By Reggie Miller,
NBA Hall of Fame, Olympian, MTB Racer, CTS Contributing Editor
I don’t mind doing things outside my comfort zone. I think that’s how you grow as a person. And that’s how I found my way to Steamboat Springs for the SBT GRVL event on August 14.
I certainly didn’t mind doing things outside my comfort zone during my basketball days. For instance, when I was in 8th grade, going to open gym runs to play against Juniors and Seniors. Sometimes I held my own, sometimes I got the snot kicked out of me.
These days, my main cycling discipline is mountain biking. That’s what I race 95% of the time, across multiple genres, but mostly cross country and endurance races. Gravel riding and racing have always piqued my curiosity, though. You still get to be on dirt (primarily), but you’re using the curly bars. In some gravel rides you’re even on pavement for a portion of time. I follow all the big races, Belgian Waffle Ride, Unbound, Mid South Gravel, and others.
One race everyone marvels about is Steamboat Gravel in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. They say the atmosphere and energy is so inviting and the fans/riders really pull for one another, whether you’re racing or just riding for personal gain/growth. One of my good friends and riding buddies in SoCal, Ryan Steers, talked me into signing up this year.
There are 3 main distances most people choose to ride: the Black course (142 miles 9,200 elevation), Blue course (100 miles 6,000 elevation) or Red course (60 miles 3,600 elevation). Well… I knew there was NO WAY I was going ride 140 miles, and I knew if I was going to make the trip to Steamboat it wasn’t going to be for just 60 miles, so it was time to get out of my comfort zone and tackle 100 gravel miles. I thought it would be interesting to give you a glimpse into my training leading up to the race, as well as my race week journal from when I arrived in Steamboat up to race day on August 14th. This is just MY personal journey on how I tackled SBTGRVL.
SBT GRVL Training
In late February, early March I decided to do SBTGRVL and chose the 100-mile (actually 105-mile) route, so I knew I had plenty of time to train. But my schedule unusual because of my commitments to Turner Sports (TNT), broadcasting NBA games, as well as March Madness (calling the NCAA tournament). That meant long stretches where I wouldn’t see my bike and had to find alternative workouts, like outdoor running, treadmill running, indoor rock climbing. I tried to do as much as I could to get my heart racing, so I wouldn’t lose the base I had built up from the bike.
Coach Jason Siegle from CTS was in charge of finding ways just to help me stay competitively fit during the months of March to May. There were times I was able to train consistently and get intervals done. Heck, I even raced a few times in March (I suffered mightily), but it was all about not wanting to lose that aerobic base.
When the basketball season ended for me in late May, I transitioned into bike season. That’s when significant training blocks are added to the schedule. However, for those of you NOT from Southern California, we’ve been in a massive summer long heatwave, so doing 5×12-minute, 5×15-minute, or 3×25-minute intervals in the heat was challenging. As a result, Coach Jason decided we would only do short intervals leading up to Steamboat. Although they were shorter efforts, they were at much higher intensity than those 12- to 25-minute intervals.
A typical workout might have been 5 sets of 5x30seconds at max intensity, separated by 30 seconds of recovery, with 5 minutes rest in between each set. We’d do those twice a week, along with my other longer rides on the weekend. I did these for a month and a half leading up to SBTGRVL.
For the record, I HATE THESE. I would text/call Jason, cursing the almighty God to him. He talked me off the ledge a few times, but slowly and surely I came around to appreciate the efforts and results we were seeing. Of course, I didn’t know how that was going to translate to riding 100 miles, but we were going to find out.
Race Week Journal
Sunday, August 7th:
Jason and I were lucky to have ridden the champagne gravel trails of Steamboat in early June for the Moots Ranch Rally ride, where we got a glimpse of 50-60% of the trail system. Today was a 53-mile ride. We did the infamous Cow Creek Trail, but backwards. Sometimes it’s good to see the trail from another direction, to gauge better sight lines. It’s hard to focus in when the scenery is so beautiful here. I imagine this is what heaven looks like. Jason kept the pace pretty high, considering it was my first ride in Steamboat leading up to the 14th.
Monday, August 8th:
Today’s ride was a solo mission. The schedule called for a 47-miler, but soon after I got onto what I knew was the course, my GPS kept tell me to make a U-turn. I ignored it and trudged forward, just trying to remember the course from back in June. I got a bit lost, but it was the BEST kind of lost feeling I could have ever imagined. The trails in Steamboat are amazing and they go on forever, so that’s what I decided to do, EXPLORE… I ended up riding 42 miles at a moderate pace, just tapering down each ride leading up to the race on the 14th.
