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Mastering Gravel Racing: Five Keys to Preparing for Your Next Event

Any long gravel race, especially 100 miles and longer, is a physical and mental challenge. 

But that’s why we do it! 

And there’s a difference between just surviving to finish a long gravel race and finishing one comfortably, maybe even racing it. 

Preparing your body with good training and good nutrition along with some mental training goes a long way toward a successful event, 

Our goal throughout several articles is to give you the framework of what to do to prepare for a long gravel race. 

We’ll cover these topics over the next several weeks:

  • Base training
  • Intervals
  • Training schedule for working people
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Recovery
  • Mental preparation
Unlock the secrets to mastering gravel racing with our expert guide on training, nutrition, recovery, and mental prep for your next century event.

Five keys to a successful gravel century

For now, let’s start with the big picture of training for a gravel century. 

Here are the five keys to a successful event: 

  1. Lots of base endurance miles. 
  2. Intervals that prepare you for the challenges of gravel racing
  3. Strength training 
  4. Yoga for mobility
  5. Recovery. 

Base endurance miles

The key to a successful event is building up your endurance. 

This means as many miles as possible at a very easy pace, roughly 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Essentially, you’re riding at a pace where you can easily talk with someone about everything except maybe politics or religion. 

This kind of riding builds the adaptations in your cardiovascular system and your muscles to be ready for a long gravel race. 


You can improve your gravel fitness by doing intervals - short, hard sessions where you ride at a specific pace or heart rate to improve your cycling performance.

For example, you might do really hard, maximum effort intervals for two minutes in the winter and then more gravel-racing-specific intervals of eight to 15 minutes closer to your event. 

Intervals are a great way to improve your body’s capacity to work hard, but they require more recovery time. 

So we do them sparingly to target weaknesses and race-specific needs. 

Strength training

Gravel racing can really take a toll on your body. 

Consistent strength training can prepare you for more and better training as well as keep you strong for the uneven gravel and dirt roads and paths we race on. 

I’d suggest two, even three days a week of full-body strength training for 30 to 45 minutes.

You might do your strength training on the same day as an interval session or use it as a cross-training day. 

I always start new athletes off with this Back and Booty routine to build the muscles of their back and glutes to prepare them for heavier lifting. 

Yoga for mobility

When we ride our bicycles, we are in a pretty limited range of motion. 

We’re hunched over, trying to keep our upper bodies mostly still while using our legs to push. 

Clearly, this is not optimal human movement! 

Yoga can move us in all different directions, create better mobility in our hips and shoulders, and build up our joint strength. 

Mobility in our joints allows us to move better, which creates more strength and stability as we ride. 


When we ride, strength train, or even do yoga, we cause damage to our bodies. 

Only during recovery does our body rebuild itself stronger and more ready to take on challenges. 

Getting good sleep, seven to nine hours a night, and good nutrition are ways to get 99 percent of your recovery dialed in. 

Focusing on good sleep and eating habits will help you reach your gravel racing goals. 

Next week:

How to Build a Base to Comfortably Finish a Long Gravel Race

Training plus experience

I’m a Level 2 USA-Cycling Coach, a certified yoga instructor, and a certified personal trainer.

I support everyday endurance athletes at Simple Endurance Coaching, based in Milwaukee. 

Plus I’ve been racing gravel, road, mountain bike, and cyclocross for decades, so I’ll bring both experience and training knowledge to help you to your best gravel race performances in 2024. 

I’ll be racing the Big Rivers Gravel Series, the Hungry Bear, likely the Coon Fork 40, and other gravel races this year. 

I’m always available for a free 30-minute Virtual Coffee to talk about your training and your goals. 

Thanks, and I look forward to meeting you.

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