How adopting (and adapting) a Keto-based lifestyle has changed my life – Ten Month Update

I realize there are many people who would read this nutritional approach and chalk it up to utter nonsense, with the assertion that a high carbohydrate low-fat lifestyle is the proper means towards healthy living. To those people, know that I am happy that your approach is working for you, wishing you continued success and hope that your body never “rebels” against your nutrition. My message is for those who are not thriving under the “standard dietary advice” – that maybe my experience can help those like me who are at a dead-end with the high carb diet and want to try something different.

Also understand that I’m not a nutritionist, but a regular guy who is accustomed to research and problem solving in my day job, leading me to an “n=1” study on my own person, in an attempt to correct my own health.

With that disclaimer behind us, below is an account of the results from my last 10 months, experiencing the life-changing effects of a keto-adapted lifestyle.


Summary:

  • My sanity is back. In fact, I had no idea I had lost my sanity until I realized what it was like to drop the stressful lifestyle of constant cardio and calorie counting…
  • My weight / body composition have been stable. For the first time in what seems like forever, I can maintain my weight by eating to my hunger, without depriving myself, and without being a slave to constant exercise and calorie counting
  • My metabolic risk factors have all improved
  • My hunger is not constant – I don’t have to eat every few hours like before
  • My bicycling performance has been transformed – I need much less food on bike rides, my recovery is quicker, and I’m just as fast as last year with less training.
  • My well-being is just better overall! I have more even energy, less brain fog and headaches, less sugar cravings, less GI discomfort, sleep better…

That leads me to what some have called the “great irony of keto-adaptation.” After the carb-restriction and adaptation period, one has changed to insulin-sensitive and can re-introduce carbs to their diet as-needed, knowing that carbs will be converted to energy much more effectively than before.

And I bet some out there thought I don’t eat any carbs anymore!


Just after the start of the New Year of 2016, I once again put myself through my normal “off-season” routine – cut the pounds to achieve a better “race weight” through strict diet management with calorie reduction and focused training.

As I started back down this path, I reflected that every year, I’d do the same thing. Weight goes up, fight to bring it back down.  Repeat.  Always trying to break the cycle of fat gain, thinking it only had to do with counting calories. Yet I couldn’t explain the paradox of adding inches to my waist the more I bumped up my activity.  Everyone is used to the weight gain during the holidays, but what was up with gaining weight through the summers of plenty of long bike rides?

The more I thought about what I was doing, the more I realized that I wasn’t grasping the whole picture. The idea of sustainability came to mind.  How is it that many people can clearly maintain themselves without being attached at the hip to MyFitnessPal?

I arrived at the conclusion that I should not merely survive on a nutrition approach, but rather I should thrive. Something I was doing was not ideal for my body.

This conclusion led me down the path of searching – yet again – for a nutritional approach that would work for me, which I documented in this post at the 6 week mark.


What did I learn?  That the high-carb “mainstream” approach to fueling for endurance athletes was all wrong for me.  My body was in a state of insulin resistance (as in showing signs of Type 2 Diabetes!) and it couldn’t use all of the carbs I was feeding it.  Even worse, those carbs were being stored as fat.  I needed to correct what was going on with all these complex hormones which regulate carb and fat metabolism.

What have been my results over the past months?

  1. Weight management is not calorie counting insanity anymore!
  2. After strictly following the fat-adaptation period, I can actually enjoy carbs now (in moderation)
  3. My health and all my metabolic risk factors have improved
  4. I no longer have constant hunger
  5. My “need to feed” on bike rides has dropped about 75%
  6. Recovery from exercise and inflammation has significantly improved
  7. Speed on the bike is at least the same as last yet (or maybe slightly better!) with almost half the training load!

What am I doing next?

  1. Make a push for fat loss in the “off season” – for the first time ever I’m finishing the summer lighter than when I started. Let’s work on next year’s climbing weight right now!
    1. Hypothesis – being “fat-adapted,” experiment with reducing dietary fat, maintaining protein for muscle repair and workout in a calorie deficit to improve body composition.
  2. When I do get bike time in these shorter days, keep a good balance between base and intensity to keep my fat burning endurance going strong.
  3. Enjoy this new approach to life!


 

Want more details? Keep reading…

I was able to drop off MyFitnessPal for months and still maintain my weight and my sanity

I know this must resonate with more than a few people. You know who you are, and I once was there – you just look at something sweet and the pounds add on. To keep your weight down, counting calories was central, and you were chained to some sort of method to keep track of everything – which meant weighing and measuring your food to keep a running diary EVERY _ SINGLE _ DAY. Once you set aside the diary, weight creeps back up.

Instead, this is the first summer that I ended lighter than I started. As I noted in my previous post about my experience, I was around 193 lbs at the end of the 6 week “test.” Fast forward to this week, and I weighed in just about 191 lbs. This is without touching MFP the entire time, and with having a few family trips in the mix (i.e. eating out and “bad eating” certainly happened).

I cannot express how liberating this feels. Now I can absorb “life” and account for periods of lower training volume without a worry. For the first time ever, we took a family vacation together and I wasn’t stressed about getting enough exercise or counting calories from restaurant menus.

How did I beat the weight creep? I pointed to a few resources explaining this in my previous post, but in short – a calorie is not a calorie. The way our body should work is that our hunger is proportional to our energy needs and we can eat accordingly without ballooning up. But if something is wrong “inside” – in my case insulin resistance – things can go all wrong hormonally and you may be eating past your energy needs while your body can’t process everything you’re taking in. Put simply, in an insulin resistance scenario, carbohydrates don’t all go to energy, some get stored as fat. What makes it worse is that in this scenario your body only “knows” how to burn carbs and can’t access the fat stores as easily, so the downward spiral of fat gain continues.

If this goes unchecked, the situation will eventually worsen into Type 2 Diabetes.

The good news is this can be corrected with nutrition.  This is exactly what I did – moved to a low carb, high fat diet to correct my fat storing tendencies, my inability to extract energy from carbs, and my inability to burn fat as well.

Here’s a great article describing the phenomenon in more detail and pointing to the use of high fructose corn syrup as a major player in the US obesity epidemic. Quote:

“As long as you keep eating fructose and grains, you’re programming your body to create and store fat.”

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/04/30/fructose-and-protein-related-to-obesity.aspx

 

I can actually eat carbs now (in moderation) – with a caveat

When I first started on a keto-based approach, I strictly followed the plan to make sure I could get through the adaptation period and correct my metabolism. The good news is that what I read about the “after” period was true for me – once you’ve corrected things, you may re-introduce carbs and test the waters to see how you respond. This has made social events much more enjoyable. I’ll generally stay keto in day to day life, saving my carb indulgences for gatherings where I know there will be some excellent homemade bread or dessert I’d like to try. I also have brought back some carbs for longer / more intense bike rides (covered later).

I must mention that this “carb re-introduction” is a highly individualized subject. Whether or not to add carbs back to your diet and to what level is highly dependent on your desired health goals / improvements and personal tolerances. Some people stay in pure keto because it’s what they need for optimum health. I found that adding back “better” carbs like sweet potatoes helped me get enough fuel for high intensity exercise.

Regardless, the amount of carbs I eat now is a fraction of what I once consumed. Now I have a general “feel” for when I eat too much as it brings back some of the “fog” or other reactions. I rarely eat wheat and most grains now as I’ve found that avoiding them has helped my digestive system; I am a sucker for tortilla chips (especially salty ones!) but keep it at a lower level; and I still enjoy sweets but “need” much less to satisfy (e.g. a piece of true dark chocolate and I’m done).

Finally, it cannot be overstated that without the adaptation period, cycling in and out of carbs wouldn’t be possible. First the foundation must be corrected, and that cannot be done without prolonged carb restriction to reset the metabolism.

 

My overall health and metabolic risk factors have improved!

One of the repeating questions I would get from people interested in what I was doing was “what are your lab results?” I understood the concern as we have had this message beat into us from the industry that “fat is bad.” I once thought this as well, but it’s only half-true. There is plenty of evidence to show that high fat with high refined carbs is a terrible way to eat and will do serious damage to your risk factors. But a diet based on good fats and low carbs has been shown to take fasting glucose, HDL, triglyceride levels and so on in the right direction.

Here’s where my results landed – from one year ago (before) to “today” (my yearly fall health screening).

Did you ever think you could reduce your triglycerides and reduce your blood glucose by eating more fat?

Triglycerides HDL Fasting Glucose
2015 56 69 99
2016 48 95 92

How is this possible? Again – I’ll leave the fine details to the experts, but here’s how I understand it:

Going to a high-fat low-carb diet prioritizes your fat burning metabolism and in the process, this “heals” your insulin resistance. Blood sugar then corrects itself – as you change from insulin resistant to insulin sensitive – because your body can burn carbs without a problem. HDL goes up because you’re eating the good fats. Triglycerides were once high because your body didn’t know how to burn fat. But now you’ve taught it how to use fat for energy, so the trigs drop as well.

There you have it. Teaching your body to access fat stores = correcting a number of metabolic risk factors.

By the best indicator of heart health I know of (the Triglycerides / HDL ratio) I think I’m doing just fine now:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664115/

http://www.drsinatra.com/the-most-important-cholesterol-ratio-to-watch/

On top of this I sleep more soundly and am more rested … many days I wake up before my alarm ready to go.  I have NEVER had that happen before!

I no longer have constant hunger

Another way I like to say this is that I eat when I’m hungry and don’t worry about my weight creeping up like I have before. In prior years I would have had to maintain almost a constant state of mild hunger all the time to keep my weight / body composition under control; I don’t need to stay hungry anymore and it’s great!

Observing my hunger patterns now has been very interesting.  On the old way, I was just hungry all the time – no matter my activity level.  Now, I notice signals that align with my training.  Lots of training in a week with hard efforts, I will have more meals a day than if I’ve dropped off the volume.  On very low weeks I’m not hungry until lunch.

