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Gravel Events are Back! Coach Matt Curbeau's Top Tips to being event-ready in 2021

April 13, 2021

Obed Bikes

Spring is in the air, vaccines are rolling out nationwide and a return to the “new” normal is on the horizon. It is safe to say that things will never be the same. However, some things do never change. When it comes to training for that next big event, there are a few things that are always applicable. In addition to the cornerstone adages of Planning, Consistency and Dedication here are a few tips to get you pointed in the right direction as we all look towards the road ahead.

(Full Disclosure: These are the thoughts of a working person like you. Just trying to take care of family, work a billion hours in the new work-from-home Covid life and also find a way to get ready for 200 miles of racing at Unbound.)

1. Turn that Zwift fitness into Outdoor Fitness! 

    Oh Zwift, the beautiful piece of technology that has advanced riding indoors to never before seen levels. Do you remember the years we all spend starting at cement walls, watching re-runs of old races that someone had, like the box sets of the Tour de France? Relevant for me now is surfing through Netflix looking for something to occupy me as I tried to ride five hours on a trainer.

    Zwift is amazing—but it is not outdoor riding. Beyond the basics like reacquainting yourself to traffic, riding etiquette, etc., there are some very real adaptations when going from inside to outside. Some of you may have never before ridden inside for such a long time. When you do venture into the “IRL,” do so a bit slowly at first so that the body can adapt to the stresses that are added. Trust me, the first two- or three-hour ride you do outside will make you crazy sore. (Which makes it the perfect time to slip into some NormaTec’s or use your Hypervolt, wink...)

    The whole goal here is to adapt your body and your mind to the great outdoors, while you build on the baseline fitness that has been gained indoors. Look to increase the duration of your rides over a periods of three to four weeks. If your longest ride inside has been two hours, then look to increase this to three, three and a half and four hours of over the span of three weeks. Continuing this build with a rest week included, until you are up to about three quarters of your goal race duration. That is solid starting point to building your outside ride mileage.

    2. Eyes on the Prize 

      What is your goal race, event or adventure this year? Personally I have a few “monuments” on my calendar. These are the races where I want to be 100% ready to go for and I base everything else I do off of them. The first for myself is Unbound, which falls on June 5th. Since this race is 200 miles, that is what dictates the training plan. Long rides on the weekends, building to a single ride in the eight-hour range. These aren’t just “do the distance” rides but instead focused and specific to the objective. Take the time to plan and think out your approach, your family will be thankful when you ask in advance for that day to ride your bike for eight hours, instead of laying it on them the night before.

      3. Test your Gear 

      It could be well over a year and a half since most of us have lined up for an event...potentially even longer. Racing or going on that long adventure ride with your buddies puts way more stress on your bike and components than the indoor trainer ride or the two-hour loop around your house. So dig up the race wheels, the Camelbaks and just everything that is specific to these efforts. Ride them outside, get comfortable and find out what you might need to replace. My suggestion here is if you haven’t started sourcing your new tires, chains or other essentials for your bike, that you do get on that as soon as possible, as shortages on the basics are very prevalent due to the overall supply chain being hit so hard by the pandemic. 

      Obed Bikes

      Unbound Build Tips from The Cycling Formula (A division of QT2 Systems)

      1. A baseline level of fitness with multiple rides of at least three to four hours should be achieved by the beginning of April. 

      2. Throughout April, outdoor specific long rides should be added in along with tempo or sweet spot intervals during the weekdays.

      3. Two week overload - A bit athlete-specific on the exact dates but the methodology here is to achieve a two week block of dedicated volume whereby the weekends consist of for example a Saturday long ride and a Sunday moderate one. In my own case this is going to look like the following: 

        1. Week of April 24th - Rest week to soak up the work from the past month
        2. Week of April 31st - Overload Week #1. Saturday’s ride is aimed to peak out at around eight hours of race specific effort. (Unbound - think aerobic, steady state). This isn’t a roll-around and “get the miles in” ride, but a targeted assault on the duration, with planning for proper nutrition and hydration all along the way). One the Sunday of this week, a ride of at least three hours the day after your longer ride is optimal. An example of a beneficial ride here is 60 minutes of warming up and getting into your aerobic training zone, then 60 minutes of effort as 2 x 30 low cadence (70rpms) at a specific wattage or heart rate, and finished with another 60 minutes back at that steady all day pace. Rationale for the low cadence is that your peripheral system is going to be very much fatigued from Saturday’s ride. Thus, using more of your muscular system, you can work the heart rate back up into your aerobic system a bit easier than trying to spin legs that are too tired to go that fast. 
        3. Week of May 3rd - very much the same as the week before. You’re looking to finish the overload with quality sessions on the weekend. Durations are largely the same. As long as you have set yourself up to perform, the goal here is to push through the fatigue and get the work done. It’s almost time to rest.
        4. The remainder of May is spent recovering from the overload, being around for your family on the weekend :), and the fine tuning the system as you approach event day.

      “Rome isn’t build in a day” and “Consistency is King” are a couple of my favorite quotes when it comes to endurance training in specific. Use these adages to help build your plan towards the goals you have ahead of you in 2021. 

      Matt Curbeau is an elite level gravel racer and coach with The Cycling Formula. You can catch him at The Cycling Formula.

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