A Look Back at Becca Book’s Win at the 200-Mile Unbound Gravel, Women’s Single Speed Race
Becca Book looks back at her time in Emporia, Kansas, where she raced a singlespeed on sharp gravel for 206 miles. She raced it to the win.
That’s right-Becca won the Women’s Singlespeed category in the 2021 Unbound Gravel Race! She is no stranger to off-road competition, having secured second place in the non-championship Women’s Singlespeed race at 2019 Cyclocross Nationals, as well as 12th in the Master Women’s 30-34 geared field that year. This big win at the Unbound Gravel Race is an impressive addition to her palmares!
Originally from Atlanta, Becca lives and trains in Seattle, Washington. She is a full time designer and builder. When she’s not working or riding, Becca enjoys gardening, working on furniture, and pampering her houseplants and cat. We got a chance to chat with Becca about her journey as an athlete, and to hear more about the road to Emporia in 2021.
Finding the Motivation for 200+ Miles on Gravel
Wenzel Coaching: Becca, let’s jump right in with a philosophical question. This is a challenging event that requires pluck, resolve, grit, and steadfast determination. The readers want to know-
What is your motivation to train and compete?
Becca Book: It brings a sense of adventure and excitement to a world that can be mundane and predictable. It is also a productive and rewarding outlet for my competitive energy. I like to show myself that I can complete a new caliber of challenge.
200 Miles of Gravel Sounds Too Easy? Try it on a Singlespeed
WC: Racing the Unbound Gravel Race certainly qualifies as a challenging deviation from routine! What drew you to the unique challenge of competing in the single speed category?
BB: I started racing singlespeed cyclocross mainly because the competitors in the category are known for their ability to have a good time on the race course. As much as I want to improve as a cyclist (and I do love a podium pic), cycling is still a hobby for me. Racing in the singlespeed category is a great way to keep things fun and remind me why I love cycling. I also found it was a great way to improve my technique.
For example, racing singlespeed teaches you to carry momentum up hills and through corners, because you can’t just brake and then shift down as you approach an obstacle. There is also an equipment side to it. I raced the Midsouth 100 Gravel Race on a single speed in 2020, as many people do, because the mud eats derailleurs. I found that I loved the simplicity of it. The simple drivetrain allowed me to focus on overcoming the challenges of the course without fussing over gear choice and cadence. Unbound has similar rolling hills (but thankfully no mud!) which I actually find cater well to single speed because even though the elevation adds up, you can carry some momentum almost all the way up the hill.
WC: That answer will resonate with Singlespeed aficionados worldwide. Let’s talk more about this 200 mile doozie of a race. Can you tell us about your preparation?
Preparing for Nearly 15 Hours of Racing
BB: In preparation, I did a high volume of low impact endurance training. Consistency was very important. I added a little time to all of my usual weeknight workouts. These were generally one hour and forty-five minutes to three hours in duration. On weekends, I would do at least one long ride, gradually building up the distance. Jess, my coach, helped me find some other women in the area who would be interested in doing long gravel rides. I also did a series of smaller gravel events as stuff started opening up, including some local socially distant “races” where the organizer shared a route and asked folks to send in their completion times via Strava.
I also completed a 185 mile race from Colorado to Utah. These parts of my preparation were an exciting way to discover new routes and get back into racing after quarantine. They were also really valuable to dial in my nutrition and equipment. I did most of my training on a geared bike, but Jess suggested workouts to do on a singlespeed. These included drills to improve the efficiency of my pedal stroke and hill repeats.
WC: That really shows the level of commitment required to succeed at an event like this. What were some obstacles you faced in training?
BB: Time! Jess was super helpful in suggesting workouts that would help improve endurance efficiently and fit my schedule. It was great to have someone to reach out to for advice on how to rearrange training when life got in the way.
Mental, Tactical, Technical, and Training Support from the Coach
WC: Having a supportive person with relevant knowledge on your team can make a big difference. Can you describe some other ways you’ve benefited from collaboration with your coach, Jess Cutler?
BB: The mental support I get from Jess is incredibly helpful! Especially leading up to race day, I can question all my choices and go back and forth on everything from race tactics to my equipment. It’s SO helpful to have an experienced, trusted voice to help me stop doubting myself and get me focused on the race. Having a coach also helps keep me accountable. If left to my own devices, I would periodically do long or challenging rides, and skip the base miles and ramping up. This behavior has led to knee problems before. It’s helpful to have someone guide you through this process so you know your body is ready for the challenge at hand!
WC: Of course, even the best laid plans cannot prepare us for the unexpected. Can you describe some of the challenges you overcame on race day?
BB: I was very worried about getting my bike fit and saddle dialed in. Of course, I had a lot of time to adjust things, which is key if you want to feel good about your equipment for 200 miles. But between COVID parts delays and just putting things off for too long, I ended up putting a new saddle and Aero bars on my bike right before the race. Everything ended up working great, but I was incredibly stressed about this before the race!
Challenges During an Extended Gravel Event
WC: You were blessed with good luck there, but consider the impact of that mental strain! That’s a great example. However, something tells me that was not the only adversity you encountered.
BB: The biggest challenge was staying well-fueled and optimistic for the whole duration of the event. I told myself, “if you eat regularly and keep your mind on the task at hand, you are sure to finish eventually.” Especially towards the end of a long day, I know I tend to get tired of the goo and sports nutrition I’ve brought, and thus stop eating regularly. To combat this, I set an alarm on my cycling computer and forced myself to eat a little every 30 minutes.
The biggest physical challenge was the WIND! I was really glad I had clip-on aerobars, since I faced a headwind for much of the second half of the race heading back to Emporia. I ended up riding a lot of that solo, and the aerobars helped immensely. People get spread out on the long course and it was hard to stay in a pace line on a singlespeed, because you just naturally muscle up the hills faster (while everyone else is in a low gear) and go down hill slower (when the rest of the pack shifts into a higher gear).
WC: Pushing a singlespeed into a headwind is no joke. A tip of the hat to you for getting it done, and for having the awareness to share so many insights with your fellow athletes via this interview! One last question. Do you have any mantras, pre-race traditions, or sources of inspiration you’d like to share with the Wenzel Coaching community?
BB: When things get tough on the bike, I remind myself that this is exactly the moment I’ve been training and preparing myself for, and that I am out doing what I love (even if it kind of hurts right now).
WC: That’s a great note to end on. Thank you, Becca, for taking the time to speak with us. Congratulations again to you, your Coach, Jessica Cutler, and your Team, Shadow Elite Racing, on this win. Here’s to more in the future!