I read and hear lots of people say that they feel a little insulted whenever a training partner tells them they are strong after a tough roll. Maybe that’s because the person saying “you’re strong” sometimes actually means it as a hidden insult. What they are really trying to say (without actually saying it) is, “You’re using strength to cover your technical holes.”
Is it ok to use speed to your advantage?
I don’t roll with too many people try and take it slow when they roll with me. I have to work to slow them down. If you can skip all manner of guard passing techniques and just do a cartwheel to pass my guard or just run around me and take my back, you should do it. That’s for me to deal with.
Is it ok to use youth to your advantage?
Sure seems like it is. And there’s no way to even tone this down or turn it off. You can train 5 days a week without needing recovery time? I can’t do that. But you should definitely do it. That’s for me to deal with.
Same goes for fitness, mental toughness, competitive nature, athletic background, pain tolerance, pointy elbows…whatever assets you have to bring to the table!
I’ve been told I’m strong by several people. Some people actually meant it as a compliment. I’m pretty sure some of the others meant it as a slight. But I don’t give a ladybug.
I’m strong because I got up at 5:30 am five days a week for years and GOT strong. I EARNED it by doing something most people aren’t/weren’t willing to do.
So…if it makes you feel better, chalk up my success to strength. But if you aren’t doing anything to get strong too, don’t hate.
Just be glad I haven’t lifted weights in 20 years, because back in the day I was ACTUALLY strong.
My boy Andy on Twitter just started a new BJJ podcast, and of course I was curious to check it out and finally find out what the voice of a man who can’t correctly tie his belt sounds like. 🙂
The first episode I listened to (actually his 2nd episode) made it clear this was going to be a different sorta jiu jitsu podcast. Andy does an amazing job of relating BJJ to his real life, and that’s really refreshing to hear. He’s not talking about world championships or fancy techniques (yet).
Take this first episode, where he describes incorporating BJJ into a recent job interview. It’s a great story, and it made me think a little deeper on this topic.
It’s Not The Talking That Matters. It’s The Listening.
Something I realized as Andy was talking about BJJ and communication as I was listening–as the danger or risk increases, the onus is on the person who has the greater amount of control/power to improve the communication.
They do this by listening more intently.
Think of a round rolling like a conversation. At the beginning of the round, both players are talking and listening with their bodies. They are talking about what they want to do. They are listening to what the other player is trying to do. Do they sometimes try to mislead the other player about their intentions? Absolutely. And it’s on each player to figure out what is true and what is a trap.
But what typically happens is that one player ends up putting another in danger somehow with a choke or joint lock. At this point in the “conversation”, the player in control has to focus on two things at the same time. They must consider the details that need to be adjusted to end the conversation (get the tap) while also paying close attention to the ways the other player may communicate the tap. This could be with a hand, verbally, or banging their foot on the mat.
The point is that the player in control has to listen more keenly at the end of the conversation than they were listening at the beginning.
So What? How Does This Apply To Real Life?
Good question. The one that immediately comes to mind for me is a work situation. When a decision maker sets a direction (starts the round), there is hopefully going to be a series of conversations about what is to be achieved, what “finished” looks like, and the path to “finished”.
But the finish is so critical. If I think of it in terms of information technology, the finish is when something goes live. It’s the time when things are volatile and dangerous. It’s at this point when we need to listen intently to the people who could possibly be negatively affected by the actions we’ve introduced.
Yet another reason I’m glad I started training BJJ late in life is that I’m mentally ok with the plateaus and setbacks of training over a long time.
I’ve already been through getting (much) worse at rugby. I’ve already dealt with countless running/triathlon plateaus. I’ve already dealt with getting slower.
Training setbacks aren’t a huge deal to me. I’m mentally equipped to train right through them–just keep showing up. I’ve been in a real BJJ funk for the last several months. I’m not feeling any progress, and in a few respects, I’ve felt some regression. That’s ok.
I’d say I’ve been doing this for a couple of months. Just showing up.
Then last week, some pain showed up in my back. I considered skipping BJJ, but decided it would be better for me to go to training with a focus on moving slowly (and slowing down my partner), playing very low risk, and being “delicate”.
Of course, that was the first day I had considerable success in quite a while. Interesting. I plan on keeping the same focus this week.
I think it was inadvertent, but I got a good lesson from a white belt last night while rolling. This guy is a great athlete–college wrestler who’s been training for a couple of months. He really works hard at learning BJJ and not relying on his athleticism to get him through. I know how tough it is for him to be on his back and not just launch me across the room, but he instead works on the escapes we’ve learned in class and his technique.
Anyway, I had his back last night and was about 80% there on a bow and arrow choke, which is a pretty high percentage finish for me. Well, he was able to fight that off and let me know that, “No sir…not today. Not going out with that.” Of course, my first thought was, “Oh…really?!”
Of course I spent the rest of the round trying to get that exact choke, hand fighting with a guy in his early 20s who has already spent more time hand fighting that I will for the rest of my life. And I didn’t get the choke.
What I SHOULD have done is transitioned to something else, like an armbar, or whatever he gave me. He was so focused on not getting choked, something else was surely there. But I didn’t see it until after the round. He tricked me into going for the exact thing he was prepared to defend.
Now, the real question–do I go for the bow and arrow next time we roll? I hope not. I hope I go with what’s there instead of what I “want” to be there.
The other day I wrote a post on “What Makes Jiu Jitsu Fun For You?” laying out my top personal reason for continuing to train. As I was writing it, I had a realization and line of thought that didn’t really jibe with that post, but is something I wanted to pursue separately–there’s more to why I train than just the fun. Don’t get me wrong–it’s mostly about the fun. But there are other reasons as well. And one of the biggest is the concept of “Perfect Jiu Jitsu.”
I’m not sure if there’s an “according-to-Hoyle” idea of perfect jiu jitsu, but I have one that I’m able to wrap my tiny little brain around, and it’s pretty freaking awesome.
Perfect jiu jitsu is, while playing in the rules of jiu jitsu, the ability to convince your opponent they have no hope of survival. Perfect jiu jitsu achieves this by doing nothing other than accepting the choices the opponent makes and responding only in ways to which the opponent does not resist.
So, obviously, no striking or biting or anything like that. But…wherever they want to place their hands, you allow it. Conversely, you allow them to object (by resistance) to ANY hand placement you choose. Same goes for feet, head, legs, etc. They are allowed to do whatever they want. You don’t do anything they don’t allow. And you still get them to tap. Oh, and the person you just defeated can effortlessly beat everyone in the world except for you.
Now, that’s PERFECT JIU JITSU. I know it isn’t possible. It’s just an aspirational goal–people may aspire to achieve, but no one will actually get there.
There are people who dedicate their lives to achieving perfect jiu jitsu. They are aware they’ll never get there either, but it’s a concept that is so powerful and alluring, that they feel it’s worth a lifetime of work to reach for.
I’m not one of those people.
So, if it’s not something that’s achievable by anyone, and I’m not even one of the people who’s willing to dedicate myself to achieving it, why am I even bothering to write this post? How does the existence of the idea of perfect jiu jitsu even motivate me?
