Dave is an avid and accomplished runner but only recently decided to sign up for a gravel bike ride. He recently finished his first gravel bike race, a 60-mile gravel ride with over 7,000 feet of elevation gain. Dave is the marketing manager at Big Peach Running Co. in Atlanta, Georgia and typically works from home. That doesn’t mean he lounges around all day. He is very busy managing nine different locations. There was a lot to balance while taking on this endeavor. When Dave crossed the finish line of this race he successfully went from runner to gravel biker.
How Was Your Race?
The total time was 8hr 06min with an actual ride time of 7hr 17min. I made sure to stop at every aid station and spent a reasonable amount of time at the last one—easily 15-20 minutes.
The climbs were challenging and ranked Category 4, 3, and 2. The Category 2 climbs were on the road, and it might have been a segment that was part of the Tour de Georgia over 15 years ago.
It had an average grade of 3.1%, with some sections hitting almost 15%, and it took me 1hr 03min to ride this 6.8-mile section. Lance Armstrong rode it in 28min 01sec. He wasn’t even the fastest cyclist up that climb, but he rode twice as fast as me.
- Interested in what the Category definitions mean? Scroll to the bottom to read how Strava determines the Category designations.
What Was The Weather Like?
It was raining in the morning, a drizzle at the start, and we got a quick shower about 6-8 miles in. Then the skies cleared up, and it ended up being a beautiful day. The race recommended wider tires for traction and even knobbier mountain bike tires. With only two days’ notice, I didn’t have time to worry or buy new tires. So I was a little concerned, but figured I’d make do with what I had. With 25 PSI in my tires, I never had any issues with grip.
What Concerns Did You Have?
My biggest concern was crashing and bonking. I had a few spots where my energy level dropped. Since my hands were constantly on the handlebars because of the terrain, it was difficult to drink my bottles of Tailwind. And when I felt like I was slowing down, I made deliberate attempts to drink and take significant amounts instead of just small sips.
And What About Your Goals?
The primary goal was to finish, the second was not to crash or have any mechanicals, and the third was to have fun and enjoy the day. Toward the end, I added the goal of not getting off or walking the bike on a climb. I managed to achieve each goal. So overall, I’d call it a successful day. I learned some things along the way and discovered some equipment changes to make for the next time (like a hydration pack instead of bottles).
How Was The Race?
It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I thought the same thing when I did my first marathon and 50k. Although challenging, I didn’t suffer as much as in my first marathon or 50k. I was better trained, but I also paced myself. I was never in race mode, meaning my body wasn’t as stressed.
I’ve noticed that I tend to have terrible leg cramps toward the end of a ride or run when I go hard, but I didn’t have any cramping issues or sore muscles after the ride. My (mental) energy felt good, and I never went to a dark place.
Did You Cross A Stream At Any Point?
We crossed the stream at the beginning with a much larger group. Most stopped and walked their bikes. When I approached, I thought maybe one or multiple people had crashed, but everyone was good.
On the way back, the stream was a bit higher, but I was in the wrong gear, and there were some large rocks to ride over. I should have used that spot to submerge the bike and wash off some mud, especially off the chain and gears. I could hear the dirt and grime in the drivetrain as I rode; it was a bit annoying and made me worried about a mechanical issue.
And Is It True That There Was A Course Reroute?
I’m not sure exactly where they diverted the course, but they did say that one section required wider or knobby tires for mountain biking. I never encountered an area where I thought I needed that tire. Tire choice and tire pressure are the most frequently searched topics in gravel biking from the YouTube videos I’ve seen. I rode with about 25–28 PSI (I’m sure there’s a margin of error with bike pumps) and had no traction issues.
How Was Riding a 7500 Elevation Gain?
The climb was challenging because you never knew how much more you had left. The 5 miles downhill to the finish physically beat me up more. I’m not good at descending, so I was on the brakes most of the way down, or at least feathering the brakes to scrub off speed. I didn’t want to “endo” over the handlebars. My triceps, lats, traps, and back felt sore at the end from the bumps, the bouncing around, and even from being tense while going downhill. My hands were also tired from holding on and breaking.
As far as the category climbs are concerned, I’m not an expert. I know that Cat 4/5 is easier and Cat 2/3 is harder. It’s a combination of the length of the climb/elevation gain and the steepness of the grade. In racing, the categories change based on the duration of the race and where the climb occurs. I never understood much of the terminology in professional cycling. Now that I understand that, I guess you can say I went from runner to gravel biker.
Determining Climb Categories Per Strava
There are three general requirements to have a segment categorized as a climb on Strava:
- Average gradient ≥ 3.0%
- Segment distance ≥ 300 meters or greater
- (The climb length(in meters)) * (the climb’s grade) > 8,000.
Strava also breaks down the categories as follows:
- Cat 4 > 8000
- Cat 3 > 16000
- Cat 2 > 32000
- Cat 1 > 64000
- HC (Hors Categorie) > 80000