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namdoogttam

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Reply with quote  #1 
Looking for advice from experienced gravel riders: I'm now registered for my first ever 100 mile gravel race 4 months away (it's the Le Grand Du Nord, in Grand Marais, MN). I'm mainly looking for advice on two fronts: training & gear. 

Here's a little background:

Fitness:
  • I'm an avid/experienced XC mountain bike racer....those races are around 2 hrs and maybe in the neighborhood of 25 miles. Pretty short days, compared to 100 miles on gravel. 
  • I've never ridden 100 miles before. Not on pavement, gravel, or singletrack.
  • My longest rides are ~70 mi. on pavement, ~50 mi. group ride on gravel, ~50 mi. mountain bike race. 
  • I've made up an 18-week training 'plan' that gradually increases my weekly long ride to 85 miles (three weeks before the race...then tapers). This plan includes 'maintenance rides' in between the long ones as well...to keep up overall volume, etc.
Equipment
  • I'll be riding my commuter bike which is a 2007 Redline Conquest frame with alu. fork, 2x9 gearing, bb7 disc brakes, mostly Shimano 105 'stuff', Gossomer crank, tubeless wheelset. The current tires are worn-out 40mm  Vee Rubber X-C-X tires. I will replace the tires before the race, depending on recommendations here. 
  • The course will be a mix of some really gnarly, grassy, snowmobile-trail, ATV-trail, forest road stuff....but the majority of mileage will likely be washboard gravel. 
  • I don't yet have any substantial packs/bags (looking at getting a larger saddle bag and possibly a small frame pack for a bladder). I ride a small frame, so it's hard to fit a frame pack without getting in the way of the bottle cage bottles. 
  • I do own headlights & tail lights (though in northern MN in late May, it doesn't really get dark until about 9pm).
  • I know I need to bring along a lot of nutrition and water...there's only one checkpoint, halfway....and tools.
I'm anticipating 8 hours on the bike....give or take 4 hours!

I'm not necessarily looking for the 'most obscure', 'secret tip'....but maybe what do you think are the most important things to "get right"? Or, what might I be overthinking, or overlooking!? 

Thanks for any 'veteran' advice you can offer. 

-Matt

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drwelby

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Reply with quote  #2 
You'll want to figure out a few things:

- Position. Does your position work for you after many hours? Do your hands start to go numb? Does you saddle chafe? You might want to raise your bars or move your saddle back a little (with a shorter stem) to get a position that's more comfortable over the long run. Don't make radical changes early on, just tweak stuff as your mileage increases.

- Food. See what works, some people like liquid calories, others need something to chew on. Do you need to eat on a schedule or can you go by instinct? Make no assumptions and experiment.

- Pacing. Coming from shorter MTB racing you'll probably have a tendency to push things to hard and too soon. This can also screw you on longer rides, where you think you can't do big miles because you get tired too early. You should almost focus on hours on the bike instead of miles, and force yourself to ride at what initially seems like a slow pace. It can be hard to deprogram your brain to go slow, but try to stick to a constant pace or tempo.

Problems with the above 3 often won't show up until many hours in, so I'd focus more on trying to get the longest ride possible on a weekend day even if it means little riding in the week. I think it's worth losing a little volume to have the opportunity to find out what doesn't work after 8 or so hours.
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namdoogttam

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Reply with quote  #3 
Quote:
Originally Posted by drwelby

- Pacing. Coming from shorter MTB racing you'll probably have a tendency to push things to hard and too soon. This can also screw you on longer rides, where you think you can't do big miles because you get tired too early. You should almost focus on hours on the bike instead of miles, and force yourself to ride at what initially seems like a slow pace. It can be hard to deprogram your brain to go slow, but try to stick to a constant pace or tempo.


Thanks - especially for your reminder on pacing! I "have a tendency to push things too hard and too soon" EVEN IN SHORT MTB RACES. 

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cyclotourist

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Reply with quote  #4 
Hi Matt, this isn't a snarky comment at all, but fully serious: Get out there and ride! As @drwelby said, you need to figure out comfort, nutrition, pacing for a long day in the saddle. Start ramping up the miles on smooth road, then start adding in as much dirt as you can. You'll quickly find out what works and doesn't work for you. As for tires, I like the Clement MSO X'Plor if there is singletrack and/or climbing. They're a bit heavy, but work great for me. I don't know how they work in mud, which you may have to deal with. And have fun! If you're not enjoying it, what's the point!?!!?!?
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AlanEsh

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Reply with quote  #5 
Bibs. [smile]
Seriously, bibs made the difference for me being able to grind for 4 hours to 6+ hours. The longer rides with constant motion and very little pausing/coasting was causing ... equipment issues up front with my regular shorts. TMI I suppose... [nono]
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cjdaking

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Reply with quote  #6 
Good advice from all the others. One little tip: Chamois creme. If you're used to it, great, but if not, start using it on your longer training rides. It will prevent baboon-butt the day after. Also be cognizant of where and when water will be available on the course. Should be a great event!
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sourmashvelo

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Reply with quote  #7 
I agree with everything drwelby said!

