The Cycling Activist Training For Unbound
Last month, we chatted with Marley Blonsky, cycling activist, founder of All Bodies on Bikes, and multi-time cycling gravel race finisher. When we last spoke, Blonsky was beginning her preparations for Unbound, a popular cycling gravel race in Emporia, Kansas, in June. The race offers distances ranging from 25 miles to 200 miles, and Blonsky is signed up for the 100-mile distance.
In the past month, Blonsky has faced some setbacks in her training. Setbacks are apart of training and racing. How you deal with them can set you up for success on race day. For Blonsky, her classic can-do attitude sets her apart and allows her to move forward. We caught up with Blonsky to learn more as she heads into the final 30 days before the race.
Marley Blonsky’s Journey to Unbound
Managing a Spicy Knee
Blonsky had knee surgery in September 2022 and has been on the road to recovery ever since. Recovery from surgery is rarely linear. Blonsky has recently had to contend with a flare-up of irritation in the knee she had surgery on. This has added some stress to her race preparations.
“I had an MRI done on my knee and it turns out there are a whole host of different issues going on in there that are separate from the reason I had surgery on that knee,” Blonsky says. “There is definitely those feelings of ‘Oh God, fuck. This is so frustrating.’”
Regardless, Blonsky is not one to give in easily – she still plans on racing the 100-mile distance at Unbound.
“My plan is still to ride a hundred miles,” Blonsky says. “If I can stay on top of ibuprofen and icing regimens before and during the race, I should be OK. I am supposed to avoid weight-bearing exercise, which is perfect because cycling is non-weight-bearing for the most part.”
Blonsky will be making sure her bike fit is dialed in before the race. This should help her avoid any extra irritation of her knee. Marley is also planning on being honest and gentle with herself come race day.
“I won’t be grinding uphill,” Blonsky says. “If I get to the bottom of my gear range, I’ll walk my bike. Those are the kinds of adjustments I’ll make so that I can finish the race without hurting my knee further.”
Plus, Unbound removed the time cap on the 100-mile distance, so Blonsky can take her time.
“Last year, my big stress was making it to mile 64 by a certain time,” Blonsky explains. “This year, though, there is only a time limit for the 200 miler, so I have a sense of relief this time around.”
The Logistics – Equipment
As race day draws closer, Blonsky is readying her gear and nutrition plan.
Blonsky is sponsored by Cannondale and will ride her Cannondale Topstone 4 for Unbound.
“I love my Topstone 4 for many reasons, but the number one reason is that it’s an entry level gravel bike,” Blonsky says. “It’s nice to ride a bike that I can feel good about recommending to people who want to get into the sport – I can tell them that it’s a quality gravel bike that retails for $1,500 out of the box.”
Blonsky has customized the bike slightly, most notably by adding in a Shimano GRX drive train. Blonsky also rides a size extra small frame. This means she needs to get creative with how she stores her fuel and hydration.
“Since I ride an extra small frame, I only have room for one water bottle cage in the triangular part of my frame,” Blonsky shares. “I have jerry-rigged a way for a water bottle cage to sit on my top tube, too.”
Blonsky also wears a hydration pack for easy access to fluids all day. Also, she rides with a paint stick for removing mud from her gears and frame across the miles.
The Logistics – Fueling
When it comes to fueling, Blonsky will be working with her support crew to stay on top of her fueling and hydration needs.
“My two water bottles on my bike will have electrolytes in them and my hydration pack will have a liter of water,” Blonsky says. “Unbound is very much a self-supported race and you have to bring your own crew, so I’ll be relying on my crew to help keep me fueled.”
Blonsky explained that there is a “party-like” aid station stop for crews to restock their athletes in Madison, Kansas, which is at the midpoint of the Unbound route. Beyond fresh socks and shoes, Blonsky’s crew will have a host of nutrition for her to choose from.
“My crew will have pickle juice, Coca-Cola, trail mix, and all my bars and gels so I can restock,” Blonsky says. “Last year, I posted an Instagram update from this aid station because it was such a relief to be midway before the time limit. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll post an update from there this year – stay tuned.”
While she’s on the road (or “groad” as gravel enthusiasts say), Blonsky has her Wahoo heart rate monitor and bike computer synced so that she gets alerts to eat a gel for every 100 calories she burns.
“When I first start the race, I am getting an alert to eat every 10-15 minutes,” Blonsky says. “My metabolism levels out toward the end of the day, but as the race gets started, it’s like I can’t get enough nutrition, I’m getting so many 100-calorie alerts.”
Blonsky also shared that she makes her own trail mix. Her mix includes, among other things, energy chews, gummy bears, and peanut butter M&Ms. Count us in for any samples!
Overcoming Obstacles Throughout The Journey
We will next check in on Marley Blonsky’s journey to Unbound to see how her race went. What matters in any race endeavor is the journey and the obstacles you overcame to get to the start. We look forward to Blonsky’s reflections on all the small moments during her journey and race. Join us in cheering on Marley as the June 3rd race day draws near.
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