It’s also been great to ditch the habit of 6 meals a day and the need to eat regularly at 7am / 10am / noon etc or risk a headache.  Happy that is gone!

 

My “need to feed” on bike rides has dropped by about 75%

This is another amazing change. Instead of starting rides with pockets stuffed with energy bars, I ride with far less. In fact, for anything 2 hours or less, unless it’s a very intense ride (needing some glucose fueling) I generally don’t need to consume anything at all on the bike (which is a huge change from before, where I had to constantly eat to keep from bonking).

This year I have participated in rides upwards of 70+ miles for many hours and only had to consume a fraction of what I’ve needed before. I had plenty of energy and with no bonking in sight.

I am very confident I am much more bonk-resistant, maybe even bonk-proof as some people claim for really long and intense rides.

The reasoning behind this can be found in the “FASTER” study, described in the link below. In short, a fat-adapted athlete can push their aerobic threshold higher, reducing their need for glucose fueling:

http://www.vespapower.com/the-emerging-science-on-fat-adaptation/

Speaking of Vespa, here are my go-to supplements as a keto-adapted athlete:

  • Vespa – a catalyst to keep the fat metabolism charged up during a long event
  • Keto OS – a ketone supplement which provides hours’ worth of an energy boost (“spike” this with targeted glucose fueling and it is rocket boost time!)
    • Keto OS v3.0 is also a super way to get your electrolytes as a keto athlete (especially magnesium)

For many hours on the bike with hard efforts I’ll have Keto OS in one bottle or two (especially if it’s hot), one or two easily digestible energy gels (I like what Huma makes), a Vespa pack and a low GI food bar from Clif or similar just in case.

If it’s only a couple hours at aerobic efforts I bring a whole lot less.

I also drink a lot more water than before and make sure I get lots of salt/potassium too:

http://www.vespapower.com/ofm/hydration/

 

I recover much faster from exercise and have reduced inflammation

As this is covered in-depth in the Phinney/Volek book I pointed to in my last post, here are the bullet points:

  • Glucose driven metabolism = higher oxidative stress vs. fat burning
  • Less oxidative stress on a fat driven metabolism = quicker recovery.
  • Additionally, a fat driven metabolism = higher aerobic capacity = less lactate load & no leg burn!

http://www.vespapower.com/ofm/fat-adapted-metabolic-state/

 

My endurance performance while bicycling is “improved” at almost half the training level

What is amazing to me, on top of the corrected health issues, the improved well-being and recovery from exercise, is how my bicycling endurance performance has transformed. True, when I first started this journey my speed took a big drop and I struggled through the first couple big rides of the year. However this was anticipated based on the research.

http://www.vespapower.com/ofm/fat-adapted-metabolic-state/

After a few months in, I experienced the transformation – my speed came back, but curiously, with less training than prior years. I found myself able to hold hard efforts longer, pulling groups and “sprinting for the city limits sign.” Towards the end of the riding season, I dabbled with the faster groups, just able to hold on vs. being dropped early in the past.

I not only saw a difference in the “90 minute sprint” of Tuesday night group rides, but also on longer Saturday morning metric centuries when I hammered hard just to see if I would break. I set a higher threshold heart rate and never bonked.

I’d say things are different now, yes?


Disclaimer: This information is used for entertainment purposes only – not to be used to diagnose or treat any disease or health condition – I am not a doctor or a nutritionist or a health coach.  Just a guy who rides bikes, likes to live healthy and make observations about my experiences.

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Two years later – Bicycle Crashes and Trusting in God

Jeremiah 32:17 – New King James Version (NKJV)

17 ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.

Two years ago, our family was rocked by every bicyclist’s worst fear.  Or at least mine – my beautiful wife of many years was hit by a motorist while we were on vacation at one of our favorite spots in Florida.

Enjoying a ride on a separated bike path, one of the safest places one would think to ride, she was cut off by a driver turning off the main road and suffered a number of injuries from the impact.  I recalled the incident, her recovery, and the many people who have helped us in this post at the 5 month mark.

I believe that the Lord gives us the incredible ability to heal from the past through remembering the good in the bad; the life lessons and joy despite the pain.

I remember His Goodness in blessing us with so many people coming alongside to help us through.

I remember the incredible strength of my wife to push through the healing process and “cross that mental line” to start riding again.

I remember the impact this had on me personally to savor each and every day, to hold the moments we have here as precious, and to become even more of an advocate for safe streets.

Everyday life may keep me “busy” – but I will strive to remember my Purpose here.

Ride your Ride, or Run your Race – everyday!

20160820_125325

Enjoying one of our biggest rides together, almost two years later

 

20161005_170051

Family time on trails together, back at it and strong!

Right-side up from Upside-down – 6 weeks into Keto/Paleo/Primal Nutrition

First – a summary and my results for people who want to know if something is worth a read before spending the time to go any further (like me):

About six weeks ago, frustrated with my typical “calorie and carb cut to get into race weight” approach and concerned about a number of personal health issues with a high carbohydrate diet, I tried something almost entirely different – a low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet.  This is generally referred to as a “ketogenic diet.”  The nutrition values for me were less than 50g carbs, around 150g protein and the rest as fat per day – or in terms of ratios, 5/25/70%.

If I haven’t lost you yet (believe me, I understand … 70% fat???  where the heck do you get your energy from?) stick with me here.  I think my results and the reasoning are very interesting.

Disclaimer #1 – I fully understand the importance of the individual approach to nutrition.  This is precisely why I’ve decided to blog about this.  There are many sides to this debate – high carb will destroy your health, low carb will destroy your health.  I have discovered that low carb works better for me than high carb, yet most of the general nutrition advice I’ve gotten over the years is to preach for high carb.  I wish the “experts” I used would at least have shown me the pros/cons of both so I could have decided on my own.

So back to the results – what happened?  Here’s 5 major points:

  1. This has been the EASIEST nutrition change I’ve ever made.  I counted calories and measured only to get a baseline and went on auto-pilot – and still got results.  This never would have been possible on my previous approaches.  In other words, to manage my body fat on the standard carb-centric teaching I have to strictly weigh, measure and live life counting calories every day.  No one can do this forever – on the other hand, getting a baseline from time to time and running on auto-pilot is much more sustainable.
  2. My weight loss was rather small – but my body composition changes were significant.  How about an almost even swap of fat (-5lbs) for lean body mass (+5lbs)?
  3. I experienced quite a few daily health benefits: Much easier to go to sleep (and stay asleep!), no more GI issues like I had on high-carbs, much more even energy levels (no more afternoon crashes), reduced dependence on coffee to get through the day, no more crazy hunger pangs if I am late for a meal, no more brain fog when late for a meal..
  4. I definitely experienced a rough “adaptation” period as I’ve read about – carb cravings and brain fog that I’d experienced before keto were magnified for about one to two weeks.  I found Keto OS (a ketone supplement) powerful tool to get me through this adaptation period.
  5. I am able to ride longer without any carb fueling – up to 2.5 hours so far – a sure sign of fat-adaptation.  However I can tell that my higher intensity efforts are weaker (there is a fix for this!)

If you only intend to get this far, at least think about this one concept – it’s not about calories consumed vs calories burned … it’s about calories stored vs calories burned (credit to the Primal Endurance guys for coining the phrase).

Let that sink in for a moment.  Why would my body be storing vs. burning what I eat?  Let’s keep going.

What’s next for me?

  1. While body re-composition is GREAT, as a cyclist who loves/hates climbing tall mountains I am also after a body weight change as well.  My experience has taught me that when I went on auto-pilot and used fat in my diet to “eat to satisfaction” I probably went into a calorie surplus.  In the future I’ll go back to counting here and there to balance fat loss against retaining the lean body mass.  But I cannot emphasize enough how my experience confirmed what I’ve read in multiple sources – it’s not only about the calorie balance, but how your body reacts to those calories.  Or put simply, a calorie is not a calorie.  Once I got my body into a state (through keto) where I wasn’t having to battle my tendency to store carbs as fat, I could then experience calorie balance on a more even playing field.  Testament to that is – despite my significant consumption of fats – I burned more fat and built muscle.  Wondering about dismantling the traditional food pyramid yet?
  2. Having spent weeks on low carb (less than 50g) and focusing on aerobic training to allow myself to become fat adapted, I’m going to add specific types of carbs back in (with proper timing) to about 100g to 150g per day (depending on training) to have proper glycogen stores for higher efforts.  I will be keeping an eye on my “carb sensitivities” and will know that if my BF% starts to creep up, it will be because of eating too much carbs or the wrong type.  This is where I will transition into a nutrition approach that looks more like Paleo / Primal.
  3. Checkup on all the important blood levels of xyz etc.  What I’ve read has indicated that my metabolic indicators should actually get better.  Time to make sure of that.

What are my goals and what do I expect next?

  1. Since I’m at the doorstep of bumping up training intensity and duration for a number of century charity rides this summer, now my first priority will be on performance.  Calorie deficit for weight loss will need to take a back seat for a few months.  I’ll be working from the Vespa OFM (Optimized Fat Metabolism) protocol and referencing the Primal Endurance method as I ramp up my training and targeting my carbs as needed.  My expectations:
    1. Ride long without bonking like I have in the past
    2. Reduce my need for constant on-bike sugar (and thus get away from the sugar gut issues I’ve had)
    3. The icing on the cake (yes I can still eat cake) would be the ability to set a faster pace on long rides, which would be more evidence of fat adaptation (higher aerobic threshold).  We’ll see about that – if I can get #1 and #2 at the same pace as last year I’d be happy.  Adaptation to a higher AT builds over months and I’m not expecting anything immediate.
  2. I’ll need to find my optimal “concoction” for on-bike nutrition other than sugar.  The great thing about fat adaptation is that your insulin sensitivity goes up (resistance goes down).  In other words when I do need sugar it is used more effectively.  So I’ll still carry a GU or something similar for those times when I really need a shot of energy.  But overall long-ride fueling needs to be centered around getting my body to burn fat efficiently.  I’ve already had a great experience with Keto OS for bike performance, and will be experimenting with Vespa as well.  I’ll also be trying Superstarch and/or Exos Carb Fuel for non-insulin spiking carb sources while on the bike.
  3. I fully expect not to see my BF% climb up next winter like it has in years past.  Now that I know what causes my body to store fat I believe I can now manage it much better, by transitioning to keto when my activity levels are low, and Paleo/Primal as I add in training (to be clear, the full Primal Endurance approach does include keto at times but I separate the two for the purposes of speaking about carb levels in this post).


