The quality of the athletes at the pointy end of races like the Mid South has dramatically improved.
Gone are the days where local heroes battle it out for glory amongst the rare traveler from far away lands. The time is now and the races resemble more of a Monument than they do a gravel race. Indeed, if you’re at the pointy end of the Mid South the “spirit of gravel” is akin to Paris Roubaix or Flanders or even Strada Bianche (don’t tell the traditionalists that this one should be a Monument). Those who care for a different experience are participating in the “adventure of gravel” and will never see this part of the event but they will hear about it at the post ride celebration sometime that evening. Although I’d argue that the adventurers' stories will be equally if not more enthralling to hear.
While we know from the results that 2023 was faster and more furious than 2022 I wanted to more closely compare the two editions of the Mid South. In order to make this comparison we’re going to need to admit some things and make a few assumptions. The major assumption is that no one can win the Mid South in the first 90 minutes. However, everyone can definitely lose the Mid South in the first 90 minutes. The strategy in play would be to stay in the first group and stay competitive for the win. This strategy is executed by staying conservative and make the front side of all the splits. As the ability of the front group improves the speed goes up and power output will also increase in-turn. With this increase in speed and power an appropriate improvement in bike driving is also required. A few bumps of improvement later you’re left with an event with athletes that are nothing like the ones toeing the line a few years ago. But before we go on let’s talk about the weaknesses in this comparison.
First is that the course is different. That’s normal as Mid South changes yearly and different courses can yield different strategies. Next is that course conditions change. Again, this is normal and a spat of rain can dramatically alter the outcome for nearly everyone at the Mid South. Overall, comparing 2022 to 2023 major splits among the core group of contenders didn’t occur in the first 90 minutes so it’s probably still a reasonable comparison.
World class athletes now dominate the Mid South and one thing is for sure. They are fast. Really fast. The first Oklahoma resident to finish the 2023 edition in Stillwater was 21st place, ~8% off the winning time. Looking through the results, 2018 is dubbed “the fast year.” That winning time was Mat Stephens at 5:21, which is 17% slower than 2023! The Mid South has leveled up beyond local and regional racers. And it’s leveled up fast.
To illustrate this point we’re going to compare Inno Zavylov’s performance from the first 90 minutes in 2022 v 2023.
Some data by the numbers:
2023 v 2022
Inno’s 60, 10 and 5 minute efforts ALL were 5-6% HIGHER. Consider the implications of that increase. 5-6% additional ability from the previous year is needed not to make the race but to stay competitive.
Inno’s opening 90 minute output at the Mid South advanced from 313w normalized to 337w normalized, an 8% change in the positive from 2022 to 2023.
Looking through the distribution of how the workload changed, it seems that Inno simply exchanged Recovery for high intensity workloads which is cruel exchange indeed.
Knowing this was destined to happen we made a number of changes to Inno’s program for this year. We began with an off-season training in Thailand to build what I think is the best aerobic base he’s ever had. As we analyze the Mid South data and confirm the implications for all the marquee gravel and UnRoad events coming up there should be some noticeable differences in Inno’s program from what he’s done in the past.
Stay tuned for more!
About the Author:
Adam Mills has raced at the elite level since 2002 and graduated with a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kansas in 2005. His true talent comes with his ability to combine his vast experience with his knowledge of sport. He is indeed a student of science, sport, athletic performance, strategy, and tactics. He continuously educates himself by keeping up to date with current research trends and methods in sport and his clients have reaped the benefits from this work with over 24 national championships in 11 disciplines on two continents. Adam is able to incorporate these attributes on a daily basis to help his clients reach and exceed their goals whether they are a beginner or a seasoned professional. Learn more about Adam and Source Endurance here.