iBike update

Stem Mounted Ibike
The wired handlebar mount for my iBike cycle computer died this summer, and I’m quite impressed with myself. Unusually I didn’t panic (too much) about being unable to collect data, and I didn’t run out and drop £800 that I didn’t have on an upgrade to a Powertap. I was helped a little by the promises of other major manufacturers to release new power meters in the autumn, which, when they finally appeared, failed to set new price points. So I paid £85 including the exchange rate and postage from the USA to replace my knackered wired mount with a shiny new wireless stem mount.
The iBike stem mount is a little expensive because the Ant+ hardware is here, in the mount, rather than in the computer. The downside of this is that to put multiple wireless mounts on multiple bikes it’ll cost you a fair few quid. The next generation iBike IV will have the Ant+ hardware built into it, I think, and is due out sometime in 2012.
Moving my iBike to the stem has helped a few things. The wind port is in a better place, and isn’t affected by the position of my hands. The iBike doesn’t think I have a tailwind every time I go uphill any more. Road vibration on really rough surfaces seems to be less of a problem now. Being closer to the head tube, that makes sense. With Ant+ connectivity the iBike picked up the Garmin speed and cadence sensor that I already had on the back of my training bike, and my heart rate sensor’s chest belt. Now the computer displays heart rate and cadence, and zeros my wattage when it sees that I’m not pedalling. The iBike already does that when normally calculating your power output, but when you dip into a super aero position flying downhill the huge effects of gravity and the change to your co-efficient of resistance with respect to aerodynamics spikes the calculated power output. This helps a little here, but it’s not perfect (keep pedalling and the displayed power output is still wrong).
When I open up my ride data in the iBike 6 software cadence and HR data is displayed, so I no longer need to import and combine my Garmin data from the same ride, which saves me time. (The ability to import ride data from other devices into the iBike ride file is a very powerful feature).
The new v6.0 software feature of comparing your ride data to your calibration file is helpful in giving the user confidence in the data, and to show that the iBike’s working reasonably well.
So fixing my iBike wasn’t just a repair bill, it was a little upgrade.

