YOUR GUIDE TO SADDLE HAPPINESS
LET’S GET REAL for a minute: nothing can derail a race faster – or be more difficult to explain to friends and family post-race – than chafed, numb or just plain uncomfortable nether-regions. As triathletes we’re even more exposed to potential saddle pain thanks to aggressive riding positions, unforgiving courses, less padding (than most cyclists wear) and the time-trial style of riding that keeps our butt firmly planted on the saddle for hours at a time. And, as triathletes, we often began our careers as runners or swimmers, so we’re often under-informed about cyclist “issues” and have no idea who to ask about them. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can ease the pain, alleviate discomfort and make sure that our rides are as efficient as humanly possible. Here are a few tips:
1. 2. 3. 4. Choose the Right Saddle
This seems like the most obvious place to start, but so many people ride on the saddle that came with their bikes without ever realizing that it’s the wrong shape or size for their particular anatomy. When choosing a saddle, opt for one that’s sized to fit your sit-bones (most shops can measure this in under 30 seconds) so that the weight of your body isn’t resting on sensitive tissue rather than those bones. Your triathlon bike will have a different saddle than your road bike, since you’re most likely tilted forward more on the triathlon bike to get into a proper aero position.
How the nose of the saddle feels when you’re fully tilted forward is worth considering when testing saddles. Don’t be afraid to test a few before settling on the one you prefer: it takes a few rides to really understand how a saddle feels for you.
Train in Good Shorts
Triathletes race in skinsuits with a thin chamois. We can, though, still train in proper, well-fitting bike shorts. Consider investing in a pair of bib shorts for optimal comfort and fit (and no muffin top) and look for a chamois pad that feels comfortable and provides a bit of padding and has an antimicrobial coating. For a triathlete, consider your position when trying a chamois on: you’re going to want one with more padding towards the front since, again, you’re tilted forward more than a typical roadie. In addition to a good chamois, adding chamois cream for long rides can go a long way towards fighting friction.
Acknowledge Problems Early
The worst thing a cyclist or triathlete can do is ignore small, nagging problems and allow them to grow and get progressively worse. So, if you do have a small spot that chafes every ride over two hours, you get numb when you’re riding at threshold pace or you get a saddle sore on long rides, don’t wait for the issue to become a constant problem. Address it now by changing your saddle, shorts, bike fit or riding style.
Drop Your Shorts
When you finish a ride, the best thing to do for yourself is to get your shorts off. Do this before you check email, answer a text, update Strava, eat a snack or drink a protein shake. Taking your sweaty shorts off will save you from the “petri dish effect” that’s happening. Hop in the shower or at least use a baby wipe to clean up as soon as possible – especially after a triathlon where you’ve swum in open water with any number of bacteria, then cycled for miles while creating microtears in your skin from saddle-to- chamois friction, then further exacerbated the situation by running and possibly adding some chafing to the mix.
5. 6. Adjust and Experiment
A proper fitting bike cures almost all pain, but just because a bike fitter assessed you a few years ago doesn’t mean you’re good to go. Something as simple as taking a yoga class or even just putting in more hours on the bike can completely change the way you’re riding. If you are having recurring problems, consider tweaking your fit yourself, playing with saddle height and the fore and aft position. The worst thing that could happen is that you have to reset it to where it was and start over, yet so many people are scared to make changes on their own. If the idea of messing with your fit gives you shivers, consider taking it back to your original fitter for a quick tune-up where he or she can re-assess your fit and make small adjustments.
The easiest advice to cure most of your saddle problems is to simply stand up in the saddle more. Triathletes we tend to stay in one spot for our entire race, pressed down on the nose of the saddle. But you can alleviate numbness and chafing – and most saddle sores – by taking a few standing pedal strokes every few minutes, allowing some airflow to hit your nether regions, getting your blood flowing back into your undercarriage and re-adjusting your bits and pieces just enough so that the same square centimetre of soft tissue isn’t handling all of the pressure for the entire ride. Even if you aren’t having saddle problems now, this is a good habit to start to avoid them in the future.
Have a specific problem or question? In Molly Hurford’s book: Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy, every topic from pregnancy to menopause to male-specific issues is discussed, plus tons more on saddle and chamois choice, hygiene and dealing with dozens of skin problems. Buy the book at Saddlesorebook.com and on Amazon ( amzn.to/2em85a0).
HELEN BOBIWASH WASN’T sure the bald eagle feather in her luggage would make it past Australia’s notoriously scrupulous customs agents, but it did. So, when she was introduced as the flag bearer for Canada’s five-person national team at the ITU Cross Triathlon Worlds in the Snowy Mountains last November, that precious white plume was in her hand as she hoisted the Maple Leaf.
