Road to Emporia - Unbound 200 Challenge

Unbound Startline

We get a lot of questions at SILCA about Marginal Gains.  We love the topic and talking tech of all kinds.  Typically the focus is around the pointy end of a bike race but when we get questions they are centered around age groupers, recreational cyclists, and riders just looking to be fast in the local group ride.  

The other group we hear from are cyclists who are looking to get fitter, faster, and go further but don't have a pro cyclist's time, budget, or sponsors.  Time is often the resource that is the biggest limiter for us average cyclists, myself included.  

The story of somebody getting back into riding after a bit of a break due to family commitments was a story that we started seeing in our email inbox here at SILCA daily once the pandemic hit.  We love seeing people get back on the bike and figure out a way to do really cool stuff on two wheels.  Seeing all these stories really inspired me to try to get back in shape and try to accomplish something bigger than what I've ever done before.

This year I am going to attempt to get my fitness back and make the 200 mile journey across the infamous flint rock gravel around Emporia, Kansas.  For those unfamiliar with Unbound 200, it is one of the biggest gravel races in the United States and covers 200 miles and 10,000ish feet of elevation gain in a single day.  What better goal to set for getting back into shape than the biggest ride I have ever done.

Why Unbound 200?

There are plenty of events to participate in, races to do, just train to ride a certain distance, so why tackle the Unbound 200 in particular.?  

I am lucky enough to be able to travel all over the country to different bike races and see what they are all about.  My first trip to Unbound was in 2022 and it didn't take long to get the race moved to the top of my bucket list.  The roads are incredible, its an absolute epic day out on the bike, and the atmosphere is infectious.  

There is a lot of talk about "the spirit of gravel" with everybody debating what it is and what it isn't.  The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back for me entering the race can be summed up in one photo.  

I was waiting for a friend to come through the second sag after hours of absolute downpour.  I wanted to get a picture of the carnage the mud was causing but got a totally different picture.

165 miles and about 9 hours into riding this rider came through the sag stop.  I don't know who she is or her story but she noticed me taking pictures and was ear to ear smiling after riding through the brutal conditions.  If somebody is having this much fun at a bike race, count me in.

Sag Stop Rider

My Background

A few years ago I was relatively fit and riding 10 hours a week.  I have done my fair share of crit racing and we are lucky enough to have a velodrome here in Indianapolis that makes for some great racing every week.

Once my son was born I quickly found myself short on time and energy to train.  That 10 hours a week dropped to nothing and after his first birthday bumped all the way up to 2-3 hours a week.  I really wanted to get back into shape and have a goal to accomplish but days of chasing local sock primes were probably finished.  

Almost the entirety of my racing and training has been centered around road races and criteriums. Since I live in Indianapolis, we are lucky to have 2 road races in the mid-west each year so criteriums and velodrome racing has been the main focus. 

An hour or less is pretty much the only cycling events I have ever focused on with the exception of a last minute century decision.  

This is why I wanted to pull in a coach to help me tailor my riding and be ready to do 200 miles of gravel instead of 45 minutes of hard racing.  

Crit Racing

Why Document it?

Why document some out of shape rider trying to do something they might not be capable of doing?  We are guessing that there are plenty of other parents with full time jobs out there that would also like to do something challenging and might not know where to get started.  

Rather than just talk about the pro athletes and let everybody else figure out how that information applies to them, we figured it would be good to talk to experts and provide a framework for anybody else who might be in the same boat.  I am bringing in Dylan Johnson to be my coach and write a training plan that you can also follow along.

I'll talk marginal gains and bike tech with Josh, and lean on Dylan's experience in the race to provide some insight as well.  SILCA athlete, former world tour pro, and the mid-west's own Alexey Vermeulen will join us to shed a little light on what I can do to finish the race.  We will also bring in some other friends from around the industry to talk everything from gear selection, to tires, and everything in between.  

Follow Along

If you want to get regular updates on my suffering you can follow me on Strava or keep watch on the SILCA YouTube channel for our videos.  You can also check out Dylan's training plans on Trainingpeaks or check out his videos on a lot of the topics we cover on his YouTube channel.  

Hopefully I get to see everybody out in Kansas and come by the SILCA booth to say hi and get ready to tackle Unbound together.


  • Travis Verhoff

    @Iz, it took a while but I ended up piecing things together after noticing all the all the orange! Iz “spirit of gravel” King

  • Iz King

    That’s me in the orange camo! I was having a blast haha. Does this mean I get to say I am the spirit of gravel?!

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