Week 107 – kidneys, nearby viscera and the nervous system

Posterior Abdominal Wall
On Monday we spent the morning looking at the kidneys and suprarenal (or adrenal) glands. You saw their anatomy and histology in other stations, but with me we had a quick look at the anterior visceral relationships of each kidney, and then talked about the overall scheme and structure of the nervous system.
The kidneys lie between the peritoneum of the abdomen, and the musculature of the posterior abdominal wall. They are surrounded by fat and fascia, but the point I want to make here is that they are retroperitoneal. Some of the gastrointestinal tract and other abdominal organs are also retroperitoneal.
The right kidney is a little lower than the left kidney. The liver takes up a big space on the right hand side of the abdomen. The left kidney has the left suprarenal gland sat upon its superior pole, and the spleen lies a little laterally to this. Part of the stomach is also anterior to the superior pole of the left kidney. Anterior to the upper middle part of the left kidney lies the tail of the pancreas. This is also retroperitoneal. The left colic flexure (also known as the splenic flexure, because the spleen is here) of the large bowel lies anterior to the left kidney, along with loops of small bowel (jejunum).
The right kidney also has a suprarenal gland upon its superior pole, and the liver is here too. The descending duodenum runs along the medial part of the anterior surface of the right kidney, and is also retroperitoneal. Inferiorly the right colic flexure (or hepatic flexure) and loops of small bowel lie anterior to the kidney too.
We built this up using the plastic torso models, and you might want to do this again yourself. Try to imagine where the peritoneum covers the posterior abdominal wall, and where it reflects up to surround abdominal structures.
The nervous system.
At this stage (week 7) it is useful to have an overview of the anatomy of the nervous system. You’ve been hearing and using lots of terms for various parts in recent weeks, so let’s tie it all together to see if you have developed a good feel for the system.
We can divide the nervous system into two parts: somatic and visceral. The word “somatic” is derived from the Greek word, “soma“, meaning “the body”. It refers to the frame of the body, rather than to the organs. So the somatic part of the nervous system refers to the parts of the body under voluntary control, largely skeletal muscles. When I described this I tried to get you thinking in motor terms only, for simplicity, but the somatic part of the nervous system includes neurones involved in the sensory input that keeps the body in touch with its surroundings, i.e. external sensory input from the skin, sight and sound.
So the visceral part of the nervous system must drive and receive sensory information from everything else. Smooth muscle and cardiac muscle are innervated by nerves of the visceral nervous system, as are the organs (the viscera), and sensory (afferent) fibres conveying noxious stimuli (pain) and other sensory information back to the central nervous system. You might want to call these visceral sensory neurones, “general visceral afferent fibres”. This is all under unconscious, or involuntary control, so this part of the nervous system is more often referred to as the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is further divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Jumping back a bit, we can also divide the nervous system into the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (nerves coming out of or going back into the central nervous system). The somatic and visceral parts of the nervous system are generally regarded as sub-divisions of the peripheral nervous system, but when you look at the brain and spinal cord anatomically next year you will see that this view is not always as clear cut as you might like it to be. We’ll save that for later though. It’s good fun.
Back to the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic part of the nervous system is often described as triggering the “fight or flight response”. If a terrifying cardiothoracic surgeon pounces on you with questions about a coronary angiogram that you struggle to understand, your body may respond by reducing blood flow to organs that aren’t useful right now, diverting blood flow to skeletal muscles and releasing glucose into the blood from stored glycogen, preparing you to strike the surgeon (probably not the best option) or flee. This is the sympathetic nervous system acting. Interestingly, as you looked at the suprarenal glands this week, the medulla of this gland contains chromaffin cells that are hard wired directly to sympathetic neurones. These neurones instruct the chromaffin cells to release adrenaline into the bloodstream, triggering body-wide fight or flight responses. Sympathetic neurones are found all over the body, as they drive vasoconstriction, including blood vessels of the skin.
The parasympathetic part of the nervous system is often mentioned as being involved with “rest and digest” functions. Sometimes the parasympathetic and sympathetic parts of the nervous system work in opposition, but often they have somewhat separate functions. Bear this in mind when you are trying to understand their effects on structures and systems in different parts of the body. Parasympathetic neurones will increase mucosal gland and salivary gland activity, increase intestinal activity, for example, but it will also slow the heart rate, whereas the sympathetic nervous system increases the heart rate.
We talked a bit about the anatomy of the autonomic nervous system. We looked at how the sympathetic nerves leave the spinal cord and pass to the sympathetic trunk, two chains of ganglia (ganglion = collection of nerve cell bodies) running on either side of the vertebral column from the pelvis to the neck. The trick here is that sympathetic nerves only leave the spinal cord from levels T1 to L2, but once in the sympathetic trunk they can ascend or descend a little way before leaving to reach other parts of the body. Before they leave the sympathetic trunk most neurones will synapse with another neurone in a ganglion. So we call the fibres going into the sympathetic trunk “preganglionic sympathetic neurones”, and those leaving (a second neurone that has synapsed with the first and received the action potential) “postganglionic sympathetic neurones”.
Sympathetic Trunk
If sympathetic nerves leave the spinal cord in the middle (thoracic and upper lumbar segments), then parasympathetic nerves leave the central nervous system at either end; that is, some cranial nerves coming out of the brain contain parasympathetic neurones, and spinal nerves of the sacral plexus contain parasympathetic neurones that enter the pelvis. You’ve seen how parasympathetic innervation gets into the thorax and most of the abdomen: the vagus nerve (cranial nerve X) descends in the neck and runs through both the thorax and the abdomen.
If a (nerve) ganglion is collection of nerve cell bodies (synapsing with incoming axons of other neurones) what is a nerve plexus? A plexus is a collection of nerve fibres running together, crossing over, changing direction, and maybe forming new, larger nerves. There are no synapses here. There’s no informational exchange between nerve fibres in a plexus. Think of it more as a collection of cables that are being organised with cable tidies (thanks for that idea, year 1).
On the abdominal aorta we find both ganglia and plexuses. Near the branch of the coeliac trunk from the aorta we find a couple of masses called the coeliac ganglia, and a meshwork of autonomic nerve fibres running away with the major arteries to pass to the viscera of the abdomen. Going back to the kidney, we might say that the kidney receives autonomic nerve fibres from the aorticrenal plexus (see the parts of the name in there). Sympathetic neurones are vasomotor to the afferent and efferent arterioles within the kidney, but it’s unclear what role parasympathetic innervation may play here. Regulation of kidney function is predominantly influenced by hormones.
When we look at the abdomen again in future sessions, and when we cover the embryology of the endocrine system, you will start to add to these ideas of autonomic innervation. Hopefully with time you’ll build up a picture of the wiring of the gastrointestinal system and related organs.


