my own coffee, get food from the kitchen
– stand with one hand holding the counter, open wine and pour a glass

I’ve been out to the doctor, out for a haircut, out to the end of the driveway to watch the neighborhood Memorial Day lawn tractor races (that was my race experience for Memorial Day).

That list would be quite depressing if I don’t compare it to where I was initially — and even more so to when I couldn’t get out of bed in the hospital without passing out.

It’s hard to project where this rate of progress will take me. But I don’t have much of a choice, so I’ll have to take it. I’m hoping I can get out to at least *watch* a race this year, which will be enough for the moment.

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