Emma Porter recently took on the Traka 360 in Spain, finishing 3rd woman on the day completely exceeded her expectations, placing her firmly on the ‘one to watch’ in gravel cycling this season. Here she shares some insight into the event with us. You can also check out her full race report on her own blog on the link HERE
What is the Traka?
The Traka is run by a group called Klassmark. Any Klassmark event I’ve been to is always brilliant. It’s not only well run, but the atmosphere is excellent. It’s fun, social, they value the environment and community above everything else, but they also attract some of the best athletes in the world. Lorena Wiebes won the 100km this year!
Why did you sign up to the Traka?
I raced the 100km last year and loved it. I’m still not quite sure what possessed me to sign up to the 360km this year, but I’m glad I did. It starts in Girona, heads towards Cap de Creus, takes in Cadeques and Roses, goes south towards Pals and Llagostera, before circling back to Girona. There’s almost 5,000m of climbing with most of it off-road.
It’s rough and rugged, steep and stunning, and while the views are spectacular in places, it’s a hard day out. There’s currently a time cut off of 32 hours for the 360km.
I knew that I could do it, as in I knew I could get around the course. I think I wanted to take part in it and challenge myself to see how well I could do it. I wanted to do it, but also thought there was the chance I would only do a race like that once, so I should do it while I knew I was fit.
What attracted you to the event?
It’s become possibly the biggest gravel race in Europe, and it’s pretty much on my doorstep at the moment. It’s well run, attracts athletes from all over, and it’s an epic adventure to take on in a single day.
What was your training like in the build up to the event?
I had a really consistent winter which put me in a good place. Nothing magic or crazy – just consistent and focused on my own numbers and goals.
We started building the mileage from early in the year, with weekend long rides stretching from 4-5 hours in January, to back to back 6-8 hours rides Saturdays and Sundays in March.
My weeks generally followed a similar pattern: a mix of easy short/long rides/and intervals during the week with one to two gym sessions, and then Saturday and Sunday are long rides. But there was also always a little bit of flexibility for switching around rest days etc. to accommodate for work or just listening to when the body needed a Thursday off instead of a Friday and then factoring that fatigue into the weekend’s rides.
What was your longest training session?
Just under 9 hours. Three of us got on the train one Saturday morning and recced some of the hardest sections of the course before riding back. About 180km in total. It was a long day. Then the next day was 4.5 hours. Both gravel, so it’s a bit more unforgiving on the legs.
What were your expectations going into the event?
When I decided I wanted to do the race months ago my aim was to be in by midnight. Closer to the race I could see the shape I was in and looking at the list of women racing I thought maybe anywhere from 3-8 was both possible and realistically depending on how the day played out, if it went well 3-5 was definitely in reach. I had put Amity and Sarah as 1 – 2 in my head. Amity has won Unbound and Sarah is smashing the Lifetime Grand Prix in the US so I expected them to take the top spots this time. I thought about a finishing result and having a hope/goal for that, but really I wanted to try and enjoy it as much as possible. At the end of the day there are so many uncontrollable aspects in a race like this, so if you aren’t enjoying the experience then you need to ask yourself why you’re doing it – therapy is probably easier.
I wanted to enjoy as much of it as I could, and be as competitive as I could be. If I had rolled in 10th and felt it was the best I could have done I’d have been happy with that too. My longest ride before the race was 285km last summer, so to finish the 360km was an achievement in itself, to have everything go well and still feel strong in the final few kms is an incredible feeling. I guess what I really wanted at the end of the race was to have had a performance I was proud of, which can mean a variety of things in gravel racing.
How did you manage your fuelling, what was your plan for food on the day?
There are five feed stops/aid stations on the course. The first is at 90km, with the distance decreasing between each stop. Of the top 5 women I’m the only one who didn’t have someone in each zone with a prepped vest or bag for them. I carried most of my food with me, and picked up bits at the feed stops.
I probably could have organised having someone help with me this, but I think for my first long race like this I was happy to be in control of that. I know one of the girls behind me was handed an empty water pack, and someone was given protein powder not carb powder in their bottle.
I had maltodextrin mixed with the water in the pack on my back, and also in the bottle on my bike. I had a smaller bottle with no water and just the powder for later on. I made a some rice-cakes, which I managed to eat a few of before they escaped their packaging and covered EVERYTHING in my bags in gooey chocolate rice… I’d bananas with me, and plenty of gels and jellies.
What bike did you use and did you make any special adjustments/set up changes for it for the long day out?
I’m on the 3T Exploro RaceMax. 40 on the front, with 44 11 on the back. I could probably have done with something smaller on the front or bigger on the back. I could ride everything on the recce’s with that set-up but by 275km I was definitely looking for more gears on the climb.
The bike is SRAM E-Tap AXS and the tyres were Rene Herse Hurricane Ridge 42mm tubeless – they feel good on every surface.
What would you do differently if you did the event again?
I would make sure to fill up the water bladder in my backpack at the first feed stop, as well as the bottle. And I’d bring chamois cream with me.
What was it like crossing the finish-line?
Coming in just after 10pm meant there were still people around, the LaBiciletta team were there, my dad and some friends from town. I may as well have won the race the way we were celebrating when I crossed the line. To say it was an amazing feeling doesn’t quite cut it.
There’s already plenty of plans in place for the next few adventures so watch this space!