Monday, May 30, 2011

Knee recovery

It's been a while since 100km felt like such a great achievement, but the endorphin reward was no less for it! We managed a full 100k loop yesterday afternoon, out over the North Downs, and felt much better than I did doing a half-lap of Richmond Park as recently as Wednesday. My weekly Physio sessions had been progressing well enough, but Friday was something of a watershed; I'd been a bit disappointed by how, despite the noticeable improvement in patella tracking (less "clunking"), I was still not comfortable riding and so had't done as much as I'd hoped in the previous week. My physio however is now more fixated by the looming PBP qualifiers than I am -- I think the prospect of 600km ride is more daunting to her than me! -- but she did instill in me an appreciation of the need to build up some miles in the legs before diving in with my next big ride.

My two concerns going out for anything longer than my usual commute were that the knee discomfort would increase with distance to become distinct pain - and doing unknown damage, and that I would be frustrated in any goal to put out greater power output through a reward of more knee pain. Indeed this is what I'd found on the way to Wales a full month ago when the problem started, and which had been putting me off ever since: the further and harder I pedalled, the worse it got.

A small revelation had come on Saturday, when we'd made a short trip out to the pub for a friend's birthday. On the ride back home - slightly affected by the celebration beverages - I was more relaxed in position and less gingerly with the power, and I found that my knee was none the worse for it. Over the last fortnight I'd been spending much of my concentration on the relative position of knee and foot - as instructed by the physio - but not so much time considering the exact balance of muscle in use when putting out higher power. So on our longer ride yesterday I set out to thinking foremost about using my quads to the max, and about leg alignment as a secondary goal, and this appears to have made all the difference.
If at any point I found the twinge coming back to my knee, rather than ease back on the forces going through my knee I instead consciously pushed harder on the top of the pedal stroke, using my quads to their full, and the edge of pain would reliably recede. What a glorious discovery!

Certainly it is only though the physiotherapy that I've built up the correct balance in my quads, and can now at will choose to use the VMO to greater effect, that this surprise remedy of pushing harder to reduce pain is now available. What I believe is happening is whilst no longer clunking, when relatively relaxed the patella is still not tracking quite true, however when I squeeze on the VMO it pulls it fully into the channel in which it should move and run more freely. This led to a rather unusual situation that contrary to all received wisdom on the subject of knee care, we increasingly sought to push the biggest gear we could on flats and climbs; to give sufficient resistance to push against; rather than spinning in low gears.

Now I'll just have to see how this theory works on a longer ride.