 

How about some devil’s advocate questions:

I thought a calorie was a calorie.  You mention this “calories stored vs. calories burned” idea.  But shouldn’t I be able to burn fat as long as I maintain a calorie deficit?

No, and yes but maybe.  Confused yet?  Here’s a great quote from Dr. Peter Attia:

What you eat (along with other factors, like your genetic makeup, of course) impacts how your body partitions and stores fat.

Here’s his full blog post if you want to get down into the weeds – Do calories matter?

The short of it is that we all react to food differently.  Some people turn carbs “efficiently” into energy.  Others – like myself – tend to take those carbs and store them as fat.  That makes me terribly inefficient (or insensitive – or carb intolerant as many have called it) towards carbs.  So I eat more to get more energy but then store more … notice a spiral?   There’s plenty more to read in Primal Endurance or the Low Carb books by Phinney/Volek (references below).

Not to belabor the point but this was a concept which truly took awhile to sink in with me – that all foods, all calories are not “the same” and diving into your own nutrition to isolate what stands in between you and fat loss is necessary for the best outcome.  Seeing my own results made the concept more concrete in my mind.

 

I don’t believe that you dropped fat and gained lean body mass simultaneously.  Where’s your proof?

If one were to insist I can show scanned copies of my hand scratched records of body weight and body fat as measured (every morning at the same time) by two different methods to reduce error (Navy method – using waist circumference; Accumeasure method using an Iliac crest pinch).  Of course there will always be measurement error but at some point one has to agree that these results are beyond a “critical difference.”  If I weren’t so lazy I’d go through the trouble of a simple statistic analysis, but – well – I’m lazy.

Here’s the charts (click to zoom):

Each chart shows a red line where I started head first into keto.  You can see the month prior as I frustratingly tried to apply my previous approach.  (Each data track also shows a 7 day moving average to see the trend).

Looking at the Body Weight chart in isolation is a great example of how the scale will lie to you.  Actually, it’s not lying, it’s just telling you all it has to offer.  I had a small weight loss over the past number of weeks, but considering normal body weight fluctuations this could be called no weight loss at all.

So keto is a failure right?

Not so fast.  The next chart showing Body Weight and Body Fat percentage shows the importance of body composition measurement.  In other words, you do yourself a disservice only watching the scale weight.  There may be some other things going on that you’re missing, and without the whole picture, one might sabotage an approach that only needs a few tweaks.  Notice the orange line trending down?  Body fat is dropping while weight is about the same.

The last chart showing Lean Body Mass and Fat is really interesting (at least to me).  Just after the red line, there is a drop in LBM.  I’ve read in multiple places that this is commonplace when starting keto – carbs are gone, glycogen / blood volume can drop…  but then in those same studies LBM climbs back up over time as fat drops.  Interesting to see in my own experience as well!

Do I think that I’ve gained muscle?  Maybe or maybe not.  I’d like to think this is my body re-gaining blood volume as I got a better handle on electrolyte balance following keto, possibly re-filling glycogen stores without carb sources (protein -> gluconeogensis -> glycogen).  Also some muscle may be possible as I was still maintaining training volume during this time.

The result to date since starting “keto” has been -5.4lbs fat and +4.6lbs of lean body mass.

Still don’t believe I’ve dropped fat?  How about this – my “fat pants” I fell back to in January have been in the closet for a month and now my regular pants are loose again.  In other words, abdominal fat (waistline) is still a great indicator and I’ve dropped about an inch.

 

I don’t believe that you burned fat from carb restriction.  I think you ended up with a net calorie restriction and low carb was simply a vehicle for that.  Or that you cleaned up your dirty eating habits and ate clean and that’s where you got the results.

Good counterpoints.  While I won’t know what I actually ate for the 6 weeks (I purposefully did not track so I could test the “auto-pilot theory”) I would submit that my calories were in surplus the majority of the time for these reasons 1) an indicated fat loss and LBM increase suggests (at least to me) a net calorie surplus and 2) I ate whenever I was hungry, and also whenever I thought I was hungry.  Considering the fact that fat is a very calorie dense food, and my natural tendency is to overeat anyway, the odds are very slim that I stayed in a calorie deficit.  Or put another way, you wouldn’t believe the amount of grass-fed butter, organic coconut oil and bacon I’ve gone through in 6 weeks.

Speaking of grass fed butter, our household has already been a “clean eating machine” for at least a decade now.  High fructose corn syrup and white bread have no place here. We get a weekly CSA vegetable share, exclusively eat (ate) whole grains, get our chicken/beef/pork/dairy from local farms raised in a sustainable fashion …  that’s another reason this was so easy to implement.  We just cut out grains and bumped up the fats from the sources we already knew.  No more egg white omelets, now I use whole eggs with cheese…

 

Where did you get all this information about the fat adapted diet?  It sounds bogus!  Aren’t we supposed to eat carbs for energy?

Get that Amazon account ready and just buy the darn books already that I reference below.  Or hit up the websites listed.

If not – the short answer is that your brain and body will either run on glucose (from carbs) or ketones (a result of burning fat).  Either will provide the energy you need for daily life.  How else could humankind have survived without 3 square meals a day (or God forbid what I used to do – eating small meals 6 times a day?)

 

Fine.  Show me some real results from real athletes who train and perform on this diet.

How about the experience of Dr Peter Attia.  His blog is a great read, but be ready for some details.  My favorite part is how he documented a huge increase in his aerobic threshold heart rate once he was fat adapted (translation – burning less sugar and more fat at a higher heart rate).

Ben Greenfield is another great example of someone who has transitioned from the high carb approach…  get ready for some deep reading about his nutrition and performance measures as part of the FASTER study.

 

Fine still.  But the diet sounds yucky.  I can’t give up bread and all the grains I love.

First of all, if you’re living healthy on breads and the like and enjoy it, more power to you.  Knowing what I know now, I’ve realized I have a number of issues with grains that I’d rather just avoid instead of chowing on bread.  That’s not to say I won’t enjoy a good sourdough melt here and there, but grains are not a cornerstone of my diet anymore.  Check out what the Primal Endurance guys say about the “beige goop.”  It might be eye opening.

Another resource – here’s a list from Dr. Maffetone – things to look for to determine if you’re carb intolerant.  I could check off many of these boxes before.  Now most are non-issues.

Apart from that I’m having way more fun eating this way than my previous moderate carb / low fat / high lean protein diets.  Dropping out the sugars and the fats and gorging on chicken breast all the time – I never looked forward to that time of the year.  But bringing fats back allowed some great flavor profiles that weren’t possible before.  And if you’ve got to have your sweets (God knows I have to have my sweets) there are some fantastic Keto dessert and ice cream recipes, with all the possible (healthy) sugar substitutes available out there.

 

Maybe it doesn’t sound so yucky.  Tell me more about what you’re actually eating.

Here are some examples from MyFitnesspal when I was tracking on order to “reset” my nutritional compass and get a baseline.

Example 1: Still holding onto a few carbs and not wanting to completely let go…  especially of my morning oatmeal habit.  Lentils make an appearance for carbs as well.  For pure keto this macro profile is definitely too high for carbs but wouldn’t be so bad for strategic carbs depending on the training load (but also depends on if you actually think eating lentils / oatmeal is ok for a carb source).

This was also towards the beginning when I was trying to work out the PUFA oil consumption so if you’re getting into my details please forgive that.  I’m sure I’ve said this already but good fat sources are very important.

Example 2: A few days later I get the hang of it and knock out a much better macro profile, getting mono-unsaturated fats in (instead of the polys).  Don’t knock me for industrial bacon in the list, this was the most convenient for tracking.  Locally sourced bacon doesn’t have a scan label!

I should mention that I’m not including veggies in my tracking.  We actually eat so many and as long as I know they’re not strong carb sources I don’t bother and assume they are close to zero for net carbs.  That could be a mistake but I’ll adjust for it later if I don’t see results I expect.  Also – it’s important to get your veggies if you’re getting into the coconut oil.

Another tip – in the past I’ve been able to implement changes without cookbooks but this time around was such a paradigm shift I found it very useful to find one (a good one!) to help me adjust to the new approach.  The Ketogenic Cookbook has been a super resource … and yes you can have desserts, check it out!

In the days since I’ve been implementing butter (grass fed of course – we get ours from Happy Cow), cheese, avocado … using the cookbook (above) has helped learn from examples and then mix up on my own.  For example here is today so far:

Breakfast – Coffee with heavy cream and Brain Octane Oil (helps stimulate ketone production). three whole eggs cooked in butter and cheese added

Lunch – Greens salad with olive oil, vinegar, avocado, chicken thigh meat blended with mayo, cheddar cheese.  (We’re still getting around to making our own mayo.  Even though this was a brand based on an expeller pressed canola – it’s still canola.)  I’ve also discovered (wild caught) sardines as a convenient way to top a salad.

Looks like dinner will be protein and veggie based as the morning and lunch have been mostly fat.

As I change-up to more carbs with the training increase I’ll track again and share on my update in a few weeks.

 

What are all these supplements you are talking about?  I’ve never heard of them.  Sounds like snake oil.

