Monday, May 16, 2016

Part 4: The saddle struggle continues...the extended version

This is the continuation of a series of posts on bike fitting and saddles from the perspective of your resident triathlete and physical therapist.

We left off frustrated with my agonizing Terry saddle tormenting me in my new found position on my bike which I was loving.  So, the search continued.
Scouring the triathlon world for possible candidates meeting my saddle criteria, I brought two saddles to Chris’ attention he wasn't too familiar with.  He was interested by the prospects as we set up a plan and date to meet again.  Both were newer saddles to the market with no real world reviews.  Then again, results may vary as saddles are VERY individual as to what will agree with one’s anatomy as we are finding out with my hunt.
As the date of my next meeting with Chris neared, we, unfortunately, rescheduled.  A blizzard along with 2 feet of “historic” snowfall slammed our area basically shutting the whole region down for days.  ARGH!!  Everything was perfectly planned out…stupid snow.  My nether regions were getting a bit…irritated and looking for relief.  I was on my own to try the next saddle.

-Specialized Power (Sourced from another shop since Chris is not a dealer for this brand): really firm, narrow in the nose (38mm), a bit more T shaped/pear, hmmm….the ridges of the cut out were blunt and the lady bits were none too happy.  Nose riding was not too comfy.  This saddle seems to be designed more for sitting on the middle/rear and doesn't allow me to rotate my pelvis the way I want.  The semi rubber like outer was interesting.  Good for minimal sliding on the saddle and a seemingly durable material for wet butts.  In the end, my time with the Power saddle lasted 45 minutes with some tinkering, it just wasn’t going to work.  I told Chris, “No Bueno.”  He encouraged me to try again, but I just knew that I’d just be miserable and wasting my time.  Back to the Terry until I saw him again in another two weeks…stupid snow.  It would be a long two weeks.

Back to the fitter…(meeting 4, about 2 ½ months after my first visit)

Chris seemed more optimistic about the next one and eager to find out my impression of it.  I, too, was hopeful, but tentative. 

Here goes…

-Selle SMP T3: great concept, deep cutout the length of the saddle, more triangle than pear shaped, narrow through the nose with gradual widening, looks cool, but will it work?  My initial feel, “not bad.”  We dialed in the tilt and I pedaled away at the shop.  I’m not joking when I say I pedaled away.  For nearly two hours, I pedaled at a moderate effort dripping in sweat (it’s a good thing I’m an Ironman athlete, other folks may not have gotten too far).  Chris circled me like a shark, observing and listening as I rode.  He pressure mapped it.  By far, the best mapping of all the saddles we tried, but no matter what the maps show, my nether regions had the final say.  

For the 2 hour session, with a few breaks to tweak and saddle map, all was fairly comfortable, like couch comfortable.  I quietly and cautiously thought to myself, maybe this is “The One.”  Chris was kind enough to let me borrow the saddle for however long I felt I needed to try it or just out right buy it if it worked out.  He may have sensed that I wasn’t sold on this saddle and wanted me to really try it out before I plopped any money down.  He already knew I was hell bent on finding the right saddle and I’d be back at some point.  

For 3 weeks and close to 300 miles or so, I gave it a go, tweaking (saddle forward/back, up and down, millimeter by millimeter) and riding, but I could never find that “couch” feeling I had at the shop.  Each ride left me more and more discouraged as my frustration mounted.  There were few options left out on the market that might work for me. 

I emailed Chris throughout the trial period giving him feedback on the saddle.  He always openly appreciated my feedback as he wanted to help in any way possible, or I was driving him nuts with this saddle issue of mine. 

Chris and I spoke several times on the phone to discuss the saddle issue and come up with a different game plan.  He was out of ideas and I was tired to having to deal with this issue.  There had to be an answer.  I needed some time away from the bike for a few days to decompress and then start up again.  The weather was half way decent, so I spent it running instead of cycling.  Nothing better than getting outdoors to clear the mind.  Now only if it was consistently 75 and sunny...

My "before" in action photo.  The red line denotes the "spinal take off angle" referenced.

Not one to really give up easily (persistence can be a dangerous thing), my physical therapist brain started to kick in on the anatomy side of things.  What was going on and why don’t any of these saddles work for me?  At the office, I stared at my life size spine/pelvis model picturing in my head how it would sit on the saddle.  I remember watching a bunch of bike fit analysis videos critiquing the bike fits of the top PROs at Kona.  They spoke of “spinal take off angles” as it relates to pelvic tilt, see photo above.  It got me thinking…"what is my spinal take off angle?  I know I anteriorly rotate my pelvis a good deal on the saddle, but how much and how does that translate to where my pelvis is actually sitting on the saddle??"  

In aero position your ischial tuberosities (aka your sit bones) really don’t contact your saddle.  Mine certainly do not.  You actually “sit” on the pubic rami (see illustration above for anatomy lesson).  This misnomer of “sit bones” gets generically used in saddle discussions in triathlon circles (ischial tuberosities do NOT = pubic rami), so be careful what you read.   Now that we cleared up…what is the sacral angle at which you are on your ischial tuberosities and transition to your pubic rami??  How anteriorly rotated do you have to be before you are on your pubic bone itself?  I know for sure I’m perched on my pubic bone (symphysis and arch) and all the soft tissue around it.  At least that’s what I feel like I’m sitting on!  So what’s the deal as it relates to contacting my saddle?
I left my office that day with my plastic life sized model and goniometer in hand to do a few tests at home.  I asked Chris to send me pics of my fits so I could further analyze my positions.  I measured my sacral angles from all of my fit pics (pre fit, post fit day one, and post fit lower cockpit) it was around 40 degrees relative to horizontal.  I checked a few old race pics on my old race bike and the new one, both were around 40*.  Hmm…no matter the saddle to pad drop, or saddle tilt, I was still at 40*.  So what does this mean as far as what was actually contacting my saddle?? 

