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Gravel Race Prep Series: Final Preparations

  • Written by Keith Huster
  •  / 
  • 9 min read
  •  / 
  • Last updated 5 months ago

Race day is just around the corner and it's time to find out if all your hard work has paid off. The final week prior to the race is one of the most crucial periods of your race preparation. In this post, I will share my tips and tricks for what you should be focusing on as race day approaches.

Gravel race prep series recap

Throughout this series, I have covered the various aspects of how to train and prepare for your first gravel race. If you haven't seen the prior posts in this series then now is the time to get caught up. Check out the gravel race prep series links at the top of this post so you don't miss out on the rest of this series. ⬆️

Assuming that you have followed along with this series, you will at this point be both physically and mentally ready for your first gravel race. You will have put in the necessary time, effort, miles, and planning to have a successful first race. You will be confident with your physical abilities, bike handling skills, and nutrition/hydration plans. However, all of this hard work can be easily tossed out the window if you don't have the proper strategy going into the week prior to race day.

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The week before the race

The week prior to race day is when races can be won or lost. By this point, you have put in literally hundreds (possibly thousands) of miles on the bike and spent countless hours in training. All of this hard work takes a severe toll on your body so you have to give it adequate time to recover prior to race day. I previously touched on this topic within the Physical Endurance post in this series. However, I think this topic is worth repeating here because it is truly that important.

It's easy to tell yourself that you can get in "just one more training ride" prior to race day. However, you should avoid this temptation at all costs. Hopefully, you have already put in enough training efforts by this point. If not, it's kind of too late, and pushing yourself this late in the training window is not going to help you. Instead, any hard efforts that you put in during this final week will actually end up hurting your race day performance. As I have stated several times now, your body needs time to recover prior to race day and you must give it the downtime that it needs.

So, if you shouldn't be focusing on training rides, then what should you be doing during this final week? That's a great question and I have some recommendations outlined below:

Final week activities

  • Enjoy a casual bike ride (or two): The key here is "casual". Any rides that you partake in during pre-race week should be very mellow and easygoing. You should be keeping your heart rate low and not fatiguing any of your muscles. Remember, bike riding is supposed to be fun so use this time to just enjoy being on your bike.
  • Go for a walk: It's important to keep your muscles active but not strained. So, going for a walk with your friends, significant other, or furry companion 🐶 can be a great slow-paced activity.
  • Take time to stretch your legs (literally): Focus on some self-care and give your muscles some stretch work or maybe even a massage. Partaking in some light yoga can also be a good option for helping your muscles to recover.
  • Reflect on all of your hard work: You, and you alone, put in all of the hard work to get you to this point. Now is the perfect time to think back to where you started versus where you are now. Reflecting on the improvements that you have made along the way can be a big confidence booster prior to race day.
  • Review your race day plan: Take some time to go over all of your race day prep. Review the race course and any related maps. Make sure that you have your nutrition and hydration strategies in order. Double-check that you have everything that you need and make the necessary last-minute purchases if you have forgotten anything.
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Race day self prep

The day before and the day of the race will most likely create some level of anxiety for you. This pre-race anxiety is totally normal and expected. 😅 I myself faced this prior to the Salty Lizard 100 gravel race. The night before the race I found myself pacing around the hotel room double and triple-checking my food bags, bike suspension, GoPro batteries, riding kit, etc. I knew that I had all of this stuff prepared but something in my mind kept telling me that I needed to recheck it all. I repeated some of these same checks the morning of the race even though I had just checked it all the night before. 🤪

Keith is triple-checking his tire pressure the morning of the race.
Keith is triple-checking his tire pressure the morning of the race.

It's important that you don't over-stress about the race during these final hours. You desperately need a good night of sleep to be adequately rested for the race. I have outlined some key techniques below for ensuring that you can have an enjoyable pre-race experience. These tips are based on what I have learned through my own experience as a first-time gravel racer.

