Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bon Anniversaire III

Three years today since my accident.

I’m not sure sometimes if it seems like yesterday, or a lifetime ago, as the temporal distance sensation oscillates from day to day.

One thing is for sure, I am mostly looking ahead and not back. But anniversaries (good or bad) tend to be times for reflection. So it is once again with today’s post.

I did previous post-accident annual reviews in these two posts in 2008 and 2009:
Bon Anniversaire
Bon Anniversaire II

It’s been, all up, a pretty darn good year with more change and plenty of challenges. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I’ll go over my rehab and cycling related topics for the past year and leave out other personal stuff.

My physical rehabilitation has progressed very well. I upgraded my general prosthetic in June 2009 as I had “under grown” the other one. I say “under grown” as my fellow acquired amputees would know that the residual leg (or “stump” as we call it) gradually shrinks over time, until it settles after 2-3 years. It does continue to change over the years.

Prosthetic sockets, being hard inflexible containers for your stump, eventually have to be re-made to suit your new size and shape. In between times, you adjust to it each day, and through the day, by using different size, thickness and number of socks to provide for more or less compression as comfort dictates.

One frustrating aspect was my early use of the new prosthetic didn’t go so well. My knee reacted badly and it broke open the skin on the inward side of my knee and the rubbing against tendon created significant discomfort. My knee swelled and I couldn’t get my stump into the socket. Which sucked. A lot.

Eventually it settled down and I could get back to “normality”.

The open sore / hole in the side of my knee created in June 2009 is still there today. It simply won’t heal up. I’ve tried all sorts of tricks and tips to fix it but with no real success. The only option I think is to not wear a prosthetic for as long as it takes to properly heal over – which I would estimate to be maybe three or more weeks. That’s just not really much of an option when you’re a cycling coach. But it may come to that one day.

Most of the time it’s not so bad, but occasionally it flares up and the knee swells and it hurts when I put the leg on, sometimes standing/walking can be very painful. Sometimes I can’t get into my prosthetic at all. It happened again in December 2009, and the same thing has happened this week. So far I haven’t been able to nail down a consistent trigger for it – which is something I really want to do, as if I know how to avoid it in future, then that’s what I’ll do!

Cycling Performance
Those leg troubles aside, my cycling performance improvement has been excellent. So much so that in the past six months I have actually exceeded pre-amputation power output levels over significant durations, both in terms of absolute wattages, and expressed as power to body mass ratio terms.

I did this post on Power Profiling in January, which compared my then post-amputation power profile to my pre-amputation power profile.

Here’s another chart to show my progress since I got back on the bike in June 2008. It shows the maximal 1-hour (normalised) power I attained in each 90-day period since starting riding again, right through to today. I chose normalised power as it provides a sensible comparison of my performance capacity across all types of racing and training, and represents a very good estimate of the progression in my Functional Threshold Power.

As you can see, my progression has been consistent and steady, culminating in a 1-hour race power last weekend exceeding my all time best except for just one occasion from my pre-amputation racing days (that was during the State Criterium championships in 2006 at 337W).

In fact, in that race last weekend I set my all time highest 2-hour normalised power of 315W.

I must admit, I do surprise even myself at times.

Of course, all the way through this I have had fantastic support from many people, especially from my coach Ric Stern. We are setting no limits on what's possible. Heck, when I can outperform what I did on a bike before an amputation, then what else can I do?

Nevertheless, I still have lost significant elements of my cycling capacities, most notably my sprinting and standing start abilities have been curtailed somewhat. Which just means they may require more work in order to close that gap as well.

Cycling Leg
After getting my new general purpose leg, I also worked on adding a dedicated cycling leg to my “stable”. Previously, in order to cycle, I used to screw off my walking “foot” and screw on a cycling “leg” attachment. It enabled me to ride but it was a PITA having to keep screwing them on/off, and the constant changing would not have been doing the components much good (one day I found one clamp had completely cracked through). And being very sensitive to the set up of the bike leg (lengths/angles etc), this process did have a habit of unintentionally changing the set up at times, enough to cause discomfort or pain when riding.

Getting a dedicated leg would make sure the set up was better suited for the bike, and have the ability to quickly remove one leg and put on the other, if for instance I wanted to hop off at the track and walk somewhere.

So it was back to George at the Appliance and Limb Centre for the bike leg socket design. That bit wasn't so hard as it was really a replica of my existing general purpose socket (all carbon fibre custom moulding) although that might be understating it a little. The funky bits were what we attached to it and the design of an aerodynamic outer shell.