My 2 cents:
Position: Comfort is king! In addition to your bike fit this should include comfortable clothing (cold hands, feet, ears will ruin your day). Plan to ride in any type of weather and pick your clothing accordingly. Layer up and have a way to stash some gear if you get too warm.

Food: After 8 hour of eating energy bars your stomach might not agree with you. Find real foods that you can pack in plastic baggies that you can stuff in your jersey pocket. One of my personal favorites are Fig Newtons! If you're the kind of person who likes to cook look into the Feed Zone Portables Cookbook (by Skratch Labs) http://www.skratchlabs.com/products/feed-zone-portables. If you're able to use a drop bag for a check point load up a bag with food and water bottles. If there isn't a drop bag option figure out how much water you drink per hour and look at where you can refill your water bottles along the route: gas station, city park, etc.

Pacing: Unless you're racing for the podium approach this as a really large group ride, not a race.

In the not-required-but-nice-to-have category: A support person/ team with a car, cell phone, and bike rack! This is part of being responsible for yourself. If you get hurt, exhausted, or you find someone else that needs help it's nice to have someone to call and pick you/ them up. Plus, when you finish you'll have someone who can drive you home!

Gear:
-Tire selection will depend on your frame clearance, budget, and where you're riding. There are lots of good options out there. 
-Cue sheet holder - find a way to hold your cue sheets. With out these you won't know where to go
-Bag - lots of good options out there: from custom to off the shelf. I like Banjo Brothers gear - they make durable gear that is not too expensive and are based out of Minneapolis. Plus they support lots of gravel events in Minnesota!

Finally, here's my list of general rules to follow to ensure you enjoy your 1st Gravel Event:
  • Chat will other riders at the start line - The best part of gravel racing is how welcoming and friendly people are! 
  • Announce your pass "On your left/right" or use a bell
  • Say "Hi!" when you pass someone
  • Say "Hi" when someone passes you
  • Give encouragement to other riders -  it might sound cheesy and kind of cheerleader-y but these rides test your mental ability as well as your physical ability
  • If you see someone pulled off to the side of the road ask them if they need anything!
  • Don't Litter! 
  • Don't pee in someone's front lawn - pee behind a tree
  • Don't be afraid to take a short break to stretch, eat a snack, or take a picture!



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Sadlebred

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Reply with quote  #8 
I'll add that if you are doing 25 mile singletrack races XC, you'll be fine doing a gravel road century with a little endurance training. 18 hours is a lot of volume for a week. How many miles do anticipate for that week? The rule of thumb is that if you can do an 80% of the race distance, you will be fine on race day. Don't burn yourself out before the race.

Everyone else's advice is spot on. I'll add take extra chamois cream with you. I like the Chammy Butter packets: http://www.amazon.com/Chamois-Buttr-10PACK9MLCB-Original-10-pack/dp/B000RLDZG8. You can toss them in your bag and discard them at a sag stop. If there won't be sag stops or a bag drop, make sure to carry everything with you--maybe a larger hydration pack and a frame pack. As far as equipment, ride with you brung....after replacing the worn out tires. Carry enough tubes and patches for at least 4 flats.

-The XC MTB & CX chick


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shoaf

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Reply with quote  #9 
Great thread! I've never done a 100-miler, either, so I'm learning a lot of things from this thread.

I have pretty limited experience with gravel racing, but here are a couple things I learned in case they are helpful to someone:

-Think about strapping your spare tubes, pump, CO2, etc. to the frame rather than putting them in bags or jersey pockets. You can get some velcro straps from the hardware store or use something like the Backcountry Research straps. Or you can just use electrical tape if you're really cheap, but it'll cost you in time to get to it if needed during the race. This will allow more room for food, extra layers, etc. in your jersey pockets and bags, and you might be able to attach the other equipment to more out-of-the-way places on your bike (depending on cables, cages, etc.).

-If some of your nutrition is in the form of granola bars/Clif bars, you might want to go ahead and unwrap them (partially or completely) before the race. Sometimes you'll need to eat at a point where the riding surface is a little rowdy, so being able to just grab a bite with one hand and not having to deal with a wrapper can keep you moving at that moment and a little while later when you'd otherwise be headed toward a bonk. You'll probably want to avoid bars that have much chocolate, though, as it'll melt in your jersey pocket.
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namdoogttam

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Reply with quote  #10 
Quote:
Originally Posted by AlanEsh
Bibs. [smile]
Seriously, bibs made the difference for me being able to grind for 4 hours to 6+ hours. The longer rides with constant motion and very little pausing/coasting was causing ... equipment issues up front with my regular shorts. TMI I suppose... [nono]


I'm not sure how to interpret this: are you saying "bibs" as opposed to regular padded chamois shorts (without the over-the-shoulder straps)? Or are you saying "bibs" as opposed to, say, cut-off jeans shorts or swimming trunks or a non-bike-specific pair of shorts?

