What motivates Colin Strickland? What is the secret of its success? Listen to the gravel champion himself here.
The first rule of behavioral economics is that although people are not always rational, they are predictable. We all build our lives around routines. It applies to just about everything – food, work, sleep, vacation, family, exercise, you name it.
After profiling dozens of professional athletes, I thought I saw the pattern in these overachievers: a willingness to sacrifice other aspects of life to maximize their potential.
Well, until I met Colin Strickland. Although he is one of the best gravel racers in the world, he prioritizes moderation.
Strickland is a former professional racer who won Unbound gravel in 2019 while setting the course record, finishing in less than 10 hours – the first to do so. In doing so, he beat World Tour riders and previous winners, surprising many in the cycling world.
In June, Strickland returns to Kansas to break his own record, as Unbound returns post-pandemic.
Curious to learn more about his pre-race preparation, we sat down to discuss his training regimen, nutrition and recovery plan, and the equipment he uses to get in shape.
Colin Strickland: Cycling History
Strickland got into cycling very late by most standards, entering his first race after college. Instead of feeling behind his peers, Strickland sees his late start as a competitive advantage.
Watching many elite runners burn out after a life full of pressure and stress, he intends not to obsess over the set path and enjoy the process.
Starting to ride his bike to work, Strickland quickly learned that he liked to ride hard and fast. He moved on to local alley cat racing and later enjoyed success on the national road racing circuit, including a few top three finishes.
Still working full time, Strickland signed with Specialized for the 2016 Red Hook circuit. After winning three of four races that year, he turned pro.
A year later, Strickland made its first foray into gravel racing. “It took me a race, maybe two, to realize that gravel was going to be the next big thing.”
He felt that the overall experience would differentiate the sport from other formats and began to focus on road racing and critical to the gravel.
Unbound Gravel Victory
His first visit to Unbound was in 2019 and he didn’t know what to expect. “I usually have my best results in similar formats, rolling and fast courses, but never for so long. I was confident and made sure to do my own race.
His running style is impulsive and off-the-cuff, which ultimately paid off. Betting the conditions were advantageous for his riding style, Strickland broke away from the front pack midway through the race and never looked back.
Living in central Texas, he was comfortable in 90-degree temperatures and direct sun. “It burns you. You are covered in sunscreen or you have a sunburn. Luckily I was training in much warmer conditions than that,” Strickland said.
Strickland’s return to racing
This year, largely due to COVID, Strickland hasn’t raced as much before Unbound. Instead of trying to fake races and follow a strict schedule, he plays it by ear.
“I’m not crazy structured in terms of a training plan and I’ve never had a coach. I don’t have the data points from previous races, but I know the general formula for success. Volume is the name of the game for endurance gravel racing. The more volume I put on, the better, but only up to a point.
This is where Strickland breaks away from the elite cyclist crowd. “I still have other things going on in my life. It’s always a balance for me. I am rebuilding three diesel engines, refurbishing a trailer, having projects around the house and seeing friends. My general rule is when I’m feeling strong I go hard and when I’m tired I take the day off. I intuitively moderate my training and rest.
A lesson in moderation
If Strickland’s training plan rings laissez-faire for a professional athlete, his nutritional plan is even more so.
“At home, I am fluid with food. I grew up in a healthy food family, so my diet is generally good. Generally speaking, I avoid junk food, supplement with other proteins, and eat mostly vegetarian. Outside of these guidelines, Strickland is not rigid when it comes to calories, carbs, or diets.
It would be easy to dismiss Strickland as an anomaly – someone so talented doesn’t need a rigorous plan to compete. But not only is it wrong, it’s his secret. By balancing cycling with other aspects of life, Strickland alleviates stress and, in turn, finds even more success.
“Of course, I could try to optimize more to get a little more out of it, but I really appreciate where I am and how I got here,” Strickland says.
For most training runs, he skips running gels and snacks for real foods like nut butter sandwiches and fig bars.
“I do a few outings before the race to experiment with different foods. Recently I did a 5 hour time trial on just liquid calories and it didn’t work for me so I’m going back to the old formula.
Its recovery plan is essentially the same. He doesn’t roll, ice or stretch unless he feels it’s necessary, and occasionally uses a Normatec to help stimulate circulation.
Break down the bike
Strickland races one able ally gravel frame and pairs it with Envy 3.4AR wheels, Orange Endurance Sealand Specialized 42mm Pathfinder Pro tires.
“I learned the hard way not to miss an event. I always favor bigger tires because flats are the slowest tires.
Strickland uses a Shimano groupset with GRX Di2 shifters and Dura-Ace crank. Like many in the gravel cycling world, he switched to a 1x drivetrain, with a single front chainring.
He uses a Wahoo ELEMNT Bike Computera Specialized Romin Evo saddlea Rapha gravel prototype kit and sunglasses, and a Specialized Evade Helmet with Specialized Recon MTB Shoes.
“It prepares me for anything, like a field of mud. It’s a Boy Scout mentality, preparing for the worst conditions to be ready for anything,” Strickland said.