Let’s take an honest look at the supplement market.  Everything out there sounds dubious, if you really think about it.  My approach is to first determine if something is safe to consume (the best I can) and if so, try it out.  That’s all you really can do with many things – try it out.  For example, I used to consume a particular sports drink like crazy when I first started riding because it helped me deal with electrolyte loss and cramps.  But then riding even longer I found I had problems with digesting it.  So it worked – and it didn’t – for me.  Maybe it works all the time for some people and not at all for others.  Figuring out what you need and what works just takes trial and error (but hopefully based on some kind of analysis of what you’re looking for vs what a supplement hypothetically can provide).

Keto OS – (full disclosure – liked this stuff so much I signed up to be a Promoter).  My experience – this is a great go-to supplement to get through the hard part of keto adaptation.  It is a ketone supplement, so while your body is adjusting to produce ketones in the absence of glucose, one can supplement with this to still have “brain fuel” and not deal with the carb withdrawal (speaking from experience).  Also – speaking from experience – this has been a super “long burning” energy source for endurance bicycling.  My first try of this stuff (which was before I switched to a keto diet) I tried to set myself up for a bonk on a 3 hour ride.  No pre-ride snack, low carbs all day beforehand.  Instead of limping home I knocked out some rather intense lactate threshold intervals and finished strong.  From now on this will be in my water bottles.

Keto OS is relatively new on the market but the idea of “exogenous ketones” has been around for awhile.  Dr Peter Attia documents his experience with supplemental ketones here.

Vespa – This is another interesting supplement along the lines of fat adaptation (like Keto OS) but my understanding is that it works in a different way to increase fat utilization.  I will be experimenting with this in the near future.

Superstarch and Exos Carb fueltwo carbohydrate sources that are not made from the typical “sugar gut” inducing ingredients.  These are meant to bring carb based energy to your body (replenish glycogen) without blood sugar spikes and the subsequent insulin issues (and fat storage of the carbs which you needed for energy!).  I will also be experimenting with these for longer rides with intensity sessions.

I also make sure I get enough salt and take Slow-Mag as a magnesium supplement.  Again – it’s worth reading into – but going fat based means more kidney function and you’ve got to keep your fluids and thus electrolytes in check when exercising.  I’m still experimenting and will also continue with my standard electrolyte supplements for endurance activities.

 

Okay I’ve had enough.  What about all these resources you talk about?

Books I’ve read or in-process:

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance

Primal Endurance

The Ketogenic Cookbook

Web resources:

http://www.artandscienceoflowcarb.com/

http://eatingacademy.com/start-here

http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2011/08/10-ways-to-do-a-low-carbohydrate-diet-the-right-way/

http://www.vespapower.com/ofm/what-is-ofm/

 

 

Disclaimer #2: This information is used for entertainment purposes only – not to be used to diagnose or treat any disease or health condition – I am not a doctor or a nutritionist or a health coach.  Just a guy who rides bikes, likes to live healthy and make observations about my experiences.

2015 Fabulous Fourth Ride – “better” than last year!

Event summary: The Fabulous Fourth is a well supported ride, and popular enough to where you shouldn’t find yourself alone for very long amongst all the participants.  The first part of the Metric Century ride is generally through scenic rolling countryside, with the last “half” sending you on a climb up the Greenville Watershed to Saluda, and finishing with an invigorating descent back to Tryon.

Strava link of my ride this year


Seeing the Fourth of July approaching this year, I couldn’t help but think back to when I rode in this event last year – and how I made it tougher on myself with some “self-destruction.”  One year later and with more experience and training, I wondered if I could best my time and overall approach this time around.

Last year saw excellent weather.  This year … not so much.  Looking at the precipitation prediction for the day, I was wondering if I would get any dry miles at all!

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Once again, they had doves ready to release at the start of the ride.  Always a unique touch.

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I lined up at the start, very conscious of my mistake last year, trying to stay with the front group (what on earth was I thinking?!).

This time I positioned further back…

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Once we were off it took a serious amount of self control to not get caught up in the speed.  I watched the front group go, then constantly held myself back as I saw a couple more small groups swallow me up and then leave me.   One of the things about this ride is that the rollers start right away – no time to warm up on some flats.

After about 15 miles I was riding alone and thought “well this is going to be a long day.”

Here’s one of the few photos of dry pavement.  The first 35 or so miles of this ride is through beautiful “horse country!”

 

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Although not as many as last year, still quite a few folks out for the morning to cheer on the riders.  This was one of the most surprising and enjoyable parts of the ride which I discovered last year.

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Many many farms along the way.

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I remembered this turn from last year – where I had to stop and stretch out a leg muscle that was complaining after my too-fast start the last time.  Not this time!

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A few miles in and somewhat happy about my pace to this point.  Still mostly riding alone, and it was windy.  Wondering if I was going to be able to beat 4 hours again…

 

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After looping through the countryside southeast of Tryon, crossing over I-26 to head northwest up to Landrum and back to Tryon.

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This is where I finally got with a group!  Just before this were rollers along the interstate, where I was surprised to be able to keep with these guys.

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This group was a Godsend as we worked into a strong headwind and quite a few “flats.”  I was able to conserve a ton of energy thanks to these guys – although be forewarned, there are a few “grunts” north of Landrum on this route!

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Arriving back into Tryon after finishing the “first loop.”  Just after this was the second rest stop.  I decided to keep going to the third, while the rest of the group stopped.  I hated to lose the group, but I had a plan to only stop once.

It was interesting to see many of the people who had passed me earlier at the second rest stop.  I never saw them again … either they were on the shorter ride, or they had done like I did last year…

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This might look familiar – descending back into Tryon on the same road as the “out route” at the start of the ride.  After reaching 176, don’t miss that left turn onto the road around Lake Lanier (Lakeshore Dr).  I think this gets a few people every year, and it got a few this year too.  Some folks got a few bonus miles…

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Get ready for some climbing around the lake.

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One of the few views you have of the water.

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Soon you get some relief with descending after the lake but the rollers keep coming.  I was able to keep with this guy for a little while, he had his phone jamming some music and it made me want to keep up.

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Then he left me at the church.  Oh well.

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Looking towards the northwest I should have known the clouds were an omen…

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Finally to the third rest stop.  Now my stops are more efficient … grab something to eat, use the can, refill bottles and add Skratch, stretch … look for a group to join and hit the road.  Experience is a good thing, despite what you have to pay for it sometimes.

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And look who I found!  These guys were still rolling strong and passed rest stop #3 just as I was leaving.  I joined up again and was happy to have their draft for a few miles.  Truth be told, I never had to pull with this group….  it seemed this pair was much stronger than they let on, and they kept pulling for whomever was behind them.  With the strong headwind today, I was thankful for that.

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Passing the Cliffs…

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Strong winds today!

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Our little group has grown a bit!  Here we are on Highway 11 fighting the wind

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The route takes a turn off of 11 and when you see this sign, know that there is going to be a very steep section up to Camp Old Indian.

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Grunt!  This is where I really started to suspect that the two guys in dark gray were out for an “easy” metric.  As I was sucking wind at max heart rate, they were having a really deep conversation about military something or other (it’s hard to pay attention when you’re maxed out).

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Down the other side and past the Boy Scout camp – too fast to focus for this picture!

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Cross a couple bridges before reaching Old Highway 25 up the watershed.

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Here is where the rain let loose.  No thunderstorms, but from here almost all the way back to Tryon was showers and heavy rain.  Soaked!

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I wondered about this section, with all the previous miles and tough efforts, was I going to be able to ride strong on this last climb?

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Riders behind…

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More climbing and wet roads ahead.

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At the state line I had to take a break, but I was happy with the climb to this point – able to dig down and climb at my expected pace the entire way.  The rain was nice and cool, and didn’t have to worry about heat today.  But with some ups and downs ahead I put my vest on to avoid getting the chills.

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Looking at my bike computer I wondered if I was going to get back before 4 hours…

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From here I would have liked more pictures, but with my camera in my jersey pocket under my vest, only got a few.  I wasn’t looking forward to the rollers after the state line, but it was unexpected how I was able to still reach down, “power” through them and get them over with.

I caught and passed a few groups on the descents back to Saluda, but it was getting tricky with all the rain.  I hope I didn’t make anyone angry with the passing … but I knew what my bike and tires could do and stuck with it.  On the other hand, my brakes were getting on my nerves!

Finally back into town.

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The normal stop for the typical “Bakery Ride”

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Down 176 into Tryon was somewhat anti-climactic.  I hated I missed some pictures here, and a video would have been so telling … rain at 35+ mph really stings!  The new pavement was sweet but I had to be extra cautious as folks said it was still slick in the rain, being so new.  Couple that with my brake delay (rim brakes, arg…) and it was a terribly annoying descent.

The last stretch into Tryon the guy I passed on the descent got me back, and I jumped on his back wheel almost all the way to Harmon Field.  The draft was nice, but when there is that much rain – I felt like I was drinking from his rooster tail!  It was a huge contrast to last year – instead of fighting cramps and limping back, I was in for a full-on sprint back to the finish line!

Still, I missed beating 4 hours by a couple minutes.  I blame the windy day and the rain …  🙂

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It was nice to have the rain end just as I got back.  Quite a challenging ride, but in unexpected ways.

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Looking at my ride data from this year it was clear to me that I was able to finish much stronger than last year, and I was nowhere near as physically exhausted at the end as last time.  I probably could have pushed more, worked harder to stay with the groups at the start – but I was pretty happy to have such a satisfying ride.

