Adding race simulation rides to better prepare for gravel races?

Hey everyone! I’m hoping to get some input on my training and what I believe would be beneficial to add. For context, I’ve been training for two years, primarily focusing on gravel racing. During this time, I’ve progressed from the back quarter of the pack to the front quarter in terms of placement. However, there’s still a decent gap to the front, and I’m seeking advice on how to continue improving. I recognize part of this is just a lack of fitness as I’m sitting at ~4w/kg and I imagine the front of the pack is probably closer to 5w/kg.

I used TrainerRoad for about a year and a half and have been self-coaching for the last six months. Currently, I ride 9-10 hours per week, incorporating two hard interval sessions and one longer 3-4 hour Z2 ride. On interval days, I usually add some Z2 riding at the end to get in a total of 2-2.5 hours. The remaining hours come from Z2 trainer rides. The interval sessions can include SS, threshold, O/U, or Vo2 depending on where I’m at in the season.

Most of my races are 3.5-5.5 hours long, and I’ve noticed a struggle to maintain good power output, muscle fatigue, and occasional cramping after 2-3 hours. I fuel well with 90-110g/hr of carbs. I suspect I’m not accustomed to the longer intense efforts experienced in races. I don’t race all that often, once a month at most. Additionally I don’t believe pacing is the issue.

In conversations with the riders finishing ahead of me I’ve found that many participate in hard group rides or longer challenging sessions. Initially, I avoided these types of training sessions as I had heard from various podcast that while these sessions can be hard, they do little in regards to training adaptations.

My plan moving forward is to incorporate a longer 3-5 hour unstructured ride into my weekly training during my next build phase. This may involve a group ride or a “soul ride,” focusing on riding tempo and sweet spot with threshold power on hills, similar to the race conditions I encounter.

I aim to use these rides as race simulations to induce adaptations that can help me maintain pace in the later stages of races. Additionally, I plan to spend more time on my MTB, as it seems to add a level of stress to the legs and stabilizing muscles more closely resembling the fatigue experienced in gravel races over rough terrain.

I recognize that I’m still new to racing and have many improvements to look forward to, this just seemed like some low hanging fruit may be beneficial. Any experienced gravel racers out there have any input on this?

TLDR: I’m considering adding longer, more intense 3-5 hour efforts to better prepare for gravel races. Seeking advice on incorporating race simulation rides and spending more time on the MTB.

Thanks in advance


Same boat as you. Except I typically train 11-13hrs a week. My coach adds long tempo rides close to race season, and focuses on increasing 5-10 min power…typically after lengthy tempo/sweetspot intervals and really hammers in near maximal efforts towards the end of a fatiguing ride/interval. Dramatically helped race longevity in terms of sustaining higher power output in the back end of races.

I typically place top 15 overall.


Maybe, maybe not. My teammate who kept finishing in front of me in gravel races just had a higher FTP and TTE, yet we were the same w/kg. Sometimes me actually having a higher w/kg.

Particularly in gravel races, unless you have long sustained climbs, raw watts matter. This is the case especially in rolling terrain where there’s big pushes over short punchy climbs. In the first 1/3 you just need enough watts to make the front group. Once you’ve made it there generally the middle 1/3 is uneventful. Unless of course you’ve smoked yourself in the beginning to stay in the front group. Then TTE/durability matters in the last 1/3.


I know what you mean in feeling like you’re missing out on something.
2 years ago some friends of mine and myself were all signed up for the same event. I work a lot so I can’t enjoy doing longer rides with their group.
I stayed consistent and kept my hard days hard
and easy days easy and did consistent longish rides.
I thought I was unprepared because they kept doing longer and harder group rides. They were crushing long gravel Strava KOMs, (I’m talking 20mi + segments beating cat 1s) and I really thought I didn’t stand a chance with them. It was all good competition friends versus friends.
The time of the event came and in the end I beat all of them by at least 30 mins over a 75 mile 7k climbing event.
So yes you may think you’re missing something but if you stay consistent and get some solo long rides in you’ll be okay.
I personally think consistency, hydration, nutrition and being rested and ready are far more important than long hard rides all the time.


