Taking on your first gravel race can be daunting. With so many training options to consider and wanting to make sure you get the best result on the day it can be overwhelming. We chatted to seasoned gravel racer, and Steezy member Kitty who gave us an insight into her training and her experiences of gravel racing.
What does a typical training programme look like in the build up to a gravel race?
I tend to go on 5 rides a week, 2 longer rides, an off road MTB session, a sprint/hill effort and a sustained effort session.
It’s always important to get the base miles in for any gravel event, so 1 or 2 longer rides each week sets me up to tackle the distance of the event without a mental block or over-fatiguing myself towards the end. I do a weekly mountain bike ride to get the skills and handling a little more refined. Finally, some road (or turbo) sessions to work on bursts of speed and sustained efforts, these are quick and really help with any efforts I have to make during a race.
In addition to this I also add in some leg, arm and core workouts which gives me the strength to throw my bike around a bit more. When training for road it is less important to do arm workouts but with a bit more manual handling and bike dismounts during a gravel race I find it helps a lot.
Finally, I also go for some shorter recovery runs to keep my legs ticking over if I ever need to run for a sustained period of time in an off-road gravel event.
How would you advise someone to train who is doing their first gravel event?
I think it depends on what you want out of the event, if you’re looking to have some fun and try something new I would say ride as you normally do but get out and push your limits a little. Explore what you’re comfortable with and know what you might need to dismount for, slow down for or even speed up for!
In addition, a little more time on your ride bike will make the efforts seem a little less overwhelming. Riding 50km on gravel is completely different to the same on a road bike. It is more physically taxing but also requires your complete concentration on your surroundings.
Overall, I would recommend training to enjoy the amazing sport! Explore off the beaten track and learn some more about your local area. There’s also nothing stopping you trying the easier mountain bike trails on your gravel bike, just be mindful of other riders.
What was your experience of racing on gravel like?
Racing on gravel is a mix between a lot of different disciplines. The skills from cyclocross and cross country mountain biking are needed but the effort on some of the longer sections is something that is unique to gravel. It takes a lot of willpower to keep going on an endless fire road when you have just done a big effort or a technical section. But the rewards are endless, you meet some amazing people, learn a lot about your limits and see some amazing scenery you wouldn’t have seen before.
I really love this unique racing format for many reasons, but I would definitely say it is harder than you would expect!
What advice would you give to someone who is relatively new to gravel racing?
If you’re new to gravel racing there are a couple of things I wish I had known, a good gravel bike is the one you ride. So, whatever you’re comfortable riding off road then go for it! An XC MTB may work well for one person, whereas someone else may feel more at home on an aggressive CX bike.
I always recommend running your bike tubeless if possible, lower pressure and less punctures is always a win.
Make sure you eat plenty and drink a lot of water, it is pretty self-explanatory, but because you’re focussing so much on the riding it is easy to forget.
Make sure you have a set of good tools with you including tubeless plugs, an extra layer and a first aid kit. Because you’re not on the road help may be a little further away so having those extra bits that can get you to the next checkpoint are always handy.
The most important bit of advice I could give is to enjoy it, the best part about gravel racing is it is the experience and people you meet that matter!