Because I see the beauty of the idea of perfect jiu jitsu. I’m aware of how effective jiu jitsu is when done poorly, by someone without special talent, who trains a few times a week, holds down a regular job, takes their kids to activities, eats an imperfect diet, and has a million other things going on.
That may sound like a pretty accurate description of me, but I’m not talking about me. The guy I just described will utterly destroy me at jiu jitsu. That’s how magic it is. If they guy I just described can beat me so easily, what must close-to-perfect jiu jitsu look and feel like.
I can’t fathom what that may be, but I want to be a part of the movement towards it.
And the reason I really wrote this post is that:
The concept of practicing something that can be abstracted into an idea that is beautiful and yet unattainable scales both horizontally and vertically, and it’s the stuff that a meaningful life is made of.
Maybe it’s not fun for you. Maybe it’s a “have to” for some reason or another. But I haven’t encountered many people who feel this way about it. I think it’s a pretty fun activity for most of us.
It’s ironic, because a huge amount of time spent in jiu jitsu is spent losing, suffering, dealing with discomfort, being humbled, feeling vulnerable, taking steps backwards, plateauing, getting bruised and mat-burned, and suffering from the occasional minor injury and constant back/hand pain.
And I didn’t even mention that some of us are daily forced to deal with the fact that we are old and quickly declining.
Have I convinced you to start training yet? 😀
Somehow, it’s fun. It’s the thing that always puts us in a good mood and makes us smile. For some, it’s one of their only sources of happiness.
I can’t answer for anyone else, but for me jiu jitsu is fun because it’s magic. As much as it taxes my body, it is constantly tickling and amazing my mind. It’s constantly causing me to question what I know.
How can someone so much smaller than me control me that way?
How can they continue to control me in the exact same way, even after they’ve shown me exactly what they are doing and how to stop them?
Why did that simple adjustment that makes all the difference elude me for so long. And it’s so simple and obvious–why didn’t I see it myself?
Why are so many of my natural intuitive motions so incorrect?
Why is this guy asking me for advice–can’t he see I know nothing?
Why am I giving this guy advice? I’m 100% positive there’s someone out there who can show me why everything I just said is absolutely wrong.
Is he even trying this round? Did he just give me that? WHY did he just give me that? Is this a trap? Does he think this trap is going to work? Why didn’t I see the REAL trap?
I guess, for me, the reason it’s fun is because it’s a series of difficult puzzles that, once solved, reveal themselves to only be a small part of an infinite number of larger, increasingly difficult puzzles.
I realized a while back that I’m not an outcome-driven person. I’m an experience and journey driven person. Endless puzzles with ever-changing parameters…where do I sign up?
I don’t like to do this, but I had to take somebody down a peg or two in training last night.
Background – How I Usually Roll
I have this thing that I try to do when I roll with lower belts–I try to focus on giving them something in the 5 minutes we have together that will help them improve. I do this because I feel like higher belts often do this with me, and I really appreciate it when they do. I feel like they are, in some way, donating a little piece of their time on earth to me.
I know that’s not 100% the case–we actually both get something out of them “being nice”. Being on the “giving” end of this equation more often as I grow in jiu jitsu, I’m aware that setting the tone and path of a roll with a lower belt can greatly benefit me.
For instance, if I’m rolling with a lower belt who likes to transition and move a lot, I could just put the brakes on them. Well, some of them anyway. But I usually don’t. I try to make the roll as active as I can. I need to get better at transitioning and movement too, so it’s a win/win in a lot of ways.
It’s sort of an extrapolation of the idea I wrote about earlier describing how I like to roll with baby white belts and keep the “vocabulary and syntax” of the roll simple.
I had a discussion about this with Professor Dave the other day after training, and his position on that was, “Yeah…that’s not a bad thing to do, and it’s really nice of you, but you can’t be nice all the time. They, especially the guys, need to understand how powerful jiu jitsu is, and it’s your responsibility to be a part of making it clear to them.”
The Sappy, “Feelings” Part Of This
I don’t feel like I’m very selfish about jiu jitsu. At least, I hope I’m not selfish.
I don’t need to win every round. In fact, I don’t need to win any rounds. I just enjoy training. It’s not all about me and my journey for me–it’s about us. I want people to look forward to training with me, not dread it.
I think I feel this way because I’m not the best at interacting with people in normal social situations. Jiu jitsu gives me a way to connect with other people in a way that’s more natural and comfortable for me. I want to foster that experience because it is so much more rewarding to me than winning.
That may seem very strange for a lot of people, but it’s true for me.
I don’t get to be in many situations where I feel like people understand me. Just writing this post has made me aware that the ability to share an experience with another person is probably the number one thing I get out of jiu jitsu.
Wow. That will have to be another post.
Back To The Story…
My talk with Professor Dave was on Saturday. Last night was Tuesday.
There were four “big guys” in class last night. A really tough and hard-nosed brown belt, me (purple), and two 3 stripe white belts. “Brown” and I both took a white belt as a partner for drilling and technique.
The guy I was with is a really good guy. I like him a lot. I enjoy training with him, both for technique and in sparring. He’s about 50 pounds heavier and 20 years younger. My cardio is much better than his. Of course, there’s also a skill level difference that can mostly be chalked up to time on the mat. If this guy keeps training, drops some weight, and commits to building a cardio base, he’ll be WAAAAAAY better than I am right now by the time he’s my age.
I really want that to happen for him.
We’ve rolled together several times, and it’s always fun. The usual script is that I take it down a couple of notches, chill, and pay attention to what he’s trying to do. I exploit his big mistakes, flow with it when he’s on the right track, get into spots that let me work on escapes, try and develop some newer stuff I’m working on, etc.
Maybe for the last minute I’ll shift into a higher gear for a bit. Again, the goal is to be in a roll that helps both of us get better. Of the two of us, I’m the one who has more ability to create that situation, and that’s what I try to do. I feel like it’s my responsibility.
But last night, I was sensing that my man was getting a little too big for his britches. I started realizing that he wasn’t aware of the size of the gap between us. Maybe he wasn’t aware of what was actually happening during our rounds?
And I realized it was my fault. I’m the one who has been dictating what happens during our time together. I own that situation–not only the physical part, but the mental part as well.
We started drilling the night’s techniques, and our boy started coaching me up from the get-go. Now, granted, we were working some stuff I’ve not seen recently, don’t attempt very often, and am not especially suited for physically. In short, we were working on what are probably my greatest weaknesses. I actually did need a lot of the help he was offering.
When drilling, I often pause and think about what’s next, if everything is in the right place, what my other options (that better suit me) could be in this situation, how to make this easier, how to make it “click” for me, etc.
Every time I’d pause, he’d correct me. Every time.
I’m actually good with that, every night, every technique, from any belt. Most people don’t do this because it’s considered bad form, but when they do, I’m fine with it. They just watched the same demonstration I did, and they undoubtedly picked up some things I didn’t.
My line of thinking is, “Hey…he’s paying attention to what I do and going over the steps as I do them. Actually, it’s pretty freaking awesome–he’s getting mental reps during my physical reps!”
That’s a great habit.