I set up "Bones" on the SMP T3 saddle that was still on my bike. In aero, my pelvis teetered on the pubic bone (symphysis) therefore focusing all the pressure on that small area, top photo, above.  When I found the sweet “couch” spot, the contact point closer to the nose of the saddle, my weight distributed more on the rami while the pubic bone had some relief as the nose swooped downward, bottom photo, above.  Hmmm...interesting.

The sweet spot on the Terry above the cut out.

Curiously, I moved "Bones" to the trainer bike (old race bike) which has a Terry saddle on it and found a similar result.  Interestingly, I later found the sweet spot of the Terry was towards the rear of the cutout where my rami were actually a little more supported.  I could tolerate that saddle if I rode on the saddle in this manner but I was still irritating the soft tissue to the front because the nose was in the way.  When out of aero position, my sacral angle was around 45* and I’m happily sitting on my rami with the saddle cradling my pelvis.

I shared my “findings” with Chris as he found my theory pretty interesting.  I pointed out that guys don't really have this problem since the "boys" are in this anatomical region of their bodies blocking them from really rotating as far forward as my pelvis.  Guys tend to sit more in favor of their pubic rami or their ischial tuberosities (for those with flexibility issues) in aero position.  I sent photos to Chris so he knew what I was talking about.  So with all this in mind…the one saddle that came to mind that might match my criteria to support the rami, but keep me off my “junk” so to speak was the Cobb Gen2.  Not wide, not too narrow, swooped down nose….maybe??  There was one other saddle out there that may work, but it would be an expensive experiment if it didn’t work.  A $300 saddle with no return policy.  Um…yeah…let me think about that.  I contacted the company (a US based one) and the owner basically said, no returns.  It becomes a really nice and very expensive paperweight if it doesn’t work.  I don’t have that kind of money to throw around (I am taking donations…).

For kicks, I threw my stock ISM Adamo Prologue saddle on my bike.  I did a 60 minute session on it, tweaking it as I went along.  While I get how this saddle would work for those that love this saddle, I found it a touch too soft, and it flared out way to too much from the nose back, much like the ISM Adamo Attack saddle (except the Attack was firmer).  Even hanging off the front like you’re supposed to, the width of the saddle going back hit in all the wrong places (namely the crease of my leg and groin, which was not too happy with me by the end).  Also the pressure, more like pain, on my right side down there…yeah, um… oh HELL no.  SO….back on the Terry I went.  If I was going to be uncomfortable, then please let me be on a saddle where I at least know what to expect and just tolerate it.  I informed Chris of my findings with all of this and we scheduled yet another time to meet. 

Meanwhile, just to add to my n=1 theory, I looked up a few known PROs who have had a number of fits over the years on different bikes (from more upright positioning to much more “aggressive” low positions).  I measured their sacral angles and they were practically all the same, no matter how upright or aggressive their fits.  Could this sacral angle (basically how we sit on the bike) be a self-selected position?  
I emailed back and forth with Chris for a week about this and he was taking my lead on this theory.  He kept telling me that he’s here to help in any way possible.  We both had invested an enormous amount of time and energy into figuring out my saddle issue.  Mind you, I’ve only paid him for my initial fit and all the work that has been done to the bike (cranks and cockpit install).  Chris wanted this fit right and really cared about my comfort on my bike (remember the passion and pride thing?).  In this day and age, customer service died a slow death years ago, perhaps decades.  Chris had definitely gone above and beyond for me; it was WAY more than I ever expected.  He could have easily just said “I can’t help anymore,” blew me off, and let me go on my way with a bike fit that was only partially complete.  This was HIS body of work and he wanted to reach a happy outcome.  It seemed as long as I was willing NOT to give up, he would be there to do what he could to help me.  I was grateful (more than he realizes) knowing I wasn't alone in my saddle struggles.  

In the meantime, I contacted the nice folks over at Cobb Cycling, namely the women’s specialist, Rachel.  I wanted more intel on the Gen2 and maybe the Fifty Five saddle.  I also sought validation of my findings (my “theory”).  She replied pretty quickly and gave me a ton of feedback.  She understood everything I had told her about my situation and made her recommendations to me.  I’m not sure they actually put a sacral angle number to that “point of no return” tipping on your pubic bone or happily sitting on you rami, but she knew what I was talking about. 

A shot in the dark...
FOUR months into this process (and has it been a process) I’m back again meeting with Chris for the FIFTH time.  Honestly, I didn’t think the process would be this long, I’m sure he didn’t either.  Feeling like we were beating our heads into a wall, we both had committed; Too far to turn back and we both wanted to have the best outcome.  We discussed my renewed time with the Terry.  It was more data to add to the mix of what was working and what wasn’t.  Based on my position and my observed feedback on the Terry, we decided to start with the noseless saddle first, the Cobb Fifty Five (the first saddle Rachel recommended to me).  Now, we were both trying to reserve our optimism since we haven’t had a lot of luck finding “The One.”  Time to see how the next two saddles work out…

-Cobb Fifty Five JOF: initial first contact impression…hmmm…not bad.  No abnormal pressure points, really not a lot of anything.  I didn’t think about the width of the nose or where I contacted the saddle; I was just sitting and pedaling.  The saddle seemed to disappear.  Chris, again, circled me like a hawk, studying my position and body interactions from all angles.  For a good two hours, I pedaled and gave feedback about the saddle and the position.  We really didn’t tweak much from where it was mounted from the start.  My nether regions were quite happy.  

