Race Training, Gone Virtual

It was day-21 of my semi-quarantined-but-full-on-social-distancing isolation endeavor when I started a new training regime.

After weeks of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, it was time to pull myself together.

Four months ago, I signed up for my first gravel race. If you remember that far back, you’d recall we were in the heart of a great winter in Colorado. While I took a quick detour to the Sonoran Desert for the 24HOP and a delicious, albeit quick, taste of dirt, I returned home to yet another glorious week on snow. I was earning my turns on bluebird uphill days and indulging in lift-access terrain for free refills on powder days. Of course, in the back of my mind, I knew the season’s days were numbered.

Fast-forward to early April and I needed an escape from the blur that was the beginning of 2020…and the daily barrage of COVID-19 updates. Luckily for me, I received an invite to participate in a “virtual” training experience, compliments of the Dirty Kanza crew.

For those of you new to the gravel race world, the Dirty Kanza is an ultimate midwest gravel grind experience. Since 2006, the event has lured racers seeking an unforgettable experience along miles of Flint Hills gravel (er, mud and gravel, that is). In fact, in its 14 years of existence, the race has gained such popularity that registration is now a random-selection process for the each course level (25-mile, 50-mile, 100-mile and 200-mile).

This year’s virtual camps (Garmin Dirty Kanza presented by Salsa Training Camps), however, had enough room for all gravel enthusiasts!

To be honest, I never “trained” for anything in my life. Even the 24HOP was a spontaneous signup. When I thought about “training”, images of grueling hours of non-stop spinning or weight lifting or – dare I say it – miles of running(?!) came to mind. But, by signing up for this experience, I was ready to change my perspective on what “training” meant. With schools shut down and stay-home and work-from-home orders in place, a virtual experience (outside of the scroll, scroll, double tap) might just be what I needed. Spoiler alert: it was.

The 4-day online camp kicked off with a warm welcome from Emporia, Kans., locals, the DK team and cyclists from all across the country. The Day 1 welcome video was quickly followed by a packed scheduled of live feeds, pre-recorded on-course ride experiences, maintenance tips and tricks, strength training and injury prevention tips, and stories from the race directors and past winners and riders.

The online footage, coupled with facebook live feeds and the Strava club made this experience surprisingly interactive. And, for the forgetful (i.e., me), having easy access to recorded content was the cherry on top of the metaphorical cake that was this virtual camp.

Participants rode “together”, shared Strava kudos, and had the opportunity to gain insights from some of the best gravel riders in the country. Most importantly, I felt some sense of camaraderie among this remote crew, thanks to all of the above and the encouraging words of cyclist and writer, Selene Yeager,Gravel is not canceled…the birds say spring is not canceled. Cycling is not canceled. These are hard times, but we are tough…”.

While the training ended with the (not surprising) announcement of the DK postponement until mid-September, the virtual training still set the training pace for many of us. Regardless of when the race is held, Michelle Duffy (Associate Marketing Director, Life Time Inc., marketing group for the race), shared one thing that still stands true: The weekend is “more than riding bikes. It’s really about building community around the bike, with each other, when we need it the most and being there for our community…”.

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