And he really did help me a couple of times by mentioning something I’d left out or reminding me what I need to do next. But a white belt coaching someone during drilling is a bit of a red flag, especially when it’s excessive. And it’s not something he’s ever done in the past. It crossed my mind that, “Dude, there are lots of purple belts (mean ones) who would not be cool with this. At all. Keep doing the mental reps, but you should do them in your head.”
Whatever. It was working for me. If someone else has a problem with it, they can deal with it when he’s their partner. It’s more about etiquette than anything else, and I don’t put a ton of stock in etiquette. If what you’re doing is helping me, etiquette can go pound sand.
But then, there was that one remark that bit me. I’d released a sleeve grip (mistake), and he showed me his sleeve, shifted a bit, and said, “See…I’m out. If you let go of this sleeve, you’re screwed.”
Pride and ego were setting off alarms. Now, I’m keenly aware that my pride and my ego are MY problems, so I HAD to let that statement go. I had to let it go for myself–it’s a discipline thing. I don’t want to be a person who gives someone else the power to goad me into a reaction over something as silly as an offhand comment.
And I knew he didn’t mean anything by it. I knew it wasn’t said with a disrespectful intent.
At the same time, “Does he know that lots of guys would take this as a sign of disrespect?” Again, they can deal with that if they choose. I’m here to drill, not enforce manners.
Time To Roll
At our gym, we start with ladies choosing their partners for sparring first, then upper belts, straight down the line. I’ve been out of town for a couple of months, so of course, Big Brown smiles and chooses me for the first round.
And he put it on me. That’s what I like about this guy actually…no nice rolls. For anybody. I mean, he’s very respectful with ladies and smaller white belts, but if you have a colored belt or any kind of size/strength, he’s going to let you know what’s up.
Brown was probably going to pick someone else for round two, and I was hoping he’d pick my technique partner so that I could choose that other 3-stripe white belt to roll with. He’s bigger than my technique partner, and he just moved to town and is new to our gym. I’d never had a chance to roll with him, and I absolutely LOVE rolling with new people.
But coach shook things up and let the white belts pick their partners.
My drilling partner immediately pointed at me with a big grin on his face and rubbed his hands together. The body language said, “I hope you’re ready because I’m gonna get you!”
That’s when I really had to come to terms with what Professor Dave had told me on Saturday. “This guy doesn’t understand how real this ‘murder simulation’ game we’re playing can be. He doesn’t know, truly know, how vulnerable he his. He thinks that because I’m friendly, old, slow, and smaller than him, we’re on the same level, or at least close.”
“He thinks my position in this room is just honorary. He doesn’t see me as ‘real’.”
I realized that I’ve made our time together so “fun” that he wasn’t aware that he’s a rest round for me, even when he’s trying hard.
He thinks he’s been getting all those sweeps, passes, top positions, and submission attempts by himself.
He thinks my 75% top pressure is my 100% top pressure.
He thinks I’ve been releasing that pressure because he’s making me, not because I’m voluntarily moving on.
This was exactly what Professor Dave was talking about. I realized I was going to have to make this guy a tapping machine for the next 5 minutes.
I wasn’t very happy about that, but…
Bell rings. Slap five. Fist bump.
It did not take the entire five minutes for me to clear up the situation for him. At least, I hope it’s now clear to him; it should be. It was a pretty epic beat down–a big-guy-jiu-jitsu, tap-you-with-pressure-(again) beat down. It should have been apparent to him after about 90 seconds that this wasn’t just him having an off night. I do know that he didn’t want to complete the round–he declared “no mas” with about 40 seconds left.
But, being a good partner, I encouraged him to keep going. 🙂
I didn’t talk to him about it afterwards. I just said, “Good job, man. That was a tough round.”
I have no idea what he was thinking about during the round. I’m not sure if he went home and thought about it afterwards. He’s a pretty smart guy, so I have to assume it made an impression.
But I’m almost positive he won’t be smiling, rubbing his hands together, and licking his chops before our next roll.
Lately, I’ve been approaching my rolls with new-ish white belts as a conversation in a language we are both learning. I’m not a native speaker, but I’m more fluent in the language than they are. And no matter the differences in our ability, it’s on me to make sure we both enjoy the conversation.
You’ve probably seen the old analogy regarding BJJ and language:
White belt is like learning the letters of the alphabet
Blue belt is like learning that the letters make words
Purple belt is learning how to construct sentences out of words
Brown belt is the ability to write cogent paragraphs
Black belt is the ability to write poetry
I like this analogy on one level, but on another level I think there’s something missing. This analogy is all about your personal relationship with a language, but BJJ is about interacting with others–it’s a conversation.
And it’s not like anyone begins BJJ with zero knowledge of how their body works and can move. It’s not like people don’t have arms and legs that bend before their first class. And they’re aware of other people’s anatomy as well, even though they may not understand how to manipulate it. They’ve probably even played other sports at some point.
In other words, people are already aware of the CONCEPTS of letters/words/sentences/paragraphs/poetry. They just don’t know how to construct those things in THIS LANGUAGE.
So I think a better analogy than the one above is that BJJ is like achieving fluency in a foreign language. When I think of it from this perspective, it gives me a mindset I can actually take into training.
While I’m just a purple belt and can’t have a high level “intellectual conversation” with a black belt, I feel like I have a decent grip on the “language”–think someone whose native language is Spanish, but has lived in the U.S. for 10 years or so. There aren’t many situations where I’m completely lost, but I’m also keenly aware when people are talking over my head.
I incorrectly conjugate verbs every now and then (bad grips). Some verbs I do this with habitually.
I have a thick accent (leave out finer details in techniques).
I revert back to Spanglish sometimes when I get stuck expressing myself (muscle through stuff).
But I can roll with brown and black belts and they know what I’m trying to do/communicate. They are aware of all the stuff I’m doing wrong, and can choose to correct me (make me pay for the mistakes), or just keep the conversation going. But it’s really on them to decide how the conversation is going to go.
I’ve rolled a few rounds with brand new white belts recently, and I’ve tried to approach those rolls with this mindset–this is a person who has a limited knowledge of the language. They know a few key words and phrases, but our conversations are going to be limited.
It’s on me to carry the conversation.
Think about it this way–if you met someone who knew a few English words and phrases around food and sports, you wouldn’t try to have a conversation with them about politics or economics. And you definitely wouldn’t try to talk with them about how politics and economics are connected. You’d stick with topics they know–food and sports.
So in these rolls, we’re keeping the topic mostly limited to closed guard and mount. Their sweeps, passes, and attacks will be really basic, and probably a bit sloppy. But I understand what they are trying to do. Even if they get the nouns and adjectives out of order or leave out articles in their “sentence”, I get the idea they are trying to express.
And it’s on me to keep the conversation alive. That may mean doing things like giving up a sweep or slowing down the “conversation” so that they can see/feel the armbar opportunity, even though I’d never intentionally leave my arm in that spot with a fluent speaker. I can even use the “conversation” as a way to help them increase their grasp of the “language”.
Imagine someone says to you, “I enjoying food with spicies.” You may respond with, “Oh…you enjoy spicy foods! I enjoy spicy food also!” What you’ve done is correct them without being a jackass about it–you’ve shown them that you understand, and you have modeled the correct syntax for them. That gets registered in their brain and helps them later.
