A Look Over the Shoulder: James's 2023 Race Season Recap
The year is about wrapped; what grade would you give it, all things considered; preparation, event targeting, results, and of course, luck?
I would honestly give myself an A. With everything I have going on in my life outside of training and racing, how hard these races are, and how much "luck" is involved with gear I feel like I had a great year. I finished near the front of all my races, won the 40+ AG multiple times, and was on the AG podium in every race I entered except when I crashed at Gravel Nationals. I feel consistency is huge in endurance sports, both in racing and training. Over the years I've been very consistent in training and that has led to a lot of good results.
Coming into this gravel season, what did you target as a way to improve? Change training regime? Fewer races/more quality?
I changed up my training quite a bit this year. I started in the winter but intentionally tried to build strength and muscle on and off the bike. In cycling, people seem to always worry about watts per kilo and trying to be as light as possible. Gravel races are not won on mountain top finishes. I wanted to build strength and more absolute power on the bike... more power, more speed on flat to rolling courses. I also used to do all my outside intervals on climbs and this year, for the first time, I did 90% of my intervals on flat to rolling terrain. The combination of more strength/muscle training and the change in terrain paid. I knocked out some of the best workouts of my life and that translated to racing.
I did race less this year than I have in the last two and 100% due to everything I have going on outside of training but I also really like this approach. My daughter's spring and summer were filled with soccer, my wife and I are always working on our house, and my career/job (network engineer) is something I work hard at and take a lot of pride in. Those things will always come before more training and I never have the mindset that I'm "missing" out on training because of other commitments. I choose to race and train around all of this. Balancing it all makes everything so much more rewarding. Being able to pull off results against some of the best gravel racers in the country while prioritizing being the best dad and partner means more to me than if I just trained full-time or a lot more.
What has been the most fun aspect of the season? Results? Having family along for some of it to share in the experience?
Having my family come along to races will always be the most fun and it's where I race the most free and stoked. It's always a balancing act traveling to race and trying not to miss anything at home. I hate to miss any of my daughter's soccer practices let alone any games on the weekends so I don't. I 100% build my schedule around Fiona's soccer schedule and Maggie's race schedule as well. So when we all go to a race together it's just pure fun and relaxing. We all traveled to Gravel Worlds together this year. Maggie raced the 50k run on Friday and I raced the 150-mile gravel race on Saturday and in between all of that we had a lot of fun family time with Fiona. We both had really good results but having fun on the trip with all three of us trumps any result. That trip was the highlight of my season. Hands down.
Worlds and Nats age group champion jerseys—which were a focused goal for you this year—didn't sort out. Is the drive to chase those still a major focus into the new year... what would achieving that mean to you?
Winning the Gravel Worlds and Nationals jersey was a main focus and goal for me this season. Unfortunately, neither of those happened but I learned a lot in the process. I had the best training block leading up to a gravel race heading into Gravel Worlds followed by Gravel Nationals two short weeks later. It was very targeted and I took multiple Fridays off of work to log the longest training rides I ever have... and it paid off. I've never felt so good heading into and during a mega-long gravel race as I did at Gravel Worlds. While I'm stoked to get 3rd in my AG and 24th overall there. I think I could have done better with a couple of better tactical decisions, like If had handled the gnarly mud a bit better but I had my family at that race so it just felt like a total win for me. Nationals were going great and I was in the lead group halfway through but then a crash ended my day early.
I for sure make goals every year, which I think is important, but you learn as much if not more when you don't reach those goals compared to when you do. I have zero fear of failure when it comes to racing. I train hard, race harder, and have the most fun doing it. The experience will always be more important than the result. I have lasted 20+ years in endurance and have definitely "lost" A LOT MORE than I have "won". If winning was my sole purpose in all of this I would have likely given up a long time ago. I have seen so many people come into the sport, go all in, have some good results, burn out, and then quit. I've built racing and training into my lifestyle in a way that keeps it fun and balanced and ever more focused on things outside of sport.
Winning those jerseys would have been rad but there's always next year and other races to chase. I haven't decided what all my goals will be for next year but I know I need to space out my big races more. Having just two weeks between Gravel Worlds and Nats was challenging after the big lead-up. I felt better at Gravel Worlds and was more stoked to race there than at Nats. I think it was just the physical and mental letdown post Worlds and I wasn't that stoked to be heading back out of town to race two weeks later. It's just a new flow of life for me and I'm loving it need to respect it more as well.
Living in athlete-rich Colorado, do you still get a kick mixing it up with riders half your age at the races?
I love getting to race with guys younger than me and I love the fact that I have some of the best racers in the country right here in Colorado. I love seeing all the younger guys and girls getting into racing gravel. It's always a great test to race against some of the best gravel racers in the country right in my backyard. Even if that means getting my butt kicked regularly, but I'm always up for the challenge.
What changes going into 2024 for you... goals, attitudes, balance?
In 2024 I am going to stick with the things that worked this year. Heading into the fall and cold winter I'll be back to focusing more on building more strength, running a bit more, and not doing too much on the bike. I try to not burn out in the winter by doing too much on the trainer or forcing anything when it's cold and snowy out. I want to be motivated to train hard when spring rolls around and the races are coming up. I want to head back to Unbound next year and will be going all in on that for my first goal of the year. I like the separate pro and age group starts they have there. I've had some really good races at Unbound but want to give it another go with the separate starts and a bit less chaos.More James Walsh Stories James' Ride