Unbound Gravel 2018 Recap with SE Coach Adam Mills

What an adventure! I went to Unbound Gravel to experience the event and to cheer on all my friends, as well as the many Source Endurance clients we had there.  While I’m sure I didn’t see each one of them, I’m proud of them all. I entered the 100 mile event knowing that any substantial amount of dirt riding would usually become epic and while I expected gameday to be just that, I did not expect the entire experience to be as memorable as it was.


The event 100% lives up to its billing.  An entire town of 24000 joins in on the celebration of gravel. The local bike shop is even named “Gravel City” and is devoted to… gravel, along with other adventure rides that are virtually guaranteed to enrich your life. Any photo you see does not do the event justice. There isn’t a lens wide enough with enough capability to capture the depth or the vibe of Unbound Gravel.
Unbound Gravel is a race and the 2018 edition saw the deepest, most talented field in history. World Cyclocross champions and national Mountain Bike Champions were on hand to race and the race was indeed one for the ages.  Many an article was written about the favorites and the subjects of those articles were accessible and on hand at the expo to support their partners and the event. It’s likely no coincidence that Ted King (2018 winner) gave many interviews from the shade of an expo tent in the midst of a tropical heat wave, while other favorites slipped in and out of packet pick up before heading to dinner and quickly to bed denying fans time to connect and opportunity for media exposure. The perfect preparation must often be sacrificed in order to improve the entire show. Those who reap the benefit of the gravel game are those that understand how important it is to be present. This shouldn’t surprise any of us who like watching pre-game interviews on NFL or College Gameday.


From my work with numerous athletes at Unbound Gravel, I can tell you that when it comes to physical preparation, more is more.  The more you train and the more work you put in on your path to Unbound Gravel, the happier you will be on game day. Every athlete that finished all 200 miles absolutely earned every bit of what they accomplished. Every athlete that completed any event that day absolutely earned it and congratulations.


This is an event that challenges every bit of equipment you put on the road. It’s up to you and only you to ride your equipment in a manner that allows it to get you to the finish line. Some athletes let themselves down and destroyed tires, derailleurs, etc. That is 100% operator error.  Own it.
When choosing equipment, choose what is durable and has the best chance of getting you to the finish line.  Avoid anything “super-light” and stick to name brand items. I didn’t see a lot of “knock-of Chinese stuff” and there’s probably a reason.
The two equipment upgrades I saw people the most in need of:  

  1. Water bottle cages that wouldn’t eject a bottle – just quit kidding yourself and get the Arundel Bando cages
  2. NEW bib-shorts that are nice – unwrapping new bibs on game day will give you an advantage.


It was windy. It was hot. It was muggy.  Know what that means for you. Athletes have been observed to sweat 2 liters per hour.  Unbound Gravel is at least 11 hours so you can do the math on that. On warm day competition, never has anyone said, “I really wish I wouldn’t have hydrated so well.”


As a Topeka, Kansas native I’m aware of what grows and doesn’t grow in central Kansas.  Grass. Lots of grass. Also, trees. Are you allergic to them? Are you sure? If you think you have allergies, prepare for that.  If you don’t think you have allergies, prepare for allergies.  You’re about to go to a sea of grass.

Support Staff.

Invaluable. Have your own.  Practice. Or hire it out. Remember that your helpers are not an F1 pit crew and they aren’t paid to be there.  They are doing you a favor. Thank them.


I heard way too much talk about different things that were or were not in the rules.  If you have to ask yourself, “is this allowed?” it probably isn’t. If it is allowed technically, you can still do it. But does it go along with the chill vibe of gravel, or are you being an a-hole? Or… are you being perceived as an a-hole by your peers?  But mostly, many of us coming from the more structured realm of USA Cycling need to relax and ask, “is this still in the spirit of fair sport and does it really matter?” Joseph Schmalz says that when it comes to gravel events we all need to relax and “play it as it lies.”


As I said before, I only did the 100 mile event.  But you know what? It was epic. My group, even though it morphed throughout the day, did the following as we made our way through the race: helped a woman climb a steep rock uphill after falling off the bike, saved a turtle, calculated a finish time early enough to have brunch in Emporia (and were excited), pulled along a train of 200 mile riders to help them reach the first check point, hiked 2-12 miles in sticky mud (depending on how I tell the story), recalculated our finish time and was bummed that there would be no brunch, investigated a discarded tackle box (did not contain human hand), stopped for beef jerky and to spray wash mud-clogged bikes, rode strong and smooth into the block headwind to allow others to draft, saved another turtle, grabbed a coke from a spectating farmer, and lost a sprint to a tandem that was going ~100mph (speed may be exaggerated).
Will I be back in 2019?  I don’t know yet. It’s probably too early to make that decision.  Was it an amazing adventure that I would recommend to anyone with an eye towards the dirt and the fortitude to challenge themselves? Absolutely.
About the Author: Adam Mills has raced at the elite level since 2002 and graduated with a Masters 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 trends and methods in sport and his clients have reaped the benefits from this work with over 13 national championships in 8 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.