A couple thoughts post-ride…

  • Stomach problems are gone thanks to Skratch (No more Accelerade for me during rides).  I’m fairly convinced the type of whey that is used in Accelerade gives me problems.
  • Experimenting with different solid food options is still working (carried Clif bars this time around)
  • It’s telling that my AOMM training plan this spring gave me much more endurance, but not huge gains in power.  Said another way, my peak efforts are about the same as last year but I can do more of them.  Next time I get into a “training block” I think I’ll look for something to give me power improvements.   I’m thinking the TCTM Cyclocross plan will be just the ticket before CX takes off this fall.
  • Most of all, having a mindset of “negative split” enabled me to finish strong today.  It is much more satisfying to sprint at the end than to roll into the finish completely gassed out
  • Short term, I have got to swap out my stock 105 brake pads for Kool-stop pads.  I had those on my old brakes but couldn’t swap them over to the new when I did a 105 upgrade.  The bite, feel and wet weather performance were much better.  Long term … a new road bike with hydro discs would be fantastic…

Goodbye, Adios, Adieu

 

Respect to the man of steepclimbs.com who has inspired me to climb higher and ride further than I ever thought possible…

SteepClimbs.com

clementine ending

I’m afraid this is the end of SteepClimbs as a regular blog.

With all this injury history over the last couple of years, I’ve contemplated pulling the plug many times. The only reason I haven’t is because, surprisingly enough, people still visit. Traffic has dropped slightly from where it was when I was riding and posting regularly, but not as much as I expected. Most of the people are reading the Climbs section, Rides, or Routes. Why stop something that many people find useful?

The answer is that I’m not. That information is going to remain up, but there will be no new posts and I will not be actively maintaining the site. At some point it will become outdated, but it should be useful information for many.

The reason is because I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that this part of my life is over…

View original post 678 more words

2015 Miracle Hill 100 – Putting it all together

Not long after the “agony” of the 2015 Assault on Mount Mitchell, I started to think about another ride to put to work all that I had learned.

Then I convinced myself that another century ride was the only way to do it, and I better find one with significant climbing.  Enter the Miracle Hill 100 – a ride for a great cause, and in case you missed it, lots of climbing (8000ft give or take)!  Does Caesar’s Head mean anything to anyone?

Thankfully, this day went much better than AOMM!

In the weeks after AOMM, I put some thinking into my nutrition mistakes and strategy for having enough energy through the end.  This time I was determined to ride strong all the way.  I replaced my hydration with Skratch, decided to be open to variety at the rest stops for food, and finally – hold my exertion to reasonable limits so I would not blow up anywhere, with no unscheduled stops.  Did I succeed?

Once again, an early start to the day.  Bike ready to go, sun rising:

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Ready!

Still relatively cool out…

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Sun rising

The Century group lines up at the start.

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The Century group is ready

The start was almost anti-AOMM.  That beginning was a frenzy of riders taking off … this was more subdued and made it much easier for me to stay “calm.”  Still, it didn’t take long for me to get dropped off the “lead” pack and lagging behind.

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Dropping off from the peloton

Noting where each rest stop is located…

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Notes for rest stops

I was determined to save energy on this ride, and if I were to err either way, it was going to be starting out too slow.  I got with two guys who were riding the metric century and worked with them all the way to the base of the first climb (Caesar’s Head).

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Working with a couple guys

What was nice about this ride was the multiple chase vehicles keeping an eye on riders.  Nice to know we weren’t out “alone”

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Chase vehicle

Soon enough we see hints of what is to come:

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Mountains rise ahead

as the sun continues to rise.

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Sun is up

One more easy section before we get to the hard stuff.

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Still some shade

This was just after the second rest stop, where I was able to meet Doug Guth, one of the originators of this charity ride.

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Meeting Doug

And there he goes up the first hill … too fast for me!

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Doug is gone

Seeing the peaks ahead…

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Mountains ahead

And now about to turn onto 276 north

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Left turn for climbing!

This ride brought back lots of memories.  I think the last time I had been on Caesar’s head was on a motorcycle, at least 10 years ago.  All the turns came back to me – which was a good memory to have, as there were some switchbacks I recalled being rather steep.

I remembered soon after this rise was where the fun started:

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Passing Ashbury Hills

A short descent, right hander and up we go.

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Climbing after this turn

The rocks remind you that you’re climbing out of red-clay country,

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Remembering the rocks

which you can see “below”

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View down below

I had never ridden a bicycle up Caesar’s Head – in fact most of this route I had never seen on a bicycle.  But I had seen a good portion from my motorized two-wheel days, and knew that I could manage the climbs.  I was glad to be able to find a good pace all the way to the top.

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Managing the climb

This sign is deceiving – you think you’re getting there, which is true – but there’s plenty left!

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Getting there…

Couldn’t help but laugh at this sign!

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I’m slow

The first switchback is a sign of things to come.  These pictures do not do justice to show the grade:

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The first switchback

Looking back down the switchback:

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Looking back at the grade

A few more “straights” here and there with lots of sharp turns and climbs

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More switchbacks

Finally, just ahead!

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Almost there!

Made it to “the top.”  I was happy to see later in Strava that I got the climb done in just under an hour, which was one of my goals for the day.

At this point, I saw a group of riders leave the rest stop.  I wondered if I would have anyone to group up with for the rest of the day…

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Second rest stop

However I needed to take some time to enjoy this place.  About 17 years ago I proposed to my beautiful wife at the top of this mountain…

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At the top

Since then they’ve added this accessible walkway to see the view

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Taking a few moments to enjoy

Still a fairly clear day.

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View of Table Rock

Here is the original observation point from years ago

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Observation point

And the very spot where she said yes!.

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Memories

What better way to remember the exact location!

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Where it all started

After a few moments of reflection … my bike beckoned to continue on – 70 more miles to go!

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Let’s go!

A big thank you to all the great folks working at the rest stops.  Here I helped myself to a homemade brownie and chocolate chip cookie.  Nothing like “real” food instead of processed bars.  Bottle refill and Skratch and ready to go…

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Wonderful folks at the rest stop

On the way out, I met another rider, Dave, who was doing the century as well.  We had a blast descending the north side of the mountain and working the flats all the way to Brevard.  I was worried about doing the remaining 70 miles alone and it was great to have the company.

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The flat to Brevard

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Riding with Dave

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Fast traffic

Finally we get into town and I was feeling the day getting warm as we stopped at a light or two.

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Into town

thankfully we were out into the country again and it wasn’t too hot just yet.

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Countryside

We were able to find shade here and there

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Following Dave

and another rider caught up with us as well.  This lady was strong on the climbs!

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Another rider catches us

After a few miles it seemed that we dropped into a valley west of Brevard.  The views were amazing.

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Other riders out for the day

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The valley opens up

We turned onto a flat road with excellent pavement and the other two riders started talking about Walnut Hollow.  What’s that?

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The flat before more climbing

Oh nothing – just another small climb…

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Walnut Hollow starts

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The turn for Walnut Hollow

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More mountains

Small on the map maybe.  I think Dave was being kind here and waited up for me…

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This is steep!

There was “no place to hide” on this climb.  Sit, stand – whatever – your heart rate will go up.  I don’t know how I managed this picture, but it tells the story.  What I did notice was that this many miles in I was still able to dig down and put in a strong effort.  Thankfully – although it was steep, it wasn’t too terribly long.

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Really steep!

Finally at “the top”

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The “top”

After Walnut Hollow, I had a treat of riding along a mountain trout fishing destination.  The water was beautiful and plenty of folks out fly fishing.

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Trout fishing road

At about 63 miles, we made it to the third rest stop just south of Rosman, NC.  I was happy to get to this point in about 4.5hrs of ride time.

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Third rest stop

I really appreciated the fresh fruit at the stops as well!

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More goodies!

After a short break, back out on to the road

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Thank you!

From this point I was mostly “alone” – the lady we were with, I could never catch.  Dave stayed back to work with one of the last riders, but in the end I think that guy “SAG”ed out and then Dave caught and passed me.

Not a big deal though – once I saw this sign, my memories of 178 started to rise out of hibernation.  I recall a climb after this sign…

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More climbing ahead

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up to the divide

Up to the Eastern divide.  From here it was a fun descent for quite a few miles.  I was grinning the whole way!  Just like back in the day with the motorcycle … except going uphill was a little slower…

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Another climb done

Plenty of fun turns ahead

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Lots of descending

Even more after dropping into SC

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Back into SC

and then into Rocky Bottom

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to Rocky Bottom

After Rocky Bottom I had a few climbs to take on before the last descent and back into the foothills.  I really appreciated the folks in the chase vehicle.  At this point I was the last rider and they followed me all the way back to Furman, checking from time to time if I was ok.

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Chase vehicle

Here is Dave ahead, pulling away from me

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Losing the “group”

I managed to get a picture of this old house – it’s still there even after I saw it last 10 years ago.

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Old house

A few more miles of exhilarating gravity, and past Bob’s place on the right, across Highway 11 and into the foothills.

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Bob’s place

At 178 and 11 I did “catch” the other two riders, but at this point in the day it was hot, I had a headache and needed a boost.  So I took advantage of the convenience store and pulled an AOMM trick – a bottle of coke.

I never drink that stuff normally – c’mon what self respecting foodie would ingest high fructose corn syrup on a regular basis?  But I’ll say it’s just the ticket when you need a boost!  That caffeine and “sugar” is what got me through the next section of 288.

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Stopped for a Coke

After the store were some rollers and very little shade…

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Tough rollers ahead

Followed by some flatter sections and still very little shade.  It was getting very warm, but I took to dousing myself with water for the evaporative effect and along with the Coke “boost” I was able to put my head down and do 20mph+ on some sections.  By now I was happy that I could make some speed and I wasn’t bonking!

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Flattens out a bit

Finally the turn for the next rest stop, the Children’s Home, around 86 miles in.

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Turn for the Children’s Home

More excellent goodies, yes I’ll take a brownie and a cookie!

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Goodies!

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More goodies!

These folks were so encouraging, and it was a real boost to see all the kids cheering me on, even though I was Mr. Last!

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Great people helping out!

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Saying goodbye

The next 20 miles was not easy.  There were some significant climbs between the Children’s Home and Furman…

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A few more tough climbs

And I had to stop at the last stop at 95 miles just to collect myself.  It was very tempting on all of the remaining climbs to take a break, but I wanted to be able to say I stuck with my plan this time and had no unscheduled stops.  Kudos to the guys at mile 95 for all the encouragement!