It was all made possible with the funding raised by the local track cycling community organised by Paul Craft of RAW Track fame (and donations and help from wonderful people all over the world), who generously raised about $8000 to cover the costs. The leg was built and we designed a funky aerodynamic carbon fibre cover for it. The leg cost $7600. Add to that a new stump liner at $1000 a pop (and which wear out pretty quickly I’ve since discovered, needing several per year), and well, there goes the $8k!

Also a big thank you to John Bosevski of Cycle Underground who engineered a special adapter plate for connecting the standard prosthetic block to a standard 3-hole cycling cleat. That was based on an original version Peter Barnard made for me in his home workshop.

Steve Nemeth, CEO of Bont Shoes, supplied me with custom mouldable Bont road and track shoes, which have been great (thanks Steve). If anyone needs a size 44 left Bont cycling shoe - let me know - I have two of them spare!

That lace up track shoe is the best I've ever used. Steve has also helped with a few other bits for me. In a semi-related note, just last week I was contacted by a fellow from Canberra, who was in touch with a guy I know in Perth, who for some reason ended up with a spare right Bont shoe in my size. I don't know what happened to the left one and so he generously mailed the spare shoe to me!

Of course getting the leg sized up and fitted properly for the bike - well I was helped by none other than my good buddy and bike fit guru Steve Hogg of Sydney Cyclefit Centre. It was amazing how just the smallest tweak in the grub screws at the bottom of the leg make a large difference in my ability to pedal effectively and in (relative) comfort.

The leg has been great and has been very well used so far and the support I received was, and continues to be, amazing and I am very grateful to everyone for helping.

In April and May 2009 I competed at both the Para-cycling National and Oceania Paralympic championships, my first attempt at Para-cycling events. I picked up a silver medal in both the road race & time trial at the Nationals and two Gold medals in the same events at the Oceania Paralympic event held in Darwin.

In August I started racing back at the track during the Friday Night Winter race series, and even won my first track race since returning. It was good to be back on the boards. The previous year when I couldn’t race, I was the Chief Commissaire for the series. This time I did half the series as commissaire / half racing.

In October 2009 I raced the UCI World Masters Track Championships. I surprised myself with my 3rd fastest ever 3km individual pursuit and made the finals of both the scratch and points races. I was very happy with that, partly because in 2005 I set out with the goal of making those finals in 2007, but my accident happened in the lead up to the 2007 event and destroyed those hopes. I was also surprised because they were very hard races and there were some pretty fancied names that missed out on finals. It just showed me once again what was possible provided you keep at it, remain positive and do the work necessary.

In November I ventured back to doing an open track race carnival up at the Central Coast (always good carnival that one). It was a successful night and I won one race, took three second places and a 5th in the open miss ‘n’ out race.

My form kept building and I started to approach pre-amputation power output levels. Maybe, I thought, I could get there....

Then, bang – I go and do some time trial training efforts at a power higher than pre-amputation levels. Holy smokes!! OK, don’t stop now :D

All this was of course part of my plan to race the National Para-cycling track championships earlier this year and come home a National Champ. I ended up not even going. I’m not going to bore you with the details, just to say that bureaucratic stuffing about regarding State selection policy left me in no-man’s land for the second year running, unable to plan for the expense and time needed to participate and I had to commit to other things. My form was excellent. Shit happens they say.

The experience left a bad taste though and I struggled for motivation for a little while after that episode. But we move on. I am now somewhat ambivalent about para-cycling competition. Apart from the good encouragement I receive from other para-cyclists, I experienced a less than enthusiastic level of interest from officials in seeing more riders compete at championships; indeed it seemed as if there was active dissuasion going on. Turns out I wasn’t the only one to experience that, which was kind of good (in a bad way) as it meant I wasn’t just being paranoid.

Eventually I got myself going again, and as always the best thing for me is to pin a number on my back and go race! I just love racing so I raced some local criteriums. What grade? Well I started with the local open C-grade.

Oops, won that comfortably.

Next time out I went to B-grade....

Oops, I bridged across to a break and the three of us circulated at same pace as A-grade and left the rest of them to fight it out for nothing. OK, so I’ve been re-graded back into A-grade. LOL.

Last weekend I raced a local Masters Enduro – a 2 hour + 1 lap affair. What a corker of a race! Apart from helping a mate (& client) get into a successful 3-man break, along the way I generated my highest ever 2-hour race power and 2nd highest ever 1-hour race power. Here I am poking my tongue out for a bit of fun when I spotted photographer Ernie Smith.

OK - I nicked that pic off Ernie's website - I'll sort that later with him :-)

In September & October 2009, I had a wonderful experience all down to the generosity of Steve Palladino and family, who invited me to stay with them in Santa Rosa.

