Building your endurance will take some time if you’re planning a long gravel race. Create a weekly pattern of progressively longer endurance rides.
Gravel races demand a high sustainable power output. You need to be able to ride for hours without digging deep into your energy reserves.
One of the most powerful tools in a gravel toolbox is tempo riding. This workout increases your strength and pedaling consistency without the fatigue associated with other high-intensity workouts, such as threshold training.
You can incorporate tempo workouts like in Train to Ride during the Build Period or in place of longer endurance rides, especially if you have a full-time job and struggle to find the time for long endurance blocks. Suppose you are just getting into gravel cycling. In that case, it’s recommended to gradually increase your tempo workouts duration over weeks until you have reached your event distance goal.
A common mistake in training is pushing your LT (Lactate Threshold) too hard too soon. Adding tempo training to your program can cause dreaded butt locks during races and create injuries that can easily be avoided.
Gravel races can be long and draining, and building endurance is essential. Long, slow rides with your gravel bike training plan can be a great way to accomplish this, but incorporating more intense efforts, particularly tempo work, is also a good idea. This will help you adapt to the high-torque, low-cadence pedaling often required in gravel events.
These efforts can be done independently (a two-hour ride that includes 3×20 minute Tempo Intervals separated by 10 minutes recovery) or incorporated into longer endurance rides to simulate the late-race demands of a long gravel race. The key is to keep the intensity up but not so high that you risk injury and fatigue.
We recommend incorporating a few ‘breakthrough’ sessions into your training every four to six weeks, which will challenge your sustainable power more than your typical sessions. This is an effective way to add a big boost in fitness without increasing the risk of injury.
If you derive all your energy from carbohydrates during a long gravel ride, you may be unable to eat or digest enough to replace the fuel you burnt. That’s why having sound sustainable power output and the ability to metabolize fats is very important. Long intervals at a lower intensity, known as ‘base training,’ are great for developing these qualities and improving your ability to repeat more arduous efforts above the threshold.
Gravel events often feature lumps and bumps that require high torque output to maintain traction. This full-body effort can quickly deplete muscular strength reserves and lead to cramping. To counteract this, incorporate regular training sessions to build strength and muscle endurance in your program.
This can be done in the gym using weights and barbell exercises or year-round with bodyweight circuits focusing on squatting, pushing, pulling, and core stability work. This type of training can also be incorporated into your race week and adapted to your racing schedule as needed.
When you get to the final weeks leading up to an enormous gravel event, it’s critical to maintain consistency and avoid over-training. This is done by keeping your Chronic Training Load (CTL) low and avoiding high-intensity workouts.
To do well in a gravel race, you will need to be able to ride at a conversational pace and pedal at lower cadences when required, such as climbing or riding through sand and mud. Incorporating Lactate Clearance intervals or Over Under into your workouts is a great way to develop this power.
These seated, low-cadence intervals are performed at around 50-55 rpm and are best performed on a trainer or outside on a slight grade. When done properly, these intervals can help you raise your Threshold power while becoming more accustomed to the low cadence required on gravel rides and races.