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What Does It Take to Win a 150mile/240km Gravel Race? Power Analysis and Fueling Strategy

In the US and as a cycling coach at cts, if you want to learn how to get faster or just more about the science of training in general, be sure to subscribe. And if you have a training question or a topic you’d like to see me cover. In a future, article be sure to leave it in the comment section down below. I do my best to get to all the questions in the comments like I said at the beginning of the article, the Croatan buck 50 is a 150 mile gravel race through the Croatan National Forest, on the coast of North Carolina and the race is pancake flat.

However, potholes and a few blown out, mud, road and cornfield sections definitely make the race a challenge if the sheer distance wasn’t challenging enough, and since the race is on the coast, the wind is usually a huge factor. The race is only in its second year, but has already drawn a crowd of 500 participants. It’s pretty amazing to see so many crazy people in one place at one time, because, let’s face it, you have to be a little bit crazy if you’re voluntarily signing up to suffer on your bike for that long, let’s get into the race and power analysis.

Now there are a few things that you need to know about the course Before we jump in the race consists of 350 mile laps, starting and ending at a miniature NASCAR track. The surface, for the most part, is finely crushed gravel roads with plenty of potholes to hit. While your pace lining in a group, there are a few freshly cut sections through cornfields and one of which had some pretty deep mud, but the race deciding section of the is the infamous savage road.

This is a three and a half mile section, with massive mud, bogs and ruts running through it writing. This section requires constantly switching between the left and right side of the road to find the best line, because you want to avoid the mud holes at all costs because they’re a lot deeper than they appear. This is where the peloton usually shatters and the race splits into smaller groups, all right, let’s get into some numbers, my normalized power for the race was 245 watts and my average power was 218 was.

This is a little bit lower than most of the races. I do at this duration, which are typically 100 mile mountain bike races, but this makes sense, because this was more of a road race and conserving energy. Here was key. The goal for me was to stay at the front to avoid crashes in the yo-yo effect that you get when you’re at the back, but too rarely put my nose in the wind. If I did have to pull through, I made sure that I wasn’t going over 250 watts, which kept me in zone 2.

Of course, I was forced out of zone 2 quite a bit to follow wheels during the race, but if I was on the front, I never intentionally went over zone 2 unless it was in a critical section or at the final breakaway. What this did is it allowed me to go really hard when it counted, and if we take a look at my time in zones, we can see exactly that. The vast majority of the time is spent in zone 1 and 2 just sitting in the pack conserving energy.

However, the next zone after those that I spent the most time in isn’t zone 3 or 4, but actually zone 6. So this would be vo2 max style efforts and, above I spent 34 minutes in that zone throughout the whole race. So basically, I was either going relatively easy or extremely hard. The reason for this distribution is because it critical points in the race. I actively tried to whittle the front group down and make people tired.

I never just sat on the front and gave my competitors a free ride. I also chose which sections I led at strategically. For example, I led every lap on Savage Road because the technical nature of this section made drafting difficult. If I was going hard in this session, that means everyone else had to go hard as well. Let’s take a look at the power on some of these sections. On the first lap, through Savage Road, I pulled and had a normalized power of 3/3 and an average power 321 for just under 10 minutes.

If we look later on in the lab, we can see a section where I pulled through the cornfield and had an average power of 379 for just under 4 minutes with an FTP of 340 watts. These are extremely hard efforts for the middle of a 150 mile race, but they were purposeful. If we look at a section from where I was just sitting in the pack, we can see that my NP was only 206 and my average power was 197, and this is how the majority of the race was.

I was sheltering myself behind riders trying to put out as little power as possible to conserve energy. With about half the race completed, there was still a breakaway three minutes up the road. This is when I called on my friend Chris to help out with the chase. He had broken his frame and was going to call it quits, but I told him before you do that at least get a good workout in for the day and get on the front and smash herself to bring back those riders and that’s exactly what he did.

We can see from the hour and 15 minutes that he helped with the chase my normalized power jumped to 245, and this was in his draft. I wasn’t helping him out with the chase. Remember that earlier, when I was in the pack, my normalized power was just 206. There’s, no doubt that this guy is a strong dude and it’s too bad that his frame broke that day, because he was definitely on some good form entering the third lap.

It was clear that most of us were tired and, given that we had caught the breakaway, there wasn’t a lot of incentive to pull. Given these factors, the normalized power for this section of the race was the lowest of the whole race at just 181 watts. At this point, most people had dropped off the lead group and there were only about six or seven of us left. I entered the savage road section with the intention of whittling that group down as much as I possibly could I’m not much of a sprinter.

So the more people there that could contest the sprint means my chances of winning were much lower through savage road. This time I had an NP of 305 watts and by the time we exited the section, it was just me and one other racer Jeremiah Bishop, although within a few minutes another rider Michael besaid clawed his way back up to our group and with ten miles to Go the front group was three riders strong.

