Doing More With Less Since 1972

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Six Gap 2021 Race Report…AND SHOWERS!

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.

The “Why”

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.

Scott Adcox and Bill McArthur New Orleans 2014

The Posse

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 few rides with 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.

Check In/Expo

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

Six Gap Elevation Profile

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.

“Tiny” Giant at the top of Hogpen Gap

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. šŸ˜€

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.

Post Race

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.

Wrap Up

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.

Six Gap Training – Home Stretch

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.

Six Gap 2021 Training – Week 9

5 Rides | 6.5 hours | 101 miles | 7661 ft

Kind of a step back week, right after a do-nothing week. That wasn’t the plan going in, but I hit a little hiccup on Thursday and changed the weekend plan of doing tough rides on both Saturday and Sunday.

The week started off great with the Crit City Slam as part of the WTRL racing series. I was feeling pretty good and actually looking forward to doing the Specialized Roval Climbing Challenge up the Alpe de Zwift. I just knew I was going to snag a PR on the climb with this awesome bike and pretty good rest coming in.

I did not account for the heat in the fart barn, and I’m having to concede that the elements have finally caught up to me out there. I’ve done my best to get it all sealed up and insulated from the joy that is Florida in July/August, but in doing so I think I may have stopped so much air from coming in that I gassed myself. Check out this HR chart.

That’s not the way I wanted this histogram to look. What had happened was…

I was going for it on the first few segments of the ADZ–not killing myself, but hitting a pace I thought would get me the PR. My heart rate was quickly rising though, and by the 16th bend I was already up in the mid-upper 160s. Anything over 170 is when I have to start backing off when there’s a lot of ride left. Well, I tried, and tried, and tried, but recovery wasn’t coming.

There’s a silver lining here, and I’ll get to it later. But I had to slow down to a crawl to get any kind of drop at all. The SHTF moment happened with about 2.6km left in the climb when I started feeling a little dizzy. Thankfully, I wasn’t too proud to get off the bike and stand directly over the portable AC to try and cool off for a few minutes. I felt better when I got back on the bike, but the heart rate screamed right back up.

I basically pushed the bike up the rest of the hill virtually. Very disappointing– I really wanted that PR, but happy to know I can finish a really tough workout. That’s the type of mental training I hope to get on the trainer.

Now, for the silver lining. I went 30+ minutes with my HR > 170. So that can be done. Now I know. Heart rate is not my real limiter. When I’m feeling like I’m on the rivet, it must be my legs that are failing me, not my cardiovascular system.

So I know who I can rely on now. Spinning my legs is a better option for me than mashing on the pedals. The low cadence work I’ve been doing hasn’t hurt me any, but when it gets hard on race day I’m going to dance with the one that brung me.

Took some time over the weekend to recover. Did a sorta hard ride on Saturday, and I was still feeling this effort, so backed off again on Sunday.

Looking forward to the Richmond Challenge this week. When I looked at the WTRL schedule originally, I was a little disappointed that the C5 course was only a lap, which wouldn’t give me much of a chance to compete on the hills. Luckily, autocat for this week put me at a C4, which means I’ll get two laps, and a chance to make up for my poor climbing.

2021 Six Gap Training – Accepting The Saddle Time (Reluctantly)

This post is part of a series where Iā€™m overthinking my approach to training for the 2021 Six Gap Century ride in North Georgia. All time spent thinking and writing probably would have been better spent on the bike

At first glance this would appear to be the main issue–sitting on a bike for hours and covering 100 miles. The problem here is that, because of the climbing involved, and because I’m kind of a big guy, this ride probably looks more like 175-200 miles when you’re thinking of it in saddle time. To put it in running terms, I’m not training for a marathon, I’m training for an ultra.

If I were doing a normal century ride, I’d be able to count on some things like riding in a big group with a lot of draft. I’d also be able to discount some things like nutrition and hydration. It’s not that I could ignore those things, but they’d be less important. Riding at a pretty easy pace for 4-5 hours is a lot easier to manage than riding 7-8 hours on a roller coaster of effort.