While there I delivered a seminar on Training and Racing with a Power Meter (talking about a case study in application of a power meter to help Jayson Austin achieve his world masters hour record), did some great training rides with Steve, culminating in Levi Leipheimer’s 170km GranFondo along with the Fightin’ Boba crew. It was fantastic.

My coaching activity took another step up through the past year, it’s now the sole source of my income and I love it. I have a great group of clients, spread all across the globe ( I currently have coaching clients located in seven countries) and I really enjoy helping them to perform even better than ever.

Some great results from riders & teams I coach, including multiple State & National championship wins and one world record. Here's a pic of Jayson on his way to a UCI world record.

I started up a new product, customised 3-month training plans, which have been very successful with sales going worldwide including the UK, Europe, Africa, Middle East, USA, Canada, New Zealand and of course all States of Australia. Lots of great feedback with people reporting excellent results and coming back for their second and third plans.

Along with Joanne Palazzetti, I have been very busy with the establishment of a new indoor training centre for cyclists and triathletes – the Turbo Studio. We commenced operation in February 2010 and so far the response has been excellent, with really good growth in client numbers - already some of our sessions are full.

People are really responding to the professionalism of the set up and having a dedicated cycle coaching resource available to guide them in the right direction and answer their various enquiries about training. Half the time is spent dispelling training myths and educating about the use of power measurement in training. It’s all evidence-based training principles and the results are speaking for themselves.

I want to thank Jo for her totally professional approach, creativeness, passion and friendship in getting this project up and running, and for asking me to come on board and just do what I do – i.e. help people get the most from training with power!!

Added to that, I began a power meter hire business. That’s also going well!

Ric Stern & I have been working on other things at RST, with Ric getting the website updated with many new features including the establishment of a new forum for all things bike related – especially about training and racing and to support all our coaching clients around the world, including those who are using our Training Plans. The members' forum is available for anyone to join.

Not stopping there – we have other projects in the pipe and expect to announce shortly the addition of new coaches to the RST crew. We have a pretty thorough selection process as we seek to maintain the highest standards in professional and scientific coaching services.

I also embarked upon something I expected to do years ago, and upgrade to the Cycling Australia Level 2 coaching accreditation (I was scheduled to do it in 2007 but my accident got in the way of that). Level 2 is the highest level of accreditation available in Australia bar those on CA staff who are required to do a Level 3.

So far I’ve done part I of the process, which was to attend the week-long CA coaching course in November & December but I still need to complete the balance of activities. It’s just been overly busy since then, especially with the setting up of a new business but I’ll get back to that as a priority over the next few months.

It’s not like I’m not doing practical coaching – it’s what I do for a living and I supervise training groups every working day, write about it constantly and so on.... :-)

So what lies ahead?
Well I expect to keep plugging away with my training and racing ambitions. My racing goals however are a little fluid at this stage and so I’ll likely do some Masters championships along with local racing for the next block. I will continue to pursue improvement in my form and power and to race regularly. Let’s see how much further I can drive my development as a rider.

Business wise there is much to look forward to this year – the Turbo Studio will keep forging ahead, I expect squad training to become part of life, power training seminars to be delivered and of course we are introducing the Winter Indoor Race Series on the Turbo Studio’s Computrainers, which should be a lot of fun. Given there’s about $5000 in prizes (mostly cash) up for grabs, I’m sure it’ll be popular.

My clients have tremendous goals to achieve and I’ll be working hard to help nail them and take them all to a new level of performance. Championships, sportives, category upgrades, commencing racing, all sorts of new goals and challenges.

RST goes from strength to strength and is growing as well, so more to come on that front, including some more new training products on the (hopefully near) horizon.

I expect to complete my Level 2 coaching accreditation as well.

At the moment I am also slated for a return to California in October for the Granfondo, so that should be another epic adventure.

OK, that was a long post, but hopefully not too dull a read. Perhaps you can see why my blogging frequency has dropped a little lately. Of course there's lots of more personal stuff that I don’t write about on this blog (that’s my business!) and there has been plenty to work with on those fronts as well. All up, it’s been another cracker of a year and I hope to make this next one even better!

Safe riding out there.


Ade Merckx said...

Well worth waiting for, Inspirational stuff Alex! All the best for the future!! Toks "Ademerckx" Adesanya

Anonymous said...


Have been watching your progress from amputee to Cyclist again over the past couple of have worked hard and are starting to reap the rewards. Keep it up.

fuzzynavel (Bikeradar) Scotland.

Anonymous said...

Found your blog via FGF. Makes for compelling reading!
As a cyclist, doctor and tech-nerd there's plenty for me to read about.
See you on the Dunc boards.