Many begin Unbound Gravel but only the prepared and enduring finish. Although the numbers are not public, we know a high percentage of riders never cross the finish line and need to be picked up by support or get their own ride home. 200 miles is a tall order for most, and likely the longest ride 99% of Unbounders experience in one day. Many riders who sign up for Unbound Gravel do not necessarily know what it takes to finish. With proper preparation and following these tips you will make sure you are not one of those DNFers!
#1: General Bike Maintenance
This is arguably the number one reason people DNF Unbound Gravel. General guidelines include not touching anything with a tool on your bike a few days (especially the night before) before your big ride. If it works then, it will work the next day. It can be tempting to want to make last minute adjustments and dial in your rig for the big day, but it increases the chance of something going unexpectedly wrong. Consider going to your local bike shop 2 weeks out from Unbound Gravel to have them look it over and make sure it doesn’t need any new parts or adjustments. Common parts on the bike that need to be replaced include: chain, cables and housing, , brake pads, and tires. Common adjustments which need to be made include derailleurs, brake bleeds, truing of wheels, and tightening of bolts. The rugged terrain and variable conditions of the Unbound Gravel can loosen bolts you never knew would come undone.
#2: Double Flats
Although there are times when flat tires cannot be avoided, there are equally as many times as they can. If you are running tubeless tires, make sure to have a hefty amount of sealant in each tire to prevent little holes from sabotaging your finishing time. I recommend 3oz of sealant per tire. Add this sealant within 1-1.5weeks of starting the event. If you added the sealant 3 weeks ago and rode a few hundred miles, chances are that sealant has already been put to work sealing holes in your tire. Make sure to bring tire boots and tire plugs in case of larger punctures like side wall slashes or nails and other sharp objects. If you don’t know how to use tire boots and plugs, make sure to practice on a tire before Unbound Gravel. Line choice is arguably the number one reason riders finish the day early with double flats feeling frustrated and deflated, pun intended. Be conscious when descending the dirt and gravel sections to avoid big and sharp rocks as much as possible as well as anything green (goat heads are a common spikey plant in Kansas, also known as puncture vine). If you can avoid it, avoid it. Avoid glass or other sharp and pointy objects on the roads as well. Be conscious of sharp objects and obstacles on the road.
#3: Stopping Too Long at Rest Stops
The legs may be depleted, the brain foggy and the spirit ready to take a brake, but these are not reasons to stop riding your bike during Unbound Gravel. Strive to be as efficient as possible when stopping to replenish food and hydration at the aid stations. This time off the bike can quickly accumulate and leave you with little margin for error to finish the day without being time cut. Plan for what you will grab at each aid station before you get there and take as little time as possible. There is always the chance that something unexpected could happen and now your planned finishing time just got another 30-45minutes added to it.
#4: Less than Ideal Pacing
There are those of us who want to ride like heroes at Unbound Gravel and to those individuals I would say, finishing is still goal number one. Know your limits on race day and go into the ride with a pacing strategy. If you attempt to ride with the front group and burn out in the first 50miles, the last 150 miles are not going to be as fun and you may not even see those miles. Inadequate pacing can also contribute to the higher chance of inadequate fueling and getting behind on fluid and calories, stopping too long at rest stops because you are tired, crashing due to the brain fog from being in the red, and generally just going too slow at the tail-end of the ride to finish on time.
These five tips may seem obvious and intuitive, but they should not be undervalued. Unbound Gravel has a high rate for riders not finishing, and most of those excuses for not finishing can be avoided with proper preparation and mindset.
About the author: Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD is a level 2 USA Cycling coach as well as a Registered Dietitian (RD) specializing in sports nutrition and is a board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). With Kristen’s nutrition expertise and diverse experience in the sport of cycling as a racer and a mentor, she provides a comprehensive approach to her coaching. She works with athletes from the beginner to elite ranks in road, cyclocross, and mountain biking disciplines. Kristen is also a category 1 domestic elite road racer and seasoned mountain bike and cyclocross racer. Learn more about Kristen.