I had a situation like this with a new white belt last night. He had me mounted and was trying to cross collar choke me–all muscle and pulling on lapels. It wasn’t working at all, but I totally knew what he was trying to do. More importantly, I could identify his major mistakes. My response in this “conversation” was to roll into his guard, break it open, knee cut pass, mount him, and cross-collar choke him.
All stuff he’s seen.
He got it immediately. After the roll he asked why my choke worked and his didn’t. DINGDINGDING!!!! He’s trying to learn the correct way to express himself in this language.
Now, to be fair, a black belt would have watched this and chuckled at my simple, “I like spicy food” sentence construction. The next roll they’d Ezekiel choke me while I have them mounted. In affect, they are saying to me:
“While mild and sweet dishes are occasionally pleasing to me when my pallet is in a particularly sensitive state, I sometime throw caution to the wind and indulge in spicy foods in order to vicariously satisfy my unquenched thirst for adventure.”
Big words. Idioms. Complex sentence structure. Abstraction of concepts.
The reason I wanted to share this tweet was because I recently had a realization about this situation at a more macro level.
A couple of weeks ago we took our kids to visit the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples. This facility houses lots of different animals, and they’ve done genetic testing on them all to identify the percentage of wolf and dog in each one. Most of the animals are 50-60% dog. They are still dangerous animals, but are more social and used to people, and are near the front of the facility. Even at first glance your brain immediately registers that, “Oh…this isn’t just a dog.”
Wolf-Dogs are dangerous. But they can be sweet and get along with the rest of us in most cases. There’s an issue every now and then maybe, but for the most part, they’re probably best described as really tough/scrappy dogs that could quite possibly lose it on you if you aren’t careful. So be careful and aware with them.
As you go farther into the facility, you reach enclosures housing animals that are almost all wolf. When you make eye contact, you know the difference between a wolf and a wolf-dog.
Like…please do NOT put me in that enclosure. Please.
How That Relates To Men
Being around these animals gave me a spark of inspiration/realization that I think accurately demonstrates how people (mostly men) perceive their world, and how their perceptions are horribly skewed, especially in this era of general comfort and security.
There are Wolves. There are Wolf-Dogs. And there are Pets.
Most men think they are Wolves, but they are actually just Pets. They’ve never actually been tested. They’ve definitely never encountered a Wolf (that they know of); probably never even smelled one. They don’t really even have a concept of what a Wolf is. It’s just a word, and they think it applies to them because they have all the same physical parts as a Wolf.
Then there are Wolf-Dogs. I put myself in this category. I know a lot of other Wolf-Dogs too. But Wolf-Dogs are separated into two different groups–those who know we are Wolf Dogs, and those who, like Pets, think they are Wolves. But it’s obvious to all Wolf-Dogs that Pets definitely are NOT Wolves.
How do Wolf-Dogs become self-aware? How do we come to the conclusion that we are neither Wolves nor Pets? It’s actually pretty simple–you have to be exposed to both Wolves and Pets to understand that you lie somewhere in the middle. It’s easy to have an encounter with a Pet. They are everywhere. In fact, it’s almost impossible to avoid them. And you know that you aren’t a Pet, which is why so many Wolf-Dogs mistakenly believe themselves to be Wolves: “If I’m not a Pet, I must be a Wolf.”
I think (pure conjecture) that most Pets have the capacity to transform themselves into Wolf-Dogs. Like the tweet above implies, it just takes an awareness of where you lie and a commitment to become a Wolf-Dog. Exposure to a Wolf-Dog is enough to start this journey.
But Wolves are a different story. They are rare, and you usually haven’t identified them as what they are until it’s too late. If you’ve ever encountered an actual Wolf, you knew within a few seconds that they are a different thing. Just like the delineation at the wolf sanctuary, it’s pretty obvious what the difference is.
What is an actual Wolf?
It’s a little tough to explain, but know this–a Wolf will fight you to the death without ever considering the possibility that there’s another option for resolution. A Pet doesn’t stand a chance against them. A Wolf-Dog may be able to inflict some damage, but they aren’t committed to the fight the way a real Wolf is. And a real Wolf will go at another real Wolf as if it were a Pet.
A real Wolf regards everything else in existence as if it were a Pet, even other Wolves.
How Does This Relate To BJJ/Fighting/Sports?
I think most people who train in a live-sparring martial art (wrestling, boxing, bjj, etc.), and lots of physically demanding sports, are Wolf-Dogs. And many of them may never encounter a Wolf in their sport. That’s ok–we need a lot more Wolf-Dogs than Pets in this world. But it would be nice if more of these Wolf-Dogs could encounter an actual Wolf at least once.
For example, I’ve been to a couple of amateur MMA competitions in the last few months. A lot of Wolf-Dogs in these things, and they are sorting out who the Wolves are at this level. That’s a good thing. Anybody willing to step into a cage and fight is at least Wolf-Dog in my book. In fact, they are the top of the Wolf-Dog food chain–plenty of legit Wolf-Dogs have zero interest in getting in there and risking their health just to find out where they lie in that spectrum. I’m the first to admit that I’m in that crowd.
You can watch these fights and figure out pretty quickly who isn’t a Wolf though:
Tap to punches? Not a Wolf.
Tap to fatigue? Not a Wolf.
Coast for the last round because you’re clearly up two rounds already? Not a wolf.
Again, I’m not throwing shade here–I wouldn’t go in there and do that against anyone, and definitely not for free.
How Do I Know So Much About Wolves?
Well, I’m not saying I do. But I’ve rolled with a couple of Wolves (top-tier fighters), and it taught me enough to know that they have something I don’t. For instance, almost everyone I’ve ever rolled with has had me mounted or been in top half guard with me at some point. When that happens, I’m thinking about applying whatever jiu jitsu I have to change the situation.
But with the Wolves, it’s different when they actually decide to turn it on. In those situations, my mind doesn’t immediately go to implementing BJJ. The first place my mind goes is the realization that this person’s instinct is to end my life in this situation. It’s palpable and it’s undeniable. There is a CLEAR difference between their ability/willingness to go to a place I don’t even want to be capable of going to.
So What Am I Saying?
I guess, if there’s any point to this (and I’m doubting there is), is that I think the world would be a better place if we all took the time to get a clear understanding of exactly what we are and where we fall in the spectrum. And we need a lot more people to level up to Wolf-Dog.
There’s nothing wrong with being a Pet necessarily, but people need to be aware of being a Pet. And if that’s what they end up choosing, they should probably be more careful with their words and actions, especially around Wolves. Wolf-Dogs are generally cool with Pets and can just laugh to themselves when they encounter one who is overstepping their abilities. Wolves are ultimately going to be a lot less forgiving, and the consequences will be more severe.
And we Wolf-Dogs need to continually seek out Wolves and get ourselves straight as well. Maybe you’ll find that you’re actually a Wolf too. But the main benefit is identifying where you are on that spectrum. Once you do, continually seek out Wolves whenever/wherever you can.
The ability to quickly identify a Wolf may pay off one day.
Shock and awe! Did not see this coming. I honestly thought I was at least a year away from this happening. A lot to say about that, but I’ll save it for a different post.