My pelvic rotation position on the Cobb Fifty Five JOF.  Seems like it would work.

At the first sign of soft tissue discomfort (it took a while, and it wasn't in the obvious spot.  The point of discomfort was closer to the crease of my groin.), Chris wanted to pressure map it.  It mapped better than most of the other saddles we had tried.  I didn’t want to jinx it, but part of me was thinking this could be the “where have you been all my life” moment with a saddle?  Honestly, its probably the best saddle I tested.  Sitting up out of my aero bars, I was reasonably comfortable with the 135mm seat width in the back and provided enough support (even though I don’t really rotate my pelvis back far enough to contact my ischial tuberosities).  My pubic rami were supported in an upright position as I found a couple of areas on the saddle I could sit on with little issue when climbing.  Despite its width in the nose (at 55 mm, the one thing that crossed it off the list early on so it never resurfaced on the radar), I didn’t really feel it.  It was VERY different than the Adamo saddles, even though the nose widths were similar, the shapes of the saddles made them distinctive. 

Meanwhile, I brought up another bothersome bit of my fit: my left foot numbness (an ongoing issue well before this whole process began).  While I tested the saddle, Chris and I discussed what he could do to help eliminate the numbness.  I provided feedback constantly about it.  He tweaked one thing, we tried another.  I already had Superfeet inserts in my shoes, a metatarsal gel pad, and cleat wedges (Chris had put these on prior to this foot only).  While I’m not sure we eliminated the numbness (more ride time on my home trainer will be more telling) we decided on a more rearward placement of my cleats (in between the traditional and true midfoot/arch positioning).  There were a few things we discussed that I could try on my own.  I’m not quite ready to commit to custom cycling shoes at this point.  It would mean a minimum of $1k to get custom shoes….um, no (again, donations are being accepted). 

Now despite testing well and the beginnings of perhaps a lasting relationship with the Cobb Fifty Five, we tested the next saddle to completely rule it out.

-Cobb Gen 2: A more traditional saddle shape, firm, split nose with a 47 mm nose width.  Its definitely long in the nose with a longer downward sloping nose at the tip. We set it up per Cobb’s recommendation on the tilt.  First impression: hmmmm…not sure I like this.  Immediate pressure and discomfort in places I was trying to avoid.  It did not map well.  After maybe 10 minutes, I was done with this one.  No warm fuzzies.

We put the Cobb Fifty Five saddle back on the bike.  AHH…much better.  I rode a bit more, Chris adjusted the seat clamp, and did a couple more pressure maps: one at moderate/tempo pacing, and another at a higher intensity.  The pressure was next to nonexistent, the best pressure maps yet.  After riding off and on for over 2 hours, I dripped in sweat at the shop while other customers came and went, gawking at me as they walked past.  I wondered what they thought as I was riding while Chris studied and checked my mechanics and movements.  

We decided to give the Fifty Five a go and keep trying to figure out how to relieve the numbness in my left foot.  Again, Chris let me “borrow” this saddle until I ultimately decided it was a “take my money!” moment or I whimpered back to the shop completely discouraged in the search for saddle relief and give it back.  On my way out of the shop, I stated to Chris, “I like to think of this whole experience as one of those memorable lifelong learning experiences (from the professional/career thing).  I have learned more about bike fitting than I really ever wanted to know.”   However, we weren’t done.  We were both going to see this to the end or go crazy trying. 
I left with a renewed hope that just maybe, we had found “The One.”
A new hope?

Time for more testing on the Fifty Five and seeing how the foot responds to the updated cleat position. 
In my optimism and eagerness to try the saddle, I hopped on the bike the day after my session with Chris.  Bad idea.  Why?  Let’s just say the saddle time was not a pleasant experience.  The glorious couch feeling at the shop was nowhere to be found.  UGH!!!  Immediately, I flashed back to my time with the SMP saddle.  Not again.  A comfy couch at the shop, and the next time I rode (which was days later) it was torture.  I never really found the comfy couch feeling again riding the SMP and it was happening all over again with the Cobb Fifty Five.  Dammit!!!  I sucked it up for the ride, but realized the soft tissue (despite feeling totally fine after my initial test ride) had not recovered.  It was definitely sensitive and not in a good way.  I declared that I was an idiot for doing what I did, all because the weather was “too cold” for me to get my run workout done (and for me, temps in the low 40’s…is too damn COLD).  I flared up one little hot spot into a larger area of irritation and mentally, I began to question this saddle and its possibilities.  I didn’t want to confess to Chris what I had done as I wanted to give it a few more rides before reporting in. 

So, in some moment of desperation, I reached out to the folks at Cobb Cycling to help me and Chris (indirectly).  By doing so, I felt like I was cheating on him.  I wasn’t looking for validation of Chris’ work on my overall fit (I know it was mostly dialed in), I wanted COMFORT on my SADDLE!!!!!  We needed another set of eyes.  Since I was trying one of their saddles, I thought maybe they SHOULD know best in terms of how to dial the saddle in most effectively, and just maybe they could help with my foot numbness as well.  I emailed back and forth with Rachel about what was going on.  I sent them photos of my bike, my fit and eventually videos of my pedal stroke from all angles to ascertain what in the world was going on.   I waited eagerly for their feedback that perhaps we might come to some resolution. 

