So you signed up for your first gravel ultra event, now what happens? The big concerns you may have are; how do I get ready to complete 300+ miles of gravel, what do I need to set my bike up, and how do I manage the race day? Here are a few tips to help you out.
KEEP IT SIMPLE! Two things to think about for your training are volume and consistency. These two things will mean something different to each person. Keeping consistent in your riding and upping your volume of miles will help you get through the event easier. Getting your miles in during the winter or when your life is busy can be hard. Indoor training has changed how many people battle this, but riding outdoors is essential for ultra events. It will build your confidence and let you practice riding with your bike loaded. Most people don’t ride that much during the night, so while training, you will need to do a few long rides where you prepare yourself for this. You must ride in the middle of the night to understand how your body will react. Start a long ride at midnight so that you are already tired. This will be the time to ensure you understand if you need to adjust your bike. I like to do my last long ride before an event around four weeks prior, giving me time to recover.
Bike Set Up
This will be very individualized based on your bike and what bags you have. There are so many options out there in terms of bags, but the ones to consider are: top tube bag, frame bag, seat bag, and handle bar bag. I recommend that at least one of them is waterproof to keep your extra clothes dry. There is nothing worse than getting caught in a rainstorm and having to put on your “dry clothes” that are soaked.
Lights are another important part of your setup. Once again there are lots of options. Battery powered verses dynamo hub is always a big question. I believe both have their pros and cons. Battery-powered lights, you may need to recharge along the way and a dynamo hub will charge as you are riding but you have the extra cost of the setup.
Tires are going to be another consideration and you will have tons of options. I prefer to go for a bigger tire to make the ride a little more comfortable and usually a little less risk of a puncture.
On your navigation setup you will want to have at least one backup. You should always have the route backed up on your phone or have a second head unit with you. Some folks prefer to have a set of cue cards with them if all else fails.
A very important thing to do is make sure you do some of your long rides with your bike loaded. This will help you understand how the bike handles when it weighs almost twice as much as usual. Also you need to make sure that there is not anything on the bags that rub against you and the things you need are easily accessible. Some important things to consider carrying with you are: a way to carry your bike through the mud, I use a strap that I clip onto my bike. Have a mud stick / brush, a basic repair kit / tool set, extra lube and a rag to keep your bike running smoothly.
You have made it to your event and ready to set off. The biggest piece of advice here is DO NOT go out too hard. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the excitement and you end up riding much faster than expected. Have a plan and try to stick to it. By knowing your course and its stops, you can figure out how much nutrition you need to carry. I try to break the event up into sections and carry only what I need to get me to the next stop. You don’t want to run out of nutrition, but you won’t need to carry everything with you. This is something to practice while you are training for the event. I like to have a plan when I stop on what I am going to get at the convenience store. It is easy to spend a bunch of time wondering around. You will be craving different things at different times. Eat what looks good and make your body happy.
Congrats, you have completed an amazing accomplishment. Now you might not want to get back on the bike for a long time. I am really big on “active recovery” meaning I will always try to get out for the few days after an event for some light activity, this can be an easy ride, walk, or swim. I believe that this helps the body recover faster and get you ready for your next adventure. A good massage a couple days after the event is always a nice treat for yourself.
I am always willing to help you with any questions that might come along.