16 Simple Gravel Event Training Tips & 5 Plans Compared23rd October 2020
If you are looking for everything you need to know to train for your next Gravel cycling event then you have come to the right place! Whether it’s your first event or you have many years of experience, our list of training tips will teach you the best way to achieve your goals on your next event, so read on…
TIP: Click here to register for free in less than 2 minutes with Wheelie Good Tours and get access to our cycling goals planner and training journal!
If you just want to find a training plan for your next Gravel Event, click here to jump to that section.
This is part of the Gravel Pack, showing you how to prepare for your next Mountain Bike Event with tips on training, nutrition, gear & clothing and tackling your first even.
1 - Define your goals and objectives - finish it or win it?
Are you looking to finish the event in one piece, or put in a really fast time, or maybe even beat last years time?
Or are you somewhere in between all that?
Clearly the answer is up to you but make sure you think about it and define your goals.
Try and write down your goals in a SMART way:
- Specific - Be as specific as possible about your goal. This could be a specific Gravel Event you are targeting in a particular location.
- Measurable - How can you measure if the goal has been achieved? This might be how long it takes you to complete the course, or it might be that you finish the event.
- Achievable - Your goal needs to be achievable whilst also stretching you a little bit to make it worthwhile. Remember goals can evolve over time as you get fitter / more experience.
- Relevant - Make sure the goal matters to you. It could be a Gravel event supporting a Charity that you have close links to.
- Time-bound - How long will it take to reach your goal, usually the date of the event.
Here is an example of a goal of mine: I want to train to complete the Hardcore 100 Gravel Event on April 25th 2021, and as my first gravel event my aim is just to complete the event with a smile on my face.
So... what are your goals?
Use our handy free online Training Journal to write it down and stick it on your wall so you never forget!
2 - Freestyle or follow a training plan?
If your goal is challenging but achievable then it’s probably worth investing the time to read this guide and follow some sort of training plan.
There are many benefits of following a training plan:
- They are developed by experts who know what they are talking about!
- It gives you a structure to follow so you can just ride - you don’t need to think about what to do each week
- They run for a fixed number of weeks, allowing you to plan when to start so it finishes just before your event
But remember that a training plan can be as simple as “I will ride for four hours every week” through to a day-by-day schedule showing key heart rate zones, training types and more.
What’s right for you will depend on your goals and time available, so bear this in mind as you read on…
3 - Measure your training progress
Measuring your progress will allow you to see how you have developed and will give you a huge confidence boost.
There are four ways training can be instructed and therefore each can be used to measure progress:
- Time / Distance - an easy one to measure, but maybe not that useful since it can be affected by many things such as the route you take, how hard you push and even the weather
- Rate of Perceived Exertion - a score of 1 to 10 assigned to how hard the effort feels, ranging from “sitting on the sofa doing nothing”, a score of 1, to “100% sprint for the line”, with a score of 10.
- Heart Rate - using a chest heart rate monitor or sometimes a smart watch, your heart rate will respond to the effort you put in. You will need to calculate your maximum heart rate and heart rate zones as this is what will be referenced in the training plans.
- Power - there are various ways to measure power such as with specific pedals, cranks or even wheel hubs, but all require a level of investment to achieve. This will however give you the most accurate data and the most specific training plan. You will need to work out your functional threshold power and your power zones as this is what will be referenced in the training plans.
To calculate your maximum heart rate / functional threshold power, use this table:
Thanks to Cycling Weekly for the image
And to see how this refers to the zones use this table:
Thanks to Cycling Weekly for the image
Power is the best option since it’s least affected by other factors but it also requires investment in a power meter, which can get expensive.
Most training plans will give you a combination of the above four, allowing you to choose what works best for you.
4 - Be time efficient with your training
A lot of us commute to work by bus, train or car… why not take your bike instead?
This is a really good way to get some extra miles in during the week, without taking up valuable family time.
Here are some key things to consider:
- Check out the facilities - are there shower facilities available? What about a locker to store your gear? On-site and secure bike parking?
- Be prepared - I find it helpful to get everything ready the night before… food for the day, work clothing packed safely, cycling clothing and bag ready to put on in the morning. Then it’s just brush your teeth and get on the bike…
- Have the right equipment and clothing - good lighting and hi-vis for those darker rides, warm gloves for the colder months and some nice bib shorts for when the sun comes out
- Plan your route - you might be surprised at the number of off-road cycle paths, canal paths etc.. that you can explore. Consider adding a few miles if it means a safer route to work. Use a tool like Komoot to find gravel routes near you that you didn't know existed!
5 - Join a local club
As part of your training you will probably want to get some longer miles in at the weekend, and what better way to do that than by joining a club.
Being part of a club will give you a great social boost to your riding, allow you to explore new routes, get some good miles in your legs and learn some of the skills discussed later on.
There isn't many, if any, specific gravel-only bike clubs, but often the clubs found on the British Cycling website (see below) have gravel rides as part of their regular calendars as they become more popular.
Find your nearest club here and get in touch to discuss your first ride.
Alternatively, there are a few gravel-related communities online now such as the UK Gravel Bike Club (FB Group also) or the Gravel Bikes UK Facebook group. These are good places to find other like minded gravel enthusiasts and maybe arrange a local meet-up?
