The UnTapped team ventured to Emporia, Kansas to take on the granddaddy of gravel racing, Unbound Gravel. The timber-frame was a very welcomed part of the expo with maple creemees for sale in addition to last minute nutrition needs.
Co-founder Ted King has twice won the race, and with a respectable 4th place in 2021, we’re excited to tell the story of another UnTapped co-founder, Roger Brown, who took on his first ever gravel race and his first 200 mile ride in nearly twenty years.
The best way to hear each of their stories would be to have Ted interview Roger and Roger interview Ted. First up, here’s Roger!
Ted: Congratulations! Let’s keep it simple to start: in 5 words, describe your experience at Unbound 2021.
Roger: Support, cheering, hot, nutrition, wow.
Ted: Well said. Now give us a few more snippets into what was going through your mind now two days removed from competition.
Roger: Just do not stop pedaling. What did I get into. I’m going to make it. That was a team effort.
Ted: Now let’s backtrack even further. At what point did you decide, “Sure, I’ll sign up for a 200 mile race”? Then talk to me about your confidence level at that point all the way through to 6am Saturday morning when the gun fired and we were racing?
Roger: We were talking about what to do with the entries that UnTapped had received as a part of signing up for the expo. And I said that I would give it a shot if no one else in the office wanted to (we raffled one entry off). If I had had to bet my life, I think I would have said I was not going to be able to get there to the start line. So when we actually got out there, I felt a lot better after riding some of the roads around Emporia (little did I know how chunky the roads get the further from Emporia you go), and I also was looking forward to spending a day on my bike regardless of how far I got.
But I was pretty excited to stop worrying and get going at 6am.
Ted: Take a minute to describe your training for us, please. Where do you think your training stacks up in comparison to the other 200 mile riders?
Roger: I have to assume that I had spent less time on the bike than many of the other riders, but I really don’t know.
I rode as much as I could in April and May. For me, a longerish ride would be an hour and a half at least once a week and an hour on the mountain bike three mornings a week. I had also done an hour of nordic skiing a day three or so days a week for most of the winter.
With kids it’s tricky to find the large blocks of time to get out and ride bikes, but I feel like I have been able to time squirreled away in the week (and have a tolerant workplace).
Editors note: Roger is the father of 4.
Ted: You finished a very respectable 465 out of the 616 total riders out on the 200 course with a time of 17:56:12, a hair before midnight. They log finishing times all the way to 3am. Where does this — and the entire event — stack up with your expectations?
Roger: If you had told me that I was going to finish at midnight, I am not sure I would have started. That’s a long day on the bike. That said, I think I went in with few expectations (certainly not that I was going to get to the finish line), so I was able to take each five mile auto-generated “lap” (thanks Garmin!) as it came up and not feel like I was off pace. By the first water stop (mile 105) I had started to feel better — miles 70 to 85 were brutal — and felt like I might be able to get to the finish.
It’s funny, looking back on it, it makes sense that it was the way it was (road conditions, number of cyclists on the road, size of hills, distances between breaks), but I really didn’t know what to expect. I was really worried at the beginning that I was starting too far towards the front and I was going to be getting cursed out by people speeding by me all morning. That did not happen at all. Another guy and I reasoned that by the back of the designated 14 hour group that anyone who was real intent about how fast they were going were already lining up ahead of us.
Also, they rarely warn you that it’s 206 miles. Or 207.4 if you count the ride to the finish line from the house in the morning.
Ted: What surprised you?
Roger: The whole thing.
The people of Kansas, I mean, wow. Cheering from 6 am until midnight. People were cheering for me from a boat at one point I think(?). Trucks, cars, four wheelers, honking, yelling, encouraging.
The roads… they’re beautiful, technical, crazy, etc. Again, looking back on it, now I know exactly what Flint Hills gravel is. But going into it, I am not honestly sure what I thought. I was really worried it was going to be loose rock the whole way, but beyond that I wasn’t sure.
The variety of people who put in A LOT of miles in the heat and hills. There were a lot of different body types crossing that finish line. It really inspired me that I wasn’t the only guy who didn’t look like a 250 mile a week cyclist out there. Just truly amazing people.
I knew that I loved my brother (UnTapped co-founder Doug) and our co-workers Tim Putnam and Aliza Lapierre who made the trip to Emporia with us, but seeing them brought tears to my eyes. I can’t believe how happy I was to see them at each stop and at the finish. To feel the energy of people working to help you achieve something is really special. Plus it was Aliza’s birthday no less!
Ted: I might be hard pressed to say you went into the event with a strategy. But for the sake of argument, what was your nutrition strategy throughout the day and did it change?
Roger: No strategy?! We filled the bottles the night before! That was very strategic.
Aliza had prepped me that I needed to take roughly 300 calories an hour (my WHOOP told me I burned 12,000 calories over the course of the day). So an UnTapped, a waffle and some drink mix every hour. I also had someone tell me at the expo that I should “sip sip, nibble nibble.” The Camelbaks that you provided were great for that; I had never really ridden with one before.
I was so scared of showing up at the first rest stop with food in my pockets or drink in my bottles (and having Aliza mad at me) that I almost drank too much right off the bat. After that, I was so full my stomach was queasy for a little while and then the course got technical so I didn’t eat any more waffles on the bike since I needed to keep my hands on the bars, but I kept up with my drink and packets — mostly Salted Cocoa and Salted Raspberry since I was so worried about cramping.
I will say that you had told me that I was going to need something random by mile 150 because nothing would sound good. And I was skeptical – enjoying food has never really been an issue for me. But sure enough. Mile 155, the gang had brought BBQ chips, bacon, PB & J, etc… But I still took down 600 calories in maple syrup no problem.
It definitely reinforced my feeling that maple syrup is a heck of an exercise fuel source. The bulk of my calories all day were basically maple syrup or maple sugar between Mapleaid and packets. It seems like I might have less electrolyte needs than some people. I did eat one salt tab but then decided that I would rather stop riding than try to choke another one down. I had zero problem keeping calories coming in even on mile 155 to the finish (the only place I struggled was 70 to 85).
And, crazily enough, I wasn’t hungry at the end or even really the next morning.
And I can’t thank you enough. Start to finish. That was a really special day.
Ted: Well gosh Roger, thank you. I’m so darn impressed it’s hard to put to words.
To read part two of this exchange where Roger picks Ted’s brain, click here.