Now I had two vehicles with me…

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Lead vehicle

Once I was at the stoplight at 25 I started to feel relieved that I was almost done.

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Almost back

The gate and the fountains were welcome sights..

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Through the gates

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That would be nice

And I made it!  A tough day, but a completion nonetheless.

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Finished!

Now – “lunch”

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Let’s eat!

Wow – what can I say – it all came together this time and I stayed strong through the end.  My no-cramp formula continues to work, and I’m figuring out a good distance strategy for myself concerning energy and nutrition.  When can we do this again?  I must be crazy…

Miracle Hill does a great event.  You can tell they put a lot of thought into details….  for example:

  • Plenty of varied foods at the rest stops (not just bananas, water, gatorade and bars) – I especially liked the fresh fruit, brownies and cookies
  • Chase vehicles on the route making sure the last rider makes it back
  • Overwhelming amount of encouraging volunteers
  • Food even for the last people in….  and bringing in boxed lunches for the last group.  This is really smart – knowing that “lunch” will be sitting out too long for those of us rolling in around 3pm, they ordered fresh boxed lunches so there isn’t a worry about food spoiling.  That last detail really impressed me.

After this experience, I will definitely plan to be back for the event next year – and next time I’ll register early and put effort into fundraising.  I entered at the last minute this year and didn’t have the time to raise money, but Miracle Hill does great work – I want to help more next year.

Matthew 25:36 New King James Version (NKJV)

36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

2015 Assault on Mt. Mitchell–Baptism by Fire and Rain!

“My wife, Helen, said I was crazy – she told me that when we were picnicking on Mt. Mitchell in western North Carolina and I said I’d like to climb the 6,684 foot high peak on a bicycle.” – the late John Bryan, Founder of the Assault on Mount Mitchell.  From the History of the Assaults webpage

The Assault on Mount Mitchell is a 103 mile bike ride, but like no other “century ride” that I know.  Founded by the late John Bryan, the route winds from Spartanburg, SC to the top of Mount Mitchell via Marion, NC,; Highway 80 and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  What makes this ride so (in)famous around the world is not only the elevation gain (close to 11,000 feet!) but also the fact that much of the worst climbing is at the end.  Below is my account of attempting for the first time – and by the Grace of God – finishing, this epic adventure.


Ready … Set … Go!

I had set two alarms the night before, and tossed and turned just about all night.  It’s a good thing I found some decent sleep on Saturday night; as for Sunday night, my fight against pre-event adrenaline was just about pointless.

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4am is just too early to think.  Thankfully, I had everything lined up and packed in the car the night before.  Just a small, quick breakfast and busywife and I were out the door and on the road to Spartanburg (what made this day even more special was she was going for the Marion Assault while I was taking on the challenge of The Mountain).

We arrived at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium just before 5:30am, one hour before the start.  Time enough to get everything together, a short warm-up and of course one last trip to the row of plastic outhouses:

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For it being so early in the morning, I was already charged up and literally aching to get going.  Coming off a training taper from the previous week, I could sense all the energy of months of preparation just waiting to be released.

As the countdown to the ride start reached the final minutes, I looked around and noticed quite the crowd of riders all joining in on this big event.  There is something intangible about such a large group of people, from all over the country, lining up for a bike ride.  An epic bike ride, for sure.

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It took me awhile to get comfortable with finding a starting position.  Last year, when I rode the Assault on Marion as a way to understand the Mitchell ride, I misjudged where to be and wasted precious energy trying to “catch” groups ahead of me.

This time I decided to err a bit too far forward in the pack, determining that I would have the self control to drop out of a group if the pace was too high.

Once again I learned that I’m terrible at managing my starts!

The rush of riders was amazing to watch (again) as we all thrust forward with the energy of months and months of anticipation.  I spotted the elite group far ahead, as they almost immediately strung out the mass of riders and big gaps began to form before the first turn.  The course had been slightly changed for 2015 due to bridge construction on the “original” route and our first turn was a sharp right onto a two lane road.  I knew this would squeeze the groups and thankfully I didn’t get caught up in any rider traffic – quickly we made the next left and were back onto a four lane road where more shuffling for position occurred.

That little voice in my head reminding me about “our agreement” before the start was trying to make itself heard, but the burning fire of adrenaline kept it silent – as I got eaten up and spit out by a number of groups.  Odd the phenomenon of self-deception – you are aware of what information your brain is gathering for you to process (heart rate – above threshold!  Warning!) … yet your rational abilities to rein yourself in have apparently been – suspended.

Eventually reality ushers in truth.  For me it wasn’t until 42 minutes in, close to the NC border, as I finally came to terms with yet another pack dropping me off (who are these people and what do they do to get this fast?).  Later I would pay for burning some of my matches…

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I think what helped me “come back to earth” was another rider who was struggling alongside me to keep up with the group.  Just about the same time, we looked at each other – and gave up chasing.

It was incredibly difficult to just “slow down.”  I knew there were hundreds of riders behind me, and I had to trust that fact.

Taking a few moments to get the HR down:

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Enjoying the relatively cool morning (although humid) and the sunrise greeting us:

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I could see a massive group approaching from behind far in the distance..

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…and soon enough I was swallowed up again.  Finally, I was with a group of riders that I had the ability to work with.  This group stayed together (more or less) to the second aid station, and I was very thankful for that.  I pulled once, and the rest of the time I had a relatively lazy spin in the middle of the group, holding down a very reasonable heart rate and effort level.

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Saying goodbye to a great group at the second rest stop, 43 miles into the ride.

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My plan was to push through to the stop at Bill’s Hill, take a quick break and then continue on to the church at the 82 mile mark, right before the real climbing starts on Highway 80.

Just after the second rest stop, watch out for the sharp right hander.  This one gets many people, and I was glad to see the precautions the organizers put together at this curve.  Cones to keep traffic separated, EMS on hand and a guy right at the curve with a megaphone warning everyone.

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I have to admit I caught the curve wide open without any other riders and took the opportunity to enjoy it.  This ride is all about the climb at the end so why not enjoy some speed when you’ve got it?

Being careful not to burn up while riding alone I managed my way to the start of Bill’s Hill and focused on a fairly slow pace to rest stop #3 at the top and a much needed break.  Not often do I ride 48 miles without a break!

Approaching the turn:

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Trying to keep the HR down in manageable territory:

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Almost there…

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Time to take a break.  I knew that Highway 80 and to the top of Mitchell was going to make this look like a cakewalk.  I was at rest stop #3, the top of Bill’s Hill in just over 2.5 hours and felt like I was on track for a pretty good time to the top.

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I took the quickest “gas and go” I could – eat something, restroom stop, stretch my back, refill bottles with water (thank you to the great volunteers for filling my bottles!), add Accelerade mix and back on the road.  Next stop, rest stop #6, Sunnyvale Baptist Church.

Recalling my experience last year on the Marion ride, I knew that there were some big rollers in between here and Marion.  Last year I struggled towards “the end” and had to take an unscheduled stop at the rest stop at mile 63.  Was I going to run into the same problems again?

On the way to Marion I took  the approach of conserving as much as I could, and did my best to not ride alone.  I would get dropped by a group of riders who would climb faster than me, but then I’d catch them on descents and be able to have a group again for the flats.  When groups would leave me, I’d slow down and let another catch me.  The strategy mostly worked out until too many rollers left me dropped off without seeing any sign of another group behind me.  I wrestled with the same mental battle of “should I bridge this gap?” and “don’t burn yourself up!”

Thankfully, before I made any more mistakes, we hit road construction.

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At first I hated to see this.  I’ve got time to make, and I can’t afford to sit here and wait!  However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  This bunched up all the riders I had been trying to stay with, and after only 5 minutes of waiting (I was at least smart enough to take this time to stretch / eat / drink etc.), the Gate Keeper indicated we were allowed to proceed (maybe a bit melodramatic – so the construction guy flipped the sign from Stop to Slow but doesn’t something this momentous deserve a better description?)

This group pulled together almost all the way to Marion, where I rode on my own through the last turns and the exhilarating descent Greenlee road along the river.  I was feeling great and as I turned onto Resistoflex and crossed the bridge, I saw that I had almost matched my time last year to Marion!

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I felt invigorated from seeing the clock at Marion – having beat 4:30 and feeling totally in control at this point.  Last year I finished at this point just about exhausted.  With the exception of burning a few matches in the first 42 minutes of the ride, I had kept my HR below threshold the rest of the way to Marion.  Now I had confidence that I had the energy for the push to the top, and thought that there was a distinct possibility I could come in under 9 hours at the finish. (Later I would compare my rides and noted that my HR averaged a few bpm less this year than last for almost the same ride time – happy to see a fitness improvement and the result of training!)


The Pain Cave Begins

Soon after passing Marion, the overcast day gave way to the sun – and my nemesis, heat – began to take it’s toll.

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I had seen this route last September, and knew after the flat there were rollers, but also shade and relief from the direct sun.  I set a relatively slow pace, caught a few riders for a draft here and there, and focused on making it to the church, knowing it was my next planned stop.

Once I saw the dam for Lake Tahoma I knew the shade wasn’t too far ahead.

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The Lake Tahoma Casino:

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Finally out of the sun again.

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Made it to the church!  82 miles so far and only two stops so far, just as planned.

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Thankful for every one of the volunteers that were out today.

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The heat was making its presence known … jumping into this creek would have been just about perfect at this point.

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82 miles in and still feeling fairly ok, but something just wasn’t quite right.  My stomach was a bit unsettled … when this had happened before, I thought that my system was telling me that solid food wasn’t working anymore, and I had to focus only on liquid.  I decided at this point to hit the pause button on the cookies and fig bars and go with only Accelerade.  Water refill, added drink mix, restroom stop and another quick back stretch and off I went to where the real climbs started.

