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Tips, Tricks & Motivation To Conquer the Flint Hills
We’re two months out from race day, and to say we are excited is an understatement! We hope you’re preparing and training for an adventure through the Flint Hills and a lively weekend with all of us in Emporia!
Some of our sponsors, gravel guru’s and Emporia locals have some pro tips and motivation to help you prepare to conquer the Garmin UNBOUND Gravel!
Yuri Hauswald, 2015 Champion
- Tire Choice: Run as WIDE a tire as your bike can fit. The Flint Hills are merciless on rubber, so be sure to pick something that’s tough enough to survive the rigors of riding 200 miles. My tire of choice these days is Pirelli’s 45 Cinturato H;
- Hydration Pack: Your body can’t perform at its best if it’s dehydrated, and we all know that the Flint Hills can be hot/humid/windy in June, so making sure you’re properly taking in fluids will be key to your success. I’m a HUGE fan (actually helped develop it) of CamelBak’s CHASE Bike Vest, a compact and light hydration vest/pack that carries 50 oz of fluids, is made of extremely breathable material, has chest strap stowage so you can get at your nutrition easily/conveniently, and sits high enough on your back so you almost forget that you’re wearing it. I don’t go anywhere in the Flint Hills without this pack;
- Pedals: I train with power, which means that all my workouts revolve around hitting/maintaining certain numbers. GARMIN’s NEW Rally XC200 pedal-based power meter platform allows me to now measure total power and cadence, which makes it easier to follow coach’s orders when pedaling in the Flint Hills.
- #1 MANTRA: SIP SIP NIBBLE NIBBLE!! For an extended day in the prairie, especially one as grueling as UNBOUND, you want to be taking in small amounts of fluids-water/sports drink- and bits of nutrition on a continual basis.
- Try to consume between 200 to 300 calories per hour in solid/gel/liquid form
- If you use energy gels, have a variety of flavors because your palate will change over the course of the day and having some different flavors to choose from will make you more likely to eat them
- PRACTICE your nutrition plan. Train with the types of gels/drinks/bars/foods you plan to use at UNBOUND so you can really prefect your race day nutrition.
- Create a training plan that’s tailored to your skills/fitness, and fits with your work/life, and try to follow it as closely as possible
- Include some back to back BIG training days on the bike
- Get a proper bike fit as this WILL improve performance and comfort.
Words of Wisdom:
You ARE stronger, and have more in you physically/mentally, than you think. KNOW THIS and keep repeating it to yourself when it gets hard/difficult. Positive thinking has been proven to improve performance. Tap into the energy of the experience, of all those around you, and don’t forget to celebrate the fact that YOU ARE riding your bike in one of the most stunning places in the world.
You WILL flat, so get good at fixing them and not letting it ruin your ride. Remember that flatting is part of the Flint Hills experience!
Amity Rockwell, 2019 Champion
- Prioritize strong tires over light/fast tires
- Run slightly higher psi than you think
- Don’t run anything new to you the day of the race!
- Bring a food you look forward to eating
- Drink your calories but also drink plain water
- Eat jojé bars :)
- Put in some huge days (150-170 miles) a couple months before and leading up to the race!
- Leave your house with a lot of supplies but without a plan and make it up as you go, this keeps you adaptable.
- Find what it takes to make you fall in love with the process. The race is just the cherry on top.
Words of Wisdom:
- Find a close friend with similar mindset and goals
- Stop looking at the numbers and be present
- Share your goals with your friends or the internet for a little accountability boost
Aaron Apel, Gravel City Adventure & Supply Co Mechanic
- Dynaplug (and a very small bottle of super glue) or a similar tire plug tool will keep you rolling in the most rugged and sharp terrain the Flint Hills has to throw at you. Practice using it before the day of the event!
- Feed bags are useful on a number of levels, keeping your snacks close at hand is the obvious one. But I also find that keeping my multi tool/Co2/ and plug tool in the side netting or pocket will insure that you can quickly access the most common needed repair items. Keep your tube and the rest of your repair kit stashed under your seat or in a half frame-bag.
- Tire choice!? File tread in the center is suggested, it rolls fast and still provides grip. Side knobs are where the contention starts. We have seen file tread tires with a slightly taller side knob still roll quite fast and give good traction on the turns and in the deeper loose rock you will encounter. We have also seen a new breed of tire emerge in the last 18 months that is almost completely slick in the 38-43c widths that work really well on hard-pack and surprisingly good at shedding mud when stuff gets sloppy. Food for thought, but when it comes down to it, tire choice is a function of personal experience and the terrain you are riding on. Rule # 1 for the Flint Hills when it comes to tires is they need to be tough. Unless you are a real finesse style rider leave the light and supple casing at home.
- Real Food Portables are worth the extra work
- Straight water as long as you are not sweating/ plan your water between checkpoints on time, not distance.
- Sour Patch Kids or Jolly Ranchers will pull you out of some dark places…
- Don’t skip training on the windy days.
- Go on a night ride with your lighting system that lasts at least 2 hours.
- You can find water that you can cool yourself with, it’s far harder to find drinking water. Try and avoid using water bottles to soak handkerchiefs, or flush over your head.
Words of Wisdom:
Take a deep breath. Especially when you find yourself in a mechanical situation. Get your head up and look around, it’s a wonderful world you get to adventure through. Mulready’s is keeping the beer cold for you!
Ted King, 2018 Champion
- Overpack tubes and CO2s; it’s okay too have too many, but you’re up a serious creek with too few.
- On the topic of CO2s, don’t fly with them, so be sure you’ve planned and bought CO2s on site somewhere in Kansas. Local bike shops are your best friend in this instance.
