Hopefully you’ve been on your bike at least a little bit and maybe even started a training program in earnest. If you’re a bit behind, fear not, as long as you haven’t been sedentary for the last 6 months you’ll be just fine. This blog isn’t aimed to replace a specific workout plan or regimen, but rather as a high level preparation guide to get yourself from the start to the finish of the 210 or 100 mile event.
Ride Your Bike
First, and most importantly, you need to get some quality time in the saddle whether that’s on the trainer or the open roads. Find a schedule that fits into your life for during weekdays and try your best to stick to riding on the days you can. The weekends are great for longer rides, and the miles will tick by faster if you find a good group to join up with. I typically do my training in blocks with some rest in between for recovery. When life gets busy sometimes you need to find the hours to ride in the early morning or late evening. Getting out a few times a week for several hours each session will go a long ways towards getting your body ready for the long haul. It helps to sit down with a calendar and lay out which weeks you can get your long rides in and plan ahead. I find that if I’ve got key workouts put into my calendar and the time scheduled that I’m more apt to fulfill those training obligations. For your long rides, try to find rolling gravel terrain that simulates the course and ideally find some convenience stores along your route to practice getting food and drinks at for during the race. You want to simulate what you plan to execute on race day during your long training rides as much as possible. Get used to carrying the extra gear you will need on race day such as repair items, clothing layers, nutrition, lighting, etc… If you spend all your time training on an unloaded 18 pound carbon bike then hit the start line with an extra 10 pounds of gear it’s going to be an unpleasant surprise. You may want to invest in a training plan or even go all the way and get yourself a coach. Training plans and coaches are great tools as long as you follow them properly. Search for a plan online if you need the discipline of a strict training regimen such as these written with the 200 mile Dirty Kanza gravel grinder in mind.
Speaking of long rides, while you don’t need to go out and practice riding the whole 210 miles I do strongly recommend doing at least a few really long gravel rides leading up to the race in the 8+ hour range. It’s important to figure out how your body handles being on a bike that long and what issues you may run into while attempting a 210 mile gravel race. It’s better to figure out 2 months ahead of time that your lower back doesn’t like your setup or that your nutrition plan has you bonking every two hours as opposed to on race day. Try to get all of the mistakes out of the way early so that you can stand at the start confident in your preparation. If you plan to use aerobars, now is a good time to start “acclimating” to that aero position. It’s not always easy to crunch yourself down into that pose, let alone for multiple hours in one day. Try out every piece or equipment and gear you plan to use during the race. Don’t change any of your setup in the days before the race. For long rides, use the bike, gearing, clothing, food and repair items that you expect to use at the event. If at all possible, try to do one of those long rides out on the course using one of the pre-ride loops we have on the website. Not only will you get the workout you need in, but you’ll get to see the course firsthand and see how your setup handles it. Do at least one ride on a low-traveled road after dark to test your front light and back-up battery set-up, even if you plan to finish before dark. The best laid plans of mice and men…
Maintain Your Body
Treat your body well during hard training weeks. If you’re a fast food junkie try to lay off the stuff in the months leading up to the event and fuel your body with some higher quality foods. Nutrition is an important key in any training plan, and giving your body the calories it needs to rebuild muscle tissue is crucial. Always be sure to fuel up properly before your long training rides, and practice your nutrition plan during those rides as well. Use the drink mix, chews, gels and snacks that you plan to get through race day with. Some nutrition products don’t agree with everyone and it’s better to find out on a training ride if something causes you to bloat or increases digestive discomfort. After your hard rides be sure to intake some quality nutrition afterwards as well. The act of eating and drinking recovery foods after workouts goes a long ways towards recovery and energy levels. Get ample sleep after hard workouts and during the weeks where you’re training a lot. The body needs that downtime to rebuild muscle tissue and recover from the duress that you’re putting it through. Proper rest is just as important as the hard workouts you’re doing to prepare for the event. If possible, treat yourself to a massage or do some self-recovery work using a foam roller and leg stick. Working out that trouble spots where you’ve got lumps of sore tissue or knots in your muscles will help the body heal and feel better then next time you’re out training.
