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Belgian Waffle Ride North Carolina 2023 Race Report

Sean lined up for the start of the Belgian Waffle Ride North Carolina. Group of other riders surrounding him.

Ready to go at the start of the Belgian Waffle Ride!

The Belgian Waffle Ride NC: Training tips, race recap, and tips for crew support

When my husband, Sean, informed me that he had signed up for the Belgian Waffle Ride North Carolina on a whim, I’ll be honest I freaked the F out.  The race is a monster with the 2023 version covering 131 miles with a whopping 13,000 feet of elevation gain.  It’s no secret that Belgian Waffle Ride is notorious for their ‘unroad’ sections where you wish you could swap the gravel bike for a mountain bike.  I think their goal is ensure a 100% hike a bike rate for certain sections.  We live in the Piedmont region of NC with virtually zero gravel roads and minimal elevation gain.  We had seven months to plan and prepare, and as a coach I love a good challenge where a finish isn’t guaranteed.  So, off we went to plan, train, and be ready for the challenge!  In the recap, we’ve got you covered with training tips, Sean’s race recap, and tips for supporters who want to support their rider(s).

The Training:

Sean is 51 years old, works full-time, and is a ‘flat lander’.  We knew we had to make good use of his training time and come up with a well thought out periodized training plan.

November – December: Strength block + FTP focus + bike fit update

The first 8 weeks of training had a big emphasis on strength training.  He lifted weights at the gym twice per week with a focus on low reps and heavy weight.  Sean also went to see the talented Wendy Holliday in Cornelius for an updated bike fit (  We tested his FTP in early November and again in mid-December where we saw some noticeable gains from the bike fit improvement and strength training.

January – March: Base training + Love Valley Roubaix 100-mile gravel race

Signing up for an early season 100-mile gravel race was a great motivator to get miles in over the winter months.  Most of the miles were on the bike trainer with outdoor rides starting in February as we had quite a mild winter in North Carolina with no snow in the Piedmont region all winter.  Love Valley Roubaix went quite well for an early season race and proved to be a valuable opportunity to practice nutrition, gear choice, and pacing over a course with over 10,000 feet of vertical gain.


TrainingPeaks data file for Love Valley Roubaix 100 mile gravel race

TrainingPeaks data from the Love Valley Roubaix.

Sean’s recap from Love Valley: “Was very nervous and scared about the distance so rode well within myself for the first half. Maybe could have gone a little harder. Waiting in the cold and racing in the cold for the first half made my legs feel very heavy.  Happy with tire choice and was worried I went to low on pressure 28PSI in the front and 30PSI on the back. Thought 30PSI was too low but with the thick mud it was a good choice. Was hard riding in the mud felt like someone was hanging onto the bike. Other people said the same thing.

Had a gel 15 min before the start and nutrition was good till about 5 hours in. With the hot weather it was a struggle taking gels and CarboRocket felt sweet and sickly by then so ate a banana and Cliff bar at 67M and then same again at 90M –  was a good choice. Need to come up with a solid food strategy!  Had a Spring Energy Awseome Source every hour on the hour and Power Rush every hour on the half hour until I ran out! Maybe need to go with 2 scoops of CarboRocket instead of 3 scoops?

I Need to take tools out of backpack and have them in the saddle bag as the pack felt heavy after 6 hours. Need to ride more with the pack just to get used to it.  I Need to do more gym. Arms, shoulders, upper back and lower back.”

April – May: Uwharrie Forest Gravel Grinder race + Peak training (a few really big weekends + lots of vertical gain on the trainer)

At the end of April, Sean had another tune up race with the 55-mile Uwharrie Forest Gravel Grinder in Uwharrie National Forest.  With the distance being shorter than Love Valley and not as much climbing, we used this as an opportunity to push this race at a harder effort.


TrainingPeaks data from the Uwharrie Forest Gravel Grinder Race.

TrainingPeaks data from the Uwharrie Forest Gravel Grinder.


With the weather being very nice in April and May, he started doing more outdoor rides and combination rides where he would do part of the ride outdoors and part of the ride on the trainer to get in the necessary climbing.  He also did combination rides where he would do part of the ride on the road and greenways and part of the ride on single track mountain bike trails on his gravel bike.  This was to get comfortable riding the ‘unroad’ sections at Belgian Waffle Ride on his gravel bike.