I think my right Achilles (calcaneal) tendon has been sore pretty much since I started running again a few years ago. Well, probably after a while of building up my mileage anyway. It’s nothing too nasty, and often only presents as a scratchy sensation a few cm above the tendon’s insertion into the calcaneal bone, and stiffness in the morning when I get out of bed and walk downstairs. For most of the year I’m training fairly hard, and most of me is so stiff that this feels normal. Do most runners have these Achilles tendon niggles or is it just me?
Probably the most important thing is that it doesn’t get any worse. Secondly, I rarely get any significant pain there. If I do get a sharp pain it feels like I have some adhesion within the tissue, and after the short burst of pain the whole thing softens up and feels great. That’s quite different to the type of short, sharp pain that is followed by more debilitating pain and a refusal of the calf muscles to plantarflex the foot.
I stretch my calves and plantar fascia to limit the tension on the tendon, and more recently have used eccentric exercises (stand on your toes on one leg and lower slowly over the edge of a step, raise again using the other leg to assist, repeat for 10-15 reps and 2-3 sets) to good effect. This was recommended to me by orthopaedic colleagues, and the tendons usually feel much better after the first set alone. This is an exercise that actually gets easier, rather than harder.
After running the tendon is a little tender to poke and squeeze, but feels much happier after icing. It doesn’t like being rubbed against the back of a shoe, which is common. Supportive running shoes are bad for this.
It is very likely that the cause of my Achilles tendon niggles are in my pelvis, or at the very least, are linked to it. The hip flexors of my right hip are tight, as is my quadratus lumborum muscle on that side. This year my gluteus muscles have been tight after running too. My left hip’s abductor muscles are weak, relative to the other side. He-who-looks-after-my-legs has been insightful here, working out where the weak (or tight) links in the (posterior) chain are. So this year I’ve been stretching the muscles of my left hip, and strengthening them in the gym. With the other calf problems I’ve had this year it has been difficult to notice whether this has helped or not, but in preparation for next season this is an area I’m focussing on.
After Bala I quit stretching along with everything else. I’ve only been doing a little running: 3 times a week, 15-25 minutes for fun. Nonetheless my left Achilles tendon started to develop pain low in the posterior heel very near its insertion into the bone. Restarting my stretching and eccentric exercises has helped this tendon return almost to normal. I ran yesterday with no pain or other indicators of soreness on my left side. It’s a little tender to prod, and was stiff this morning but it has definitely improved. N=1.
An observation here would be to tread carefully around the recent trend towards avoiding static stretching. There are good studies that show no change in incidence in injury between two groups of people (e.g. soldiers in boot camp) that stretch or don’t stretch. There is also evidence that faster runners have tighter muscles. Static stretching will reduce the maximum force generation capability of a muscle for a period of time, so it’s probably not a good thing to do before a race or a round of golf (warming up and mild range of movement motions are probably a good idea though). But in many cases stretching of muscles as part of a daily or weekly routine will still help you in preventing and recovering from certain injuries. It may or may not make you run or bike faster. If you are hips were more flexible how would that affect your aero position comfort and power output, and more importantly, your average race velocity?
The trick, as usual is to know yourself. Is your left side tighter than your right, or are you well balanced? You are developing a new pain that may become an injury – why? Is there something you can stretch to help prevent this? Or strengthen? What is the/your normal range of flexibility for that joint? A good physiotherapist or sports therapist can be invaluable in helping you work out what is going on. Stretching is still a useful part of your training regimen.
A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury.
Small K, Mc Naughton L, Matthews M.
Res Sports Med. 2008;16(3):213-31.
Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise.
Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD004577.
Peak Performance Online, Achilles Tendon: muscle structure and injury rehabilitation.
Peak Performance Online, Running Economy: increased joint flexibility may damage your distance running performance.
Running Warehouse, Run like a Kenyan.