6 - Train for the right amount of time
There is of course an argument that you should be training all-year round for your event, but in following a training plan for a specific event you should really allow yourself a solid 12 weeks.
A good training plan will have a ramp-up period hitting a peak of training activity a few weeks before the event, followed by a tapering of activity in the final few weeks to allow your body time to recover before the event.
7 - Do Indoor AND Outdoor
You can certainly find training plans that are designed specifically for indoor and those for outdoor, but there are also many that give an option for indoor and outdoor to fit around your schedule.
Indoor training can often be more structured and targeted since there are no distractions with traffic or road junctions! Using software like Zwift can make staring at your garage wall actually enjoyable!
However, you will want to make sure that you do plenty of outdoor training as this will most simulate the actual event you enter and you will need those bike handling skills.
8 - Mix up your training using the main five types
Throughout the training plans you will find different activities grouped into types of training, here is what they all mean:
- Endurance Training - long steady rides, ideally over an hour in duration, typically in Zone 2 (see above)
- Hill Training - a mix of long and shallow hills plus short and steep will get your body in the best shape
- Threshold Training - your threshold is the intensity of riding you can sustain for 60 minutes and is a great indicator of overall ride intensity
- Interval Training - short sharp periods of high-intensity with low-intensity rest periods between has been shown to have a great impact on your overall fitness
- Recovery Training - really important Zone 1 focused activity to allow muscles to recover after a hard training session
9 - Include some gym work in your schedule
A great way to supplement your cycling training is using some gym- or home-based exercises. The following list gives you a good start, check out this Training Peaks article for more ideas:
- Planks - builds core strength which is good for stability on the bike and helps with hill climbing
- Lunges - target all your key leg muscles
- Burpees - uses your full body and good for explosive power
10 - Remember to warm up, warm down and stretch!
The best way to ensure your muscles are ready for their next training session is to help them recover after the previous one.
Some simple stretches once you come off the bike will help you, check out this article for some ideas on what to do.
11 - Rest & recovery is as important as hard training
All good training plans will incorporate periods of rest and recovery.
This may take the form of a day off from training between two tough days, or a quieter week after a period of intense efforts.
Whatever the method, getting good rest between sessions is crucial so make sure you eat well, drink plenty and get some good sleep to enable your next session to be your best.
12 - Learn the most important Gravel rider skills
Aside from fitness, there are a range of useful skills that you will need to be aware of, especially since some of them may have an impact on other riders:
- Body position - you should aim to maintain a looser body position which serves a few purposes: it allows the impact of the harsher terrain surfaces to be absorbed by your whole body and also makes it easier to react to changes in surface or incline at short notice
- High cadence cycling - since the surface is not as smooth as the road, you will spend more time at a higher cadence which may not be something you are used to
- Turning on gravel tracks - if the turn is pretty compact then tackle it like a normal smooth-corner, inside foot down and lean with your body. If the turn looks like more loose gravel, then try to keep a more upright position and steer the bike through the turn
- Climbing on gravel - pretty similar to road climbing with the main difference coming once the surface gets loose enough to start loosing traction. To avoid this scenario, try to stay seated and shift your weight further back to apply more pressure onto the rear wheel. Similarly if you need to stand due to the incline, try and keep your weight further back to give better traction.
- Change in surfaces - one key component of a Gravel event is the change in surfaces. Almost every route will be made up of a combination of gravel, tarmac, muddy tracks, smooth stone and more. The key skill here is to keep looking forward to anticipate any changes in trail condition and apply the skills learned above
13 - Eat right - before, during and after the event
Eating before, during and after your training sessions will enable you to get the most from your training plan.
We have a detailed guide on nutrition coming soon.
14 - Don’t let your equipment hold you back!
We have a really good guide on the best Gravel equipment coming soon, but in the meantime the best thing you can do is make sure your equipment fits you properly.
This serves two purposes: it allows you to get the most out of the equipment and avoids the risk of injury.
Going for a bike fit can be expensive but is worth every penny so seriously consider getting one. Search Google for a centre near you.
Alternatively, use this guide to do your own bike fit.
15 - Keep a training record
Think of it as a secret diary for your training. Log your rides, gym work, nutrition and overall progress to give you that boost when you are having a tough week.
Doesn’t need to be anything fancy, a simple notepad will do, or why not register with us where you can get a free to use online Journal (that only you can see), allowing you to record your goals and track progress against them?
16 - Learn by doing… and reading
We hope this guide has condensed the key information into one place and pointed you to specific training plans, but if you want more information, here are the best resources we can find:
- Gravel Cycling: The Complete Guide to Gravel Racing and Adventure Biking by Nick Legan
Aimed at those cyclists without unlimited time to train (i.e. most of us), this book shows how you can still achieve your goals alongside work and life getting the way!
- The Cyclist’s Training Bible by Joe Friel
Now in it’s 5th edition, this book is literally the bible for all cycling training, covering everything you would ever need to know for all types of cycling.
- Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Hunter Allen
As the name suggests, this book will give you the detail on how to get the most of your power meter and using it as part of your training.