Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Embrocation: Better than melted butter on hot waffles

I just want to know why everyone has been keeping the marvels of embrocation a secret from me. Oh man, what a revelation. Slathering the stuff on my legs has solved a serious problem I’ve been having keeping them warm and limber on rides.

When I was an unspectacular-but-determined cross country runner in high school, I ran in shorts through most of the winter without any problem. All it took was a five-minute warm-up to get the blood flowing in the legs and they would be fine.

But now (I won't say how many years - or decades - later), I just can’t get rid of the chill. I’ve had to abandon a climbing workout because the legs weren’t warming up, and I was afraid I was going to pull something. I did a 130-kilometer ride over the weekend, and my quads felt like semi-unthawed hamburger meat throughout the workout. At the 100-kilometer mark, I felt an aching pain deep in my quads. It got so bad that I thought I might have to get off the bike and hail a taxi. When I got home, it was painful to walk. I’ve never felt that sensation before. I’m thinking now that my muscles were aching because they weren’t getting enough blood. The sensation went away as soon as my legs warmed up.

The other day I went out for a 30-kilometer morning ride before work. The temp was about 8 degrees Celsius, and I felt like I was riding in a wind tunnel set on “maximum Arctic blast.” Ordinarily, it would feel like ice crystals were forming on my quads and hams – even if I were wearing thick tights or leg warmers.

But before I went out, I rubbed some embrocation (cheap "Cool Heat" from Rite Aid) into my quads and calf muscles. This made a huge difference. My legs felt great. Warm and limber. They stayed that way for the entire ride. I think I’ve solved my problem and the solution was simple. I love it when that happens.

I don’t know why it took me so long to connect the dots with this embrocation thing. I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t sure what the word meant until recently (It's derived from the Greek “embrokhe” or “lotion”). Sure, I’m an English major who has also completed coursework - but never finished the final paper, as my mother frequently points out - for a master’s in another language-related subject. But I just haven’t come across the word “embrocation” until lately. I’ve always called the stuff “liniment” or referred to it using a product name like “Ben Gay” or “Icy Hot” or “Heat.”

I’ve kind of known about the concept of embrocation for awhile. It’s been on the edge of my radar screen. I was well aware that Rule 20 of OREC (The Official Rules of the Euro Cyclist) says: “The Euro Cyclist shall ALWAYS have liniment applied to his legs before appearing in public.”

There's even a mighty fine cycling Web site and magazine that uses the term in its title:

Then there’s the brief scene with the embrocation junkie in my all-time favorite cycling movie “A Sunday in Hell.” The guy is getting ready to head to the starting line of the 1976 Paris-Roubaix and his trainer lifts up his woolen jersey and peels back a grungy gray undershirt and starts rubbing embrocation all over the guy’s chest. I doubt I’ll go that far.

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