Meanwhile, with all back and forth with Rachel at Cobb, I emailed Chris to confess, I was cheating on him.  As I expected, as I’ve gotten to know him, in his humble ways, Chris wasn’t offended at all.  In fact, he was happy I reached out to them for help.  He wanted the best result and more than willing to have another set of eyes (especially those of an industry legend, John Cobb himself) that could help us find resolution. 
All the more reason why I really like working with Chris.  He always referred to the whole process in terms of “we” and “us” and considered it a team effort.   He knows I’m a physical therapist and, hopefully, together we could reach the desired result: COMFORT, POWER and AERO.   If we had to tap into other resources to assist us, then we'd do it.  Over the years, asking for help has been one of those things I’ve had to learn to do.  I’m of the generation that you figure it out yourself.  And if I couldn’t figure it out, then find someone who knows the answer.  And if you’re motivated (trust me, I’m motivated), then by golly I’m going to try and find the solution!  Somebody has to have the answer.  Maybe Cobb and his staff have it.  Time was now starting to work against us.  My first race was in less than 12 weeks, so we needed to find an answer sooner rather than later.
During this time, I had gotten a 2nd shorter ride in two days after my “mistake.”  It was a little bit better, but my hot spot was not happy with me and my foot was still going numb.  However, I still needed time away from the bike to let things settle down and recover more.  It definitely didn't have the couch feel from the shop.  Fortunately, the weather cooperated and I was able to get my runs in without stressing over whether I was getting my bike training in. 

Rachel asked John Cobb to look over everything and make his recommendations to dial in the saddle position but also help my foot numbness.  Per Cobb's recommendations, move saddle forward (2cm), and drop the saddle a little (5mm).  Who am I to argue with a guru in the industry who’s been pioneering stuff longer than I’ve probably been riding a bike as a kid?  He also had me flip the cleat wedges from their original orientation (varus to valgus) to help ease the left lateral foot numbness. 

I kept Chris in the loop as he was interested in what they had to suggest.  The cleat wedging recommendation left Chris a little puzzled as to why you would do this.  It was contrary to what he learned/trained to do.  Initially, I was a bit perplexed, but as my PT brain kicked in, I had a feeling it had to do with other biomechanical components up the kinetic chain (away from my forefoot and more my rearfoot).  After digging through my archives, Cobb’s method made sense, in theory, for a walking/running foot contacting the ground (there are studies that support this).  It most definitely had to do with altering other aspects of my foot mechanics to help “align” other parts of the kinetic chain.  There is more technical, anatomy jargon to explaining all of this which is more than most people want to know.  Basically the best way to describe it, by improving the mechanics of a critical part of the chain of the foot/ankle complex, it causes a shift in how one weight bears through their forefoot.  In my case, it shifts from lateral (pinky toe) to more medial (towards big toe) dispersing the pressure across my foot rather than just one spot (lateral foot).  BUT how does that translate to a foot that is locked in a shoe fixed to a pedal??  
My next ride with all of the recommendations from Cobb, sadly, did not really improve things.  In fact, it stirred up some nigglies that were dormant for years.  It got ugly.  As I later wrote to Chris, “what an f-ing disaster!”  The intolerable saddle discomfort, the random nigglies cropping back up (both anterior (TFL) hip regions and my knee from the saddle being too low, my back from the shortened cockpit and posturing to find the sweet spot squirming all over the saddle), my left foot was still going numb, and a buildup of mental frustration over the course of 90 min ended what was supposed to be a 3.5 hour ride.  I’ve never felt so uncomfortable on a bike than I did during this “ride.” 

Systematically, over the 90 minutes, I put everything back to where it was before, but the damage was done.  I begrudgingly got off the bike feeling utterly deflated, frustrated, annoyed, pissed, and disappointed all at the same time.  So much so, I was on the verge of throwing in the towel.  Overwhelmingly upset and beyond frustrated, I was literally left in tears with my emotions boiling over (and I’m not one to cry).   All this time spent trying to find a saddle only to be back at square one.  I initially emailed one word to Chris to voice what happened (it will not be repeated here, but it was a colorful 4 letter adult word, phonetically spelled without the last letter).  He replied, “That does not seem to be good...”   I gave him a brief reply to summarize how I was feeling and that I was instead washing and mini detailing my cars for therapy.  So, I wasn’t sure if he’d try and call me to find out what happened or if he’d leave me be to bond with my four wheeled babies.  Once I decompressed after the ride, I emailed Chris debriefing him of what happened.  

At this point, I’m pretty sure Chris was feeling bad for me and really didn’t know what to say or do.  Like most guys…they listen and look for solutions rather than express any emotions.  There was nothing wrong with that as somebody had to keep calm and collected through all of this.  Rather than getting sucked into my emotional saddle hunting roller coaster, he always looked at things objectively, maintaining his professional demeanor focusing on solutions despite my moments of hysteria (thanks for hanging in there with me!).

Time to regroup, wait for feedback from Cobb et al and Chris, and come up with another approach.  In the meantime, I decided the hell with it.  Time to wander out of the box a little.  I put my saddle position back up to where Chris and I set it and tilted the saddle down a little more.  Nothing about this process has fallen into the realm of the “normal”.  I know nothing about me falls into the middle of the bell curve, so why would my bike fit be any different??  I also decided to try a different pair of shorts, hoping that maybe the chamois would make a difference.  I hoped by accident I would fall into the sweet spot and balance would return to my cycling world.  Stranger things have happened in my world of unexpectedness.

Holy hell, can we get this girl some comfort on her saddle!?!? 

I can't really imagine what Chris could possibly be thinking or feeling during this process.  Well, maybe.   I have tough cases I work with clinically, so I have an idea.  I'm not sure where I'd be without his support and help with all this.  