Final self-prep activities

  • Arrive at the race venue early: If possible, try to arrive at your accommodations at least 24 hours prior to the race. This will give you adequate time to look over your bike and gear to ensure that you haven't forgotten anything. If you have, this also gives you time to shop around for what you need.
  • Scope out the race venue: If possible, swing over to the race venue itself. Take some time to get familiar with where to park if you are driving. Locate the starting line and get familiar with the staging areas. Familiarizing yourself with the race venue will eliminate that feeling of being unsure where to go or what to do come race morning.
  • Eat a healthy dinner: You are going to expend a lot of calories during the race so you will need to preload your body. However, you must avoid the temptation to indulge in too many treats at this point. Either bring a planned healthy meal or research some restaurant options ahead of time. This way, you will know when, where, and what you will be eating the night before the race.
  • Lay out your riding kit: Take the time to organize and lay out all of your riding kit the night before the race. This includes everything that you will be wearing during the race. Taking the time to do this will ensure that you aren't racing around looking for your clothes on race morning.
  • Pack all of your race-day supplies: The night before the race is the opportune time to pack up all of your race-day supplies. This includes packing all of your food and water on your bike so that you don't accidentally forget any of these critical elements. Also, double-check that you have your mechanical emergency kit in order and ready to go.
  • Go to sleep early: It can be tempting to stay up late and hang out when you are in a new area. There is a lot of excitement leading up to race day but you must prioritize your rest if you want to perform well. There will be plenty of time for celebration and partying after the race is over.
  • Wake up early on race day: Be sure to wake up early enough to give yourself plenty of time to complete your race morning activities. Even if you don't typically shower in the morning, I highly recommend doing so as a shower can help jumpstart your mind and body.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast: Be sure to eat a healthy breakfast and limit your caffeine intake. A little caffeine is good to perk you up but too much can lead to race-day issues such as jitteriness, stomach cramps, and the need to urinate frequently. Nobody wants to be pulled over mid-race because they have to pee. 😬
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Race day bike prep

This is going to be a short but important section since you shouldn't need to do too much to your bike at this point. You should have already performed all of the necessary maintenance and prep work on your bike prior to arriving at the race venue. Tinkering around with things at this point will more than likely cause more harm than good.

The only exception to this is if you had to pack your bag for travel. If this was required then you should hopefully be more than comfortable with packing and unpacking your bike prior to race day.

I do recommend that you take your bike on a quick shakedown ride prior to the race. This can be as short as pedaling around the parking lot or as long as pedaling a short section of the course. The key thing you should focus on is double-checking that everything looks and feels "normal" to you. This is the opportune time to check for any issues that may have occurred while transporting your bike to the race venue.

Keith's bike is prepped and ready for the Salty Lizard 100 gravel race.
Keith's bike is prepped and ready for the Salty Lizard 100 gravel race.

Last-minute bike prep

  • Listen for and fix any brake rotor rub.
  • Exercise your suspension (if you have one).
  • Test your dropper post (if you have one).
  • Double-check that your seatpost is properly aligned.
  • Make sure that all of your controls (brake levers, shifters, etc.) are mounted securely.
  • Verify that all of your water bottles and bike bags are attached securely.
  • Recheck your tire pressure the morning of the race.

Calming your starting line jitters

The time has finally come... it's race day! You leave your hotel room and arrive at the staging area. For me, this is when the nerves really started to kick in. I found that taking some time to meet and talk to your fellow racers can really help to calm these nerves. It's easy to feel like you are the only racer that is nervous. However, once you start talking to others you will find that they are just as nervous and excited as you are.

A crowd of racers is lined up at the start of the Salty Lizard 100 gravel race.
A crowd of racers is lined up at the start of the Salty Lizard 100 gravel race.

Eventually, it will come time to line up at the starting gate. This can be nerve-wracking if you have never participated in a bike race. You will more than likely be squished uncomfortably close to many other racers that are all itching to take off. Being packed so tightly can make you nervous when it comes time to start riding. You may feel like someone is going to crash into you at any second. But, don't fret. Take a few seconds to breathe and relax prior to the race start. When the race does start, focus on keeping pace with the riders directly in front of you until the crowd disperses. This will give you some time to get into the flow and avoid a costly crash.

Pro tip: Line up on one side or the other of the starting grid. Avoid lining up in the middle as this will put racers on either side of you. Being surrounded by other racers can increase the likelihood of bumping into one another. 
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Get out there and go for it!

Well, that about does it for this series. I really enjoyed putting this series together and I hope that you enjoyed following along. I am sure that there are tons of other aspects to gravel racing that I didn't cover. Let me know if there are any specific topics that you would like to see covered in future posts. Also, I would love to hear any feedback that you have on this series. This is my first attempt at writing a multi-post series like this so any feedback that you have would be greatly appreciated.

Keith is about to cross the finish line at the Salty Lizard 100 gravel race in Wendover, NV
Keith is about to cross the finish line at the Salty Lizard 100 gravel race in Wendover, NV

I would also like to hear about your experiences getting into gravel racing. Did this series help you in any way? Do you know of other resources that could be helpful to other first-time racers? Let me know in the comments section below. 👇 💬

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