Were you riding significantly prior to training, or did you just start a couple years ago too?

Congrats on reaching 4wkg, this is a respectable number for someone with only two years of training, enough to keep yourself relevant.

Frequently a result of nutrition/hydration issues. Other factors at play of course, but I find I cramp when I slack on ensuring I am fueled and hydrated properly, including getting enough salt.

It likely is an issue.

While they may not be the perfect training stimulus, IMO group rides are critical to your success as a racer. If you don’t often ride in a group, especially at speed, chances are your group riding and race tactics are going to cost you.

Advice purely from my own experience, work on adding efforts after you’ve already burned a bunch of calories. If you’ll train solo, or if your group ride style allows it, add long tempo/threshold intervals after burning through 2000-3000kJ+ (depending on your FTP).

What else do you have in your weekly mix? I can’t imagine the hard interval sessions are taking up the remaining 6-7 hours.

I’ve heard this approach from several pros on various podcasts mostly EVOQ. Do you know if your coach is primarily looking to build fatigue resistance with these workouts, or is the the type of interval the specific area they are looking to target. As in if your adding V02 or threshold intervals at the end of a long ride is the coach using these in place of doing those intervals elsewhere in your week/block.

While I’ve heard of these being used I guess I viewed them as more of an advanced technique for riders who aren’t necessarily still trying to increase FTP but rather to make them more durable later in the race. While I believe I would benefit from this, being a newer rider I’m still trying to build FTP and in my thinking I believed I would not be able to go as hard on these intervals and therefore would get less of a training stimulus. Example being doing fresh threshold efforts at or around FTP vs doing them fatigued at a lower intensity or shorter time. I’m not calling into question the effectiveness of these as they seem to work for those at the top of their game, I was just thinking I’m too new for them. Might be time to try some out.

No, I rode very little, I had been doing quite a bit of running. A few trail 50k’s and marathons. I wasn’t fast but I did train.

That’s where I notice the fatigue set in right around 2500kjs.

I believe I have my hydration and nutrition on point. Its inline with the latest research and what is being discussed on the various podcasts out there regarding endurance training. I never cramp when riding road, it only happens after sustained time over rough terrain. While the races I do aren’t terribly technical they also are not smooth gravel roads they can be fairly rough terrain causing me to be out of the saddle in a high hinge MTB like position. Its after sustained descents in this position or otherwise being out of the saddle that I notice the cramps. I typically only get them in my quads which Id assume are doing most of the work in these rough sections. I do strength training to try and help with this.

While I’m not time limited, I am limited on days/week I can train. I do shift work so I’m away from home for 24+ hrs at a time. While I am fortunate enough to be able to train at work I have given up doing intervals at work. Getting interrupted during a Vo2 session and then trying to come back to it is not fun…

Below is a typical training week, this is just an example but fairly typical. The types of intervals change, some weeks the long ride is longer with either one less trainer session or less z2 time after an interval session.

Session 1- V02 intervals with Z2 after= 2hrs
Session 2- Z2 Trainer= 1:15
Session 3- Threshold intervals with z2 after= 2.5 hrs
Session 4 -Long Z2 ride= 3 hrs
Session 5- Z2 trainer= 1hrs

Pacing relative to what you train is almost assuredly the issue and shouldn’t be hand-waved away. If your events require .75-.8 for 3-5 hrs then you need to be training for that. Principle of specificity. The likely issue is that you’re only adapted to working at much lower powers for long periods.

Now those types of rides are NOT required weekly. Maybe a ride before your recovery weeks. You can also push up power on your weekly endurance rides a little bit OR add segments of harder riding to your endurance rides. For example, a 3hr ride where you ride at a moderate intensity, but every hour do a 20min tempo block at 80-85%.

You don’t need to go do a bunch of 5hr rides at .75-.8 all the time, but you do need to train for specificity with these events just like any other event.