Part 5 continues with an interesting twist... is there an end in sight?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Part 5: Unexpectedness in search of the "Holy Grail"

This is part 5 of an ongoing series on bike fits and saddles from the eyes of your in house physical therapist by day and triathlete by alter ego.

“Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”- Princess Leia, Star Wars: A New Hope

Part 4 lead you through more detailed saddle reviews and more frustrations of finding the right saddle.  Seemingly, how I sit on the saddle and my anatomy are unique and particular as to what will agree with me.  Will persistence prevail?

The continuation of the search:

Chris, as I expected, was left scratching his head as to what to do or suggest.  He admitted, “This is the hardest fit problem I have had.”  He suggested, perhaps we needed to get another fit expert, an industry legend he studied under, involved for suggestions.  I admitted to Chris I had thought about emailing him, but I wasn’t sure how receptive he would be to some random person contacting him with my issue. 

Within an hour, Chris called me.  Low and behold, he reached out to this expert…THE Dan Empfield (well, that was unexpected).  He’s an industry pioneer, founder of Quintana Roo,  the only company to be 100% dedicated to triathlon with tri specific bikes and wetsuits.  He now runs, a website/forum dedicated to triathlon.  He also pioneered the triathlon bike fitting protocol (Fit Institute Slowtwitch-F.I.S.T.) and continues to evolve it as the industry and science has changed. 
Chris told Dan of my issues, my rider history, and the low down of everything we went through in the last 4 plus months trying to find a saddle that would work.  Just based on that information, even Dan was a bit stumped.  Chris asked if he wanted to talk to me, but he said it would be better if he could get his hands on the fit.  Dan suggested that if I could make it to a fitting class he was teaching, he would use me as a test case.  The catch: the class was in Connecticut, the following week, and in the middle of my work week.  Oy.  Chris passed along this information to me as I was a bit surprised.  Dan Empfield, industry icon, was willing to incorporate me into one of his bike fit training classes to help me (definitely unexpected).  Who the hell am I?  I’m just a random, elite age grouper racing to better myself, not some professional triathlete competing for my next paycheck.  If it’s one thing I learned about bike industry folks, some are real elitist, but most, because of the passion of the sport, are just really good, easy going people.  Chris, Dan and many others I have met over the years, thankfully, fall into the latter. 
Now, generally, I tend not to be too excitable about most things.  In this case, my demeanor held true.  Part of me was still cautiously optimistic as I tempered my emotions.  Look at all that has transpired with every saddle try ending in disappointment.  Chris was more excited than I was about the opportunity just to see if Dan could figure out the final pieces of my bike fit.  Deep down, I was shocked Dan offered to help in this manner.  In the back of my mind, my initial thought, what if this is for not???  What happens if I drive 10-11 hours round trip, miss a day of work, spend maybe 2 hours with Dan and come back no further than where Chris and I left off?  Could you blame me for my pessimism?  One would think I’d be jumping around and excitedly screaming, “Holy shit! I have a chance to work with Dan Empfield!!!”  Nope.  Can’t say that was my first initial response, my emotions were muted. 

I shared my unique opportunity with a teammate.  He asked me a bunch of rhetorical questions on the matter and advised me, even if it ends up being unsuccessful, at least you will have learned a lot and learned something else about your fit that might need work.  Who am I to argue with an older, wiser friend, who’s in the sport, and is a former age group IM World Champion??  So in some ways, I needed a swift kick in the ass and he certainly provided perspective that convinced me, I NEEDED to go, not SHOULD, but NEED. 

Thinking about the prospect of the opportunity, I bounced the idea off a few more friends (non-triathlete) who thought it was a cool opportunity.  Given what I had told them of my bike saddle dilemma, they all said "GO."  Having different perspectives and the positive energy around me really helped keep the silver lining sorted out.  In my heart, I knew I should go.  I’ve always believed you should NEVER pass up unique and RARE opportunities/experiences that may better you.  Live with no regret.

Ultimately, I decided “Why not?”  To have a RARE chance to work with one of the innovators in the triathlon industry, I’d be stupid to pass this up.  I’ve spent months and countless hours working with Chris trying to get this right and we just needed the last piece of the puzzle.  We both invested A LOT of time and energy into my fit.  I mentioned to Chris that he'd been along this ride with me the whole time, granted I was the one that had to sit on my bike.  He assured me he was in this for the long haul.  It meant a lot to me that he hadn't given up.  So, in some ways, I didn’t want to let Chris down by NOT going.  I’d be foolish to squander the opportunity.  He didn’t need to do all the things he had done for me for the last four months, let alone the last two, trying to figure out the saddle issue and listening to how frustrated and annoyed I was with each passing saddle, but he did.  He reached out to Dan out of the blue.  I couldn’t let Chris down with a chance of leaving anything on the table thinking what if Dan DID have the answer and I blew it.  Somebody has the answer to my saddle issue. 
I owed it to Chris, so I rearranged a few things in my work schedule to make it happen.  Later, I informed him I would go.  He lit up with excitement for me and the opportunity to do this. He told me he would LOVE to make the drive up with me, but unfortunately, he couldn’t leave the shop during a peak time for his business.  I understand that.  He was eagerly interested in what Dan might find and come up with, but he’d have to wait for the recap of what happened.  Chris spoke to Dan first thing in the morning and arranged everything, so all I would basically have to do was show up. 
Later, I contacted Dan, as requested, and thanked him for the opportunity.  I also thanked Chris for going WAY above and beyond what I ever would have imagined with my fit and also for hanging in there, bearing with me through the whole process.  As I mentioned before, no words could/can even express my gratitude for all the efforts Chris has done to help get my fit right. 
Dan collected all the information from Chris regarding my fit, all my motion capture shots, and my fit numbers.  Dan asked me more in depth details of everything we'd tried (saddles/shoes), different things we tried with my cleats, and what I’m riding and its set up.  He wanted to know everything and get a full history to see the bigger picture.  In many ways, Dan, like Chris, was humble and modest.  Playing down his legend and complimenting Chris to the fullest “Chris is a first class fitter.  I don’t know what I can do that Chris couldn’t or didn’t do.”   Dan still willingly took on the challenge to see what he could do to help, not only me, but Chris as well.
While this was going on, Cobb et al had emailed back.  Rachel really didn’t have much to say except try another saddle in their line up (which I suspected she would suggest).  As far as the tweaks (which ended poorly), she said it would be difficult to make further suggestions without actually seeing me in the flesh.  I’ve stumped one guru (Cobb) with what I had given him remotely.  I understood where they were coming from.   It’s hard to do my job as a physical therapist without physically seeing what I am working with.  Physical therapy is probably one of the few careers you can’t outsource or delegate when you are the primary tool and brain.  Ironically, she deferred to the possibility of seeing Dan since he was doing his roadshow tour.  Too late, he already blew through town and now he’s headed to Connecticut.  And even more ironic, thanks to Chris, I have a better opportunity to be front and center with industry guru Dan to work with him on a much deeper level to sort out my saddle issue. 

