How to Train for a Multi-Day Gravel Bike Race

with KAYSEE ARMSTRONG, Liv Factory Racing Athlete

Gravel racing is a great way to see new places and experience communities. A couple of years ago, I would have turned my nose up to a gravel race, but there were thousands of people racing gravel telling me differently and I had to go check out the hype. Needless to say, I fell in love.

Rebecca Rusch always refers to gravel racing as being a pioneer. I think that’s perfectly put.

I raced and won Rebecca’s Private Idaho two years in a row. In 2018 and 2019, the event included a three-day gravel stage race near Ketchum, Idaho – one 40+ mile day with tons of climbing, followed by a time trial day, and culminating with the Baked Potato, which is about 100 miles and more than 5,000ft of climbing. It’s no cake walk, but I love how it packs so much into just three days of racing… and I love the incredible vibe.

If you’re looking to take on the Rebecca’s Private Idaho or prep for a dream race in the future, I’ve put together some of my top tips to help you train, finish the race, and have a ton of fun.

1. Set goals. The great thing about the gravel community is they are great supporters in lofty goals. I had never even got close to riding 200 miles before I took on Unbound Gravel and I knew it was going to be hard. However, I didn’t know how many people would have my back and support me at the race in accomplishing a big goal. Whether you’re aiming to win or just cross the finish line, I say use the race as motivation. Set your goal as high as you want and train, but don’t stress about having to do that distance or time before the actual race. Use the race to achieve that goal.

2. Ride your bike. I’m a firm believer in consistency. Whether it’s going out and only riding 30 mins because that’s all you have time for or going out for a big day, time on the bike and not stressing yourself out about the things you can’t control are key. Start training as soon as you sign up for a race. Use the race to help motivate you to get on the bike.

3. Maybe get a coach. Getting a coach helps with accountability. But make sure you’re hiring a coach that’s going to be able to work with your lifestyle. If you have a full-time job and pay for a coach that wants you to train 15-20 hours a week, you are setting yourself up for burnout. A coach can help you set time goals and build up to it. It’s not reasonable to send someone out for a five hour training ride if they haven’t ridden more than two hours in the past.

4. Recover. I ramp up my training about a month before the race to get close to my peak goal. Then, I have a solid week of recovery with a slight build back up so my legs aren’t dead at the race.

5. Train off-the-bike. I have been doing strength training once a week with a personal trainer for five years now. We don’t do anything crazy, but all the core work and some extra pushups go along way when you are at hour four on the gravel bike.

6. Mentality is key. Lie and tell yourself you’re not tired or even just take a minute to laugh at yourself. “Why did I ever think this was a good idea. Why didn’t I just sign up for a 5k?” (These are some things I laugh at when I’m really tired). The point is, don’t get down on yourself because that’s just going to make it worse. It’s never easy but knowing we can do hard things and push through the pain is what helps us achieve our goals.