My general opinion on belts/stripes is that I just wear whatever my instructor tells me to wear. A changing belt color doesn’t change anything about me from one day to the next. For me, a promotion doesn’t need to be anything more than him throwing a stiff new belt at me at the end of training and saying, “Wear this the next time you come in here. ”
But I’ll admit that I’ve taken some time to pause and reflect on this one for several reasons, which will also result in more posts if I’m not too lazy to write them. I’m starting to understand why promotion is a big deal in the broader sense, even though the ceremony of it all may not mean that much to me personally.
I had to switch gyms when I started back training in Florida in December 2021. As much as I love everything about Off The Grid, the class schedule was a struggle for me. I meant to get over there and train for the whole month of November, but just couldn’t make the classes. Being a one car family now didn’t help any either. When I texted Professor Frank to tell him my situation, he immediately responded, “Go train with David–I’m just happy to hear that you’re going to be training again!”
That’s what kind of guy he is. None of that crap about loyalty or anything–he’s just happy that I’ve got the BJJ bug (that he put there) and am continuing.
Anyway, I showed up to class at Carlson Gracie Melbourne as I normally do and was warming up when I all of a sudden saw a ton of my old training partners and Frank there. I knew then that something was up, and immediately realized I was probably being promoted. Why else would they show up here and sneaking in through the back? Honestly, it was very awkward for me. I don’t like being the center of attention.
But…man! I can’t express how it feels that so many of the people who built me showed up for this. When Frank and David called me up at the beginning of class and said, “You’re number is up!” I was overwhelmed. I mean, I didn’t cry or anything, but I really didn’t know how to react. I was speechless.
As I later told my old teammates in a post, I don’t even feel like I “have” any jiu jitsu really. I just have little pieces of their jiu jitsu that I’ve cobbled together. Every movement, trick, defense, submission, transition, escape I have came about from what they’ve taught me and beat into me. My new gym has definitely made a big contribution in a short period of time (new perspectives–also a separate post), but the bulk of the reps and rounds were with these folks.
Being promoted by both of my coaches at the same time took away a lot of the awkwardness. And it says so much about both of these instructors that it went down like this. That David would invite the OTG crew and that they would show up says everything about why I consider these gyms my extended family.
And then…my boy Ed got his purple belt too! Ed and I started BJJ on the same day. We were promoted to blue belt together. He’s my best BJJ frienemy. We have spent countless hours beating the doo-doo out of each other. For instance, one day we were the only two people at an open mat and we decided to roll until one of us tapped.
I lost, but it took us 56 minutes to get to decision. Ed is my boy!
So, enough of the mushy stuff. Like I said, I have a lot more of that coming. But here are some stats, because people love to ask the question, “How long does it take to get your purple belt?” Your mileage may vary, and I know people who are younger and more athletic who’ve done it a lot faster than me, but..
Training sessions: 392 as a blue belt, 594 total
Mat time: 755 hours as a blue belt, 1,110 hours total
Days: 1,626 as a blue belt (*1,063 discounting covid break), 1,519 total
Uncountable number of taps
1 Competition as a blue belt
1 dislocated/broken rib
1,000,000 lessons learned
1,000,001 lessons forgotten
A bunch of connections made with people I probably wouldn’t know otherwise
A lot of introspection and realization (jiu jitsu really is life)
Never ending excitement about showing up to the next class
As much as I can’t wait to just get back to grinding/training and forget about belts, this has forced me to realize a few things about this art that separates it from any thing else I’ve ever done. Not much of it is belt specific–it’s more about the _________ that is jiu jitsu. I had do leave a blank there, because I don’t know if there’s a word in English that describes what BJJ is.
If that word exists in another language, I don’t know that either.
Last night, at the end of class, David called Z (I won’t out his name) up to talk to us about his experience competing last weekend. Z started off by telling us about his first two competitions, and how he’s evolved through the process of training.
He talked about his attitude/approach towards competing the first time out, and how he got beat and injured at this competition. And he felt like he’d let his teammates down. Even though I knew he was talking about the past, I hated to hear that he’d felt this way.
In his second competition, he got some wins, and he felt redeemed. He said his time actually learning and applying knowledge instead of relying on aggression and ego made the difference.
Last weekend, he lost. But he was super excited about what he accomplished. His goal was to control the match–both himself and his opponent. Though he lost by an advantage, he felt like he had a handle on the situation the whole time.
Then he started talking more broadly. He told us a little about the person he was before he joined the gym and started training–angry, frustrated, alienated, lonely, unhappy, etc. He thanked everybody for being accepting of him, helping him, loving him (violently), and being a part of changing himself. Of course, that’s not word-for-word what he said, but I don’t think he’d mind me taking some liberties here, because I think I know from experience these are all things that he meant.
He was tearing up as he spoke. And I was thankful it was the end of class and crazy humid last night so that my sweat could camouflage my tears too. The whole time I was thinking, “Man…I hope he’s about to get his blue belt, because THIS is what it’s all about. Not winning tournaments.”
So I was super happy when David pulled out the blue belt and gave it to him. Of course, that broke him and he started crying for real.
It really touched me to see someone affected by BJJ this way. I could relate to everything he was saying. Granted, my “aha moment” didn’t come from BJJ, but knowing that light came on for someone is cool, no matter how they got there. And he was up there spilling it in front of 30 people, many of whom he probably didn’t know that well on a personal level. I mean, I didn’t know anything about Z until last night. Now I feel really bonded with him.
After class, I shared a little bit with him about how I could relate a lot to what he talked about. As I told him, there are countless guys out there who have amazing jiu jitsu and can easily whoop us both, yet they can’t comprehend what he’d just said. Some don’t get it because they are nice, happy-go-lucky people to begin with. But there are a lot of others who are still what he used to be. They are BJJ world beaters, but they have not realized who their biggest opponent is. Maybe they even dodge this opponent–I can’t speak to their journey.
Of course, it’s a daily fight. And there are plenty of days when you lose. But, just like in BJJ, you get better at the dance. You start seeing the stuff you have to defend against coming at you sooner. Sometimes you can even chuckle at the simplicity of the coming attack (that you’re mounting against yourself). You continue to learn how the difficulties and struggles you experience can be your greatest opportunities if you are willing to let go and just flow with them.
You start realizing that sometimes the best “move” in an awfully uncomfortable situation is to simply stop and take a deep breath.
This week in particular, I needed to be reminded of all the things Z said.
Before I get into the actual race, I’m going to take a moment to recognize the organizers of this event and the people of North Georgia. This was an amazing experience–start to finish. Everything was well organized, ran on time, plenty of options and amounts of food/drink at the SAGs, lots of friendly and helpful volunteers, law enforcement assistance at the turns and helping tamp down the speeding vehicles, etc. Well done!
This is the first endurance event I’ve ever participated in that had showers available at the finish. This was an amazing amenity, and it sets the bar pretty high. I’ve had some great showers in my time, and this one was right up there with the best. It changed my day post-race for sure.
My co-worker Dallas has been gently pushing this ride on me for about 5 years–the whole time I’ve known him. For most of that time I didn’t even own a road bike. But when my friend Bill died in July 2020 his wife Stacey wanted me to have his bike. I was reluctant, but Dallas was the one who convinced me that taking it was the right thing to do. He also reminded me that Bill would love for me to ride, not just store bikes.