Going all in…road trip!!
In the lead up to my road trip, I lurked on and stumbled upon an article posted by Dan, “For want of a saddle.”  I clicked it open and found that I seemingly inspired the subject at hand.  The first paragraph mentions a woman who is traveling 5 hours to be a guinea pig for his class.  Gee, guess who’s the guinea pig??  I had to laugh and sent the link to Chris.  Apparently, Dan was really thinking this through.  All the styles of saddles, how you’re supposed to set them up and how you’re supposed to sit on the darn things.  Some saddles are not designed in such a way that it’s blatantly obvious.  As with a lot of things, it’s all in the prep.  To see the article, click here.

More complexities.  Now that I have Dan’s mind stirring, I was hoping my trip to CT would be enlightening to my saddle and foot woes.
309 miles, 5 ½ hours up to Connecticut.  We (my supportive half and I) arrived right at the lunch break, and upon entering, were greeted by the gracious folks at Guru Academy who quickly offered food and drink.  They seemed surprised that I would drive 5 hours up from Virginia for the class only to turn around, hop back in the car and head 5 hours back home.  I had a practice to get back to and patients who needed me to help them.  This was a business trip, not a sightseeing trip.  Once I saw snow on the ground (it's April mind you), that was enough sightseeing for me. 

The facility had a no frills, industrial feel to it.  It was like an upscale man cave with fancy fit bikes, tools, organized racks and shelves of various handle bars and saddles, bikes displayed like pieces of fine art, a few tables, a couch and chairs.  It was all laid back and informal which was just the way cyclists would like it.  As the class of 10 fitters broke for lunch, a tall fella clad in jeans, a t-shirt and a flannel approached.  I knew, this was THE man.  Dan Empfield.  He introduced himself as he correctly guessed who I was.  I introduced my supportive half and he was equally, warmly welcomed.  Knowing Dan was a Cali guy, I had a feeling we’d get along just fine being a Cali girl.  I think he was also shocked I would drive up for this, but I needed answers.  He took a peek at my bike and we chatted for maybe 5-10 min as he grabbed lunch.  He said we’re welcome to come in and listen to the “working” lunch as he covered more material to his class.  We were just happy to get out of the car and walk around.    As we wandered around the facility, we chatted with the Guru folks.  One of the guys was a renowned fitter from NY who works with the Academy.  We chatted about my issues which was what brought me to CT.  He shared his initial thoughts about my fit problems, though it would be hard to really assess completely without seeing me in my current position. 

As the working lunch break came to a close, it was my turn.  My turn to be questioned, assessed, and critiqued on my fit.  It was a little weird because I felt like I was representing Chris’ body of work (because I was).  None of the other fitters knew of Chris, so if another fitter started to assert any authoritative tone about the fit, I felt protective.  They didn’t know Chris and I didn’t want them judging him based on the inability to figure out my foot issue or my saddle issue.  Thankfully, everyone was nice and respectful. 
John Cobb was a bit stumped with the little bit he tried to help with.  Would I stump another guru?  Dan again played down his legend as he, again, mentioned to me that “Chris is a very good fitter” and reiterated to me that he’s not sure he can help if Chris didn’t already try it or couldn’t do it.  He said as much in front of the class several times as we discussed my issues.  Dan knew Chris and how he fit athletes to their bikes. 
As a group, we discussed shoes, foot beds, cleats, pedal systems, and pedal spindle lengths.  These were all suggested to possibly help with the foot numbness.  One fitter suggested that maybe it was a neuroma.  I quickly discounted that idea (I don’t have the issue with anything else).  Dan got into discussion of foot beds.  His perspective on insoles was great.  Since I don’t work with cyclists and their fits on a day to day basis, it was a viewpoint that I hadn’t quite considered.  Go minimalist.  More minimalist than what a runner would need with an off the shelf orthotic.  The least amount of structure (you want some for the arch) and low volume (since it can change the fit of the shoe).  Because this is a cycling shoe, you don’t need a ton of structure since you don’t load the foot in the same manner as you would when you run.  It made sense to me.  I’ve always been of the mindset of using enough structure to support not necessarily alter (unless absolutely needed). 
For the saddle, we didn’t really get too deep into which saddles I had tried.  It was ironic since that was WHY I went up there in the first place.  Instead, Dan asked about shorts.  I told the group of the types of shorts I’ve tried and wore.  Since the majority of the group was male (one of the fitters was female), it was an interesting discussion.  Dan suggested that perhaps maybe I should wear a pair of bike shorts OVER my tri shorts for races.  He was half joking as I looked at him, like you’re kidding?  He was kinda serious but I think he knew the answer.  It was “no.”  Someone asked if I had ever tried bibs.   I said no.  They asked why.  I didn’t immediately give a reason but thought a bit more.  I don’t wear bibs because of the bathroom issue.  The guys tried to explain that it’s not that bad.  Well…you’re a guy.  Ladies practically have to disrobe just to PEE!  The one female fitter understood where I was coming from.  She continued the very lively discussion with the guys because they simply couldn’t relate.  While the bib debate went on, another fitter and Dan switched back over to my foot issue.  We talked a bit more. 