Speaking or training, not all of it has to be on the bike. Spending long hours in the saddle isn’t just hard on the bum and legs, but your upper body as well. Doing core work to build strength in your supporting muscle groups will do miracles for keeping you happy on the bike. Things like Yoga, Pilates and weight lifting can help you balance out the strength inequalities in your body that are developed from many hours spent pedaling. Even just doing some crunches, planks, push-ups and other simple exercises at home is better than nothing. Find out what areas you struggle with such as lower back, neck, triceps, etc.. and focus on improving those weaknesses. Pay attention to your position and posture on the bike, and work on pedaling form for maximum efficiency. Wasting a few watts each pedal stroke can add up to extra minutes and even hours spent out on the course.
Bike fitting is an integral part of endurance riding. You might be able to get away with a sloppy setup for those 2 hour races but it will come back to haunt you 150 miles into a long gravel race. Not everyone is in the market for a professional bike fitting, but going into your local bike shop and at least having someone eyeball your setup is better than nothing. Start by making sure your bike is the right size or that it can be fit to your body. Once you’ve got the right bike then it’s important to dial in saddle height, handlebar position, stem length, and pedal cleat position if you’re running clipless pedals. Spending a few hours dialing in your bike fit will pat dividends over the long months of training, and during the end of winter is a great time to get ahead of the curve while shops aren’t so busy. Don’t wait until the week before the race to dial in your setup!
When people think of training it’s often physical exercise on or off the bike, but for self-supported events that should also include the tasks required to complete the event. If you plan to use convenience stores for nutrition rather than your support vehicle then practice fueling with what they offer. Create a game plan for what items you find readily at small stores and use those to fuel your rides. Make a list of food/drinks that agree with you and ones that don’t. Practice the act of eating on the bike and carrying all the nutrition you need for long rides. Some like putting food in their jersey while others find that they can’t easily get to it. There are lots of options for bags and pockets to mount in your cockpit for food and drink. Practice repairing a broken chain, fixing a flat tire, replacing a derailleur hanger, using a CO2 inflator, adding sealant to tubeless tires, etc… so that you’re prepared for any issues that could arise during the race. Get to know the tools you carry in your saddle bag and how to use them. Make sure the multi-tool you’ve purchased actually has every tool you need and can access every bolt you make need to get to. Check out our Gear page for a list of suggested items to bring.
Alright, back to the riding bikes part. I recommend varying your workouts with distance, intensity, location and terrain. Don’t do all of your workouts at one flat pace. For shorter workouts try to get the biggest bang for your buck by throwing in some intervals and intensity to get the most out of the short time period. For medium and long rides practice riding at your race pace or finding out what that pace might be. Use whatever form of navigation you plan to use on race day to guide you on your longer rides. Create a route on Ride with GPS, MapMyRide or Strava that you’ve never ridden and load it into you Garmin to follow and practice using turn by turn directions. Use Gravel Map or a similar site to maximize the gravel roads on that route. Do some hill climbing intervals to prepare your legs for some of the climbing you’re sure to find in the second half of the 210 miler. Practice riding into headwinds and crosswinds as opposed to avoid them. It’s not always easy to pace yourself when riding into sustained wind, and if you plan to ride in a group practice drafting techniques to maximize energy. Don’t be afraid of some foul weather, the race is in Michigan and we have no shortage of cold, hot, windy, rainy, muddy and snowy conditions. Train your mental toughness by gearing up to go ride in 50 degrees and rain. Find a local group ride to partake in to help keep you motivated. It won’t hurt to push yourself on some spirited rides!
Mind Over Matter
Some people have the time to ride a thousand miles each month or more leading up to the race, while other might struggle to get a few days each week to turn pedals. Fear not if you’re in the latter group. As long as you’re reasonably fit and prepared you can tackle more than you think you can. A huge part of endurance racing is mental. Having the right mindset and being prepared to spend 15+ hours on your bicycle with other riders can make the difference between finishing and not. I’ve seen riders that prepare for months endlessly then let a little rain or mud grind their race to a halt several hours into a 200 mile event. I’ve also seen people who have very little training under their belt tackle gnarly 100 mile mountain bike races by spending over 20 hours pedaling and pushing their bike because they refuse to quit. No one can pedal your bike for you (unless you’re on a tandem I suppose) so it’s up to you to get yourself trained, prepped, and mentally prepared to tackle 210 or 100 miles of some beautiful Michigan gravel roads. What’s it gonna be?!