Bill and Stacey lived in Cumming, Georgia for many years, and Bill loved riding the roads in the Helen/Dahlonega area.
He bought this bike to ride these roads. It was the bike’s purpose.
Dallas’s wife made some cool decals for me to add to the bike right after I got it. As its new owner, I thought it would be really cool and meaningful to take it back to where it belonged and where he loved to be.
So…this one was for Tiny.
I did this event with a mix of people I know and people they know. Primo Juan came down from Louisville to do the ride, and I can’t thank him enough for driving his vehicle and, more importantly, doing a lot of shepherding for me during the race. I’m not super-experienced in big group rides, and he did a great job at the start especially of keeping us in safe and fast lines. He picked out good groups for us to stick with and kept the pace fast and easy at the same time.
His ability to climb is inspirational. We have dubbed him “El Chivo”.
Dallas drove up from Florida with his friend Dave as well. As I said, a lot of the the credit (blame?) goes to Dallas for convincing me to do this race. It was really cool to get to start the ride with him. I think we were together for the first five miles or so.
Justin is a co-worker and training partner from back in the day, and he was in with his brother-in-law Todd. I’ve done a fewrideswith these guys since we got up to Tennessee, and they are both my kind of people. Was so happy to get to share this experience with such a fine group.
Nothing to say other than “super smooth”. Drive through check in!!!! Of course we got out and walked around the expo, but if all you wanted was a race packet, it could not have been easier.
Justin and Todd were picking up packets at the same time, and we decided to go on an easy 10 mile ride just to work the car ride out of our legs. It was really nice, but also a little jolting to see that the rollers start right out of the gate. And they are there at the end. Sunday was going to be a tough day.
Race Day Logistics
I was a little late booking a hotel room, and Juan and I ended up staying about an hour away in Jasper. It was worth the drive, because we had some amazing barbecue the night before.
We woke up at 5:00 am and arrived at Lumpkin County High School at 6:30 after a coffee stop. We wanted to get a spot in the main lot, and luckily we were one of the last 10 or so cars that made it. We had plenty of time to relax and prepare for the start, and we met up with Dallas and Dave at the queue. We weren’t sure where Justin and Todd were at that point. As I said, really enjoyed getting to start the race with Dallas–he’s a big reason I was doing this ride in the first place, and almost all of my outdoor riding this year has been with him.
The energy at the start felt a lot like a triathlon start to me with one exception–even though there was the same nervousness in the air, there wasn’t a competitive vibe going on at all. Maybe up front it was different, but our spot in the queue was just nervous, but friendly. That changed later…I’ll get to it.
Summary – Ride Plan and Execution
Spoiler alert: I’m really happy with my execution for the entire race. One thing I like about cycling, especially with the trainer, is the amount of data you are able to collect for planning. You can’t control things like temperature and wind on race day, but my goal is to have so much data before the race starts that I can develop a plan based on things I can control, like what cadence I want to ride at, what I’m willing to let my heart rate get to, and how much power I’m going to produce.
I don’t have a power meter on my bike, so that’s a little tougher to gauge when I’m not on the trainer, but I’d calculated a couple of months ago that I should be able to average 180 watts for an effort of 7-8 hours, and my Strava estimated power for this ride ended up being 188. Spot on. I’ll take it.
But without a power meter, this ride was going to be all about heart rate management. The plan was to finish overall with an average of Zone 3 (143-154). In order to accomplish this I wanted to keep my HR really low at the start, keep it under 160 for most of the climbs, and allow myself to get closer to red lining on Hogpen Gap and Wolfpen Gap–what I’d estimated to be the toughest climbs. I know from doing a bunch of races on Zwift that I can maintain that high Zone 4, low Zone 5 heart rate for at least 30 minutes. I also know how I feel after doing that, and I wanted to avoid that feeling. I ended up averaging 144 for the ride. That’s on the low side of the range, but I’ll take it based on the last third of the ride. That was the toughest portion to manage, at least for me.
The Details – Start Through Hogpen
I think thirds is the best way to break this down–not 1/3 distance necessarily, but three separate sections. At least that’s how I had broken it down in my plan. For me, the first third ended at the Hogpen descent. I’d game-planned this ride assuming I’d be solo or close to it the whole way. Juan gave me some really solid info around the bunches of riders early on and that minutes could be banked here with minimal effort. The Neel’s Gap climb started at around 20 miles in, and I hit that with an average HR of 130. NICE! Bonus was that we were averaging 17.7 mph at this point. Lots of speed with little effort.
I haven’t climbed any of these before, but Justin’s recon gave me the knowledge that I’d done a climb very similar to Neel’s many times before. I really kept myself in check on this first climb–HR average was 143. The cool temps helped a lot, along with the really nice jersey Juan gave me that zipped all the way down. Was feeling great at the top, and the descent was so much fun!
That left us a little break before Hogpen. The plan here was to put in a little bit harder effort, but nothing too out of control. I was going to have to use all my gears on this one, and I knew it was going to be a solid 30 minutes of climbing. I can’t emphasize enough how much all those trips up the Alpe du Zwift prepared me for this climb. It takes me 75+ minutes to do the ADZ, and that makes Hogpen seem pretty manageable. I put in the effort I wanted–156 BPM average, and solidly in the 160s for the second half of the climb, which is steeper.
Juan and I had picked up Justin along the way, and we had a chance at the top to reload on goodies and get some photos. I knew Juan and Justin were both a lot stronger riders than me, and I encouraged them to go on, but their plan was to stay conservative and together-ish until the last 25 miles or so.
At the summit, you could feel the mood had changed. The excitement and good humor in the air was palpable. We’d just completed what was technically the hardest climb of the day. Time to restock, get some photos, and have some fun descending into what was mentally going to be the toughest part of the day.
The Details–Middle Of The Race
Segment two was three gaps long–Unicoi, Jack’s, and Wolfpen. Unicoi was a pretty gentle climb. I saw Juan again at the top (Justin was steaming to the finish already), and I think this was the last time I saw him until the finish. I was feeling the beginnings of a cramp, and I took the time at the SAG to rub it out, stretch, and make sure I got everything I needed to finish the race.
I did get a little tripped up on Jack’s Gap, and was almost sucked into making a mistake. My Garmin 1030 registered 12 “climbs” on this course, but for some reason Jack’s Gap didn’t show up as a climb. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t sure where it started, but I knew (thought I knew) I wasn’t on it yet. This “climb that’s not a climb” seemed to go on forever, and it had me a little nervous about what was ahead. That was a little defeating. If this wasn’t a climb, I was going to be in big trouble when the actual climbing started, because this was not an easy haul.
I was a little worried.
It was only at the top when I saw a sign that I realized I’d reached the top of Jack’s Gap. I ended up averaging 155 and 153 BPM on Unicoi and Jack’s respectively. It was time for what I’d guessed would be the toughest climb of the day. Wolfpen isn’t as hard as Hogpen on paper, but we’d climbed Hogpen at around 35 miles in. Wolfpen was going to hit us at 70-something miles with at least one big climb and a few smaller ones already in our legs.