Soon it was time to be the patient.  Dan showed off my bike to the fitters and explained stuff about the geometry and the complexities of triathlon fits, while I went to change.  He loved my choice of bars for the range of adjustability.  Sweet Dan Empfield approved!  I overheard Dan telling the group that when fitting triathletes to their bikes that they needed to consider the fit from the bars back (he has written about this on his website). 

He proceeded to take measurements off my bike to enter into the Guru machine to replicate my position on my actual bike.  The aerobar set up on the machine was not quite set up to the exact position to where it was on my bike.  The bars used were limited in their adjustability and the machine maxed out.  He put a Fizik Tritone 5.5 saddle on the fit bike.  Once everything was entered and the machine was set, I hopped on the fitting machine.  I started spinning as the fitters and Dan looked on.   
We started with my seat height.  Dan started tweaking the saddle height in 5 mm increments (I believe).  I think my saddle height might have started a bit low on the machine for whatever reason, much lower than what was on my bike.  It was eye exam time…you like the 1st position or the 2nd?   Dan wanted no commentary from me.  It was yes, no, 1st or 2nd.  Ok…you got it boss.  After maybe 2 or 3 rounds of 1st or 2nd, we reached a sweet spot in my pedaling cadence.  I moved up, my cadence increased.  I felt the change in my legs.  They just felt free and natural.  The saddle moved down a little, my cadence dropped back down.  I went back up and the cadence went back up.  I said nothing, but knew what was going on.  Whispers from the fitters as they looked on, “her cadence went up.”  Dan (it might have been another fitter) pointed out that when a rider’s cadence increases like mine did, they were in their happy place.  I finally blurted out my quads didn’t feel as loaded.  We found MY body’s preferred seat height.  Dan had tried a bit higher, but no more since my knee angle would be wandering into a less efficient range.  Ultimately, the “sweet spot” just a tad lower than the last setting was where we set it. 
We moved to the front end.  The bars set on the machine were not ideal and limited my actual reach from my bike.  I maxed out the bars and the machine for testing, but it was close to how my bars on my bike were set, sort of.  Fore and aft, up and down.  Dan wanted my elbows under me a bit more, so he made the incremental changes and proceeded with 1st or 2nd.   Eventually, we got to the final cockpit position. 

During the process, I tried not to look up at what Dan was doing (the numbers), as I felt the machine move under me into the new position.  I wanted to limit any bias.  Dan reminded me, focus on the COMFORT and POWER, ignore AERO for now.  Ok.   So that was what I tried to do.  Focus on my body, how does it feel as the changes were being made.  Better, worse, the same?  If I’m comfortable and powerful, then I’ll stay in aero longer.  If all I did was focus on aero, then comfort and power may be compromised if I can’t even STAY aero to benefit.  Meanwhile, my other half and the class pulled out their phones and ipads to video my “new” position on the fitting machine (I knew my supportive half was shooting video, but I had no idea the fitters were also taking video).

On the Guru Dynamic Fitting Machine: The front end was not completely optimized due to hardware limitations, so this was not a true representation of the tweaks Dan prescribed.
Next, Dan wanted to see me on my bike.  They set my bike up on a trainer and I hopped on to show my position on the bike to the class.  Dan asked me how I felt compared to the new position.  The saddle felt a little low (granted it’s kinda always felt that way) and maybe a touch stretched.  He noticed my knee angle and said my knee angle actually looks ok on my bike.  More video was taken for comparison.  
My actual position on my bike that Chris and I agreed upon based on my feedback and Chris' watchful eye.  If you look back from my "in action before" picture, notice my head and upper body are now in a lower position and a slightly more forward position in my current fit.  The Dan prescription would only slightly tweak my current position so the changes may not by perceptible to the average person. 

The "before in action".  Note the upright posturing and my head "periscoping" rather than being in line with my torso in a downward position from the video.  Aerodynamics is about minimizing what the air can see which impedes speed.  It's like a big boxy SUV versus a slick low profile sports car.  All things being equal, the sports car is slicing through the wind with minimal disruption to the surrounding air.

Dan finally asked about the saddles.  I said oddly the Fizik was comfy and I really didn’t notice it.  The Cobb 55…just feels firm.  I told all the fitters that was the issue I’ve had with 3 other saddles, it felt great at the shop and I get the bike home and the saddle was completely different.  Dan playfully said "I guess you need to do all your training rides at the shop."  I sarcastically replied “OH, Chris will love that idea.” 