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I agree, that’s the same conclusion I’ve come too and why I was thinking of incorporating these race simulation rides. Even with the growing popularity of gravel this is not something I hear get talked about all that much, it seems most of the training discussion I hear on podcast/youtube relates more to crits/shorter road races where tactics and covering moves is a more of an issue or XC racing. I don’t hear much discussion on race specific training for gravel with the exception of the Fast Cat guys who do incorporate some “gravel simulation rides” into their training programs. I imagine tactics come into play at the pointy end of the gravel events, they are just too far up the road for me to participate in…

Yeah just remember the basic training principles and apply them to your events… stuff like:

  • Progression
  • Recovery/Supercompensation
  • Frequency, Intensity, Duration → Specificity


Don’t train like a crit racer if you wanna do gravel/Fondo events. :slightly_smiling_face:


This is a really good description to help understand the nature (and demands) of many gravel races. The only thing I’d add is that can vary a good bit depending on race distance. You might have an hour full gas at the start of a 60m race, but for 100m+ race, thing usually settle down quicker.

You can’t ignore the “crit like” demands of the first hour to get/stay in the fastest group possible while everything is ripping apart, but you need serious endurance to be in the mix when thing get hard again closer to the finish. If you can find some “race simulation rides”, they could be helpful to get smarter and more efficient staying with a fast group, but I’ve never been on a group ride that comes close to simulating the mayhem that occurs at the start of a gravel race. If you can find smaller local gravel races, that would be much better practice.

It sounds like the OP is having challenges later into the race. Learning to handle the start more efficiently can help with that, but I’m not sure I’d call that a pacing problem. If you are looking to compete for the win/podium, there isn’t much pacing/tactics magic in a gravel race. Just like road racing, you aren’t often gonna be in the mix if you let the folks you are competing with go up the road without you. Knowing who you are racing and what people to let go can be really hard in a mass start event if you don’t know the players, so it usually comes down to holding on until you can’t.

If I could point to one thing to work on, it would be sweet spot and threshold work after putting 2000-2500 Kj’s into your legs. Do some “tired 20’s” where you are doing threshold intervals 3, 4, 5 hours into a hard ride.


It definitely builds fatigue resistance, but I think most importantly it builds mental resilience. When it’s hour 4, and you got a 20 min climb and someone takes off…how much pain are you willing to suffer? Those are race deciding moments. Sure, FTP and W/kg matter, but so does “heart”. A lot of my workout descriptions look like: “hold X power for X duration, then I want you to do a 5 min effort. DRAIN THE TANK.
…then do it again.”

I dunno man folks get real sciency around here, and I totally understand it. But, I made more gains and placed higher when I focused on the mental aspect. Get to know that dark place. Love it. Relish in it. And just when you think you’ve found the end of the bottomless pit…toss the shovel and scrape with your fingernails.


I will defiantly be incorporating something like this into my training. I appreciate the input.

My experience with races so far tracks pretty well with what you all are discussing. I recognize that I don’t have the fitness to hang with the front group at most races. While finishing on the podium at middle distance events would be great, I see that as a goal for a few years down the road. I’m still just learning and trying to make gains in both fitness and finishing position where I can.

I had a B race last year and tried to stay with the front group. That resulted in some PRs for power, but I also blew up pretty shortly there after.

I hear ya, I feel I was making some pretty solid gains by just going out and doing hard unstructured rides in the hills. They were certainly more fun, even though they were pretty painful. Being newer at this its difficult not to try and get all sciency and try and hit specific numbers and what not. I think doing this has gotten me some solid gains in a decent amount of time. But then I see some dudes who just ride alot and go hammer it. and they are pretty damn fast… I’m just trying to figure it out.

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These are great workouts, even if you don’t have the time to do them after 2500kj, just doing like 3x20 SST/Threshold as part of a 3-4hr ride is GREAT training. Can be as simple as going out for a 3-4hr loop and hitting some sustained climbing at 90%+. I did a few of these this offseason rather than structured SST intervals, and it’s paid off IMO. A lot more tolerable and fun than the trainer too. TTE at threshold is great right now, FTP about 5 watts off all-time peak on like 30% fewer hours this offseason so far.