Wolfpen did not disappoint. Well, I guess it did–I was disappointed to be right about it. It was a dang tough climb. I’d planned to push a little on this one, and I did. Constant cadence, HR in the mid 160s for the last two thirds, and I knew that the race was mostly downhill from here. This last big push was probably responsible for the only real unexpected event of the day, which happened early in the last section of the race.
The Details – Wolfpen Descent to Finish
I felt really good at the top of Wolfpen, and the descent was another fun one. But I think my muscles cooled down a little too much while I was resting. As soon as the terrain leveled off again (at exactly mile 82), cramps started forming for real. The best decision I made all day was to get off the bike at a church parking lot to stretch and massage my legs. It was a good investment of time. I got back on the bike and felt good.
For exactly 5 miles.
Just before mile 87, the same thing was happening again. I took my time again…a little more time, and while I was stretching and massaging I realized the problem was the cooling of the muscles and that I could feel the issue most in right leg at the top of the stroke. So a little change in tactics for the finish–keep the legs moving as much as possible, even hitting some strokes now and then when descending, and don’t stop at the top of that stroke.
It paid off, and I’m glad I took the time to figure it out. I could feel a bit of a cramp every now and then, but I worked it out as best I could without stopping the machine from going forward. Woody’s Gap wasn’t too tough at all, even at this point of the ride.
The original plan was to ride as hard as possible from Wolfpen to the end. The plan was also to change the plan if the plan needed changing.
On that last big descent, I started piecing together what was going to come next. I knew I had the cramping issue going on, and as I tried to calculate about how much time was left to complete the last 18 miles, I was having trouble doing the math.
Now, I’m a math guy. You have to know this. And I have enough experience to know that when I’m having trouble doing math on a run or a ride, it’s a real sign of fatigue. So even though I felt pretty good I decided to be conservative–the cramp situation and the “can’t-do-simple-math” situation were signs that I needed to pay more attention to finishing than to the clock. It was a little frustrating to see groups go by me and know that I had the ability to run them down and finish with them, but…
Did I actually have the gas to run them down? Then what? Would I have enough to hang? If not, it would have been a waste. What if I had another cramp while putting in that effort and I had to get off the bike again?
I figured it was too much of a gamble for a very small potential payoff. I was really close to finishing, and getting into a group was going to save me a few minutes at best. And for what? Nope–I decided to play it safe, enjoy the scenery, and get home in a time that was way better than I’d been hoping for. I’d already secured what, for me, was going to be a great finish, and I wasn’t about to risk it.
So I rode the last 18 miles alone. Fitting, because I almost always ride alone. 😀
I will say that the rollers at the end were kinda brutal. I mean, not hard climbs at all, but I guess I had it in my head that you could climb the 6th gap and then just coast. It doesn’t work that way. LOL.
Still, I finished with a clock time of 7:32:xx, chip time of 7:27:xx, and a Strava moving time of 6:56:17. I was shooting for 8:00:00 as a chip time, and would have accepted that for a moving time, so needless to say, I was ecstatic with what I’d done.
I coasted over to the car to find Juan sitting in a chair relaxing. I was pretty beat, and it was all I could do to remove some clothing and shoes and get my stuff together to go take a shower. As I said, that shower was amazing. Really hot water and great pressure–like a massage. Funny thing–I enjoyed that shower so much that I had a flash right in the middle of it that scared me to death. Was this real? I was scared I was about to wake up from a dream in our hotel room and have the entire ride ahead of me.
I also took Juan’s advice and applied the Inbike Amino Recovery salve we’d received at packet pickup. Amazing! I knew for sure I’d be cramping the whole way home and in bed that night, but this stuff fixed me up–absolutely no issues, which I didn’t think was possible after an effort like this. By the time I’d gotten dressed and had a few cups of sweet tea I was a new person–completely different demeanor when I got back to the car.
We got everything packed up for the trip home and headed into the school cafeteria where we saw Justin and Todd eating. It was great to share some time with them after the race. We also saw Dallas on the way out–he was waiting for Dave at the finish line.
My biggest worry was that we were all going to be doing this together but separate, and I’m really glad I got to spend some time off the bike with my friends at this event.
Amazing event. I don’t know if I’ll ever do 6 Gap again, but 3 Gap is a definite possibility. I enjoy cycling, but not enough to let it take time away from other things like jiu jitsu (which I hope to start back soon) and even things like rock climbing. Three hours on the bike is enough for me, and I’d rather not have cycling training be my focus.
But I’m really glad I got to do this with some cool people.
Most importantly, I happy I got to honor my friend’s memory by riding his bike on the same roads he loved to ride. I’m sure that he was up there somewhere watching me suffer and laughing his butt off, not just in the race, but also in the training.
Bill was a guy who was always there to push you to be more than what you are today, and this ride pushed me for sure.
Well, here we are just a few days away from Six Gap Century, and I’m writing my final update. As usual, I’m excelling at the taper part of the training program.
The move up to TN definitely caused a few ripples in my training for the final two weeks, but that’s ok. It also gave me a chance to get in a couple of confidence-boosting rides that make it easy to take my foot off the pedal.
The morning after we got here I met up with some former co-workers to put in a pretty tough ride on Foothills Parkway. One of the guys has done a good bit of Six Gap recon, and he lined us up a route that looked like a little mini version of what we’re facing in Dahlonega. It even had some extra juice squeezed in with the Sweetie Pie segment showing us something much steeper than we’ll be seeing on September 26.
This was the perfect ride at the perfect time. Temperatures were in the mid 50s at the start of a beautiful day that eventually reached 80 degrees. 8,500 ft of climbing in 63 miles made sure that there wasn’t much time for “just riding”. We were either climbing or focused on descending for most of the way. These long descents really gave me confidence–haven’t done them in quite a while–but also were the source of my soreness the next day. My lower back and neck aren’t used to being in that position for long periods of time, but I can deal with that on September 27.
The big piece of information I got on this ride was that my rig was set up correctly. I purchased a new cassette earlier this year in case I needed it. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find one with just a couple of weeks left, but I didn’t want to change it out until I knew I actually needed it. There were a couple of spots where I needed to stand and put in a hard effort on this ride, but I was able to comfortably spin most of it.
I got in a couple of Zwift rides during the next week, and there was plenty of exercise unloading trucks, carrying boxes, and building furniture, so the “rest” was pretty active. Then, last Saturday we went out to Tellico Plains and road the River Road at Cherohala Skyway in Cherokee National Forrest. This was a really cool ride– a really gentle 25 mile ascent with a big boy climb at the top. Once we were on the River Road section of this ride we saw less than a half dozen cars. It was another beautiful ride, and a real confidence builder.
From there, it was off to the bike shop for a tune up, and I’m hoping to get just a couple of gear check rides in between now and Sunday.
The final results aren’t in, but I’m really happy I chose to do most of my training on Zwift for this event. The lack of mountains, or even hills, in Florida is a tough obstacle to overcome unless you can go out and find spots with a good headwind. Zwift has plenty of virtual hills that work the same way as real hill–if you don’t keep pedaling, you stop going forward. That constant cadence required to finish a route is feeling like the most important aspect of training. I realized in the last couple of weeks that this event is about being able to spin your legs for 45 minutes to an hour without stopping while keeping your heart rate in check, then being able to recover and do it again and again.