June: Taper + BWR race

Memorial Day weekend was meant to be his final big 3-day training block, but the weather was horrid with torrential downpours.  Rather than have him spend all that time on the trainer, we modified that weekend to keep his sprits high and minimize risk of injury by riding in pouring rain.  After 7 months of consistent training, this was a pretty easy decision to make.  The taper then ending up longer than anticipated but rather be slightly more rested than injured or slightly overtrained going into an event like The Belgian Waffle Ride.

 Overall Training Stats:

It’s worth noting that Sean is a multisport athlete that had a gravel bike focus in the last 7 months.  His weekly bike mileage may seem bare bones, but he was also swimming, running, paddling, rucking, and doing strength training on top of the cycling.

His average weekly training hours ended up being 11 hours 42 minutes with his biggest weeks being between 15 and 18 hours of training per week.  His average weekly bike mileage ended up at 89 miles per week with 6 weeks of much bigger volume nearing 150 miles per week.  His average vertical gain per week on the bike was 6,296 feet with 6 weeks at approximately 10,000 – 13,000 feet of climbing.  As a coach, I am happy with these stats.  If he had the time and less demand at work, he certainly could have performed better with more volume – but I think this is a fair representation of a training plan that a middle-aged recreational athlete with many other life demands can handle and still be well-prepared and healthy for race day.


Bar graph displaying weekly training duration in hours from November 2022 to June 2023.

Weekly training duration in hours from the time Sean started training in November to BWR race week.


Bar graph displaying weekly distance cycled from November 2022 to June 2023.

Weekly distance cycled in miles from November 2022 to June 2023.


Bar graph displaying elevation gain by week on the bike from November 2022 to June 2023.

Weekly elevation gain on the bike from November 2022 to June 2023.


Sean’s Belgian Waffle Ride Race Recap:

Staying at Kanuga Lodge worked out so well. If you are an out-of-towner, I would definitely recommend staying at the Lodge.  We were able to walk to the expo on Friday afternoon for registration and the race briefing.  On race morning, we were able to take our time and not stress about parking.  We left the cabin at 6:20 am to head down to the race start.  It was chilly for the race start, so I had a warm top on that I handed off to my sister-in-law a couple of minutes before the race start.

Photo of the lake from the Daisy Lake Trail at the Kanuga Lodge Resort

The lake at Kanuga Lodge as seen from the Daisy Lake Trail

They staged all the waffle riders towards the front with the wafer and wanna racers lining up behind them.  There was a bit of jostling to line up with some riders wanting to push their way forward and even throwing their bikes over the side after the race started to get a better position.  I lined up in the middle of the pack as there was no point in getting boxed out or risking a crash before even getting out of the resort.

Nutrition: 2 bottles of Carbo Rocket Half Evil Race Fuel; USWE pack with 1 liter of water; Spring Energy Gels; 2 almond butter + honey sandwiches; F2C bottles on the course; coke; pickles from aid station.

Bike: Cannondale Topstone 4 (which has had some significant upgrades).

Tires + tire pressure: Decided to go with the Maxxis Rambler 700x40c which I though would be wide enough to deal with the BWR UnRoad sections and narrow enough to take advantage to of the asphalt section. Chose a tire pressure of 30psi in the rear and 29psi on the front.

Drivetrain: SRAM 1 x with 42t front chain ring and 11-42 rear cassette.

The first unroad section at Reeb Ranch is where playing it safe at the start became a hindrance.  Although I’m able to ride my gravel bike on most technical single track I was forced to get off and walk on this uphill section as it was a conga line of riders walking their bikes and the riders who wanted to ride the section were fighting to try and get by.  Considering the 131 mile distance however, I would still vote a conservative start to avoid crashing.  But if you are in the hunt for a top result, I would take this into account if there is a single track section early in the race.

From Reeb Ranch it was back onto the gravel with climbing and fast descents before heading up a very steep fire road where I had to do a hike-a-bike up the hill.  I realized here that I was out of gears and I should have chosen a smaller front chain ring, possibly a 40t, to give me a better range on the really steep sections. The Belgian Waffle Ride takes the UnRoad portions of this event extremely seriously – be warned!

