By Christopher Cudworth
Cyclists know there is no more important component on the bike than the bike chain. Along with the crankset it is the primary device that propels you. A rusted chain slows you down. A busted chain equals no progress.
I’m here to argue that the human back is equivalent to the bike chain. Sure, your legs do the actual running, but they are somewhat more equivalent to the wheels of the bike. They make contact with the ground. But your spine is what lets you stand up, connects the head to the legs, and thus operates like a metaphysical bike chain. Or is it the other way around?
Just above your legs, after all, is your spine. Which if you think about it looks a bit similar in construction to a bike chain. All those vertebrae interlocked in a single “chain.” In fact it’s the most important set of bones in your body. Without the spine you are an amoeba. And we all know that a set of sensitive fibers runs down the spine to carry signals all over the rest of the body. It’s called the nervous system. One giant chain reaction within our bodies. And it’s pretty important.
If you don’t believe the human body and especially the spine is a bit like a bike chain, check out these bike chain sculptures by Young-Deok Seo
The Chain Principle
Your bike chain and your back may not work exactly alike. For one thing, your vertebrae don’t rotate up and down your body like a bike chain. But wouldn’t that be cool? You could add lube to your back and replace links or even the whole spine if you needed. And here’s a hint: you need to do upkeep on your spine and back just like you need to keep an eye out for wear on your bike chain.
For a few weeks earlier this summer I was doing core work and strength work and everything started to come together not only on the bike, but in running as well. Strength is your best friend in either endeavor. One can only imagine how valuable back strength is to a swimmer. Keeping the muscles around your spine and lower back in shape can make all the difference in the world to an athlete. Just ask any chiropractor.
But for me recently things got busy and the strength work fell by the wayside for a week or two. Bad boy. Things deconstruct when you ignore the basics.
Yet last night was a warm night in Illinois and it occurred to me to run on the track for the first time in quite a long while.
Problem is, you have to climb a 6-foot chain link fence to get onto the track near my home. It’s like that everywhere these days. High school sports facilities are pretty much off limits to anyone that isn’t between the ages of 14-18. Locks block your way.
If you want to run on the track you must take your life into your hands and climb over the 6-foot fence and jump down the other side.
That’s not really a good idea for anyone over the age of 40. Typically after age 40, your body just doesn’t engage in that many leaping and landing activities. Back when I was playing 4 hours of hoops every Sunday evening, and still jumping pretty well, a jump down from a fence was not that big a deal.
But as the years go by, and you jump a bit less thanks to the fact that you live a pretty horizontal life while running or riding, your body and brain aren’t as keen for the proprioceptive leap from a 6 foot or even 8-foot fence. Yikes.
But I made it over the fence in one piece.
The track workout pretty much went fine once I got out there and warmed up. Doing a 4 X 400 workout is a strange sensation when you haven’t run that fast very often. I managed a set of four 90-second intervals, or 6:00 mile pace. The first one felt dorky. The second was better. The third got a little slower and the fourth was fun because it was possible to sprint the last 50 yards. Such as my sprint is these days.
Then I warmed down and had to get back out of the track somehow. So I chose an exit toward the right field side of the baseball field where the fence is covered with a yellow corrugated plastic cover. In my fatigued state I did not trust my climbing abilities, and had no interest in stripping a nut by slipping on top of the chain link fence. So I took the round way over, and out.
That maneuver made me recall one night at the football game in high school. A bunch of girls were trying to sneak over the chain link fence when no one was looking to avoid paying the entrance fee to the game. On the way over, one of the girls caught her jeans on the chain link and tried to jump to the ground. In an instant her jeans were ripped right off her body. She stood there naked from the waist down as the entire top row of the football stands stared gape-jawed at the attractive young woman with no clothes on. A round of applause broke out, and some wolf-whistles too. Her friends gathered round her and attempted to put her jeans back on her body. But they were ruined. So they threw a sweater around her waist and off they all went.
When you’re busy making other plans
Most of life is a chain reaction like that. You set out to do one thing only to set off a sequence of other events over which you seem to have little control. As John Lennon once put it, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
Whether it’s a busted bike chain that strands you 10 miles out of town, or a back that tightens up during a run, things just go wrong sometimes.
Chain of fools
Which is why it is not surprising that my back is full of twinges today. Short, sharp pains keep reminding me to maintain good posture. So the question is this: Was it the speed workout that caused my “spine chain” to tighten up, or was it jumping the fence. Was that foolish?
I’m actually thinking it was foolish, along with the dearth of core work the last couple weeks. It’s all a chain reaction. A reminder that it’s the little things that add up to a functioning whole.
Chain reactions, indeed.