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Monthly Archives: November 2013

This past week I saw this video of the Invisible Bike Helmet for the first time. If you haven’t watched it yet, check it out here.

When I was watching the video for the first time, I thought it was a hoax or a joke until I got to the 3:00 minute mark, at which point I had about 40 simultaneous thoughts. I won’t subject you to all of them, but here are a few highlights.

  • Is this something triathletes could use? My first thoughts were about whether or not the neck brace could be made reasonably aerodynamic, and how hot it would get racing on during a humid summer morning. It looks perfectly natural on Swedish women in Sweden where (I have no proof of this and refuse to do the minimal research required to find out if this is true) I doubt it ever gets too hot*. In the Midwest, July and August means lots of humidity and 80 to 90 degree temperatures. If I were racing all out on a day like that, would the sweat on my neck become unbearable? Would the neck brace create drag? Would any drag it created be better than my utterly normal, non-aero helmet? How would it compare to, say, the Rudy helmets I keep getting ads for? The Hövding (invisible helmet) website says it weighs about 700 grams, compared to about 350 grams for a Rudy aero helmet.
  • Is this safer than a traditional helmet? My brother and sister-in-law are doctors, and the first thing they mentioned after seeing the video was that if this helmet could protect both the head and the neck, it would be a huge improvement in helmet safety. Right now, traditional helmets do a good job of protecting our brains, but our C-spines are left completely vulnerable. If this could protect from neck/spinal injury, that, to me, would make it absolutely worth any aero losses.
  • Is it even approved/safe for racing? The Hövding hasn’t been approved yet for use in the US, but it seems to be gaining popularity in Europe, so I would imagine it’s only a matter of time before the CPSC takes a look at it. The Hovding website mentions that it is not approved for “extreme cycling such as BMX, off-road cycling, mountain biking and trick cycling,” but doesn’t say anything about road racing or triathlon racing. Reading through the FAQ yielded some interesting considerations about hairstyles (a too-rigid mohawk would prevent the helmet from inflating properly to cover the entire forehead) and headgear (a regular baseball cap with a brim would work fine with the helmet, so a racer could still protect his/her face from the sun).
  • What would T1 look like? Would race officials have a hard time verifying if one’s helmet were on? In theory it would not take any more time to zip up a neck brace during T1 than it takes to clip a helmet shut, but when I think about my shaking hands coming out of the water, I’m not sure how challenging it really would be. And as long as race officials were prepped on the new helmet design, I would suspect it would be fairly obvious who had a Hövding around their neck and who was running out of T1 unprotected.

On the whole, I am (clearly) quite intrigued by the idea. I love the fact that someone has thought about head protection in a new way, especially if the neck support could keep us even safer in the event of a crash. Right now, the helmet costs about $575 which is clearly much more than a typical commuter helmet. However, I know quite a few triathletes who spend that much or more on an aero helmet. Another criticism I read about the helmet is that if it deploys (that is, if there is an accident), it is no longer functional and a new helmet must be purchased. Again, though, this is not different than a traditional helmet. After a crash, it needs to be replaced as well.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the Hövding makes it to the US, and if it becomes a part of the racing world at all in the next ten years.

*Okay, I did the research. According to the Climate of the World website, the hottest month in Sweden is July, when temperatures typically range from 13 to 17 degrees Celsius, which is about 55 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit. So yes, much more comfortable weather for having something around your neck all the time.

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Last week, I started physical therapy for my knee. The acute injury is healing quite nicely, as evidenced by the fact that my doctor touched it and I didn’t punch her in the face. But there’s a lingering aching and sometimes feeling of glass under the knee that’s kept me from flip turning, running, jumping, or riding a bike (well, that, and the fact that it’s already snowed three times already this winter).

My physical therapist diagnosed the remaining problem as weak hips. I’ve heard before that hips can have a lot to do with knee pain, especially for women (for example, here, here, and here), but I didn’t really think that would be part of my problem when recovering from what I knew to be an acute injury. I knew exactly when I injured it, and how, and even felt a pop to prove it. But when my physical therapist had me lie on my side and positioned my top leg up and to the back of my body, then let go and asked me to hold it, I couldn’t do so for even a moment.

I now have three hip and glute strengthening exercises to work on this week. The plan is increasingly difficult strength training, first to concentrate on my hips and glutes and then to work on building up the muscles above and below my knee to further help stabilize the joint. The best part is that she said once things are stronger, I can start running on a treadmill in the PT office to check out how my knees are doing, and then I’ll be able to get back on a running program.

I seriously cannot wait to be running again, even though I’m sure that once I start it’ll be frustrating and difficult to carry my body around for any distance. I’m trying to remain optimistic that the fitness will come back quickly. I felt so at the top of my game right before this happened that’s it’s extra-frustrating to sit around and feel the fitness drain from me.

The light at the end of the no running tunnel combined with a breakthrough of sorts in swimming last week has me on the verge of optimism. Last Friday, we had IM day in swimming, but with a twist: we used a pull buoy while kicking the entire time. This had not so much effect on my butterfly and breaststroke (plus, I’m only breaststroking with a flutter kick right now, as breaststroke kick is strictly forbidden while my knee heals), but the effect on my backstroke was notable, and the effect on my freestyle was unreal.

As soon as I started kicking with the buoy between my thighs while doing freestyle, I felt like I had acquired a superpower. My feet were on the top of the water, my kick felt strong and powerful, and with very little effort, I was shooting across the pool like I had an electric motor behind me. I felt like I had somehow been bitten by a radioactive spider and been given a magic ring by an alien at the same time. Every IM cycle, I couldn’t wait for the freestyle so I could zoom away from the pack. My coach even commented that I looked like a completely different swimmer.