Is the key here the padded chamois (seems obvious) or the suspender component (why?) to 'bibs'?

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namdoogttam

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Reply with quote  #11 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sadlebred
18 hours is a lot of volume for a week. How many miles do anticipate for that week? The rule of thumb is that if you can do an 80% of the race distance, you will be fine on race day. Don't burn yourself out before the race.


Just  to clarify, I wrote in my original post that it's an 18-WEEK plan (not 18 hrs). In other words, at the time I wrote, I was 18 weeks away from the race and I had planned-out my weekly long ride, which gradually increased and peaked three weeks before the event with an 85 mile ride.

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namdoogttam

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Reply with quote  #12 

Update (for posterity): 

I finished Le Grand du Nord 100 mile race with no major issues. 

In retrospect, the idea of 100 miles was much more of a mental barricade than a physiological one. I finished easily, almost exactly in the middle of the pack, and still feeling strong and ready to keep riding.

In all of my training I never used any kind of chamois butter and only had one training ride where I suffered some slight chaffing. Working-out the right clothes was key: I found one of my low-grade cycling shorts just happened to fit right. Race day was a bit cold and I ended up wearing some cheap tights underneath my shorts...no issues.

My only 'mistake' in the race was also made by several other riders: some of the race information lead a few of us to think that there would be water/aid at the 40-mile checkpoint. This would have made sense since, although 40 miles wasn't technically half-way (distance-wise) it was half-way (effort-wise) - most of the tough climbing was crammed into the first 40 miles. As it turned out, there was no support at the 40-mile checkpoint, so we rode on without water until the 68 mile checkpoint where we drenched our parched bodies. Next time I'd carry more water, regardless of the checkpoints, just to ensure I'd have plenty. Lesson learned.

I think I'm ready for 150, or 200 miles....


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reubenc

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Reply with quote  #13 
There was a checkpoint but no water? That's rough!
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anthonylane

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Reply with quote  #14 
What was your race day set up? How many tubes, CO2 cartridges, what type of frame bags (if any) did you run, snacks, etc? 
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namdoogttam

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Reply with quote  #15 
This was more or less my race-day setup: 
2007_Redline_Conquest_20160401.JPG 

Tires: 40mm Panaracer GravelKing SK Tubeless
Flats: two spare tubes, + several adhesive patch kits; small/light Crankbrothers Power-Pump (I decided this would take up less space and lighter than two Co2 cartridges)
Tool: misc. multi-tool
Storage: "Western Bike Works" frame bag (I haven't seen many of these around...got it on eBay); Specialized Dirt Bag saddle bag
Water: two bottles in cages
Food: sandwiches, gu, cookies, sunflower seeds, energy bars; stowed in jersey pockets and in frame bag
Navigation: Bontrager Trip II odo, + Garmin GPS watch + cue cards. 

Ultimately, I didn't have any mechanical issues and no flats, but I was glad to have spare tires on board. If I were to do the same race again, I'd actually carry a little less food (this race had lots of food at the checkpoint). I'd probably carry the same amount of water and just meter it better. 


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anthonylane

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Reply with quote  #16 
Thanks for the update. Looks like a nice rig. 
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AlanEsh

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Reply with quote  #17 
Quote:
Originally Posted by namdoogttam


I'm not sure how to interpret this: are you saying "bibs" as opposed to regular padded chamois shorts (without the over-the-shoulder straps)? Or are you saying "bibs" as opposed to, say, cut-off jeans shorts or swimming trunks or a non-bike-specific pair of shorts?

Is the key here the padded chamois (seems obvious) or the suspender component (why?) to 'bibs'?

Wow, just saw this... better late than never!

Bibs as in cycling shorts that include over the shoulder straps. In the really hot sweaty riding (90F, high humidity) I found that a soggy chamois would sag a bit and become more likely to chafe. Switching to bibs fixed any sort of shifting or sagging I'd been experiencing on very long rides.
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namdoogttam

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Reply with quote  #18 
Warning: don't run a 40mm rear tire on your similar 2007 Redline Conquest (pictured in this thread above). 

In the bike stand, they will "fit", but in reality, they don't. After several years of running a 40mm rear tire, it's slowly been 'sawing' through my chainstays. Someday, my frame will break there and I will fall down. It may even hurt.

It's too late for me: now that I've ridden 40mm tires, I can't switch back to narrower ones...even though I know they're destroying my bike. I'm addicted. I just can't stop. I'm a lost cause, but if you haven't yet put 40mm on the back, don't do it...don't start. It's not too late to be saved. 

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