Based on a FIETs calculation, which is explained in much more detail in a previous post, here is the top 100 toughest climbs in California. Summer time is coming how many can you knock off this list?
Based on a FIETs calculation, which is explained in much more detail in a previous post, here is the top 100 toughest climbs in California. Summer time is coming how many can you knock off this list?
On December 23, 2018 George Vargas completed the REV Cycling Million Feet of Climbing Challenge. 2018 marks the third year in the last four years he has achieved 1,000,000 feet of climbing in one calendar year. The previous years were 2015, 2016 and now 2018. That is the headline if you would like to learn more please read on.
Let’s turn the clock back a few years. Initially, I had intended to climb 1M in 2014. I set the challenge to my REV Cycling team/club members in December 2013. But on my first ride of 2014, January 2, I crashed and broke my right femur. You can find the posts here that expound on my injury and recovery. I finished out the year with some fairly strong numbers considering I was off the bike for four months.
Now 2015 comes around and I’m raring to go. I would have a full calendar year to do it but in fact I completed the REV Cycling Million Foot Challenge in only 10 months. Additionally, I was proud of doing it in less than 10,000 miles. The last two months of the year should have been a bunch of “coffee rides” but I still accumulated another 106,422 feet and 1,079 miles on top of my 1M and 8,889 miles at the end of October. When you do the math you can see a few fantastic numbers — in my opinion of course. Ironically, I’m proud of completing the 1M in fewer than 10,000 miles and yet I am the founder of the 10K/1M club on Strava! 10K/1M is 10,000 miles and 1,000,000 feet of climbing club.
1,000,000 feet in only 8,889 miles = 112 feet per mile
1,000,000 feet in 242 rides = 4,132 feet per ride
8,889 miles in 242 rides = 36.7 miles per ride
The breakdown of the additional feet and miles AFTER I completed the challenge are found below.
November 2015 (13 rides)
December 2015 (18 rides)
2016 I was determined to remove as many “junk miles” as I could in getting to 1M feet. I had climbed 112 feet per mile in 2015, so how much more juice could I squeeze out of the lemon? LOL! Regardless, I was on a mission to accomplish 1M in fewer than 8,889 miles. Keep in mind I am still doing centuries and Double Centuries (DC) throughout the year that wreck my average since there is only two DC’s on the calendar that have 20,000 feet of climbing. In my opinion, they are too far to drive and do them but once every few years. Most hard DC’s have about 13,000-15,000 feet. The most difficult ones are 15,000 and above.
I digress, with my mission in mind throughout the year I did accomplish my goal of getting 1M in fewer than 8,889 feet but just barely! I completed the challenge in just the nick of time on December 22, 2016! It was getting so close to the end of the year that actually had my biggest month of climbing for the entire year was in December, nearly 129,000 feet.
December 2016 was a crazy month! With all that was going on with my business and my life I needed 125,994 feet to get to 1M. I amassed the requisite feet in a scant 809 miles that’s 154.7 feet per mile!! The biggest bang for my buck in December was an Everest of 29,203 feet in only 78 miles. At the time it was the shortest Everest in North and South America! And as I stated earlier, there was one of those low elevation Double Centuries mixed in there of only 7,448 feet which completely wrecked my average feet per mile.
I only did one more ride in 2016 after completing the 1M challenge of 27.5 miles and 2,923 feet. The final stats for 2016 look like this:
1,000,000 feet in only 8,384 miles = 119 feet per mile
1,000,000 feet in 245 rides = 4,081 feet per ride
8,384 miles in 245 rides = 34.2 miles per ride
2017 was a busy year for my business and so I didn’t get out and ride as much. I think I had decent numbers and a year most people would be proud of … I was anyway!
2018 YEAR IN REVIEW
Thank you for indulging me to bring you from 2014 until today. I realized I hadn’t posted a blog post for any of my previous 1M completions.
2018 is more of a tale of two seasons. We can easily split it up by everything that happened before I got sick and everything that happened after I got sick. Looking over my ride files it’s specifically, everything thing that happened from January until March and everything that happened from April 7- December 23!
Here is a synopsis of what I accomplished in January and February. Not much to talk about just 2 notable rides.