The rides I’ve done in the past few weeks like Mega Pretzel and Four Horsemen lined me up for just that. As a bonus, I feel much better climbing real hills than virtual one. Not having to worry about where all that sweat is going to go, having something real to look at, having climbing partners to talk to…all of that should make Six Gap much more enjoyable than the training.
We must undergo a hard winter training and not rush into things for which we haven’t prepared.
I tried to make it a pretty big week. We’re headed up to TN for a bit, and this coming week is going to be hectic. I’ll probably get to ride on Tuesday and Friday and Sunday for sure, but the other days are toss ups. So I need to make those three rides all matter–no junk miles. Friday is already planned to be a longish outside ride in the mountains of God’s country! Can’t wait!
So this was my last week of Zwift racing before Six Gap–time to buckle down, focus, and forget about 1 hour hard efforts for a few weeks. I did the last Zwift Classics race on Tuesday, and I thought I was really going to do well in this one. The London Classique course is set up perfectly for my size and riding style–big guy going a steady speed/effort the whole way. But for some reason I was feeling off–just couldn’t hang on after the second sprint effort. My HR never really recovered, and I was probably stupid for going for points there. That big-burst sprint is not what I’ve been training for. Again, I’m lucky that our boy Hal Wye posted this race. Wish I could have stayed with those boys the whole way!
And thanks to all of the fine folks who raced the Eastern European time zone this season. Huge turnout every week, which made for fast times. It was great to be able to hit these on my lunch break and never have to worry about being stuck out on a course alone for long. There’s always someone to ride with in Eastern Europe!
On Thursday, I was back at it with the Dirty Wattz for the ZRL Team Time Trial. We had some strong Bs in our squad this week, and I think I was in the front of the train for less than 2 minutes total. I was barely hanging on the whole time, even though I was being pulled and protected. I’m telling myself this is a good thing, because it means I’ve acclimated myself to longer but less intense efforts. One thing I’m encouraged by is the amount of time I’ve spent during this training with constant cadence. Even when I’m not on hills, I’m not taking a break from spinning (except on the downhills). The ability to spin for a long time should pay off on long climbs at Six Gap.
On the other hand, it was a really good course for me, and I struggled with it. I was definitely putting up bigger numbers in May on these TTTs, and I was heavier then. Robbie got a pretty good screencast of the first 20 minutes or so of this one before he peeled off–I love his setup.
I had zero left for the finish on this one. Again, telling myself this is a good thing, because it’s not what I’ve been training for. But the pace was hot, and the competition between the Dirty Wattz teams definitely fuels the fire.
I took Friday and Saturday off…sorta. I did jump on the bike briefly on Friday to knock out a really short ride with a 37 m climb so that I could finish off the Tron Bike. That sucker was painful to get, but I got it.
Though I prefer to ride long on Saturdays I bumped it to Sunday this week. I was dreading doing the Mega Pretzel, after bailing on it mid-ride a couple of weeks ago. But this one had to be done. No Radio Tower climb, and no trip up Alpe du Zwift like in Four Horsemen, but that second time up the Epic KOM in this one is just mentally defeating. You feel like you are always going uphill on this course. The downhills just aren’t enough time to really feel rested. At least on ADZ, you can jump off the bike, go get some food/liquid, come back and your avatar is still going 65 kph down a mountain. Not so here–if you get off the bike for any amount of time, the avatar stops. It keeps you pretty honest.
But, I got it done in a little over 5 hours. I switched to the MTB for the jungle sections (ick), and looking back I wish I’d used a TT bike for most of this one. I was on my new Tron, and it didn’t occur to me until about 10k left that I’d not drafted AT ALL for the whole ride. Watopia was pretty empty yesterday, so I did this one as a solo effort.
An update on weight–I was below 184 pounds when I got off the bike after this ride. I made sure to re-hydrate all afternoon/evening, and did my best to clean out the fridge and put some calories in me. I’m good at this–it’s my forte. I was able to get up to 190 by bedtime, but I think I’ve broken through that weight loss plateau I hit a few weeks ago, and I may be able to shed another few pounds by pain day.
Another low volume week–not enough saddle time, not enough climbing. But I was still feeling a little tired, and now that I’m one ride into the new week I’m starting to fill a little stronger.
On the upside, I got outside on Friday and got in some hill repeats with some fine folks who are also going to ride 6 Gap. I missed recording a little bit of the ride because I’m not experienced enough with my outdoor electronics, but the result was somewhere around 3k feet of climbing in somewhere around 40 miles. That comes out to around 75ft/mile. To give some perspective, 6 Gap is 112.4 ft/mile, and the efforts are going to have to be sustained for a lot longer.
I’m keeping that in mind.
But the company was great (much better than being stuck inside with myself), and I have to throw a shout out to Mo for giving me not only a ride out to Clermont, but also a really enjoyable time there and back. Great conversation, and the time flew by!
It was great to get outside and get a little confidence. You never know when you set out to do something more unconventional like train almost exclusively indoors how it will work out, but I think I’m headed in the right direction. I’m continuing to ride longer sustained climbs on Zwift, and I trust it will pay off on pain day. Honestly, I was a little worried about outdoor descending as well. I haven’t ridden outside for ten years or so (15 years on real hills), and I wasn’t sure if I’d lost some of my nerve being so much older. I think I’ll be ok though, and I’m not afraid to use brakes if I need to.
And just let me say…man, it’s so nice to be outside on rollers and constantly changing saddle positions. Soooo much more comfortable than trainer riding. And I can’t forget that the weather on September 26 in north Georgia is going to be a lot different than late August in central Florida. That definitely goes into the plus column for me.
The night before this ride was the weekly ZRL Team Time Trial with the DIRTy Wattz, and it had me a little concerned. I was soooo off in this race, physically and mentally. I couldn’t get the pull order sorted out in my head, and I felt like dookie. Luckily, I had my mic muted and the team couldn’t hear me begging to be dropped, so I was able to keep the effort up and finish with them. I only had to be rescued back into the pace line once. That’s once too many times, but lucky to have a team that’s willing to do it.
I skipped the Zwift Classics race on Tuesday to help a friend unpack some boxes and get settled into a new house, and maybe all that lifting and sweating can account for some of the fatigue I was feeling. I’ll be back at that race again this week–it’s the last one on the schedule and is pancake flat. Perfect for heavier guys who are geared for longer slow twitch efforts. Fingers crossed!
Also realizing I haven’t done a weigh in for quite a while, at least not on the blog. I’m walking around at 191-192 pounds right now. That’s before getting on the bike and pedaling. I’m usually around 185 pounds when I get off the bike after a long ride, even with the copious amounts of water and food I consume. So I’m probably splitting the difference at around 188 for most of the ride. I’d like to be 185 at mile zero on pain day and finishing in the mid 170s. That can still happen, but it’s going to take some discipline that I don’t know if I can muster between now and then. It’s taking a lot of discipline for me to get the time in on the bike. I’m not exactly enjoying those longer efforts.