Later I would realize that I was actually having trouble with the Accelerade itself – the whey protein component was no longer agreeing with my system – and what I was fighting from this point all the way up 80 and partway down the Parkway (along with fatigue) was actually a “bonk” as my system wasn’t absorbing what it needed…

I pushed away from the aid station and focused on the enormity of the immediate task at hand – climbing 80 up to the Parkway.  Riding the last straight stretch of road I would see all day, the mountains loomed:

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Appearing to be curious more than anything, I spotted a deer that looked as if she was watching all the cyclists riding by and wondering to herself why humans would do such a thing:

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All day – and truthfully, all week – prior to this point, I had this climb in my mind.  I wanted to save myself for a good push up 80, and felt that I still had some matches saved from the previous 82 miles and was ready.  True, I blasted away some energy at the start but I think I recovered well, rode with some good groups and conserved the rest of the way to Marion.

Which is exactly why I was confused with my performance as soon as I was into the first serious grade on 80.

Pictures do not do justice to show what was probably 6-7% grades and higher.  Uphill…

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and looking back down.

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I felt that I was ready and chose my next to last gear (saving granny for later) and tried to fire the legs up, use some more HR and set a good pace for the climb.  Except I had nothing.  Just about NOTHING.  My closest analogy is like trying to drive a turbocharged car with the turbo off – no boost.  I tried to dig down for some heart rate and power and it was as if Scotty kept yelling back to me from the engine room that we had nothing more!

As I was wrestling with my own personal dilemma, I noticed many riders experience their own version of the Wall, the Pain Cave, or even – The End.  I saw groups of riders sitting on the guardrail, long looks of despair on their faces.  Guys with their heads in their hands, sitting down as if in major grief.  Then a few guys would pass me going down the mountain, … Lord no I did not just see that.  It’s one thing to see people stopped, but yet another to see people that have thrown in the towel and are riding back to Marion.

Without warning, the previously unthinkable happened to me.  My body couldn’t handle the push – and I just stopped on 80.  Almost unannounced … in the middle of the lane.

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The grade was too steep, the effort too high – for whatever reason, I made an unscheduled stop, the first of many.

A thousand things tried to roll through my mind at this point.  “I’ll never make 8:30, and I’ll probably miss out on beating 9 hours” … “why can’t I get my HR over 150?” …. “It’s getting really hot” …

Then I did something that I don’t normally do in tough situations.  Instead of bellyaching to myself and directing all sorts of anger at innocent bystanders, nearby animals, my Lord above … I surprised myself with a simple thought:

“Let’s just make sure we finish this thing”

I swallowed my pride, clicked into my lowest gear (yep I’ve got an 11-32 cassette on my road bike and very happy to have it!) and pedaled on – low cadence, low HR, no power and all.

I made what seemed like countless stops on 80.  Nothing of any significant length, but just enough to gain composure each time.  The mercury kept rising (later I would see from my ride data that 93 degrees was the high) and then I noticed a few clouds that were working their way over the Blue Ridge.  I called out “Lord bring me a rain shower!”  I constantly worried about cramping.  Heat brings on cramps for me if I don’t get my hydration and electrolyte intake just right.

From time to time I couldn’t help but recall #3 from the BikeLaw Cycling Collective Manifesto:

Cycling is not suffering. Hunger and the plague are suffering. Cycling is a joy, even when it’s hard.

This sure is hard.  But in it’s own way, enjoyable.

The battle continued on until I saw a very welcome sight – the sign for the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Another rest stop was ahead!

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By now I was dealing with a moderate headache (of course, I was dealing with a bonk, but I hadn’t put two and two together yet) and was looking forward to some Coke at the next stop.  Sugar and caffeine would be a huge help right now.

At the stop I saw plenty of riders who looked as gassed as I felt.  A couple guys were literally laid out in the grass, some were playing with their phones … it was somewhat surreal.  Are these guys done or just taking an extended break?  Aren’t we all burning daylight here people?  The clock is ticking!

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As I gathered myself from the climb, I got back into part of my routine – fill bottles, add mix, stretch, restroom break.  Still not feeling that great and not sure why as I hadn’t had anything solid for an hour or so (another clue McFly, hello?).  No solutions to that just yet – let’s grab some Coke and keep pedaling.  I’m fairly sure I can handle the Parkway section if I just had some Coke…

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Nope, sorry we’re out of Coke.

Look at all those empty bottles!

Now I want to send a message to the poor folks volunteering at the rest stop at the top of 80.  I’m sure you had to bring the bad news to a few hundred riders that day, and I noticed your slight wince as you expected me to say something not very nice.  I chose to say nothing, and I hope that you can understand that I totally appreciate the fact that you were there (Momma always said, if you can’t say anything nice…). At the risk of failing Momma’s rule, and making a poor volunteer decide never to come back – I kept my mouth shut and reached for plan B.

A caffeine GU packet in my seat bag.

I had no idea if I could handle a GU with my stomach making odd noises but something had to be done for this headache and I needed a sugar boost.

Just then I noticed dark clouds coming over the mountain (see the “No Coke” picture above!), and showers began to move in.  I had been so hot climbing 80, I was thankful for the answered prayer.  I unpacked my vest, zipped up and started up the ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway and more climbing.  I exchanged a wave with the Park Ranger directing traffic and we both agreed this was much better than burning in the heat.

I had no idea exactly how much rain “relief” I was going to get!

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The showers turned into moderate rain here and there, and although I had to get over the initial “I am getting wet!” response, it was very welcome to exchange the heat for a 20deg drop in temperature.  Cooler weather = less chance for cramps.  I’ll take it.

Visibility wasn’t too bad, and I was thankful for a strong rear and front light to be seen by the car traffic.

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Looking down off the ridge, I could only imagine what riders behind me were experiencing.

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As I mashed away in granny gear, many riders would pass me at a pace I knew I was capable of, but today could not sustain…

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When this would happen I just had to ignore the rampant thoughts of “why” and focus on what I could do.  I can still make a little power, and I can still continue up the mountain.  Just color me blue and call me The Little Engine – I’m going to make it to the top of this Mountain!

The rain let up for a short time, and I took more breaks.  The Parkway isn’t as tough as 80, but it has it’s sections – which forced me to take a couple breathers.

I stopped at the bottom of this short climb…

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… then yet again at Hewat Overlook.  Off in the distance I couldn’t tell what was coming – fog, rain or worse.  (Yes, it would be worse…)

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I was really struggling at this point, and it was quite difficult just to get onto the bike and push on to the next rest stop, at Green Cove Overlook.  Two hours ago I left the church on 80 and I have felt each and every pedal stroke, unable to make good power.  What kept me going were the words often spoken by our church Pastor when relating to the Daily Walk of the Believer – “if you don’t quit, you can’t lose.”  How appropriate, here and now.

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The deepest of depths

Psalm 71:20 New Living Translation (NLT)

20 You have allowed me to suffer much hardship,
    but you will restore me to life again
    and lift me up from the depths of the earth.

By the time I made it to Green Cove Overlook, I felt simultaneously closer than ever to my goal, and about to fall apart.  Rolling along at 4mph (or whatever was just faster than walking) was demoralizing, and I just didn’t know how much more of that I was able to handle.  Did I even have enough energy to make it to the top?  I rolled into the rest stop and out of all the voices in my head vying for my attention, I had a brief few seconds of lucidity…

“Accelerade has protein in it … is the whey protein messing me up?”

Desperate times, desperate measures .. I took quick action, and dumped all my bottles and refilled with just water.  I might have been able to deal with Gatorade, but wasn’t sure about the taste.  What I knew was that I was hungry for trail mix and quite a few other things.  So I ate up a bag plus a banana, and probably had a few cookies in there too.

Taking a few moments to compose myself, I had a few positive thoughts about the road ahead.  I’ve been here before, and it’s not that many more miles.  The next rest stop at the turn to NC 128, the last big grade to the park entrance gate, the false flat and you are just about there at the finish.  It’s not so bad right?  I still have plenty of time to finish.

Just as I was thinking about moving on, the real rain moved in.  Stinging, pelting, wondering-if-hail-is-next type of rain.  An in your face ferocious mountain thunderstorm.

Everyone huddled up under the easy-up.  All of us were shivering.  Someone offered me a seat.  I thought “yes! thank you so much” – I said “No – if I sit down there’s no way I’ll get back up.”

Ironically, the hardest thing I had done all day was to step out into the rain, check my gear and get back on the bike.  Waiting any longer and more excuses would have overwhelmed me. Just as was about to pull onto the parkway and into the deluge, another rider pulls into the rest stop.  I thought it very odd that right there and then, when he could have been turning to a volunteer for many a need, looking for shelter and food, he instead looked right at me and said:

“Get out there man, get up the mountain and Finish Strong.”

This was my “Come to Jesus” moment.  I really had no choice.  I had decided years ago I was going to do this ride before I turned 40.  This was my day, this was my year – and everything in between me and the finish was inconsequential.  Already shivering, I gritted my teeth and pushed through the driving rain and the two mile descent.

The next two miles were some of the worst riding I had ever experienced.  I was glad to have had years of motorcycling riding under my belt, and countless experiences of getting caught out in rainstorms.  You have to learn to trust your tires (good tires are a must!) and be very smooth with your inputs to the bike.  I was also thankful for the times I forced myself to train in some wet weather.  I knew about the (very) delayed action of my rim brakes at speed, and not to get too freaked out by the sensation of my front wheel plowing through the water and further soaking my feet.  I’m riding on water – it must be a miracle!

By the time I reached the bottom of the descent, I was shivering cold.  Gripping the bars was more like holding on for dear life.  The rain was so hard I thought Noah was going to float by at any moment.  I didn’t need my water bottles, as I could literally drink from the sky.

There was no stopping.  Stopping meant getting even colder.  Moving meant staying warm.  Move, then.  It’s all there is.