Now let’s talk about my illness. For the entire month of March I was sick and I didn’t ride. But not only was I too sick to ride, which may be shocking to many of you that know me well, I was too sick to work! A minimum of two days a week I lacked the energy to get out of bed and get to my store. I tried to work from home but I didn’t have the mental focus to read emails or process internet orders. I had never ever felt this sick before!
I had Influenza B, pneumonia and Strep throat. I had sores in my mouth and throat. There were blocks of time 12-24-36 hours when I didn’t eat or consume fluids. I dropped weight dramatically. I weighed over 150 lbs in February. During my month-long battle with the flu I reached an all-time low was 134 lbs by late March. When I remounted April 7th I was up to 137 lbs but I felt completely out of shape – no leg strength no cardiovascular fitness – nothing. My journal entries point out a very elevated Heart Rate (over 185 bpm) for very minimal effort.
I need to emphasize something before we begin digging into the 2018 season. I had no intention in climbing 1M this year. The only reason I went after it was BECAUSE I was got sick and wanted a goal that seemed out of reach to do something epic for 2018.
April 7th I got back on the bike and I was on a tear. I had a lot of time to make up and a lot of feet to gain. I was routinely did the math of how many feet I was behind the million foot pace. Every time I would start to make some progress I either had work commitments, a Double Century or just life.
So that the math below makes sense to achieve 1,000,000 in 365 calendar days you need to climb 2,740 feet per day EVERY DAY. If you take a rest day or skip a day then well that is 5,480 feet – skip two days and that is 8,220 feet just to break-even! With that basic calculation let’s now extrapolate what being off the bike for over a month looks like. 31 days in March and 7 days in April — that’s over 104,000 feet behind schedule.
JUST 33 RIDES
How did I close this huge gap? From April to December I set out to do some pretty epic shit. Many of my rides were big rides! How big? Take a look at this statistic — 33 rides produced 454,842 feet! Nearly HALF of the million feet came from JUST 33 rides!! Let’s break this down.
454,842 feet in 3,755 miles = 121 feet per mile
454,842 feet in 33 rides = 13,783 feet per ride
3,755 miles in 33 rides = 113.7 miles per ride
Here are some more stats for just these 33 rides
It’s important to mention that of the seven Double Centuries I completed in 2018, six of them were on the tandem with the indefatigable Lori Hoechlin. She is as true as the North Star. Her steady, fluid and rhythmic cadence is as constant, predictable and reliable as the pulse of a quasar. As a stoker, and better yet as an athlete she has no equal. Oh yeah and she is a heck of a good human being too.
The months of September – December were especially busy with epic rides, career achievements and Hall of Fame inductions. Let’s review this four month timeframe.
Before beginning there is an honorable mention August 25, I visited the Eastern Sierras and climbed three monster climbs: Onion Valley Road, Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal Rd. 17,000 feet in 127 miles.
Sat, 9/8/2018 EVERESTING San Elijo/Twin Oaks #5
Career Achievement Furnace Creek/Silver State 508 – 10 Finishes Award and working the race
Sat, 9/22/2018 Beach Cities Double Century #51
|190.37 mi||9,931 ft|
Sat, 9/29/2018 Knoxville Double Century #52
|197.73 mi||14,619 ft|
Career Achievement California Triple Crown Hall of Fame Induction for completing 50 Double Centuries
Sat, 10/6/2018 – EVERESTING San Elijo Road #6
|175.35 mi||29,301 ft|
Sat, 10/14/2018 Mt Laguna Recce
|93.76 mi||11,010 ft|
Sat, 10/20/2018 Solvang Double Century #53
|191.14 mi||11,930 ft|
Sat, 10/27/2018 Oceanside Double Century #54
|193.29 mi||14,032 ft|
Sat, 11/3/2018 Mike Nosco Ride
|80.71 mi||8,114 ft|
Sat, 11/10/2018 EVERESTING Twin Oaks Valley Road #7
|132.60 mi||29,088 ft|
Sat, 11/17/2018 REV Laps #1
|86.15 mi||13,235 ft|
Thurs, 11/22/2018 Thanksgiving Climbfest
|45.83 mi||10,049 ft|
Sat, 11/24/2018 Local Steep Climbing Day
|49.06 mi||10,016 ft|
Sat, 12/1/2018 Fun Climbing Day
|87.73 mi||12,034 ft|
Sat, 12/15/2018 REV Winter Century Series #1
|104.33 mi||11,253 ft|
Sat, 12/22/2018 The Eleventh Hour Ride
|43.01 mi||8,389 ft|
Sat, 12/23/2018 The Coup de Grâce 1,000,000 ride
|54.70 mi||10,568 ft|
Some other things…
How about some other fun facts? In 2018, I saw a couple new power number PR’s.
