So I decided it would be a good idea to replace one of my week's 6-mile runs with something with less impact.
Although I do most of my training on trails, they have been almost as hard as tarmac throughout the summer, and for the fist time ever I've been getting the odd twinge in my knees.
The challenge was that I'm no Michael Phelps, so I won't be going anywhere near a pool. A nicely cushioned treadmill? I hate the damn things. So I thought I might as well dig out my bike and hit the roads...but, wait, that's out too. I started life as a bike-rider and I have to stay away from it otherwise the next thing you know I have a new set of streamlined clothes, shoes, pedals and a new bike and I'm fantasising about riding the Tour de France aged 60. Obsession that way lies. Most of the other things I considered -- from in-line skating to mad push scootering -- are all on Ric's banned list: activities that no runner should do for fear of serious injury.
That's where triathletes come in. These guys! High-tech and early-adopters. And one of the things there's a big buzz about in the triathlon world is PowerCranks.
PowerCranks appeal to the gadget geek and sports scientist in me :)
Simply put, they are cranks that you attach to your bike - but they are independent cranks. That's right, when you push down on one pedal the other pedal does NOT come up -- you have to actively lift it.
Pro cyclists such as Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso and American Tour de France hero and Beijing Olympian George Hincapie have adopted PowerCranks for training; the reason being that it is not only the fastest way to get that smooth and powerful elite rhythm, but that PowerCranking forces you to use the hamstrings and hip flexors more effectively -- and they strengthen. The results are documented increases (eventually) in power and VO2 max.
So what's a pair of bicycle cranks got to do with running? Just this. What I spotted was that loads of the triathletes who had used PowerCranks to improve their riding were also reporting alarming improvements in their running. 10k times were falling; form and gait were smoothing out.
The people at PowerCranks don't have many runners doing this type of cross-training yet, but those they do are impressed. Likewise, I was impressed by the rationale behind them, and also by the testimonial and video of masters sprinter and coach Aaron Thigpen, who says on the site, "4 months after starting with the PowerCranks I set a new age group record for 38-year-olds for the 100m dash, running it in 10.34. This time was 0.2 seconds faster than the record that had stood for 23 years."
You'll notice words like "eventually" and "4 months" in there. This is not just because PowerCranks are no quick fix, but also because they are such hard work when you first start to use them that they have reportedly humbled many an elite cyclist who has been tempted to show off at an expo. So forget jumping in and doing an hour on 'em; it's more like 30 seconds to start with!
After doing my due diligence, I asked the guys at PowerCranks if they'd give me a set to test. They agreed, so I'm now hunting for a Lemond Revmaster to fit them to, and I'll be cranking it up in the garage any day now.
It's an experiment that could end in tears (as in eyes and as in muscles), or it could be a solution with a built in bonus for my impact-lessening project. Watch this space -- and meanwhile this video of a runner talking about how PCs worked for him.