I just completed my A race for the year, the 55-mile route of the Heck of the North gravel race in Two Harbors, Minnesota. I’ve only been cycling since Spring of 2021 and this was also my goal event (and first-ever race) last year. In 2021 I finished in 4h15m for 108th place overall, which I was happy with since my only goal was to finish. I signed up for TrainerRoad a few weeks later and used Plan Builder to put together a low volume training plan to train for the same race this year.
After following the plan consistently, learning as much as I could about race tactics from the podcast, working hard on my handling skills through advice from the podcast and Lee McCormack videos, and strength training through Dialed Health, I was able to smash my goals this time around with a finishing time of 3h5m for 12th place overall, just ten seconds away from top-10 men! My main goal was to finish in 3h30m, with my “stretch” goal being to take a full hour off my time and finish in 3h15m, so I am over the moon about the time I ended up achieving. My improved fitness (increased by over 1w/kg this year) played a roll, but I think the knowledge I’ve gained – from nutrition and equipment selection to race tactics and off-road handling – really made the biggest difference.
The route starts with 5 miles of ATV trail/fire road which I knew would be an immediate selection point so I pushed hard right away to get with a fast group, which stayed as the second group on the road for the full race, and it paid huge dividends. The group was slightly faster than I was comfortable with, but I kept hearing Amber in my head saying “What if you just hung in for another minute?” and that got me through every time I felt like dropping off the back. I was even able to put in a few good pulls (although not as long of pulls as some others in the group) but started feeling some cramps after about the halfway point. At mile 37 we hit the main selection point of the race, which is a 9-mile section of extremely rough and rocky ATV trails with constant short, steep rollers. Before I had made it into a group that was as fast as this one, my plan was to find a group I was comfortable with at the beginning and attack hard on this section and solo the final 9 miles to the end. However with how many matches I had to burn to stay with this fast of a group, and with the threat of cramps in my legs, my plan changed to just hang in there for this section. Looking back I think I could’ve still pushed a little harder here, because the combination of my handling skills being a tad better than the rest of the group and my equipment selection being dialed in specifically for this section led me to gapping the group by about 5 seconds without much effort in the final descent of the section. Got caught by the group again a few minutes later and stayed with them during some ferocious pulls until my legs cramped up with 2 miles to go and I finally fell off the back, putting me at 11th in men and 12th overall (the winning woman was in our group). I was bummed not to have been able to sprint for a top-10 at the finish, but overall I did way better than expected so I’m super happy!
Basically, I just want to thank TrainerRoad for existing and being the driving force behind my improvement in cycling. After not exercising for a good ten years, cycling has turned my life around 180 degrees and I’m just so thankful that we all have the tools that TrainerRoad provides to improve ourselves in sport.