Badlands: The Wildest Gravel Challenge in Europe

Caroline and Mark Livesey are taking on Europe’s most wild gravel challenge and their first ultra cycling event. We caught up with them during their preparation for the event in remote Scotland… 

Badlands starts in just under two weeks, how are you feeling about the event? 

M: Ready. I feel prepared – I have trained well and feel strong. I am excited, and have a sense of the unknown. It will be my first ultra cycling event and longest ever bike ride I have done so I don’t really know what to expect. My tactic will be to ride light and sleep as little as possible.

C: Now we are getting closer to the event, and I have done more longer days on the gravel bike, I am starting to feel like it is not just possible but that it might be enjoyable. As my first ultracycling event I don’t really know what to expect and my tactic is to just take it as it comes and enjoy it as much as I can.  I’m apprehensive about the technical sections of the route as my main concern is injuring myself when I am alone in the wilderness. But in terms of physical strength and equipment I feel ready.


What has your preparation for the event looked like?

M: As a triathlete I would normally be training all three disciplines. But for this event I have spent the last month really only riding my bike to get the long days and number of hours in. I have done some long rides and over night rides – but in reality you can’t know how this type of event will go until you do it. From experience with sleep deprivation from military days, I know the negative impact it can have on your health. Therefore I believe training with sleep deprivation is counter-productive. I feel with the TRAKA 360km race and some other 12+ hour rides I have prepared well.

C: This year I have concentrated more on gravel racing and road racing to get really strong on the bike ahead of Badlands. I have tackled some 3 day stage races on the road and on gravel to test myself in multi-day events.  But I think our recent training block in Scotland has been the thing that has given me the most confidence. Long 10-12 hour consecutive days on the gravel bike (majority off road) is not something I have done before. I doubted my endurance but I really feel like that has built up well in the last couple of months.


Has the preparation been very different to other events you have undertaken in the past, for example, Patagonman? 

M: This is the most cycling I have done in a training block ever – and it has been significantly different as I have not had to fit in running and swimming. I have been riding up to 30 hours a week, but when I am training for a long distance triathlon I might only ride 12-15 hours a week. I have also had to learn how to fuel at the lower intensities of such long rides in order to keep going indefinitely.

C: As Mark says, training for Badlands has been a totally different focus for us for the last two months or so. Almost completely dropping the swimming and running is something we have never done and it has been an interesting training block. I love riding my bike so it has not been a hardship for the most part! The great thing about training for Badlands is that we have been able to mix up training on the road for intensity and gravel for technical experience and to test out equipment choices. It has been fun discovering new places to ride especially in Scotland.


How do you think the other gravel racing you have done will compare to Badlands?

M: I have no doubt that people will start Badlands too hard despite the length of the race. I learnt at the TRAKA 360 that other competitors went off way too hard and paid the price later on. The key thing for Badlands will be to not get drawn into racing –with this type of riding it is so important to ride within your capabilities especially for the first 24 hours. On average this is a 2-4 day event for people but it can all be lost in the first 24 hours if you get the pace wrong.

C: I have done quite a bit of gravel racing this year including three UCI gravel races (Spain, France, Sweden) and the Traka 200 in Girona. But these have all been much shorter events (200km max) with the majority of those races done at a much higher intensity than I will be riding at Badlands. They have been great learning experiences for me, fantastic tests of equipment and especially good to learn how to ride fast on these types of surfaces. But ultimately they don’t reflect the pace or distance that I will undertake at Badlands. It is still a big unknown.


How important is making sure your equipment is ready for the race and that you have 100% faith in it too? 

M: That has been a real focus for me especially on the long rides we have done in Scotland recently. It is all about putting the bike, components and equipment through its paces in real time. For example I rode coast-to-coast across Scotland overnight, setting off from Aberlady and arriving in Oban around 12 hours later at 0200. That gave me the opportunity to test lights, batteries and my sleeping equipment albeit in much colder conditions. On one of my shorter rides my rear saddle bag failed and it was an important lesson. I have now invested in a Restrap rear bag which I much prefer. But ultimately if something does go wrong when you are out in the sticks during the race you have to have the knowledge and kit to fix things. Not just punctures, but all the small things that can go wrong. I have even recently changed my helmet for a more comfortable fit as I was getting a sore head from my old helmet.

C: Trust in my choice of race equipment has always been a really important part of racing triathlon for me. We are very lucky to have great sponsors who produce such reliable kit so we are able to go into events knowing we are well equipped. This race is no different, but I think the consequences of something going wrong could be really extreme because of the remoteness of a lot of the route. The gravel races I have done so far this year have given me confidence in the bike and wheel/tyre combination – something which I have seen so many riders struggle with in races. But the other thing we have had to get right for Badlands is the bags on the bike and all the things that we need to carry – right down to estimating what battery power to take to get through the race. Charging phone, Garmin and lights is absolutely key for navigation and riding at night – so running out of power is not an option. But of course carrying too much weight slows you down and makes the race even longer. I hope I have managed to get the balance right.


What wheelset will you be riding for Badlands? 

M: I ride the Alta wheelset and have ridden them all over the world from Patagonia to Costa Rica and trust them implicitly. From the tough Scottish gravel to the wet conditions in Chile they have never let me down.

C: Same- I am on the Alta wheelset and am really happy with my choice. Reliability over long distances is the most important thing and coupled with the Pirelli gravel tyres in tubeless set up, it is a solid combination. One of my worst fears about the race is to have an irreparable race ending puncture. 

You must have to be very strong mentally to cope with the tough nature of the Badlands course, how do you make sure you’re as ready as possible?

M: I suspect there is no amount of preparation that can really prime you fully for the discomfort that is experienced during the event. I am sure I will have dark moments, but the challenge of those mental battles is part of why I am doing it. 

C: For any big event, training well and feeling prepared physically and with good equipment goes a long way to helping you feel mentally prepared. Going into the event confident that the distance is not insurmountable having done the long training days has been important for me. But once I get stuck in to a physical challenge, barring any insurmountable mechanicals or bad crashes, I am always going to finish. The mental battles will come, there will no doubt be tough times, but I am always just incredibly grateful to be out having big adventures like this. I will remind myself to appreciate the beauty of the area we are riding through and to embrace the whole experience even at 0200 when I have not slept in days and am walking up a 20% incline with blisters and dead legs 😉 Ask me after!


Where can we follow the race and keep up to date?   (website) (Instagram)

badlands cc - YouTube

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