My 5 second power number increased to 995 watts. Nothing to write home about I know but for me it’s fun to “sprint” every now and then. Actually my top two all time 5 second efforts were in 2018. 995 watts 15 w/kg while weighing 66.33 or 146.2 lbs
What about 1 minute power numbers? 608 watts for 1 minute 9.09 w/kg 66.88 kg 147.4 lbs. These increases came after repeated efforts at sprinting up local hills of over 8% grades. It is interesting to note that not only did I increase my absolute power number from 600 watts in 2015 by 8 watts but I also weighed less in 2018 which means I increased my w/kg as well! The numbers for 2015 1 min PR were 600 watts at 8.82 w/kg at 68.02 kg or 149.95 lbs
EDIT: 1/1/19 Finished off the year with 10,000 miles the last 3 days of the year I did two centuries and a 40 miler to tackle the last 250 miles. Last minute goal not even in the plans during the year but I got so close I just figured I should go for it.
There you have it a year of climbing 1,000,000 feet summarized in 1,000 words! What is next for George Red Eyed Vireo Vargas? I’m not sure. I haven’t made my goals for 2019. I guess I better get cracking on that eh?
As I sit here daydreaming of an epic climbing weekend, yes epic, an overused word but more on that later, I just can’t contain myself. I am counting down the days until I am free to fly in nature’s most amazing playground – the mountains. Is it only Wednesday? I check the calendar again and yes it is only Wednesday darn! Where am I going and why am I as excited as when I watch brown Santa pull up at my door? I’m headed to the Eastern Sierra Mountains of California!
I’m sure you thought I must be headed off to Europe. Or possibly you thought I must be headed to Colorado. No, I’m driving, yes driving, a few short hours, depending on traffic ugh traffic, a mere 274 miles to Lone Pine, CA for some of the best climbing in California. I will take it one step further and state unequivocally, some of the best climbing in the United States. The Eastern Sierras have some of the hardest climbs in the country in a small and concentrated area. Taking on one of these legendary climbs is a great acheivement but having them so conveniently close to each other enables you to tackle a second and possibly, if you are as nutty as I am, you might take on a third massive climb.
We all value things differently. Our value systems allow us to rank and prioritize things that are important to us. What I value in a climb is how much I will be challenged by it and how great my sense of accomplishment will be when I summit. For some it may be the scenery and surroundings. I understand that as well. However, for me the scenery comes second to the suffering while I’m climbing. Once I summit well then it is ALL about the view!
Now I’m not completely delusional sure I would like to take off to Europe and climb the mountains that have been made famous by the mano a mano battles of my cycling heroes during the Grand Tours. But when time and finances are an issue you can find the most amazing climbing adventures right here in Southern California. No flying, no customs, no worrying about how to get your bike to Europe and back from Europe in one piece and let’s not forget the 9 hour jet lag issues and so on …
Who’s the GOAT?
Do you often find yourself debating with your friends “What are some of the hardest climbs you have done?” This is akin to the other never-ending circular debate “Who is the G.O.A.T? Who is the greatest of all time?” insert sport here _________ And like the GOAT argument I wish to arm you with the facts and stats that we as climbers use to back up our argument. Once you understand them you can use them the next time you fall into the “what is the hardest climb?” trap. I have had this debate for years. So I wish to introduce you to FIETS. What is it? Let’s find out together. Oh and you can thank me later for the tables and graphs.
What is FIETS?
FIETS is a formula for ranking climbs.
The Fiets Index (developed by the Dutch cycling magazine Fiets).
The actual formula is: [H^2/D*10] + (T-1000:1000; but only if greater than 0)
Note: Only add T-1000 if that number is greater than zero.
Let me simplify things for you … the higher the FIETS, the harder the climb, and the higher it will rank on a list. If you want a little more explanation of the formula then think of these three things — how much will you climb, in how much distance and what is its height.
