Race Specific Training – Gravel Grinders

This relatively new race/ride type is really taking off in the US.  I think the relaxed atmosphere, no race categories and variety of bike types create a much more welcoming environment to sign up and enjoy a ride in the country.  That being said, they feel a lot like full on races to me as noted in this race report.

This type of race requires both specific training and specific prep.  For now, let’s focus on the specific physical system that needs to be ready for these grueling races.

  • Short Climbs – Many of these races are in the rolling countryside and aren’t usually set up for 1-2 hour climbs.  However, they do insert a ton of rolling hills and steep climbs.  These can add up quickly and can tear you up.  Training for short, steep hill intervals in a row will be critical for success.
  • Wind – Get ready to battle all directions of wind and varieties from gusts to constant aggravation.  I always encourage my athletes to ride in the wind.  It is a part of racing and getting used to how your bike handles in winds is important.  It is also important to keep positive.  These races can break up into individual riders and riding for miles into a headwind can be mentally taxing.
  • Laying Down the Power – Riding in sand, gravel and mud for miles can be difficult.  Working on pushing the correct gear and cadence at a longer time trial pace is necessary.  Again, you may find yourself alone a lot and will need to have the steady 3rd gear that ticks away the miles and a constant pace.
  • Bike Handling – The variety of road surfaces creates a next level of difficulty in corning and in descending.  I find the descents to be very difficult on these races, especially in a group.  The visibility is very limited due to the amount of dust in the air and the chance of crashing due to a rider sliding out seems high.  This is simply one of those things that you need to practice a lot to get feel for how your bike handles, including breaking hard on descents and opening it up to let it fly to get a full sense of the bikes capabilities.
  • Go the Distance – These usually aren’t short races.  Getting the miles in is critical and getting your body used to the additional abuse of riding on uneven surfaces and up steep hills, etc. can be a challenge.  Many of the races can last well over 10 hours and into the 20+ hours if you aren’t having a great day.  Obviously, I don’t recommend riding 20 hours a day to train, however it will be necessary to work in some long days in the saddle to condition yourself for success on race day.

After writing this, these races sound miserable.  Good thing cyclists love to suffer and create epic stories.  Best of luck to anyone who takes on the likes of the Dirty Kanza or  the Dust Lust in Slovenia.

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