If you prefer your racing sprinkled with gravel, the Dirty Kanza is the ultimate test of mental and physical endurance. It’s what put gravel racing on the map, spawning events like the Belgian Waffle Ride, the Croatan Buck Fifty, and the Boulder Roubaix.
To survive everything DK throws at you and come out on the other side, you need to train smart. We talked to Coach Jeff Hoobler, one of the sports scientists at Wahoo Fitness—and coach to our own Mackenzie Housman and her Desk to DK journey—about how to get ready to conquer the Flint Hills.
Here are our top five training tips to prepare for Dirty Kanza or your next gravel race.
GET A PLAN
Unless racing bikes is your day job, you most likely have to make your training time fit into a busy schedule. Every subscription to The Sufferfest includes a full library of training plans for road, triathlon, xc mountain bike, cyclocross, eSports, and—you guessed it—gravel. Plans are designed for time-crunched athletes and tailored to your Four-Dimensional Power profile so you can develop your strengths while improving those aspects of your fitness that need the most attention. When it comes to the workouts, The Sufferfest sessions are perfect to get you ready for DK.
QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY
Come race day you’ll need to be ready to spend some serious time on the bike, but if you’re training time is limited ut you don’t have to log monster miles every weekend to get your legs ready for the demands of DK. “Though you’ll need to commit to the occasional longer ride on the weekends,” said Coach Hoobler, “incorporating shorter, high-intensity sessions on successive days provides amazing endurance benefits while also simulating the physiological demands of long hours on the bike.”
CROSS-TRAINING IS COMING
With even the fastest riders in the DK200 spending 10 hours in the saddle, Dirty Kanza is all about attrition. To make sure you stay strong all day long you need to do more than just get on the bike. “Gravel events put very different demands on your body than road racing,” explained Coach Hoobler. “The uneven terrain means you’ll be moving in directions you’re not used to on the road and using more of your posterior chain and upper body. Incorporating functional strength training and regular yoga sessions into your routine will prepare your body for these additional stressors so you’re not as fatigued, especially as the miles get into the triple digits.”
Dirty Kanza is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical challenge. Setting clear goals—whether it’s just to make it across the line or to break 15 hours—will help you stay motivated when things get tough. Practicing positive thinking and visualization exercises before the event will also keep you focused and allow you to dig deep and push through when self-doubt starts to creep in.
HONE YOUR SKILLS
Getting to the finish line in Emporia isn’t just about fitness. You can lose more time fumbling to fix a flat or dealing with a mechanical than you could ever make up with putting in an extra ten hours a week on the trainer. The sharp gravel that makes up the flint hills is hell on tires, even if you’re running a tubeless setup. Practice fixing flats and patching tubes (if you’re using tubes), or using a tubeless repair kit (if you’re going the tubeless route).
The most surefire way to ruin your race is to crash when things get technical or sketchy. If you don’t have much experience riding off-road, we recommend incorporating bike-handling skills training into your weekly routine. Riding on gravel is very different from riding on smooth pavement. You need to be comfortable navigating loose corners, staying relaxed over the rough stuff, and knowing how to keep control when things go sideways. If you have access to mountain bike trails or gravel roads, do at least one ride a week in the rough stuff. You’ll gain invaluable experience and confidence that will help you keep the rubber side down when it really counts.