One part of this is adjustment in equipment. Most of my bike time has been in triathlon training, so I’m accustomed to tri shorts with minimal padding–something I can swim and run in. I’m planning to switch over to a bib for this event. I haven’t had a chance to purchase yet, but it’s my cart along with a heaping helping of butt paste.

I’m trying to account for the saddle time by working out how often and how much I have to eat to stop the bonk. That means regularly doing 2-3 hour rides pretty often, even 3 months out from pain day. Something else I’m going to incorporate is two-a-day workouts–doing a long easy ride in the morning, followed by a shorter but more intense ride in the afternoon.

I did a mini-test this Tuesday with a pretty easy one hour ride at lunch (intensity = 73%), followed by a time trial sufferfest in the afternoon (intensity = 101%). Counting the warmup time for the TT, that ended up being an hour and 45 minutes of saddle time, but broken up by a couple of hours. What I’m trying to achieve here is not just the saddle time, but saddle time at different effort levels.

To be honest, the plan was to do a similar test earlier this week, but suffering from the keto flu (see weight loss plan) had me bonking on what was supposed to be a relatively easy route for the first ride. I’m definitely going to have to play with this approach and adjust as I go.

The bottom line is that I really don’t like being on the bike for a long period of time. I can do it once on the designated day, but I’d like to get there without having to do a 6 hour ride weekly. It may come to that, but I have time to check out some different options for now.

2021 Six Gap Training – Fat Shaming Myself For Better Results

This post is part of a series where I’m overthinking my approach to training for the 2021 Six Gap Century ride in North Georgia. All time spent thinking and writing probably would have been better spent on the bike

Here’s a tough realization I’ve had to come to terms with: The biggest bang for my buck for speed and efficiency on the bike comes from not doing something. That something is shoving food into my face. I knew it was going to come to this. It’s just simple math. I can increase my strength and power, but there are limits there. The easiest way to improve my watts/kilogram is to decrease the denominator.

I have a complicated relationship with food. Actually, it’s not that complicated. My love for food is right up there with rugby, jiu jitsu, and, uh…other stuff. It’s a tough place for me to have the discipline to deny myself.

Weight loss has to happen for me to hit my goals, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. I’ve been at different weights over the last 30 years, depending on what activities I’m focused on. Playing rugby in college I was ~190 pounds and trying hard to gain weight. I was 215-220 as a reasonably fit men’s club rugby player, a step or two slower at 230, but I ran a marathon at that weight.

I tried to stay just over 200 pounds when I was doing triathlons pretty regularly, and that was a comfortable weight for that activity. Well, it was 10 years ago.

A couple of years ago when I was training BJJ heavily, my walking around weight was in the low 190s, and I could make 185 pounds without having to do any kind of weight cut–just a few days of being careful with the diet. I’m pretty trim at 185, so I think that’s a decent target weight for Six Gap. I’m currently floating between 200 pounds at my heaviest time of the day to 192 pounds right after a tough ride. I’m using 200 pounds as my baseline, just to be safe. Anything below 190 would be pretty good on pain day.

The Keto Reset Diet

That covers the “what”. For the “how”, I’m following Mark Sisson’s book, The Keto Reset Diet. The “when” is mid-September, the “who” should be obvious, and the “where” is all places known to man.

I’ve flirted with a ketogenic diet before, and I’m already wheat free, mostly grain free (tortilla chips are the devil), and careful about my sugar intake. This seems like the easiest path from where I am currently, and the more I learn about keto, the more sense it makes from a biological standpoint.

When I really started digging in and running my numbers using the formulas in Mark’s book , I realized that I’ve really been overdoing it with the protein. I was really shocked at the amount of fat I need to be consuming, and that’s going to be tough to accomplish.

I ran the numbers to get from 200 to 190 pounds in the next 60 days, and then I’ll assess where I am. Based on my activity level, my target daily calorie intake should be around 3,277. The macros break down like this:

  • Fat: 227g (2046 calories)
  • Protein: 112g (448 calories)
  • Carb: 50g (200 calories)

Keto gets me where I need to be, quickly. And this isn’t a cosmetic thing…your photo doesn’t go down in the record book, just your time. I fully expect I’ll be back to my fluffy self by Christmas. Well, maybe not…we’ll see what comes up after Six Gap!

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