Critique/advice on unbound gravel training and prep?

Unbound gravel is my A race this year (I think I have a solid path for entry, but not 100%)

I’ve done a good bit of gravel racing, but nothing longer than 125 miles and nothing that I’ve really targeted as an “A” race.

I’m 53 and Iaround 4w/kg @ 165lbs when I’m in race shape and the longest race I’ve done is leadville (~9 hours). My goal for Unbound is primarily to finish, but secondary goal is under 14 hours based on some folks I know that have done it and doing a little strava research. Power wise, it looks like ~190-200w NP (based on strava stalking) would be a conservative target to hit a 14 hour goal if other factors go well (mechanicals, weather, etc). I think I can build the fitness to do that if I can get my nutrition right.

For my training, I’ve thinking the approach I used at leadville might be a really good starting point. My training for leadville was medium/high volume (peaking around 650 tss 6 wk avg) and I used a version of sustained power build for my build plan. I leaned on increasingly long and hilly saturday rides in the heat (I live in TX) as the event got close (peaking at around 7.5 hours and 400TSS before backing off prior to the event). For these long saturday rides, this was as much about training my body to eat and hydrate on long hot/hard days as it was about fitness. Nutrition and hydration is currently my biggest concern about Unbound given the typical heat.

So, for Unbound, I’m planning pretty much the same approach, but maybe do a couple trial 8-10 hour saturday rides to see how the body reacts. I also plan to get some aero bars for my gravel bike and train with those (not super aggressive position or anything). I understand that is highly likely I’ll be on my own or in very small groups at some point during the day, so it seems silly not to have aero bars if they allow them. I have done quite a few TT’s in the past, but it’s been 5+ years and it takes me at least a couple months to adapt for good power in the aero bars.

Any thoughts/advice on my general approach and what else I should be thinking about? Given that it’s my first try doing a race this long, I want to give the course full respect and I might regret setting a time goal, but I like having time/wattage targets to at least guide the fitness training. Any guidance is appreciated.

I’ll cage my response by saying I’ve never done unbound, but I’m hoping to this year! But I think your plan looks really similar to mine. I have a friend who had a top 10 finish several years ago who gave me tons of advice in planning.

In addition to all the things suggested in your post, which I plan on doing as well, he had two helpful suggestions. One was to try and make some of those long rides harder than you normally would, with some extended periods at tempo. The thought being that sometimes you might want to ride a bit faster to stay with a group.

The other great idea was to install aerobars early and try and get used to riding in them. Especially for those long rides above.

Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I typically do a good bit of tempo work and also some sweet spot climbing on those long rides. I’m in central TX, so I think the hills are probably a better match for unbound than they were for leadville. Most of the climbs around here aren’t that long.

For race tactics, I do plan to push it a bit early to get the benefit of a faster group (particularly if things start into the wind). When I did BWR cedar city (~125 miles), I thought I should treat it more like a steady state TT than a gravel race and it was a mistake letting some groups go early.

I’m just about to order some new aero road bars that will take my clip on aero bars and I plan to keep them on the bike for the next ~5 months until unbound (unless I do some gravel races before that that don’t allow them).

I’m really torn about race tactics. I’d say most people advocate sticking to your power targets to survive. As a bigger rider (190 lbs) I have a high FTP (350), so I should be able to stick with faster groups on the flats. My plan is to accept a bit of higher pace for first 30 miles to get into a faster group, and also get ahead of the hordes so I can pick better lines. My plan is to accept some tempo in here but not exceed 275 at all costs, and accept that I might lose some groups on climbs.

I think this is said so often on long group start events that you can make the mistake of going too far the other way.

I’ve found that the most important tactic for gravel racing is knowing the right time to let a group go (unless you are in for the overall win). When it’s a mass start with everything from pros to amateurs, most of us are making this decision at some point. It shouldn’t be like road racing where you hold onto the group with your dying breath, but it’s not smart to ride to an all-day target wattage at the start either.

This is a real feel/experience thing and somewhat based on your current fitness and strengths. It also helps to know the folks around you and who you are actually racing (tough in an event like Unbound or leadville). On the flip side, I think these big events probably give a little more room for error because group 3 on the road may not be dramatically slower than group 2. One of my relative strengths as a cyclist is my power/endunrance after 3-4 hours, so my strategy is allow myself to hurt pretty bad early. By the time we’re 2+ hours into the race, I’m usually very comfortable in whatever group I ended up in and I’ll typically outlast most of my group mates. 14+ hours is a whole different deal though, we’ll see.

This is spot-on.

When I did Unbound in 2019, I sat up ~90 minutes into it…we hit a pretty technical section and I immediately said “Yup…this is the time to let them go.” Until then it was relatively easy to just cruise in the pack…a few efforts to get over some short hills, but worth the effort. But once we hit that technical section I knew it was time to settle in at my own pace.

When I did The Rift last year, the decision was a bit easier as once we turned off the road at 8K, we immediately hit a gravel climb which broke the field up. I still set my 10 min power PR for the year on it, but I was very much in control and me and my buddies just settled in. Was literally just watching the video from it…was a pretty long line of riders about halfway up, but by the time we were at the top, it was completely shattered.