The good people over at PJAMM Cycling have taken the time to construct and maintain an excellent interactive website with climbs from the US and all over the world. It is a valuable resource if you love climb, love numbers and data like I do. I have thoroughly enjoyed pouring over the lists which may be sorted in multiple ways. One such sorting is listing the climbs in the US by the highest FIETS which as you may recall means the toughest. I wish to provide for you a few observations. Please bare with me as some may be plain as day but I hope to bring even the novice climber up to speed along with the elite climber.
Hawaii tops the list with the first and second hardest climbs in the US – Mauna Kea and Haleakala, respectively. Mauna Kea has a FEITS of 28.9 and it also has the unique distinction of being the hardest climb in the world. The stats are mind boggling – 42.6 miles long, gaining 13,778 feet, with an average grade of 6.1% Haleakala is no slouch either but its FIETS at 18.2 is nearly half that of Mauna Kea! It’s numbers are: 35.6 miles long, gains 10,059 feet, at an average of 5.3% . As any experienced climber knows the average grade just means that most of the climb is more than the average grade stated.
Now that we have dispensed with the huge volcano climbs of Hawaii let’s move back to the mainland. I created a small table below to illustrate, again in numbers, my mind works best this way, where the rest of the hard climbs are in this great country of ours. Excuse my rudimentary spreadsheet skills please.
It becomes glaringly obvious to anyone, even at glance, that California ranks consistently with the highest number of hard climbs in each breakdown of 20 climbs for the top 100 climbs. It also doesn’t take a math whiz to see in the final tally that 46 climbs out of 100 climbs or 46% of the nation’s hardest climbs are located right here in California.
Another observation, which was rather illuminating to me, was that Colorado ranked much lower than I expected. Aside from their two world famous, 14’ers Mt Evans and Pikes Peak in the top 20, they don’t have another strong showing until climbs 61-80 with five in that category. Mt Evans and Pikes Peak are still on my wish list. I tackled a 14’er here in California White Mountain Peak which shows up on the top 20 list as #9 but only up to 10,114 elevation. You can continue on White Mountain when the paved road runs to dirt up to the summit at 14,252. Not recommended on a Cyclo Cross bike only a crazy person would do that – who me? Yeah me it was very challenging to say the least! Take a hard tail MTB instead.
Yes yes but Colorado has the altitude. Fair point. However, I submit to you that not everyone is effected by altitude. I have ridden above 10,000 feet in race conditions and I felt the usual effects of reduced power but not the most common complaint of not being able to breathe under effort. So not everyone will feel the effects of altitude but everyone will feel the effects of the length of a climb and the steep gradients, those are very tangible. Length and steep gradients is what California offers in abundance.
Even more surprising to me was how well Utah ranked with a total of 11 climbs and a good showing in each bucket of 20 climbs. It seems like you can get plenty of good climbing there as well.
Below are screenshots from the PJAMM website. It can’t be overstated how much work they have put into their website.
Then I got to thinking wow that is a lot of climbs in California and some of these names sounded familiar. So how many of the California climbs have I done? This part of my research was much more fun. It turns out that:
I have done eight out of eight of the hardest climbs in California!
I have completed nine of the 11 climbs – not bad. The two I haven’t done I just haven’t heard of them. I need to locate, close with and destroy the enemy … oh wait that is the former Marine coming out. What I mean is I need to find out where they are and get them done.
I have completed nine of the 11 hardest – One of which I may never do. Hwy 330 is just too narrow and too dangerous and the other I just put on my hit list. There I go again – I mean checklist.
I have completed three out of eight climbs. Interesting to see a few on there that I didn’t know existed or that ranked in the top 80 so I can knock them off fairly easily but I need to travel to them.
I have completed seven of the eight. Same story there is a climb on the list I haven’t heard of before this exercise.
I haven’t made my plan yet for this weekend’s rides but know that they will be epic. Oh yeah I was going to talk more about the overuse of the word. I will just give you my 2 cents on the subject. Far too many use the word too loosely. The short of it is — to me EPIC is something that either weather, mechanicals, terrain, duration or a combination of these four attributes but limited to them, cause you to experience great elation, despair, sense of accomplishment, suffering, soul searching, or a combination of these attributes but not limited to them, and you complete the event, race or training session and you say “one and DONE! there is no way I’m doing that again”. But alas, the entry window opens up for next year and you sign up again. For the long of it I will have to publish a post about epic adventures to give you some sense of what I consider to be EPIC. Your experience may vary.
