Hey, you guys! So, I just finished my very first gravel race and let me tell you, it was one heck of a ride! I participated in The Rock Cobbler in Bakersfield, California, and let me tell you, it was a kooky, super hard day with 81 miles ridden and over 8,000 ft of climbing. I mean, we rode through someone’s house, hiked up steep muddy climbs, and even got hazed by drunk people at a bar. But despite all that, it was way more fun than I ever could have imagined, and I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year!
If you’re thinking of taking on a gravel race, I’ve got some tips that will help you prepare for the adventure.
Plan well in advance
Gravel races are super popular these days, and a lot of events sell out well in advance. So, do yourself a favor and search for gravel events in your geographic area and sign up as soon as you can. Trust me, sign up early so you don’t miss out on the fun!
Another advantage of signing up earlier, is you have plenty of time to train for whatever race you decide to participate in throws at you.
Get familiar with the terrain and prepare for the distance
Before your first gravel race, it’s important to know the terrain you’ll be racing on and the distance you’ll be riding. Find out about the type of gravel, hills, and any other obstacles you may encounter. This information will be posted on the event website, so make sure you do your research. For example, the RockCobbler had a course map that let me know I would need to practice climbing really steep hills and even encounter Tacoman! Who knew?
From there, I made up a training plan that included me riding my gravel bike up really steep hills. Additionally, I did longer rides so I would be ready to take on 81 miles and 8,000 ft of climbing.
Come with the right equipment
Having the right equipment and having it in good condition is another key to a successful day in a gravel race. I took a cue from the RockCobbler website, which recommended using wide tires on my gravel bike and running low air pressure.
Make sure your bike is in good condition and ready for the race. Don’t forget to check your brakes, tires, and any other parts that may need adjustment or replacement. If you’re not confident in your skills, take your bike to your local bike shop for the work. And don’t forget to carry an extra tube and the tools you will need to fix a flat.
Dress appropriately for the weather conditions
Make sure you check the weather the day before your race and wear the appropriate clothing. The weather can be dicey in Bakersfield in the Winter, so I made sure I was dressed properly with a base layer and arm warmers. You’re better off being a little cold early than carrying around extra clothes all day after the temperature warms up.
Eating and drinking – AKA Fueling
Fueling is crucial for any endurance ride. A good general rule of thumb is to drink one bottle and eat one bar every hour. You want to make sure you drink enough water and eat enough food throughout the day so you don’t bonk. “Essentially bonking means that you haven’t taken in enough carbohydrates and have exhausted your body’s glycogen stores, leaving you with abnormally low blood glucose levels. And don’t make the rookie mistake of skipping the rest stops. Trust me, you’ll need the fuel and you do not want to bonk!!!
Set a pace you can maintain the entire distance
Don’t go out too fast, or you’ll regret it later. Determine a pace that’s comfortable for you and that you can maintain throughout the race. Always err on the side of going out too slow. You can always turn on the gas at the end of the race if you’ve still got the power.
Know the rules
Every event will have a set of rules, so make sure you pay attention and understand them. This includes safety requirements and passing protocols.
Stay focused during the race, stay focused on your goals, and keep a positive attitude. And most importantly, enjoy the experience and have fun!
So, there you have it. These are the tips that helped me prepare for my first gravel race. Don’t be intimidated by the challenge, it’s all about the journey and the experience. And most importantly, have fun!
John Swanstrom is an experienced Mountain Bike Racer from Oak Park, CA and creator of The Masters Cycling Channel