A Partnership with Sunwise

I used to run to and from work alongside the river Taff when I was living in Cardiff. When I switched to cycling my optician noticed changes to my eyes and recommended that I start wearing glasses to protect them from dust, insects and drying. Sure, I used to wear glasses all the time when training, but I hadn’t bothered just for my daily commute.
I had a look around for suitable glasses that wouldn’t fog up (lots of rain in Wales), had different coloured lenses for different light conditions, and that looked pretty good and weren’t daftly expensive. I tried a couple of brands but they weren’t great. I tripped over a pair of Sunwise Twisters in a sale online, and ended up using them everyday for years.
Running with Sunwise
I use my Twisters for running, cycling, racing (triathlon), driving and anything else. I’ve replaced the original lenses (reflective dark, brown, and yellow) with new ones, bought others (clear for night riding), and replaced the ear socks and the nose bits. I must be very attached to them. They’re great for racing. Before the race you can always pick the right lens colour for the conditions. I’ve ripped them off my head with my helmet in transition and had to pick the bits up after the race. The bits always go back together, and scratched lenses are cheap to replace (but they’re usually fine). There’s no stress here.
So Sunwise were in the first group of companies I approached to ask for sponsorship for my 2012 race season. I already wear their glasses (I had 3 pairs) and recommend them to all that ask. Sunwise is a British company, something that I feel is particularly important to support right now. Happily they agreed, and Sunwise will provide me with sunglasses for training and racing for the next season. Good, eh?
So I get to try out lots of new Sunwise sunglasses, which you’ll get to see & hear about. I’m loving the light reactive, polarised chromafusion lenses, something I haven’t tried before. Cracking contrast. Some glasses make the world look better.
Sunwise orange
Go and visit the Sunwise website and see what they do.


I’m well into the R&R part of my year, training-wise (not work-wise: still no sign of a break from that yet). I’ve had 4 weeks off training since Bala, with a teensy, weensy 10k race with 3999 other people 2 weeks ago, but I’m really not feeling very fresh. I’m doing a little running every other day, cycling to work and back, and having the odd 20 minute splash in the pool, but that’s it. I’m still tired, heavy (ok, 3.5kg of doughnuts & Coca Cola around my waist since Bala) and a bit stiff. Why do I not feel fresher than this?

I’ve had a bit of a bug, which didn’t help, and the running is still making my hips and hamstrings tight and annoying my Achilles tendons. I guess stopping daily stretching hasn’t helped, so I picked that up again last week and it’s helping. I can’t get anywhere near touching my toes right now.

My back’s in poor shape, and he-who-looks-after-my-legs has been pummelling and cracking it back into place so the anatomy looks a little more like it does in the textbooks. The last session was probably more painful than any massage I’ve had this year, or maybe the pain tolerance part of my brain is also out of shape. When he said he couldn’t get the rib to pop back into place after some hefty loading I thought he was going to go and find a bigger bloke to lean on it. I’ve got another session on Wednesday now that he’s loosened off some of my thoracic muscles and vertebrae to try and get the rib moving properly again. Oh joy. He’s doing a good job though – this week I’ve been able to breathe deeply without pain.

So the off season isn’t just the time of year to recuperate and fix all the things that are failing on your bikes and other equipment. It’s the time of year to fix the parts of your body that have begun to fail too.