Is it still Wednesday? yes urg!
I completed my third Everest on Thanksgiving day November 24, 2016. While many were enjoying their time with family and friends I decided to go out and spend some quality time with my climbing bike Bella – Bottecchia Emme 695.
You can follow me on Strava here
The first Everest was South Grade Palomar Mountain. I still consider it as my hardest. The solitude, the danger of the country road at night, the heat during the day and let’s not forget the HC climb of 11.6 miles and 4,200 feet of gain.
The second Everest was a local hill close to my shop and home, Double Peak Drive. The climb is 1.1 miles but I chose the segment of the climb that was the steepest 1/2 mile.
And for my latest trick, I climbed a 2.4 mile climb 31 repeats at an advertised 985 feet about 7.8% grade and it also included the entire Double Peak 1.1 mile climb which ramps up to over 15% on the last 1/2 mile. I Everested only the last 1/2 mile section (steepest section of the 1.1 mile climb) on July 10th – screenshot up above.
One hour 38 minutes of stopped time. At first glance it looks like a huge amount of resting time however, I assure you not one of my stops was for a rest. This particular Everest had 10 Traffic Signals, Five on the way up and Five on the way down.
On every repeat I had to stop at least once on either the ascent or the descent. Consider 31 repeats being stopped just ONCE for one minute that’s 31 minutes right there! The rest of my stops were all logistical in nature. Clothing changes, transition to night riding and of course the self-sagging stops are all very time consuming.
Below is a comparison table of the key data I monitor and use to compare the efforts for each event.
A few quick points to put some sense to the numbers:
In general it did feel as the second hardest Everest that I have completed. So the numbers give an accurate representation what happened on the road.
Thank you for reading please subscribe to this blog. It has been dormant far too long. Four years ago I opened my own high-end bike shop and that has consumed me. My spare time for my writing has been almost nil. However, there are several posts that are in a draft mode and just need to be revisited, edited and published. Please leave comments with your questions so that I can answer them. Your questions will be incorporated into my future Everest posts.
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Tomorrow I will be riding the Mt Whitney Super Century. Here is the SPOT Transmitter link if you care to follow on the SPOT page.
Thank you Brad Horton for the use of the SPOT Transmitter.
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I had a great training ride on March 16, 2013. The St Paddy’s Palomar event has two options A. 68 miles with 6800 feet of gain B. 92 miles 8500 feet of gain but what does an ultra cyclist choose? Option C none of the above 131 miles with 11,600 feet of gain. I brought my REV Cycling teammate Lori Hoechlin, and met a few other endurance cyclists Jim Knight, Bob Bingham and Bob “Rock Lizard” Andrews at the Starbucks in Del Mar. We rode to and from the event and added a few extra miles. Lori had two slow leaking flats and probably worked harder than she needed to on such a long day. I had a great day on the bike. I had great legs and felt like I was holding back all day.
A quick word about the event. It was a fun time with more low key people showing up. No organized start just a steady rolling out of riders. Left to themselves riders know that a wave of 100 riders wouldn’t be safe 5 miles down the road as you climb Lake Wholford. You crossed your name off of a roster at the checkpoints and at the finish. Huge spread of pasta dishes salad and bread at the finish. I would do this event again! Thank you Jo and Rob of CCSD!
I used my SRM power meter to keep my power within preset ranges on all climbs. A power meter is ESSENTIAL for proper pacing in endurance cycling events. I felt great all day having paced my self properly. I am an authorized SRM dealer shoot me an email– firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to discuss purchasing an SRM Power Meter and pursuing a personalized power based training program from from me.
Calories burned 5,500 Calories consumed 2,100 calories in 10 hours
Below is a great shot taken of my by Mike Kurtz
In this picture Skins CY400 compression cycling jersey bib shorts SPY Performance Pink Screws Swiftwick 7″wool socks Serfas Helix tires, Serfas Pro Series cycling gloves, Serfas pink bar tape and Suplest Supzero cycling shoes SRM Dura-Ace power meter and PowerControl 7 – thank you to all of REV Cycling sponsors!