Dan asked me to sit on the Guru machine one last time to see what my foot was doing.  They noted I turn my left toe in a little more than the right but my cleat wasn’t allowing me to have the extra “float” or play in the rotation from the cleat to pedal interface.  My foot numbness problem still left the everyone with few ideas that would alleviate it.
Once all of this was said and done, Dan gave me his “prescription”: 1 cm shorter stem, increase pad stack 1 cm, raise saddle 5 mm, maybe slide the saddle forward 1 cm.  He teased me a bit saying I don’t seem to be the type that would be willing to follow his suggestions.  I looked at him and said that I look at this as a collective of suggestions that I can pick and choose from based on my needs and benefits.  He looked at me and gestured in a manner of “fair enough.”  I wouldn’t drive all this way NOT to try out his suggestions and look into all the other information that I had gathered.  Otherwise, why waste everyone's time?

All in all, there were minor changes to my bike fit. Chris was pretty
much spot on with my fit.  To be fair and credit Chris, my pad reach was initially set shorter than it was (basically in the ideal range where Dan wanted it), I moved the pads forward and stretched myself out.  In the end, Dan told me that I had a really great fit on my bike and I was just a tad too stretched (Technically, I was still within the range as far as my torso to upper arm angle and I was comfy). 

The debrief and wrap up was talking about pedals/cleat systems, and pedal spindles.  With my toe in posture on my left foot, we discussed my mechanics and proceeded to try and brain storm ways to help it which may help alleviate the foot numbness. 

Ironically, we really didn’t even talk about saddles that much.  Oddly, the Fizik Tritone 5.5 that Dan put on the Guru machine was actually comfy for the short time I was on it.  Maybe I’m on to something.  I think we can officially rule out the bike fit (my position) as the culprit of my saddle discomfort (it may have a small contribution, but not a lot if at all). 
Dan concluded his time with me as the test dummy.  I thanked him for having me and thanked the class.  He recommended stopping by Rubio’s if they have them on the east coast for some fish tacos.  I looked at Dan and shook my head.  Rubio’s ain’t out here.  That’s a Cali thing.  I told him I was from California and he lit up.  So I knew what Rubio’s was.  He asked “What part?”  "Grew up in Northern Cal, and did my undergrad at UCLA."  Dan seemed impressed.  He wanted me to keep in touch to let him know how everything turned out and what solved what.  Rest assured I’d be back in touch with Dan with the results of my trip. 

The Guru folks were awesome.  They gave us parting gifts of Guru swag and offered food and drink for the ride home.  They still thought we were crazy to drive up and immediately go home after our time there.  They, too, wanted to know the outcome of the session and asked to keep in touch to let them know what happened.  I guess everyone wanted to know if a 5 hour trip was worth it in solving my problem spots.  We’ll see.
3 hours total spent in Connecticut, 2 hours of which was me as the patient.  We loaded up the car and made our way home.  Another 309 miles and 5 hours back to where my day started.  When I left, I had a bit more optimism we were getting closer to a resolution.  I felt the trip was worthwhile.  It validated my bike fit was really good, no, not good, great (I knew the fit was good, nonetheless, there was no doubt, now).  I picked the brain of 10 other fitters, but also that of Dan Empfield.  He was like listening to an encyclopedia of everything bikes and triathlon.  He’s about a humble a guy you can meet with a laid back Cali style that I could easily relate to, it was like being back in Cali (no offense to my east coasters).  I didn’t necessarily leave with definitive answers, but I was armed with more information that could help put the final pieces together to alleviate my discomforts (I hope).  I wasn’t sure what I would get out of this trip so I had no real expectations. 

All this time, I thought to myself, Chris has gotta be chomping at the bit to hear what happened.  His ears must have been burning back in Maryland.  I sent him a vague email telling him it was very interesting and we were in the middle of NJ somewhere on the way home.  About an hour later (somewhere north of Baltimore), he tried to call but I was driving at the time.  He would have to wait.  When I got home, I drafted up an email to debrief Chris on things that were covered with minimal narrative.  He would at least have something to look forward to in the morning.  I didn’t want to wait since everything was still fresh in my mind.
We touched base by phone the next day.  I talked as he intently listened to all the info and pieces of my experience.   Chris was surprised to hear about the Fizik saddle I tried.  I was thinking about the shape and design of the saddle.  In a previous discussion with Chris about my Terry’s sweet spot from our last session, if we could just cut the nose off, it just might be the perfect saddle.  The Fizik had no nose and a fairly decent “trough” of sorts from the nose back.  My pubic bone, because of how much I rotate forward, basically sat in the trough without a nose to irritate the soft tissue.  Most of my weight would be towards the wider section of the saddle.  Chris seemed curious and perhaps it might work.  Overall, he was happy to hear that there were only little tweaks with the fit and that Dan overall complimented his work.  I think Chris started to wonder if he may have missed something, but he felt good about what Dan said about my fit; he felt validated.  I know that Chris has been insanely busy at the shop, and he was working literally nonstop (he sounded tired when I talked to him on the phone, poor guy needed a nap and a day off).  I went ahead and took the lead on the next steps in hopes of completing the fit.
Step 1: set up bike per Dan’s coordinates (moved the cradles back to the center position-moving back, added a 10mm spacer to pedestal the cradles-moving up, and saddle up 5mm)

Step 2: get custom inserts.  I was going to find a place to get the custom foot beds made for my shoes.  The one place locally I found rubbed me the wrong way when I spoke with them (really unfortunate, it was a lesson in how NOT to treat a potential customer), so I decided to go a different route.

Step 3: Ask Chris to source the Fizik saddle and the Adamo PR 2.0 saddle.  Set up time to meet again.  Source any other potential saddles prior to next session.

Will this ever end?  Is there a happily ever after?? 

But wait, there's more!  Still looking for saddle nirvana...