This year’s challenge

Towards the end of last year I was looking for something a bit different to do in 2019. I’m still going to be doing a bunch of triathlons but I also wanted to have a go at some more endurance events.

I’ve already done a marathon (London in 2016) and I having had my IT band tighten up as I crossed the half way point on Tower Bridge I’m not that interested in doing another just yet. This rules out an Ironman distance triathlon as the concept of a marathon after everything else really doesn’t appeal. So I went looking for something else, possibly something on the bike.

Gravel riding has been growing in popularity for the last few years and the number of different specialist bikes available continues to increase. So that sounded like a good place to go looking. Also it was a cracking excuse to buy a new bike (n+1).

I was also looking to make it part of a proper holiday this year, like the trips to the US National Parks I’ve done in the past.

The Event

I’d seen a video‘s of people doing the Dirty Kanza and it is held up as one of the first and great gravel events. The event is based around the main 200mile event but they also run 350mile, 100mile and 50mile events.

Given off road riding was going to be new to me and furthest I’ve ridden so far in one go is about 140km I decided that 200miles (300+km) for the first time was probably pushing things a little too far, so I put an entry in the ballot for the 100mile event. Just after Christmas I was notified that I had a place, and the mad dash to get somewhere to stop for the weekend of the event started

The Bike

2017 Genesis Datum
2017 Genesis Datum

The LBS had an ex-demo Genesis Datum 20 going for a absolute steal of a price.

The Datum 20 is a carbon frame gravel bike with 700c wheels, hydraulic disk brakes and Shimano 105 group set. The 50-34 up front and 11-32 cassette should get me round most thing. I wanted to stick with mechanical gearing as DI2 would be just something else that could potentially go wrong out on the course and I’m not totally sold on the whole one-by concept just yet.

The first upgrade was set of Hunt wheels, I got a set of the Four Season Gravel rims and got the local wheel builder to assemble them with a PowerTap G3 rear hub. This was for 2 reasons, the first was because the standard wheels weren’t tubeless capable and secondly because I wanted a power meter to help train and to measure my effort for pacing during the event.

I had to get a shim for the rear brake caliper as the standard wheel came with a 140mm rear disc and the G3 hub only takes a 160mm. I also shod the new rims with 38mm Panaracer Gravel King SK tyres. The 38mm only just have enough clearance at the rear so I’ll be swapping them for some 35mm before I head to the US just in case the course is wet and ends up muddy.

Training

I’ve done pretty much all my riding on the road, so I knew I’d have to get used to riding on softer ground, both gravel and mud. But to get things kicked off I booked a week riding in the hills in Spain in February. I went with a company called Andalucian Cycling Experience. I’d been away with them before so knew what to expect, and had a great week covering over 420km and climbing nearly 9000m.

When I got back I started out with the local tow path on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal and a few of the local bridle ways get used to the back end of the bike sliding around a bit.

The next step was out to the Forest of Dean to the Cannop Cycle Centre. Here they have a gravel track called the Family Trail which is just short of 15km.

Doing big sets of 2 laps in one direction followed by 2 laps in the other to stop it getting too repetitive made up good base. Getting out to the start early on a Saturday morning and getting 6 laps before breaking for some lunch and the trail started to get busier with families. It’s also helping with planning out me nutrition and hydration for the event (though it’s possibly going to be a lot hotter in Kansas)

I’ve also been sticking in some local events. The Cotswolds Cross Enduro Sportive was an absolute killer, with sections of riding down a running stream and other parts that were only really possible on a full suspension mountain bike

In between the big sets at the weekends I’ve been making sure I get in at least 2 or 3 sessions on the trainer on Zwift mixing it up between doing their planned workouts and racing (on a good day I can get in the top 3 of a short cat. C event).

Now the clocks have gone forward and it’s lighter in the evenings I’ll be trying to get out climbing the local hills before dinner.

The event is at the start of June so I better get back on the bike.

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