Undertaking a 200 mile gravel race is no small task, for most people anyway. I'm sure some enterprising individuals can hop on a bike with much thought or training and ride for 15 hours, but not me. I started my prep two and a half years ago, signing up to race the 100 mile version of Unbound Gravel in 2020, which was ultimately canceled due to the global pandemic, and rescheduled for 2021. I did my homework last year aboard a stock geometry carbon fiber Alchemy Ronin gravel bike, starting the race strong, and making dumb mistake after dumb mistake to finish the 100 mile event completey empty some 7 hours after starting. Among the mistakes I made were forgetting both a third water bottle and my hydration pack back home in Colorado before driving to Kansas, and not realizing either mistake until the morning of the race. I continued to make mistakes on course, such as riding foolishly through the rest stop without bothering to utilize the "crew for hire" I had paid for, and supplied with water bottles, hydration mix, and snacks.
All of these are easy things to correct, and absolutely necessary to be properly prepared. I pre-packed two tote bags with hydration mix, snacks, tubes, socks (in case it rains to have dryer feet), CO2, lube, and not pictured are some homemade bacon/bean/rice burritos for some easy to digest real food. I also wore road shoes last year, and while I had no problems needing to get off and walk, my feet did swell in the heat, and the tight fit of a carbon soled road shoe does not have much, or any, room to expand. I will be riding gravel shoes this year, with SPD style cleats, which should also come in handy for the water crossings, which look like I might need to walk across, rather than ride.
I loved the Ronin last year, but wanted something that felt a bit racier and quicker for the double distance. A custom built titanium gravel bike with 38c tires should be just the thing to handle the rough bits the course will be sure to throw out, but also be faster on the smoother sections. I will be carrying a few tools in a Silca seat post wrap, including Stan's Dart tubeless plugs, a CO2, tube, tire lever wrapped in electrical tape, and a Silca multi-tool that carries an extra quick connect chain link. My top tube bag will be packed with easy to access snacks like shot blocks, energy bars, and hydration mix for the water Oasis' on course. I really like LMNT hydration mix, it is sugar free, really salty, and easy to drink and digest. Providing I remember to bring my hydration backpack, it will also carry some more tools and supplies like a rain jacket, tube, first aid kit, sealant, chainbreaker, USB battery and cables, spare seat collar and derailleur hanger, 3-way torx wrench (why does Sram love Torx so much?) an extra tubeless valve, a schrader adapter for a gas station air hose, and last but certainly not least, zip ties! It seems like a lot to carry, but the end goal is to finish, and any one of these things could potentially be the difference between riding through the finishing chute on my bike versus in the sag wagon.
I have been riding with both a power meter and a heart rate monitor (a Whoop strap) for the past year, and although the numbers I put out are far from braggable, I have a great grasp of what my own body is capable of doing and highly recommend any fellow cycling enthusiast to give these both a go. For instance, last year at Unbound I averaged around 170 watts for 7 hours, so I have a good ballpark of where I should be on a long endurance effort. The Whoop strap is a wearable wrist strap that monitors a bunch of performance metrics, as well as tracking your sleep, to predict your recovery every day. I have not learned anything groundbreaking from wearing it, but it really has served to highlight negative behaviors, such as drinking too many beers, staying up late and not getting enough sleep. No rocket science here, but seeing patterns emerge over time help me to plan for something as ridiculous as an all day gravel ride, like hydrate, sleep, eat hours before bedtime, and cut back on the IPAs. I don't have a coach or a structured training plan, I just try to ride my bike as much as I can, and I also religiously track and record my progress on the social media app Strava. Speaking of Strava, I have found that signing up for some of the monthly challenges make great training goals. Riding the 100k challenge once a month, as well as trying to complete the monthly climbing challenge has really motivated me to ride just a bit further, and climb just a few more hills, which, for me anyway, seem to really help in gaining a bit more confidence and overall fitness for a big day.
Last year I was a little bit lighter, and fitter, and faster, but I feel confident enough in where I am today that I am going to try and "race the sun", which means completing the race before sunset! I am going to start less hard out of the gate, not skip an opportunity to refill my bottles, and drink and eat before I get hungry or thirsty. And, well, just pedal, pedal, pedal, all the livelong day!
Hopefully I see some of you out there in the Flint Hills, and best of luck to everyone racing, and my full race review/recap will drop next week!
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