“It was important to carry the eagle feather, to recognize my Aboriginal roots and to acknowledge that Canada was built upon the welcoming efforts of Aboriginal people,” Bobiwash said.
It was a proud moment for the 48-year- old Anishinabe woman from Sudbury, Ont., who had spent the last year wondering if she could – or should – take the spot she’d qualified for at the 2015 Mine over Matter race in Milton, Ont.
“Part of me was scared I’d be exposed to criticism for participating at worlds when I don’t expect to come in first,” she told Triathlon Canada’s age group team’s manager, Tenille Hoogland, when Hoogland asked her if she’d consider being the flag bearer. But her friends and family persuaded her to go for it.
“Ultimately, I feel like I represent the ‘ typical’ age grouper who does what they can in the sport while balancing the responsibilities of life,” she said. But there is nothing typical about Bobiwash. She got into triathlon a decade ago, at a difficult juncture in her life. Her mother had just died after a long decline from the complications of diabetes. Her marriage had ended a year earlier and she was exhausted by the task of raising her only child on her own.
Born premature, two-year- old Mzhiikenh needed frequent medical attention and Bobiwash, an accountant, had recently moved back to Sudbury from a small town more than an hour’s drive away to avoid the long weekly treks to the doctor.
Bobiwash had her own health issues, too. She was overweight, at high risk of developing diabetes and was waiting for meniscus surgery – the result of smashing her knees into the dashboard in a car accident two days after Christmas in 2006.
The YMCA in Sudbury became a lifeline, Bobiwash says.
“They had childcare, so I could go for a swim or I could work on the weights and know my son was being taken care of.”
son will look after yours,’” Bobiwash recalls. “So people in the community made it possible for me to continue with my training and, eventually, to participate in events.”
Her coach, 2015 Ultraman world champion Mike Coughlin, says Bobiwash gave as much as she got from Sudbury’s multisport community, stepping up to organize local events and inspiring others with her spirit and perseverance.
Now based out of Guelph, Ont., Coughlin followed Bobiwash’s progress on Skype and helped her design a training program.
By 2014, she had a couple of 70.3 races under her belt, including Muskoka. But she found the training a grind.
“I’d be on my bike for three hours and nobody would want to come and join me,” she said. “I kind of lost the social aspect that I enjoyed.”
Then, in 2015, she did her first Xterra race, in Milton. She laughs at her audacity: She loved trail running, but she had no mountain biking skills. Still, she thought, “Why not try it?”
She was terrified she’d injure herself on the bike course and, when she didn’t, she was ecstatic. At one point on the ride, a deer jumped across the trail, just metres in front of her.
“It just lifted my spirits to a whole other level,” she said. “Then I hit the run.”
She recalls listening to the birds and watching chipmunks along the trail – then wiping out. She finished the race with a throbbing hand, finding out only hours later that she’d fractured it.
“But I’d had the best time of my life,” she said, vowing to do another cross triathlon. Simply by finishing the Milton event, she’d qualified for the 2016 Worlds. “There aren’t a lot of older women in cross tri,” she quipped.
After figuring out how much money she’d have to save up to get to Australia, she decided to go for it, aiming to be in the best shape of her life. Then, in October 2015, while mountain biking with a friend, she tore her right Achilles tendon. She was in excruciating pain, and deep in the bush. The only way out was to pedal one-legged, her right leg dangling behind her. Laughing out loud at the sight of herself, she thanked Coughlin, her trainer.
“We can finally tell coach that all those single-leg drills came in handy,” she told her friend.
Twelve weeks in a boot left her precious little time to prepare for the 2016 racing season and indeed, her right leg was still not 100 per cent when she made it to Australia’s Snowy Mountains in November. She knew finishing the race within the five-hour limit would be a challenge.
A fall 12 km into the bike course when her handlebar clipped a metal pole left her scraped and limping on the trail run, reduced to walking by the 2-km mark. With two laps of the three-lap course to go, an official pulled her off the course to get medical attention.
“I cried,” she recalls. “I knew after I fell that my race was over, but it was still disappointing when I was faced with the reality.”
Despite that, Bobiwash is grinning in every photo. And, two days after the race, she had healed up enough to participate in the relay event with her fellow Canadians, Brooke Darlington, Nathan Stewart, Alexandre Boyer and Chuck Fortier.
Bobiwash’s son, 12-year- old Mzhiikenh, was with her, rooting for her every step of the way. Simply exposing him to a healthy, active lifestyle makes her feel she is doing the best job that she can as a mother, she says, and that the world is his oyster.