Specificity in training trumps all. Trainerroad’s Plan Builder is decent, but when I got a coach it mattered less about “progressing” my threshold workouts and more about “this training block is designed to push you to the limit”. My coach will give me for instance a 3x20 threshold workout and my power ranges will be like (330ftp) 315-375 lol. Clearly thats threshold AND vo2 max. Racers at the pointy end arent going to enter a climb and be like, “welp, its a 30 min climb, i’m going to pin it at FTP and hope for the best”. They are following attacks, bridging gaps, resting, ect. When I’m prescribed a workout, my coach always provides an analogy of the interval to some type of race situation and I treat it as such. I think that was the biggest benefit over just “sticking to a plan”.

You’re asking all the right questions.


Yes, yes, and yes. Races are not strictly FTP or interval tests.

About group rides. I think they caution against -only- doing group rides. Because let’s face it, group rides are far more fun than staring at a screen. Ask around (bike shops/FB) about local hammer/drop ride, hour of power, Wednesday worlds, etc. They’re usually 1-2+ hours. You needn’t do them every week, but they should be part of your plan. The stochastic nature of the hit intensity, duration, and timing are similar to what goes down during the first third of the race. Everyone finds an extra hidden gear when they are on the verge of being dropped or losing out on a mid-ride sprint point. Adaptations WILL occur. It also means you are down to ~1 other interval session that week. I’d target at least 2/month leading into an A race.

Also, you might consider doing long (3+ hour) endurance group rides on the weekend. Probably best to find a group that allows you to make these proper endurance rides.

I don’t get the point of a long ‘race simulation ride’. Just sign up for a local race under a pseudo name. Call it a C race.

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This comment is based entirely on what you’ve posted so far, so may not be at all accurate - but it sounds like power is not your only limiter. Based on lack of experience in training/racing/endurance riding, you are likely not as good about nutrition/hydration as you may think you are (source: I feel the same until I get it right, and realize I was wrong … then I get it wrong again). You also are more than likely needing experience riding in groups, race tactics, etc. It comes easier to some than others, but it is a skill to be trained, much like your power. Completely avoiding group riding is not sensible …

I’ve got am upcoming camping trip to malibu that I am planning on doing a few rides while I’m there just as you are describing.

I think I’m guilty of sticking to strictly to a power target rather than pushing it when I feel able to do so. When I was training for running there was no power meter to go by so it a workout might be just got out and do 5x8 as hard as possible. It taught me a lot about pacing, you had to try to keep the pace consistent. You cant blow your self up on the first one knowing there are 7 more to come. But the go as hard as possible aspect pushed me a bit more than sticking to power numbers seems to.

I do recognize the benefits of group rides, and try to hit them up when I can. I didn’t mean to sound like I never do them or avoid them at all costs. That was just bad communication on my part. A big part of the reason that I don’t do more group rides or more training races is my schedule. I have a non traditional schedule in which I work 24hrs shifts every other day for a stretch of days. It rotates so its never the same week to week. Most weeks I will work either Friday or Saturday. If I work Saturday that eliminates most group rides and races, and if I work Friday I don’t get home from work until 8:30 Saturday, meaning I miss the start time of most group rides. I know this is super specific to me, but is seem half of my time in developing a training plan is making it work around my schedule.

One advantage of my schedule is that on a random Tuesday morning I can take off an do a long ride while the kids are in school and it makes the time away from home feel more guilt free.

Id say your right on most of these points. I know I’m still new to this and I come away from each race having learned something new or with a new perspective on some aspect of training or racing. This post in fact is the result of how I felt in a race I had a week or so ago. I’m still trying to get my fitness to where I can be a part of the race where tactics come into play.

That last race was the first one where I was able to hang on to the front group with out much difficultly, that is until the first climb…But it was a race Id done before and knew not to blow myself up there and rode within my limits. I ended up 12/~100 and I’m confident Id have been easily top 10 had I not dropped my chain twice and gone over the bars on a sketchy descent. Talking with the top guys after the race it sounds like many had minor crashes in the same section I did.

I have noticed many, not all but many, of the people finishing ahead of me are quite a bit smaller than I am. I’m not huge by any means, I’m a 6’1" 175-180# or ~80kg. I’m lean and muscular and don’t have much excess fat to loose. But I don’t really have what I feel is the fitness to keep up with the front quite yet. I’m still seeing improvements regularly so I’m just trying to play the long game and make some smart training choices along the way.