Mark Allen analysis: Gravel riding can bring big triathlon gains

Mixing up your training can lead to big rewards...

Last updated -

Six-times IRONMAN World Champion Mark Allen joins us again for his regular ‘Mondays With Mark Allen’ feature to illustrate how thinking outside the box and adding some cross-training into your routine can produce significant gains.

Gravel riding, gravel racing, is such an amazing opportunity for people. Let me explain why.

When you’re trying to get ready for any kind of sporting event, one of the things that is good to do is broaden your base of overall fitness.

If you do cycling that is slightly different than what you’ll be doing on the road – a little more demanding in a certain way – then that will help you be stronger and faster and more fit.

And gravel riding is such an amazing way to actually do that, to accomplish it. And here’s a couple of reasons:

  • It’s different than mountain biking, which clearly develops your skills at bike handling. You’re on single track. You’re going up and down. It’s harder to regulate your heart rate, though. You’re really high and then it’s really low. And you can crash kind of easy.
  • And when you’re riding your bike [on the road], obviously, you have to concentrate a lot on the traffic. If you’re on a stationary trainer, great focus, great concentration. But it’s not real world.

Added benefits of gravel

However, when you’re out there on gravel, you have an extra load on your legs that you just normally don’t have compared to a smoother surface.

Not only do you get more physical strength out of it, but you can also kind of dial in that focus because there’s less traffic first of all, so you don’t have to worry about that.

The second thing is most gravel riding is not super-technical. So you can kind of get into that rhythm, into that focus where you are really experiencing your body and how different effort levels feel to you and how you can push through some areas where maybe you didn’t think you could go any harder.

Give it a go

We’ve had stars like Alistair Brownlee recently enjoy what he called an “incredible experience” at the Badlands race, as well as claiming a title at the British Gravel Championships. I didn’t have this opportunity when I was racing but I wish I had.

Let me tell you why.

In 1990, I did an off-road mountain bike race and an off-road triathlon in Chile and then on Easter Island. It was kind of a combo trip.

The mountain bike race was a several-stage race. It was all on mountain bikes, but it was all on gravel. There was nothing technical about it. So for three days we were in that rhythm where you were going really hard, didn’t have to worry about traffic. We’re really getting a load on the legs and it was just dialling in that steady focus that you need to stay on task when you’re out there in a race that really helped me.

And then doing the off-road triathlon on Easter Island – very cool by the way – that really helped me to put that together.

And later in the year – 1990 – I won the IRONMAN World Championship by the biggest margin that I ever had in my entire career. I beat Scott Tinley by about nine and a half minutes.

Was it just from those particular races? No, but certainly they added to it.

USA Triathlon have just announced the ‘2022 Gravel Triathlon Series’ which are a lot of varying distances, more or less around Olympic distance events so if you have the opportunity, check them out and do them.

It will totally enhance your strength and ability and it’s also a great excuse to get a new bike!

Mark Allen
Written by
Mark Allen
Mark Allen has to be in any conversation about the greatest triathlete of all time. A six-time IRONMAN World Champion, he won every other title that mattered in the sport and dominated like few others
Discover more
ROUVY routes and workouts – Best ROUVY routes to get ready for Challenge Roth
Sumarpo vanguard vs Zone 3 Vanquish X triathlon wetsuits
ZONE3 Vanquish X wetsuit vs Sumarpo Vanguard wetsuit – how do these triathlon wetsuits match up?
Challenge Family Roth
Five things you need to know about the Challenge Roth bike course
Triathlete riding a time trial bike wearing a Ryzon tri suit
Tri suit buying guide: how to find your perfect tri suit
Riixo Recovery contrast therapy compression calf sleeves
What is contrast therapy? How to use heat and ice to recover from training and racing
latest News
Lionel Sanders took his sixth title at IRONMAN 70.3 Mont-Tremblant.
Triathlon superstar Lionel Sanders reveals ‘Porta Potty or puke’ struggle during rough day at Mont-Tremblant
Taylor Knibb - T100 San Francisco 2024 bike
Olympic Games: USA Cycling confirms triathlon superstar Taylor Knibb’s spot for time trial event at Paris 2024
Hannah Moore World Triathlon Para Series Swansea 2024 / WTPS Swansea
World Triathlon Para Series Swansea 2024: Moore, Ellis and Cashmore strike gold in Wales
Kristian Blummenfelt Olympic Games Triathlon Tokyo 2021
Olympic Games triathlon: Defending champion Kristian Blummenfelt taking training ‘risks’ to prepare for ‘Big Dance’ at Paris 2024
Lionel Sanders took his sixth title at IRONMAN 70.3 Mont-Tremblant.
Lionel Sanders CONFIRMS his next race AND his return to competing at the Ironman triathlon distance
triathlon on your terms
Never miss out with our triathlon alerts & digest. Get a dose of adventure & inspiration with Boundless.
Invalid email address
The SBRX Group

Proudly elevating endurance sports through content, products & services

Share to...