This is the time of year when many Portlanders are putting in serious miles in hopes of having good form for the upcoming racing season — or to complete whatever epic bike adventures await. Last year I was one of those people. I was so eager and focused on racing cyclocross that I crashed and burned, and learned some important lessons about training, injury, and recovery along the way.
In hopes of sharing some great local resources, and maybe even helping others who might face a similar situation, I want to share my story…
I raced intensely for 4-5 years back in the mid to late 1990s. And after that I continued riding both mountain and road bikes regularly and seriously for several years. But I took a long hiatus from any sustained training or racing until the summer of 2013. Thanks to a new road bike that re-kindled my love of riding, I was back in the saddle again and putting in miles just like the old days. By the time 2014 began, I was totally focused on the cyclocross season. With a move up to Category A (the “Masters” class) I was motivated to ride and train and much as I could fit into my schedule.
Everything was going well. By summer of last year I was in great shape; but there was nagging knee pain hanging around. As someone with five knee surgeries in their past (thanks high school basketball!), I figured it was just old aches and pains and I thought pain and occasional swelling was something I’d just have to live with. But by the end of June it became too much to bear.
One week I was winning a local “short track” mountain bike race, and the next week I was off the bike completely. After months of focus and countless hours in the saddle, I found myself down and out. At that point I turned Google for research and asked friends for advice on what to do with my ailing knees.
To make a long story short, I over-trained. I did all the classic things you’re not supposed to do: Rode too much too soon; didn’t stretch and recover enough; did too much climbing; sat at a desk all day, and so on. I realize now that I applied my 20-year old training mentality to my 39-year old body. I should have known better. It was destined to fail.
Luckily I got help.
I turned to Dr. Seth Hosmer, a local chiropractor who specializes in cycling injuries and performance. Hosmer is the guy behind Hosmer Chiropractic Clinic in the Pearl District (NW 10th and Marshall) and he offers both physical therapy and bicycle fitting.
At my first appointment Hosmer just listened to my story. Once we ruled out any major injuries or problems with my knees (X-rays from an orthopedic surgeon also helped allay my fears), he began some basic treatments and prescribed stretching exercises. Hosmer’s clinic is full of smart trainers who have all the latest secrets and equipment at their disposal.
We focused on deep stretches of my quads, calves, and hamstrings. Before this happened, I never realized how the condition of my leg muscles could dramatically impact the health of my knees. (If I had to pick a diagnosis I would say I had a case of patellafemoral syndrome.) Hosmer helped me understand that if my muscles weren’t fully loose and recovered between workouts, my kneecap would not “track” properly when I pedaled and the result would be swelling and pain. Knowing this, I started to take stretching — before and after a ride — much more seriously.
The other piece of putting my cycling puzzle back together was to make sure my bike actually fit me. Similar to how I jumped into serious training with only a vague sense of what I was doing (and then paid the price), I also just assumed my biomechanics and fit was on target. It wasn’t.
When I showed up for my fit, Hosmer invited me to the upstairs loft at his clinic. We set my bike in a trainer and he pulled out his tools of the trade: a level, a lead weight attached to fishing line, a measuring tape, and an iPad.
Hosmer recorded measurements of my saddle set-back, the stack and reach of my handlebars, the height of my top tube relative to the bottom bracket, and so on. Once we had the existing numbers, he had me hop on the bike. Hosmer then took more measurements to see where my body was lining up. (Turns out I sit slightly crooked with my left hip slightly up which pushes my left leg a full centimeter in front of my right.) Then he filmed me with his iPad and a very nifty video-analysis app called Dartfish. Hosmer had me pedal at different cadences and had me focus on lowering my heel.
Then, using the Dartfish software, Hosmer slowed down the video and replayed it to analyze my movements. He noticed a wave and a hop in my back with each pedal stroke. Then, simply by drawing with his finger on the screen across my leg, the software calculated the angles in my pedal rotation. Hosmer used this analysis to make adjustments to my saddle height and give me some tips to correct my pedaling style.
At the end of the day Hosmer made significant changes to my saddle height and I agreed to drop my heels more during my pedal stroke. It felt strange, but I trusted him.
I’m happy to say that my knees are fine now and it’s been ages since I’ve had this much confident in them. My racing season was full of ups-and-downs, but Hosmer’s help and insights were key to getting my health back and getting my knee issues under control.
I can’t wait for all the great riding I’ve got planned for this year!
If you are starting to ramp up the miles for whatever cycling goal you’re working toward, I’d highly recommend getting help from a physical therapy clinic and professional bike fit. Check out the links below for more great local spots to get yourself healthy, strong, and dialed-in for a great season:
— North Lake Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation
— Upper Echelon Fitness
— Hosmer Chiropractic Clinic
— Pedal PT
— Bicycle Fitting Services
*Note: Nearly every major local bike shops has expert bike fitters on staff. Inquire within.