This was also the longest ride in my new Suplest Supzero cycling shoes supplied by REV Cycling sponsor Serfas. I have a full product review coming soon. For now I’m putting in the miles and the hours. This was a long ride of over 130 miles with over 11,000 feet of climbing and lots of time in the saddle and my feet were quite comfortable. Shoot me an email with “Suplest Shoes” in your subject if you have any specific questions. Stay tuned for full product review on Suplest Supzero cycling shoes.
Below are screen shots from Garmin for the map and summary and screen shots from Training Peaks WKO 3.0.
Entire training ride
Lake Wholford great climb bottom half then ran into friend that was having gearing issues and paced her up a bit and then pulled over to adjust her rear derailleur.
Palomar Mountain Lower Section Goal maintain 3 – 3.5 w/kg
Palomar Mountain Upper Section- Goal maintain 3 – 3.5 w/kg
Cole Grade at 90 ish miles into our day I holding back and pacing my REV Cycling teammate Lori Hoechlin who was fading- she recovered nicely for the last 40 miles of the day. Goal maintain over 3.0 w/kg but had to hold back
I rode two days in the Palomar Mountain area. Both days were lackluster but today was slightly better. Yesterday was such a shitty day I turned around and went home. I started in Escondido and climbed the lower portion of Palomar Mountain on Hwy 76 (approx 4.4 miles 1,500 gain) I couldn’t get myself motivated to climb the second half of the mountain. I was tired from the work week and I hadn’t had a good night’s rest. So I turned around yep, I DNF’d on a training ride 😉 It was still a 50 mile ride with almost 4,000 feet of gain which is a good enough ride for most people.
Today I started in a different part of Escondido and climbed all the way to the top of Palomar Mountain, albeit slowly. I felt so much better today. In fact, I even descended a couple of times to pick up my straggler.
Epic Training Tip: When the day isn’t going well go home, eat and rest. Your body is telling you something. Take care of it and go back the next day and try again. It’s ok to miss or quit on a training day to have a better training result on another day.
Living up in Orange County I haven’t been going to Palomar Mountain as frequently I used to when I lived in San Diego County, On a regular basis, typically once a week, I would make the 100 mile 10,000 feet of climbing round trip from Encinitas to the top of Palomar Mountain. Palomar is a great climb beginning in Pauma Valley about 1000 feet elevation topping out at 5,200 feet.
There is much debate as to how long and how much gain is attained on the climb. Most people time themselves from “store to store”. Which means from the Stage Stop and Liquor at the bottom to the Mother’s Market at the top. That distance is about 11.7 miles with about 4,200 feet of gain. Some like to time themselves from Harrah’s Casino which is understandable because it is the very bottom of the valley. The store is on the left hand side of Hwy 76 when you make the right turn onto Hwy 76 from Valley Center Rd. You can see it in the Google Satellite image I have included below.
March 15 not a good day (notice low normalized power)
March 16 a little better (notice much higher normalized power)
March 16 just the major climbs — 40 miles with 7400 feet gained
Alright and now for some good things to take away from these two uninspiring days. On Thursday when I made the right turn onto Hwy 76 I saw a rider alongside the road, just across the road from the Stage Stop store, wearing a Furnace Creek 508 jersey. I had to pull over and ask who he was. I asked “What’s your totem?” He knew who I was but I didn’t know him. He was David Nash a two-man finisher from 2011 with my friend Steve “Desert Duck” Teal.
Later when I was about 3 miles from finishing my ride back in Escondido, I see someone flagging me down. I pull over and start chatting with the gentleman pictured above. Apparently, Roland has been reading my blog for about a year. He recounted his progression from racing as a young man, coming to the states, having a family and now riding again. He had just completed his first double century in Death Valley put on by AdventureCORPS. Good work Roland I hope to see you at an event sometime and thank you for reading my blog. You brightened up my day which was otherwise a total wash.
A question came in from one of my readers. He asked if my Performance Management Chart reflected the lack of motivation or over-training that I felt on Thursday March 15th. Well the graph above is from November 14 through March 15. You can see the pink line is the stress I put on my body and yellow line is how much rest or recovery I give my body– in layman’s terms. I don’t see anything unusual when compared to other times I have stressed my body more and still been able to put in a good training workout.
Thank you for reading my blog and please refer a friend.