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Musician. Triathlete. Almost.
Musician. Triathlete. Almost.

Kids of Steel

Bishmanby BishmanJun 21st 2012
Yesterday I volunteered at the South West Tata Kids of Steel. It's basically a ultra-sprint triathlon for Primary school kids in which they either swam 3 sides of the pool (to make sure they were always close to the edge), or one side for the less confident, cycled two laps of a field and run one.
Kids of Steel
Some couldn't swim, but others blitzed it in technically perfect front crawl (one even did backstroke - spot the Grammar School kids...). Some couldn't ride bikes (there were tandem bikes on hand to get these kids round the course) and some couldn't tie their shoelaces after swimming. We had several incidents of lost their shoes or socks and for some the idea of getting on a bike whilst wet was simply mind boggling. After all their struggles it was incredible to watch them cross the finish line and receive their medal.

My task (with a group of others) was to help take the kids' transition boxes off them after the swim, direct the kids to the bikes and move their boxes to a squash court to be collected after the finish. Not particularly exciting in itself, but I got to meet with students in the newly formed Bristol uni Triathlon Club. (So new, it barely existed when I graduated last July). The whole day was basically a reflection of how quickly triathlon is growing. Excellent!!

After the kids left, Andy talked the organisers (One Step Beyond) into letting us have a mini duathlon on the teeny tiny kids bikes. Apart from being incredibly fun and the first time I've cycled off road since I was a kid I noticed a couple of interesting things which reminded me of some of the reading I've been doing recently.

Until Lakeside Sprint I had been focused quite heavily on swimming just so I wouldn't get left miles behind the rest of the pack and spend the rest of the race making up lost time. I decided that the next discipline to get the focus would be the bike since my splits show that I could knock quite a bit off my bike time, so after checking out all the books in Somerset libraries about cycling I've been reading everything I can get my hands on.

Lynda Wallenfels' book 'Cycling' (part of A&C Black's 'Triathlon Training' series) has made me think about pedal technique. Early on in the book she talks about pedalling and states that off road riding and mountain biking tends to produce cyclists with a more even pressure over the whole rotation (though I'm trying to find the quote now but can't - it's in there somewhere). She describes two types of pedallers - Mashers and Spinners (before handing over to Ken Mierke, who describes a third way of pedalling which puts you somewhere in the middle) and argues, without citing evidence, that mountain bikers tend to be spinners and road bikers are mashers. I kind of noticed this in a slightly distorted way whilst having it round a field on the tiny bikes.

Thinking about this afterwards for some reason led me to think about swimming; specifically, arm movement and its similarity to pedal stroke. One thing I've been told by Will at BAD Tri swim sessions is that I need to have less glide in my stroke - the time after my hand enters the water but before I make a catch, where we all just glide for a little bit. The reason is that when you glide in the water, you lose speed rapidly because you're not doing anything active to propel yourself forward (though passively you are in the most streamlined position possible, of course...).

Using this metaphor, the main pedal downstroke equates to the catch & pull in the water and the pedal upstroke to bringing the arm out of the water and over the head. Assuming Wallenfels is correct and that road cyclists are mashers, what we are effectively doing at the 12 and 6 position during the pedal stroke would be the equivalent of gliding in a swim stroke. At 12 and 6 (I would assume that more accurately it's actually a few degrees before 12 and 6) we are not providing a propulsive force by driving the cogs but rather gliding on the back of the down stroke we have just completed.

Ken Mierke takes over from Lynda to describe his recommended way of cycling and stresses that as triathletes it is important not to pull on the pedals (assuming you're in cleats) from 6 o'clock to bring them back to 12 trying to maximise out of 360 degrees of rotation as it is important to give the hamstring this micro rest. For triathletes having fresh and painless hamstrings is necessary to have an efficient run off the bike.

He details a pedal stroke in which the downstroke begins at 12 and pushes with quads and glutes through to 4 o'clock, whilst transferring to a backstroke between 3 and 4 and pulling the heel straight back through the bottom bracket to 7 o'clock in a movement which I visualise as a reverse version of the Lexus logo.
Kids of Steel
He then says drive the knee up and forwards towards the handlebar, making sure to relax the hamstring which has just been engaged in the down and back strokes, using instead the hip-flexor muscles to drive this movement.

I'd been trying out this method of pedalling over the last few days and it does seem to generate more power, though it was only when riding around a field on the kids bike that I realised I could make a comparison with the gliding in swimming. I really had to be pedalling all the time as the surface wasn't smooth enough, like a road, to allow any drifting as the rough terrain sucked away most of my speed almost as soon as I stopped. I guess this means Wallenfals is right; MTB riders probably do have a much more even stroke.

Has anyone else thought about their pedal stroke this much? All of that verbiage came from volunteering and Andy letting his inner child get the better of him! And I think that I've just given myself the ultimate justification for getting a set of clip on bike shoes. Hmm...
 
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