Autumn fixes: ibike upgrade

iBike power meter
Since the speed sensor for my iBike power meter died late in the summer I’ve been keeping one eye on eBay for second hand power meters and the other on the upcoming slew of next generation PMs. Garmin announced their pedal based Vector power meter, but at a price much higher than expected. Powertap announced new wheel sets at much reduced prices, and information about Polar and Look’s upcoming pedal based power metering system has been slowly trickling out. Cycleops have the only proven hardware in this range of stuff vaguely in reach of my budget, but I have no doubt that the new pedal systems will work well, although it may take a bit of customer feedback and some firmware iterations.
Unfortunately my budget isn’t going to stretch to a new power meter system and new Ant+ computer. It’s daft to consider spending several hundred pounds (yes, even on second hand bits) on something like this in the current financial climate, so I’m going back to the iBike. I’ll get a new wireless stem mount shipped over from the US, which will not only solve the fault but will also give me Ant+ connectivity, so I can measure power on the turbo, I can collect and view HR data live on the iBike, and I can use my existing Garmin speed and cadence sensor. It should also fix the airflow problem when I ride with my hands on the tops – with the handlebar mount and gloves on the airflow to the wind speed sensor is affected, and the measured wind speed would drop. It would typically show an erroneous tailwind when I climbed hills. I doubt I’m going to fit it to my race bike, partly as I like to keep racing stripped down and simple, but mostly because I don’t think the damned thing will fit anywhere. It’s too big to twist onto the stem.
Most of my training for the first three blocks will be aerobic stuff at zone 2, which the iBike is great at. At this time of year when the wind sensor has chilled down to air temperatures it’s not going to be warming up again and giving screwy data. I notice that the recently announced generation IV iBike will have a brand new wind sensor – one that isn’t as susceptible to temperature. That’s great, and would part solve one of my mayor gripes.
That’s another reason for going back to the iBike: Velocomp are still pushing forward hard with software and hardware development. I thought that with their release of software and hardware for the iPhone platform they would drop the old style, single power meter unit, but they’ve just released version 6 of the iBike software and announced the new gen IV hardware. That shows that they still have a lot of faith in their product, despite the battering it takes from direct force power metering zealots (they do make some good points though).
The iBike software has to be good to repair problems caused during some rides by the number of very sensitive sensors used to collect data. The new version of the software looks like it makes another step forward in this, and in calibrating the iBike to the rider as confidently as possible in the first place. By fixing more variables, it should give more confidence in comparing test data between sessions, periods and seasons.
I doubt I’ll be able to upgrade to the fourth version of the hardware, but I think I’ll give the iBike a go for at least another season. And that’s because of its main advantage: its cost. Without Velocomp and iBike I wouldn’t be able to afford to train with power data at all.
92 hours on 2nd iBike power meter

Swansea Bay 10k

Last weekend I ran the Swansea Bay 10k for the first time. I’ve lived here for, er, 6 years or so, and watched my brother run it but I’ve never entered myself. After Sunday’s run I reckon it’s cracking to be able to run with 4000 other people by the sea, on a sunny day, just down the road from where you live, and with an international field able to run sub 30mins (and probably sub 29mins given the warm weather of Sunday). See what others can achieve, and see how far your limits are from your perceptions.

It was a lesson in physiology. A long warm up with some short race pace segments softened up my tendons (& what is probably a little bit of bursitis in my left heel) and my legs felt ok. From the start they felt okish, not awesome, but they moved nicely. I’m in my off season now & running for fun, so I’ve put a couple of kg on over the last 2 weeks (mostly in biscuits and cake). I’m a wee bit heavy and somewhat undertrained. Part of running this 10k was to see the effects of this.

The first km felt good, but the next few were a smidgeon slower than hoped. I paced by perceived effort, and had overestimated my run fitness a touch. Always hopeful. I had to push a little harder to keep pace to the turn at 5km, and that was expected, but from the turn my heart rate jumped. I soon got above 190bpm and held that all the way to the finish (at 195bpm). I didn’t know my heart rate could still go that high! I hadn’t had it that high for that long in probably 20 years.

My legs didn’t feel terrible from 5km but I was struggling to breathe fast enough & hard enough. Soon after my legs and body began to feel bloody awful, my pace dropped & I just kept pushing as best I could.

The tailwind was probably around 10-15mph, and about the same speed as us. We’d lost the cooling effects of the breeze and the cooling effects of running through the air (it was moving with us). Unusually for Swansea not only was it not raining but the sun had come out too. Crikey, I haven’t prepared for this! Gareth pointed out afterwards that we should have grabbed water at the turnaround and soaked ourselves regularly on the way back. That’s a good point, & worth trying in the future (maybe at Eilat if I get there).

I finished in a disappointing 36:59 (not a 37 though!) but I’ve learnt something from it, so it was a good race. I’ll have to wait until next year to drop my PB, so let’s see if I can be a bit more sensible this winter & keep myself & my running healthy.