It was at this point that I was starting to consider my options. Should I roll the dice and for the Sprint or make a late race attack to try to do a solo breakaway for the finish? In the end I chose the latter. I noticed that Jeremiah’s polls had started to slow down, indicating that he may be tired. So when it was my turn to poll, I pulled much harder than I had been and took a quick look back and noticed that a small gap had formed.

At this point, I got into the arrow bars and gave it everything I had within about a minute. The gap had grown substantially and with just 20 minutes of riding to go before the finish. There was nothing to do, but give it absolutely everything, no more conserving empty the tank. For the first minute of my solo effort, I averaged 422 watts and then I settled into around 331 watts, normalized power and 326 watts, average power or 95 percent of my threshold for the last 23 minutes of the race.

As you can imagine, after six and a half hours of racing, this is no easy feat. The majority of that 23 minutes was spent in the Aero bars, which is what helped me to get a gap. If we do some quick calculations on by calculator, comm plugging in all my stats, we can see that aero bars would have saved me about 3 minutes and 20 seconds over being in the hoods and about a minute and a half over the drops.

This is just over a 20 minute section and when the race is coming down to minutes, this is huge. A study on aerodynamics of a cyclists position used Windtunnel testing to determine that the TT position can produce a drag reduction on the order of 20 %. Of course, this is nothing new. The benefits of the TT position are well known, especially for time trials, but at gravel and mountain bike, races, they’re still sparsely seen, for example, at this race I was probably one of five people with Aero bars out of 500 participants.

Aero bars shouldn’t even be up for debate on a course where you can spend a significant amount of time in them. If you’re doing a race where you can spend more than 30 minutes in the Aero bars, then you’re throwing away free time by not having them on your bike. Dude come on aero bars for gravel. I read some article by Jeff kaboosh and he said: Aero bars are totally not cool. You want to know what’s cooler than looking cool going faster period.

I also opted for a skin suit for this race for improved aerodynamics, the skin suit. I you by starlight Apparel, had ample pocket space, which is great for long events, because you’re going to need to carry food and tools for my fueling strategy. I took a gel every 30 to 45 minutes and I had a mix of Gatorade and water in one of my bottles and then just water in the other bottle over the course of the race, I probably drank between six or seven bottles.

It’s kind of hard to count because I was losing bottles in the pothole sections. I also ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread about halfway through the race. The white bread is important because, unlike your day-to-day diet, which should be full of whole grains and high-fiber foods, while you’re racing, you want to minimize the amount of fiber you intake because it can lead to bloating.

Finally, at the last aid station I chugged about half a can of coke now again normally, I would never recommend soda for your day-to-day diet, but it’s amazing how good it can make you feel towards the end of a long race for caffeine intake. I made sure that I had at least 200 milligrams of caffeine coming in through the gels that I was taking in throughout the race. Caffeine has been shown to have clear benefits on endurance performance, but only up to a certain point.

A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine took nine well trained, cyclists and fed them zero, five, nine and thirteen milligrams per kilogram body weight of caffeine before a cycling max test. All the caffeine tests performed better than the placebo. However, there was no difference in performance from the lowest caffeine dose all the way to the highest. So basically, caffeine intake is important, but only up to a certain point – and this is only one of many studies on caffeine, intake and endurance performance.

If you want to learn more about how caffeine intake effects or cycling, I made a whole article about it and I’ll link it in the description below now. One thing I want to point out is this was my personal fueling strategy for this particular race. What one person eats during a race won’t work for everyone. A study on marathon fueling techniques stated that, regardless of what research demonstrates or how complex a formula may be, each athlete must be treated as unique age.

Gender total mass lean mass lactate threshold, vo, OH max, projected pace, projected acceleration fatigue, rate, temperature, humidity, sweat rate, gastric toddler and fuel product all affect fueling needs and unfortunately, no clear Universal formula exists to calculate such precise expenditure. Fuelling needs can actually vary a lot from person to person, so experimentation is key. Whatever you go with make sure that you’ve tried it, and you know that your stomach can handle it I’ll definitely be making a article about how to fuel yourself for training and racing.

In the future so be sure to stay tuned, so that’s my power analysis and fueling strategy for the Croatan buck-50. I hope you guys were able to take some of this information and use it for your own racing. Lastly, I have to say thank you to gordon wodsworth and matt hawkins for putting on such an amazing event, if you guys are in the southeast area or you just like traveling to great events, be sure to put this on your calendar because you won’t want to Miss it I’ll leave the link for the race in the description below thanks for reading, and, if you like this article, be sure to give it a like share it with a friend and subscribe.

If you’re, looking for more training and racing content be sure to follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and if you want to follow my training, be sure to check me out on Strava. Finally, if you’re looking for a coach shoot me an email at D, Johnson, a train ride, calm,


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