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The Grind: Put a big event on the calendar right now

How committing to an event improves your whole season.

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The Grind is a weekly column on gravel, covering the gear, the people, and the events.

I have found myself in some funny places after signing up for events: Swimming in a lake at dawn with goose poop floating past my face, or riding past abandoned mines on my way up above treeline. Things I could have done any day, but never did until an event on the calendar prompted me to map out some training in preparation. I’m a big believer in putting something—anything!—on the calendar at least once a year to get into some new physical and mental places.

Gravel, I believe, offers a double-dip of benefits for the ‘big hairy goal’ type of events.

The length of many gravel races means having to do some big training rides, which should trigger ‘let’s go do something rad, with friends’ creativity.

And second, the nature of gravel events means that whatever condition one’s in, success or fun is not defined in the same near-binary way it as road racing.

On the road, the people at the front of the peloton are having a fundamentally different experience than those who have been dropped, who may be wondering why they got up early to feel bad about themselves. In gravel races, the fields are so spread out there is almost always someone to ride with, while pushing towards the distant finish. That, for me, takes the stress out of both the event and the training.

Two-time Dirty Kanza 200 winner Amanda Nauman almost accidentally found success in gravel by using the longer events themselves as training for cyclocross and cross-country.

“Signing up for events like Rock Cobbler, Belgian Waffle Ride, and Chino Grinder in my early foray into the alternative discipline were mainly for training motivation for cyclocross season later in the year,” Nauman said.

“Having a goal, whether it be a race or just finishing an event, changes the motivation for everyone to invest more in their training. Whether a beginner, an amateur, a weekend warrior, a masters racer, or a professional, I believe having a goal helps you prioritize your life to make healthy, smart decisions that will help you achieve what you want.”

Alison Tetrick at the 2019 BWR, crashed twice in the opening chaos on the dirt, and persevere to finish the 133-mile route. Photo: Wil Matthews

Former pro roadie and Dirty Kanza 200 winner Alison Tetrick said riding without a target event on the calendar can lead to burn-out in a funny way.

“When I don’t have an event that truly speaks to me, I find myself enjoying the freedom of just riding around without purpose for a few weeks. With no pressure and no expectations it feels like a luxury, a guilty pleasure. I do whatever I want, whenever I want. I ride long and don’t recover well, and then ride again when I am too tired and I dig myself into a hole,” she said. “It’s just fun, while it lasts. Then, one morning, I will wake up and think, why even ride today? Why do I do this? What is the point? I begin to notice the wind and the cold mornings. My normal routes start to bore me. The silly antics on my group ride start to become an annoyance instead of an endearing character. That is the moment when I realize that conventional wisdom holds true, having a goal motivates action. And I really do love a good old-fashioned goal, served up neat and on the rocks, or shall we say on gravel.”

Tetrick said it’s important to pick an event that speaks to you, and not get caught up in trends that don’t inspire you.

“It is imperative to understand the difference between other people’s goals, or hyped-up events, and what personally motivates you to train,” she said. “I spent too much of my career entrenched in fulfilling other people’s goals and seeking external validation. I finally realized, I didn’t want their goals, even if they were popular ones, I wanted my own goals. I now make sure I select events that inspire me.”

So back to the early morning lake, what does swimming have to do with gravel? Years back I signed up for an Ironman, and was fairly terrified of the swim portion, so I jumped in with a morning masters swim club to figure it out. I really enjoyed meeting new folks, learning new skills, and getting an endorphin buzz out in nature. Training for big gravel events is the same—but without the goose poop in your face.