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Calculating For Adventure

by Curtis White on July 28, 2021

As a cyclocross racer, I prepare for the intensity and explosiveness of an all-out anaerobic one hour effort through dirt, grass, rain, mud, sand, snow, and ice. As a cyclist, I am always hungry for adventure. Even during my hardest training sessions, I find peace on quiet trails or empty back roads.

Unbound Gravel presents a new challenge. This is something totally foreign to me. As a cyclocross racer, I have had to significantly alter my preparation for this new 200 mile feat. As a cyclist, I still find peace in the process. I am used to analyzing every single effort, the conditions, the tread, the tire pressure, and the lines. I train to be at my best for one hour, with unwavering killer instinct. But for ten plus hours? Trying something new and daunting will always cause nervous energy. I have to remind myself that it is in these uncomfortable situations where true growth occurs.

Two months out from Unbound Gravel, I flew out to Albuquerque, New Mexico to escape the unpredictable New England spring and build aerobic base miles at altitude in the heat. For most cyclists with a road or MTB focus, their first base build would be much earlier in the year. Cyclocross is unique in that our season is over at the beginning of February, so take our break from training in February, and start back up with training in March. This reset is necessary to regroup and recover from an intense season of all out anaerobic slogging in the worst of conditions.

For my four week block in Albuquerque, my number one focus was consistency. My first week was all about acclimating to the altitude and heat, and getting in measured and repeatable sessions. Physiologically, there is far more benefit to stringing together days and weeks of consistent volume. This process takes maturity, experience, and patience. I would lose the benefit if I chose to overextend one day with a monster seven hour ride if I had to recover for two or three days following the effort. The purpose of this block is to rebuild the aerobic engine, as well as to train the body to deal with large amounts of training stress. For reference, my four week progression was 23 hours, 25 hours, 30 hours, 30 hours. The incredible views and quiet gravel roads of New Mexico made it much easier to get in this volume. In the final couple weeks, I was able to press the effort a bit and get in some 6.5-7.5 hour days with higher sustained power (260-300 watts).

I never finished one day of training totally bonked or with the tank totally empty. I had to know my limits, and hold a strict regimen with fueling, recovery, and sleep. During my long training sessions, I would consume roughly 400 calories. I finished every ride with a glass of chocolate milk, and recovered with a bowl of rice and eggs with soy sauce. I would always try to nap after every training session, or at the very least meditate to calm the nervous system. Every night, I aim for 8-9 hours of sleep. The process of trying to create predictable sleep routines has been difficult, but it is a process of trial and error. Some things I have found that work are sleeping in a cold environment, not eating within 2 hours of bed, and avoiding screens within an hour of sleeping.

The foundation of this entire process is consistency. Physical and mental. Us athletes try to control as much of our environment as we can. We elucidate what works best for us, and commit to that process. Sometimes life happens, and we have to react to circumstances out of our control, but that is all part of it.

After flying back to my home in Beverly, MA, I will spend the last month of my preparation for Unbound Gravel putting in more specific work. With my focus still being cyclocross, I have to be mindful of putting in work that is conducive to raising my VO2, cultivating fast-twitch explosive muscle work, on top of maintaining endurance for this massive 200 mile feat. My training process is seemingly a paradox of objectives, but that’s not to say my goals are totally contradictory. The process and adventure that Unbound brings will help me in my cyclocross endeavors by allowing me to operate with greater depth throughout the cyclocross season. Through the month of May, with added intensity mixed into the program, I will still look to be operating at a 20-25 hour per week rate.

What will stay consistent in my preparation is attention to nutrition and sleep. It is in fueling and recovery where the greatest gains are made.

In the final week before Unbound, I will significantly taper the effort. By this point, I have made as much hay as I could with the time I was given. What is left to focus on is sleep, fueling, having as smooth a travel out to Emporia as I can, dialing in the equipment, and staying relaxed.

For any athlete, or person, going into uncharted territory is always a nerve-racking experience. All we can do is tell ourselves that the hard work is done, and now it’s time to go out and enjoy the work we’ve put in.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to experience something as challenging and unique as Unbound Gravel, and I look forward to the adventure. Thank you for reading, and thank you Craft for supporting this endeavor! For more updates, you can follow me on Instagram @curtisjwhite, on my Youtube channel, or on my podcast series “In The Red with Curtis White”.

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