Of course, at the end we had to try it without the buoy, and the results weren’t quite as magical. Don’t get me wrong — my freestyle kick was still way better than it had been, but that feeling of effortless speed was gone. The good news for triathlon racing, though, is that a wetsuit can sometimes feel like the buoyancy of a pull buoy, and although this is completely ridiculous and egotistical to say, I don’t see how anyone is going to be able to catch me in the swim anytime soon. Which also saves me the trouble of having to learn how to draft. 🙂

Only about six months until my next triathlon!

Since I injured my knee, I have been spending a lot of time limping and a lot of time wishing I could get back to working out. I started a new job (woo!), went on a family trip to Vegas (woo!), and cooked a split-pea cake. All I wanted to do was go for a run, or try out my new aero-bars, or jump in the pool. I even wanted to do the butterfly — that’s how much I missed it. I tended to hold things together in public until the end of each day when the cumulative pain and lack of endorphins from exercise built up and I’d snap at Josh for dumb reasons (or more often, no reason).

Last week, I got the go ahead to try swimming again. And, somehow, I was shocked that it was hard.

I don’t necessarily mean physically (although my arms were sheer dead weight after swimming a 500 the other day), but it’s actually been hard emotionally. I get so frustrated in practice, for so many reasons:

  • because I can’t do flip turns
  • because I can’t kick hard
  • because when my knee starts to hurt, I have to use a pull buoy
  • because I can’t push myself as hard as I want
  • because I have to be careful

I mean, I could go on and on, but that’s not interesting for anyone (myself included, believe it or not). It boils down to the fact that I want to be 100% healed and I’m not yet.

I had a terrible practice last week, and my coach gave me some good advice: “It’s frustrating when we’re not at 100%. But how often are we at 100%?”

After that practice, during which everyone in the world was faster than me (yes, I am a competitive person) and I got so discouraged that at one point when I felt like I couldn’t do anything right I actually cried into my goggles while I was swimming (I don’t recommend this for either visibility or proper swimming technique), I swam a slow backstroke to cool down. The backstroke, as readers of this blog may know, is my comfort zone, and as I tried to stretch out in the water (always striving for that good technique even when warming up and cooling down), I had ample time to reflect on what, exactly, I was doing there. I realized that I was happy being in the water, and I was happy to be working out again, despite all the frustration. I’m thankful to be back in the pool and as much as I wish I could fast-forward to the moment when everything is magically healed enough to go back to full-force training, at least I’m on the path.

As one last aside, I’d point out that even though to me it didn’t feel like it, I was doing something in the past month, too. Resting and healing is a part of training, especially after an injury, and recovery is work. I just prefer the work of running around.

When Josh and I were driving from Georgia to Wisconsin, we made a strange caravan. I led in Josh’s old Toyota Echo, our chinchilla Jimmy Stewart in a cage on the passenger seat next to me. Josh followed behind in a 16-foot moving truck. I was responsible for navigation and ensuring that I didn’t drive too fast for the moving truck’s capacity, although when we were going through the mountains in Tennessee the truck was able to move much more quickly than the Echo. Throughout the two-day winter drive, in which we traveled identical but solo routes, we did share one thing: listening to non-stop NPR. This included (my mom will be happy to hear) two repeated hours of Garrison Keillor, the first when we were still in Eastern time, and the second identical hour once we had passed into Central time.

We also both listened to an interview with the authors of The Cultural Revolution Cookbook. Maybe it was the increasingly cold air swirling at our ankles or the bird-like hooting of the chinchilla, or the shaking of the moving truck in the winds of Southern Illinois, but we both latched onto the descriptions of slowly braised pork and simple recipes with basic ingredients made flavorful and wholesome. As we hunched over sandwiches at a Subway attached to a gas station, we sipped caffeinated beverages and said, “Yeah, that book sounds good,” and “Yeah, pork.”

We were tired. And the chinchilla was waiting.

The cookbook has yielded some delicious wok-based dinners that we’ve greatly enjoyed, but until tonight, we hadn’t attempted any desserts. I like the desserts I’ve had in Chinese restaurants (red bean paste, I’m looking at you) and I was intrigued by the recipe for Yellow Split Pea Cake at the back of the book. With only four ingredients (peas, sugar, water, and gelatin) it seemed easy enough to make.

Not how most of my cakes begin.

Not how most of my cakes begin.

First, I cooked the peas in sugared water, then dissolved the gelatin and mixed it in. Simple as that. A quick puree in the food processor, and the “cake” (really more of a gelatin or paste) was ready to firm up in the fridge. After a dinner of braised beef in soy sauce (from the same cookbook), the cake was ready to slice.

Just like a lemon meringue pie.

Just like a lemon meringue pie.

The cake was delicious. The texture is exactly like the filling of a red bean bun in a dim sum restaurant. The flavor is sweet, but not too sweet, and sumptuous with the peas adding a depth and a heartiness that usually I don’t associated with desserts. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that there’s a layer of not very chopped up peas at the bottom of the cake. I should have processed the mixture in the food processor longer (or tried a blender, maybe, or some other way of puree-ing the whole deal until it was silky smooth). This is the only hiccup in the cake, as chewing through peas at the bottom of a cake is, shall we say, not so appetizing.

I would definitely make this again, though, and I’d recommend The Cultural Revolution Cookbook to anyone with a wok and some curiosity about traditional Chinese food.