One brief moment where I had enough clarity to snap a picture.  Just about completely soaked at this point:

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From when I left Green Cove Overlook to when the storm finally let up was about an hour.  At one point I felt like I was right in the middle of the storm – thunder and lightning were no longer separated events but more like sumo wrestler twins scaring the snot out of you just about every moment.  When was I going to get smashed by them?


Finish, and Finish Strong

For some reason, my bike computer was one mile ahead of every rest stop (according to my minimal cue sheet – taped to my bike stem).  So for every anticipated stop, I had to think one more mile before I could reach it.  When you’re climbing at such a slow speed, one mile is a significant amount of time!  By the time the rain slowed down and I caught a break in the clouds, I wasn’t too far away from rest stop #9 and the turn onto NC128 – but did I have to go yet another mile to reach it?

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All at once, I had one of those “angels” moments … I didn’t hear them singing, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if they were.  The rain stopped and the clouds started to part.  Another rider caught up with me, and instead of watching him ride away – I kept up and we started chatting up our ride experiences thus far.  The road grade evened out and I was able to push above 10mph … then we reached rest stop #9 exactly where my odometer said it would be.  What kind of time warp did I find?  Can I find it again to the top?

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I’ve got to hand it to the kind people at this stop.  They were some of the most encouraging people I’d met all day.  I can’t imagine what it takes to be fired up all day for each and every rider, with all the weather that had been coming through.  Standing around in low 60 degree weather with the rain pelting you – not at the top of many favorites, I’m sure. To the guy in camo with the dog, thank you.  You got me fired up for that last charge up the mountain.

At this stop I felt that my change in nutrition strategy was a success.  (But didn’t really figure it out until later – funny how serious contemplation is suspended until the challenge is complete – but it’s the challenge itself that brings on the contemplation).  No more headache, no more digestive problems – not spilling over with energy but definitely felt capable for the last miles up the mountain.

Next up, NC 128 – the road to the park.  Some of the steepest grades of the whole ride are here, just before you reach the gate to the park.  The section right before the gate was on my mind – would I have to get off an walk it?  I had been able to avoid walking up to this point – would the cramps continue to stay away?

As I made the last turn, I couldn’t help but get emotional.  Praising and thanking my Lord for the strength to reach this point, having been so doubtful so many times before.

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The sun would peek in and out of the clouds and warmth would soon take over from what had been a cold couple of hours.

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On my way to the summit, I saw plenty of SAG vehicles loaded down with riders, passing me on their way to a bus ride back to Marion.  Seeing this now was motivating.  I am going to finish this ride!  I am not going to end up in the SAG!

A few breaks along the way and I reached the steep pitch just before the gate.  Must … keep … going …

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Made it to rest stop #10, past the gate, no walking!

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A welcome sight – 2 miles to the summit.  Once again seeing my speedometer climb above 10mph!

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Beautiful view…

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Taking a moment to appreciate the logistical madness of this event.  Rows of Penske trucks waiting to transport bikes and who knows what else at the end of the day:

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After the restaurant, the road kicks up one more time, in a last ditch effort to defeat you.  Stay strong and push through it!

After the last, small climb, what remained was the one turn between me and finish line.  Standing there was my wonderful wife, who had finished Marion and hopped on a bus to the top of Mitchell in time to cheer me on and finish.  The best, most fantastic part of the ride is what she made it at the end – cow bell ringing and cheering me to the finish.  I felt so good, I clicked up a few gears, stood up on the pedals and did my best sprint to the end, belting out a victory yell to top it all off.

Crossing in 9:52, I met my “fallback” goal of beating 10 hours to the finish.  Just after crossing and settling myself down, I snapped a pic looking back at The Finish:

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Exhausted, yet inspired.  From the depths to the highest of highs – I now understood that simply to finish The Assault on Mount Mitchell is an achievement all on it’s own.  I gave thanks for the finish, and I knew the Tabernacle was with me all the way to the top.

Isaiah 4:5-6 New King James Version (NKJV)

then the Lord will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering. And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.

To the late John Bryan, the man who started it all – I bet you never knew what this would become, and what it would mean to so many people.  Thank you.


Enjoying the Moment and the Journey Home

After the ride finish, I’m sure many choose to hop a bus and head back down the mountain.  Having enjoyed this special moment in the company of my bride, we decided to take some time to appreciate the day.

After all that pedaling, just a few steps are between you and your dry bag and hot tomato soup!

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First, a big Thank You to the nice lady who wrapped me up in a blanket to stay warm:

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the countless drivers and workers coordinating bus rides:

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The guy working the tomato soup station:

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It really does taste that good…

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hoards of volunteers moving, staging, attaching bikes for transport:

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and many more people working the finish line, ham radio operations for communications…

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After changing into dry clothes and getting in a good stretch, my wife and I chose to walk up to the actual summit and the observation tower.  Why would anyone in their right mind want to do this after riding 103 miles “to the top?”  A few reasons – 1) I wanted to be able to say I made it “to the top” 2) A friend who deals with cramps has told me that a walk after a ride is helpful vs. sitting down for a long period (the bus trip down is not short) and 3) Because it’s there.

It really wasn’t that hard walking up this.  Just don’t ask me to ride my bike anymore, please.  (I recall first learning about AOMM and thinking how much a bummer it is to not be able to ride down and enjoy the speed of gravity pulling you down.  Now I know why.  I was so happy to hand my bike off to a perfect stranger.  In fact, I think someone could buy very expensive bicycles for pennies on the dollar if they had cash and a truck at the top).

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We made it!

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Views from the top:

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Looking down towards the finish:

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and a closer view as another rider completes the challenge:

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We walked back down to the parking lot and ran into friends Dave and Mike – Dave made this youtube vid of his experience – congratulations guys on finishing!

On the bus we go for the journey down the mountain:

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From here a 2 hour “school bus” ride down the mountain got us to Marion.  The bus takes a route back towards Asheville and then east to Marion.  Once there, they still had some BBQ dinner left and I ate it up as I was just getting my appetite back.

Another 2 hour ride back on a nicer tour bus to Spartanburg.  Our “in-flight” entertainment was “Casablanca” and it was a great diversion from bus ride boredom.  Our driver timed things perfectly, as we arrived at Spartanburg Memorial just at the end of the movie.

Bikes were waiting for us in Spartanburg and the staff made retrieval seamless.  On to the car and off we go towards home.  At this point my appetite came back with a vengeance!  There isn’t anything remotely healthy open at 11pm.  Wendy’s on the way home, maybe it was better than nothing, maybe not.

Home.  Shower.  Midnight.  Bed.


Parting Thoughts

Deciding to ride AOMM, finding a training plan and sticking with it, the EPIC ride itself and decompressing from the whole event is simply a massive amount of information to process.  With that disclaimer, here were some thoughts that still stay with me days after the event:

Work on a couple of lists for the event.  What to bring in your car, what to wear, what to pack and in which pocket it goes.  Rehearsing for the ride is a big help – and make no changes in equipment without having tested it well first.

Wrap your dry bag contents in a plastic bag (maybe double it up).  Pack snacks in your dry bag, and some cash for snacks at the top too (wondering, why not more than tomato soup and bread at the top?)

As I finished in ~10h, with some dawdling at the top this meant back at Spartanburg at ~ 11pm.  Take the next day off if you can … plan a day at the spa for that day too!  One tip: for some reason I have trouble sleeping not only before big ride events but also after.  A mild sleep aid (e.g. Benadryl based) works wonders…

What I did right:

  • I had my bike tuned up well and had zero mechanical issues.
  • Dropped 5lbs of fat before starting my AOMM training block
  • All my preparation with lists paid off as I lacked for nothing but wasn’t loaded down either on the ride.
  • Buying an excellent rain vest was a great decision.
  • Had a backup plan for caffeine.
  • (Mostly) set a good pace for Marion leg.
  • My training plan worked out well – I found The Time Crunched Cyclist “Leadville 100” plan to be good prep for AOMM as well. My ride time was “only” 8:13 (Strava link). ..
  • After years of trial and error, I finally have figured out the solution to my bike cramps.  Combining SportLegs with electrolyte pills such as Elete Tablytes kept the cramps away all through my toughest training days and on the day of AOMM.  That is a victory in itself!
  • Married a fantastic woman who – after riding the 75 miles of the Assault on Marion – went through the trouble to meet me at the top.  This was a motivator in itself – knowing she was there waiting for me!

What I did wrong:

  • This was my first century (I know – I’ve heard it a ton of times not to do AOMM as your first century, and I didn’t plan it this way!)  I had planned on one in April but chickened out on it due to really bad weather (little had I known it would have been great prep for the rain of AOMM!). If I had done a century, it would have exposed my Accelerade problem after big miles.  In retrospect, I should have done one last year and no depended on fitting one into the spring training plan.
  • Looking back, I think I was slightly over-trained going into the event and should have started tapering sooner and respecting the need for rest.  I think I underestimated rest as a component of training.  I also probably packed too much of an 11 wk plan into 8 wks (due to some scheduled surgery).
  • Once again, I tried to maintain too fast a pace at the beginning.  One of these days, I will learn.

What I’m changing:

  • Drop 15 lbs of fat before my next AOMM (yes I’ve already been convinced to revisit in 3 years, I must be especially crazy)
  • Fine tune the training plan and respect the need for rest
  • Switching to Skratch Labs for on-bike liquids (no whey protein and more natural than most everything else I’ve seen)
  • Enter more centuries for the experience
  • Continue with cyclocross in winter, but with a training block beforehand.  ‘cross kept me from losing fitness in the “off season” like in years past, and this time I want to go into the season with some training instead of just jumping in.

Looking forward, I hope to be able to put together a better plan and a good ride next time and beat 9 hours.  There may be a chance of finishing under 8 one day.  Whatever the final time, as one of my friends has put it, I’m very happy to have entered the “family of finishers.”  Truly, for everyone who has reached the top, it is an accomplishment beyond words.