Road to the Waffle: A Story in 3 Parts

Part 1 of 3: An Amateur Rider’s Rocky Journey

The Belgian Waffle Ride is arguably one of the hardest one-day cycling events in North America. It constitutes every type of terrain imaginable for 100 miles, climbing over steep gravel roads and sometimes even creek beds. 

At the end of the day, over 10,000 feet of elevation will be conquered or at least encountered. It’s called a ‘multi-surface race,’ but it’s really a gravel race with some pavement included, which links the unpaved sections together.

This year several other American venues were added to the routes, including a relentless course in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. After 17 inches of rain over a 3 day period, things promised to be…difficult.

You can’t just show up for one of these races. You must prepare mentally, physically, and some would even say, spiritually.

If you think I knew how to prepare for races like this before this past year, you’d be right. And wrong. I thought I knew what I was doing. Turns out, I had only a general idea. 

I was doing what most of us do. Training by feel and soundbite. What I read, what I saw, and what I thought was what I did. For a gravel race, that is how to set yourself up for disappointment for sure.

So how did I prepare? By having short-, medium-, and long-term goals, a plan, and a schedule. Let’s break this down.

Long-term goals and tasks (8 months out):

  1. Decide what major endurance events to participate in about a year in advance. Fill in around the big ones, as desired.
  2. Make sure you have the right equipment to properly train on well in advance.
  3. Plan a doctor’s visit to ensure you are healthy enough to dial it up and check out any nagging pains. (More on this later…)
  4. Establish training and nutrition plans and get started.
  5. Plan on working out 5-6 days a week with a structured training plan. (Mine is included for an example.)

Mid-term goals (4-6 months out):

  1. Work to systematically reduce stress through regular meditation. Yes, we all have stress, but chronic stress is terrible for your body and its ability to perform and recover.
  2. Improve sleep. I ended up using an app called Whoop to help with sleep and some other functions. Whoop tracks performance and progress, so I got a sense where improvement is needed.
  3. Slow or stop alcohol consumption. Booze wrecks your sleep cycle and dumps a lot of unneeded and often hidden sugar into your system. Increase lean protein and eat the rainbow (vegetables of all colors).

4. Work on, “on the bike” nutrition. I experimented to figure out what worked on harder rides and in temperatures like what you would experience. Continue to dial this in through the short term.

5. Dial up not just event training but your cross training. For me, hill running, yoga, stretching, HIIT workouts and core, lots of core, was on the menu for the three days a week I wasn’t primarily in the saddle.

6. Start racing or race simulation training. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it should be in the category for which you are training. I was training for a couple of big gravel races that culminated with the Belgian Waffle Ride, so I focused on 50-mile gravel races and 50–80-mile road events.

Short term goals (2 months out):

  1. Weight down, lean muscle mass up
  2. Resting heart rate, HRV, respiratory rate and sleep cycles in the green zone that I defined (note, my Whoop app helped me do this after several months of trending data). Apps and services like Training Peaks, Today’s Plan, and several others can help set proper parameters and goals…with enough consistent data and trending information.

  1. Focus not just on the workout but on recovery. Regenerative recovery. This occurs when you take the necessary steps to help your body improve during downtime. Some things I did to enhance regenerative recovery:
    1. Muscle and fascia scraping
    2. Purchase 2 foam rollers: a smooth and a knobby one, as well as a Hypervolt or similar tool.

Utilize topical creams with the right ingredients targeted at specific muscle groups. For me, my hip flexors and hamstrings are chronically an issue. I’ve found that Lineage’s Daily Balance Topical Cream performs better than every other product I’ve tried, and I have tried more than a few.

I started using Daily Balance, well…daily prior to and after efforts in this way:

Prior to a workout:

  • Heavy targeted dosage to large and important muscle and tendon groups, quads, hip flexors, Achilles, and glutes (size of a quarter amount to each area)
  • Application 20 minutes before workout coupled with hydration (12 oz water with Nuun electrolyte tablet)

After a workout:

  • Medium targeted dosage to lumbar, triceps, shoulders, neck, MCL (knee),* and the other pre-workout areas that feel like they need some love
  • Application coupled with heavier hydration (18oz water with a recovery powder such as Klean Athlete or Skratch Labs)

*I strained my MCL on a training run along a stretch of beach out in Rhode Island three weeks before my first of three gravel centuries. Proactively treating the strain with KT tape, ice and repetitive large applications of Daily Balance helped the tissue recover and allowed me to perform well three weeks later. Continuous treatment and mindfulness of the injury ensured it was healed prior to the upcoming heavy climbing of Vermont, and a week later, North Carolina.

In the evening:

  • Light dosage to pre-workout areas and other areas showing tightness or are puffy (inflammation). For me, this was my feet and ankles.
  • Application coupled with hydration (8-10 oz of water)

I found that this approach to training and recovery delivered solid results and put me in a good place to be ready to move from my mid-term plan to my short-term plan and ultimately into my summer race series.

In my next guest blog post, I will focus on how proper preparation led to exceeding my personal performance goals. If it works for me, it can surely work for you!


Written by Steve Hershberger
gravel rider, data science expert, & vinyl enthusiast

5201 W 86th St. #9
Indianapolis, IN 46268
A Better You Starts With The Basics: Regeneration. Wellness. Renewal. Strength. Healing. Continual Improvement. Balance.
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