- Have an “equipment reset” available at each pit stops. If you’ve burned through two tubes and you arrive to the pit without a spare, then what are you going to do? Unbound is a taxing race on your body and on your equipment. Expect the unexpected.
- Hydrate. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I’ve never seen Emporia be “too cool” on race day, so expect it to be toasty.
- Expect your tastebuds to do some funny things — if you’re the kind of person who loves sweets, then you’ll find yourself late into the race that you’re craving salt, and vice versa.
- Try to ride in warm weather to get a bit of heat acclimatization.
- It’s a funny “training tip” but practice your nutrition. You can rest assured that you’re going to get tired of another “vanilla gel” after 10 hours in the saddle; you’re going to want pizza or dill pickles or an ice cream cone.
- Spend lots of training time at your sweet spot. That’s your upper tempo zone, that’s your “this is hard, but sustainable and certainly not threshold”. It’s a long long day on the bike, so plan to work really hard to get from point A to point B.
Words of Wisdom:
- Mulready’s and Casa Ramos await!
- You’ll find your mind and motivation and emotions going in really strange places late into the day on June 5. Expect that. Plan on that. Don’t be thrown off by that. EVERYONE is going through that. Just keep pedaling.
- Keep. On. Going.
Lyn Blubaugh, Local Emporian & UNBOUND Gravel Finisher
- Must haves: Bandana, handle bar bottle bag, and hand pump
- Pack a little more, it’s better to have more than not enough.
- Do not do anything new on race day.
- Utilize gas stations for real food if riding endurance.
- Ride with someone faster than you weekly.
- Have fun on your long rides and enjoy the scenery.
- Ride with friends!
Words of Wisdom:
- Sign up for races or make your own route to invite others, it helps keep you focused to ride and train.
- Go on group rides to help others, make connections and have fun.
- Ride new roads, see new scenery and smile!
Alison Tetrick, 2017 Champion and current female record holder
- Specialized Diverge! I love the Future Shock 2.0 that gives me a little cushion and wide tire clearance for lots of room for mud and tread. Basically, a great escape vehicle for all terrains.
- Camelbak Chase Vest: A hydration pack is a must for long gravel rides. I use the Chase Vest because I can still access my jersey pockets in the back and store lots of snacks along with the 1.5 L of water it carries. They even have a women’s specific design.
- Chamois Butt’r: Yes, apply early and often. I keep a few spares in my CamelBak and at my aid stations just in case. No one said the Flint rocks were smooth.
- Eat early and often.
- Drink one bottle an hour.
- Put everything but the kitchen sink at your aid station. You just never know what you will crave. Pizza? Chips? Snickers? Who knows. Bring it all.
- Lower the pressure in your life and your tires. Gravel should be fun, and being prepared is what will make you successful, but don’t overthink it. It is just.. what do they say, riding a bike?
- Find a goal that inspires YOU – not anyone else. Whatever distance or time motivates you to train, go for that. Listen to your gut for what you want to accomplish and go for it.
- You don’t need to ride 206 miles before riding 200 miles. Take steps along the way to increase your mileage, and be prepared. But, you don’t need to be training like a pro to be able to have a great day on the bike, regardless of the distance.
Words of Wisdom:
- Forward progress, take care of yourself. (I stole this from Selene Yeager!)
- Just keep pedaling (in the song of Dory from Finding Nemo saying “just keep swimming”)
- Remember you signed up for this. You chose to be vulnerable and get yourself to that starting line. It is all about you and nothing else. You got this!
Rick Becker, Owner of Mulready’s Pub & UNBOUND Gravel Finisher
- Run tubeless….still see a lot of out-of-town era running tubes. Here in Emporia almost no one runs tubes anymore…..riding the Flint Hills guarantees you’ll puncture, (carry a spare tube and a plug kit though :-)
- Clean and lube your drivetrain at the sags, (hopefully you’ve got good mech support that does it for you). Lube between sags if you’re going through a lot of water.
- Make sure your stuff is working before you get here!
- Unless you’re planning to finish in 12 hours, eat real food at the sags! I use GU’s, tailwind powder, etc, but also carry bananas, a sandwich, and a snack I can dip into every little bit.
- You may hit points where you don’t want to eat/drink…..I eat at least on the half hour and drink at least every quarter hour.
- 4-5, 35-50 mile rides per week benefitted me more than a couple 60-70 mile rides per week.
- Yoga…helps me with breathing on climbs, keeps other parts of my body stretched out and feeling better on long rides.
- Ride at night…. If you’ve never done it, it’s an entirely different animal!.
Words of Wisdom:
- Keep your head up and look around….you may be hurting but you’re getting to ride a bike through a beautiful part of this planet!
- This is a great chance to meet and make new friends….chat with people.
- If I can finish the 200 several times, you can!
Ann Gentle, UNBOUND Gravel Finisher
- Camelbak Chase Vest
- Wahoo Elemnt
- Park Tool Gear Clean Brush
Nibble-Nibble, Sip-Sip! (take in small amounts of food and hydration on a consistent basis). Use feedbags & open food packages before departing.Make a high-calorie drink in one water bottle & drink your first hour’s calories – early in a race you may be in a crowded pack and/or dealing with nerves; give yourself that time and space to settle down before you start digging for snacks.Have an extra-special treat for your lowest point. When your brain tells you it’s time to quit, pull out that convenient store cherry pie that you stashed in a jersey pocket and grab your second wind.
- Spend time riding alone.
- No ride is too short – just get out there.
- Follow a training plan for the appropriate distance – start early!
Words of Wisdom:
- Find your mantra and tape it to your top tube.
- How do you want to remember today tomorrow? When you look back on today’s race, what will you celebrate?
- Hey, you get to spend the day on your bike with friends. Remember the FUN.
You heard it here folks, trust the process and enjoy the journey….everything good and bad included!