Tuesday, August 9th:
My schedule said, ‘rest day’, and normally a rest day for me means NO BIKE. But, since I’m was Steamboat, I decided to go on a slow, barely pedaling ride along the beautiful bike paths that run adjacent to the Yampa River. At the end of this bike path, they built a very cool bike park with some serious jumps. I did a couple runs of the pump track on my gravel bike and felt like I was 12 years old again. When I got back to my room I did a 45-minute Normatec leg compression session, along with 20 minutes of Hyperice percussion gun therapy, and finished with 30 minutes of stretching. Those are 3 things I’ve been doing everyday here. At 56 years old, I must treat my body with so much care, unlike when I was 26.
Wednesday, August 10th:
The dreaded interval day!! I suggested to Coach Jason that I wanted to do these. I wanted to wake up the engine, so to speak, and make sure all was working fine. We decided on only doing 3 sets of the 30/30 seconds instead of our normal 5, just because we were close to race/ride day on Sunday. I quickly recognized a decrease in power output, which was to be expected because of the altitude. But it felt good to breathe HARD, which I did over and over again for 3 sets.
As a bonus, I got to ride with Coach Jason, Chris Carmichael and some of the other CTS Coaches and CTS Athletes in town for SBTGRVL. It was an easy shake out ride from 5-6pm, and it was good to connect with other riders who train under the same system as I do and hear their thoughts about the upcoming race/ride.
Thursday, August 11th:
Today’s shake out ride was hosted by the owner of the SBTGRVL race, Amy Charity. There were about 40+ riders on a casual 15-mile ride to a private residence for coffee and brownies, before another 17-mile ride back to downtown Steamboat. The ride had some heavy hitters, like Ian Boswell, Tiffany Cromwell, and Molly Cameron, just to name a few. It was fun to open up the legs and tow the group back for those 17 miles. The pace was high but I felt really good. The highlight for me on that ride was meeting Marcus and Quincy from Ride For Racial Justice. I’ve been big fans of RFRJ. Our thought process aligns and messaging is pretty much the same. It was cool to tell them I appreciate them. Bikes bringing people together once again.
Friday, August 12th:
Friday’s ride was probably the highlight of my time in Steamboat. Castelli sponsored a Junior Ride of about 30-40 kids ranging in ages from 8 to 17. I got to lead out this group with SBTGRVL founder Amy Charity, and we quickly found out that these kids are not only fearless, but strong climbers. It was a simple out and back, a maximum of 20 miles for the stronger of the kid riders. The ride was all about connecting with the next generation on two wheels and seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces. Perfect taper ride for me.
Saturday, August 13th:
The calm before the storm, as I like to call it. I decided this would be a total rest day, not even a little spin. But I wanted to use my legs a little bit, so I walked down to the SBTGRVL Expo, where the BOOMBABY/Castelli crew had a tent set up with nothing but fun for all the kids/spectators/riders. The booth gave me a chance to talk to fans of cycling and ask them questions about their experiences and expectations for the upcoming race. We had a Popashot set up to engage the kids (and ADULTS). Even though I ride my bikes a lot lately, basketball isn’t far from my natural roots. Then I got in a big meal and hit the sack early to be ready for my 4:30am wake up.
Sunday, August 14th: RACE DAY
So many things run through my mind on race day. Did I train enough for this event? Did I over train? Do I have enough food and hydration? Etcetera. I had 3 main objectives coming into this race/event: have fun, don’t crash, and finish in under 6 hours. Safe to say, I accomplished all 3.
The whole week was nothing but laughs and entertainment, so having fun during the race was easy. The harder part was not crashing over a distance of 100 miles with 859 other riders completing the Blue course. I knew if I got into good riding groups, my day would be productive because I wouldn’t have to work as hard, as opposed to being alone. I felt really good and strong from the start, was with the leaders for about 30 miles, and then found other groups to ride with that were just as strong.
The day was going great until about mile 75. That’s when I felt the dreaded twinge in my leg that meant perhaps a cramp wanted to make a race appearance. I tried not to think about it. Mind over matter, as they say. When I stopped at the last aid station, I gobbled down a few pickles and bananas and drank some cold water. There was just one more long climb before a long descent, and then 5 miles to the finish line.
My finishing time was 5 hours, 46 minutes and 23 seconds. I was very happy with that time and averaged 17.36 mph over the 100 miles. I rode smart, efficient and with confidence.
And what about Jason’s strategy of using short intervals to prep for a 100-mile gravel race? Well, I’m so happy Jason had me doing those training for this race. There were so many times I needed max effort bursts to bridge to another group. That specific training helped. I’m returning to Steamboat to race again next year. Now my goal is to do it under 5:30 hours. Time to start training…