The Pinnacle descent was steep and fast as we had been told at the race briefing and we ended up taking a very scenic route along the shores of Lake Summit. My first planned stop was at Pace Mountain aid station after some 58 miles, and I was ready to get off my bike at this stage although there was some talk in the group I was with if we should push on through as you can stop again here after a 12 mile loop. The little voice in my head told me to stick to the race plan so I stopped. The aid stations were great with a selection of water, premixed energy drink thanks to F2C and an array of items to snack on.

Photo of a gravel road in the town of Saluda

A beautiful gravel road where riders climbed up to turn left onto Main Street in Saluda.

Back onto the bike and I was treated to another spin on the shores of Lake Summit. As I rolled past the aid station again I was happy I did not have to stop as  it was on a downhill segment. Then we did a brief excursion into South Carolina, as you don’t often get to race in two states on a single day!

The ride into Falling Creek aid station was unbelievable. We were zig zagging down mountain bike single track and snaking our way through tall cut grass which felt like you were lost in a maze trying to find your way out as you could not see where you were actually meant to be going. This was followed by a long uphill slog back to the first aid station of the day at Green River. As we had come down this portion at the beginning of the race, I knew it was gravel uphill for some ways before the descent into Reeb Ranch. I set a steady pace on the uphill and was then completely thrown when we had to turn left. It seemed to me that someone had just walked trough the trees with a leaf blower clearing a path at random. This was another very long 1-mile mountain bike UnRoad section with lots of steep twisting turns. I had to get off and walk some of the switchbacks as my gears kept jumping at this stage.

Finally, I was back onto real gravel followed by the mountain bike single track drop into Reeb Ranch. I rode this section all on my own, but I recognized most of it as I had done the hike-a-bike up here earlier in the morning with many other cyclists. At the Reeb ranch aid station I downed some pickles and a coke! It was just what I wanted as the sun was beating down and I had been on the road for almost 9 hours by now. Some chain lube from the aid station mechanics seemed to do the trick for my jumping rear derailer.

Photo of the Barn at Reeb Ranch outside of Brevard, NC.

The aid station at Reeb Ranch. The riders cycled through the barn!

By this point my A goal of a sub 10-hour finish had evaporated, but I knew if I put my head down over the last 30 miles a sub 11 was still possible. Well, I had to work for it as there were still plenty of roller coaster up and down sections to complete. Jumpinjeterberg was the real sting in the tail section comprising of a 1.33 mile climb at 10% gradient. I knew that once I was over this hill all the major climbing was done, and I could cruise to the finish line. It was head down to the finish with a time of 10 hours 49 minutes as I crossed the line.

This race was brutal and certainly not for the faint of heart. My body felt bashed after this and I thought to myself I should have done more strength training.  However I sacrificed that for time on the bike and those additional miles definitely paid off on race day. It was a magnificent course that tested my skills as a bike rider in every way. The folks at BWR put on a superb event, the course was well marked, and the aid stations were staffed by awesome volunteers. Having my family out on the course was a definite mental lift for me. I would recommend this race if you are looking for a little extra spice on your gravel racing calendar next year!


Photo of Coach Rebecca and Sean at the finish line of the Belgian Waffle Ride.

Happy Coach and athlete!

Tips for crew / support for Belgian Waffle Ride North Carolina:

Although the whole course is open to cars, we made a point of only going to spots where we wouldn’t have to drive much on the race course.  The safety and enjoyment of the riders is enhanced with fewer cars on the course.  We ended up seeing Sean at the start; at the Saluda exit off the highway; coming off a gravel road where they turned left onto the Main Road in the town of Saluda; at the Reeb Ranch aid station at mile 103; and finally at the finish.  This gave us ample time to also enjoy the area – we did a 3 mile hike on the Kanuga Lodge property; we walked through the town of Saluda which had cute local shops, coffee shops, and restaurants; we ate lunch at the Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard- highly recommend!; hung out at Reeb Ranch with a stunning view; and enjoyed the finish line vibes!

Inspired to ride one of the BWR races next year?  Check out the race series here!

The Performance Project offers custom cycling coaching services.  Book a free 30-minute consultation with Coach Rebecca to learn more.

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