As the season is getting underway- everyone is planning their weekends as the mornings get warmer and the evenings get longer. Well that’s suppose to happen anyway.
If you missed it, TCC are putting on our very own 6 hour MTB race and to celebrate this, Seb- from the Chasers Podcast has written a guide to help you get started and ready for racing. He’s a modest man but knows his stuff, finishing second at Pivot 12hr race last year. So have a good read and get signed up to race on 27th July! You can go it alone or race in a pair or team- there’s something for everyone. Over to Seb…
Great, you’ve entered your first race, 6 hours on your own, around a track with hundreds of other people. You’ve never ridden for that long before. How on earth are you going to survive? Sounds daunting but don’t worry it’s pretty simple if you break it down and as with most thing you’re prepared.
So then, what is Endurance mountain bike racing? It’s a race that typically lasts from 6 to 24 hours. They usually have periods of night riding depending on the time of year, held on longer tracks than a normal xc race with laps taking 30-50mins and generally less technical features, but this doesn’t mean their boring.
You race as a solo rider or in a relay as a pair or team. Some people prefer riding on their own as they can get into a rhythm and if you don’t stop there’s no time to seize up. Pairs and teams mean you get some rest when the others are doing their laps. Some say doing pairs is harder than solo, so maybe save that for your 2nd race.
Who am I to be self-righteous and lecture you on how to race? I’ll admit I’m no Christoph Sauser (look him up he’s a bit of an MTB legend) but I’ve ridden and raced most off-road disciplines for a long time, sometimes to a slightly above average level. I’ve done it with out preparation, I’ve made most the mistakes along the way and I can tell you that it’s a lot more enjoyable when you’re not in a last-minute panic. You don’t need to be fit, I’ve raced plenty of times without even thinking about training, the results weren’t there but that’s not what this type of racing is about. It’s about having fun and seeing what you can do in a friendly, encouraging atmosphere.
Preparation leading up to the race
Dial in your position, make sure you’re comfy on the bike and are happy riding for it for 4-24 hours. Don’t fit your bike to look cool, fit it to go fast and be comfy. Mountain bikes are usually higher and shorter than road bikes so your positions should be changed accordingly. The bike needs to survive the race, take plenty of spare brakes pads, keep you chain lubes and you gears clicking as they should. If it’s wet (ThreeSixty won’t be) then you could easily burn through a couple of sets in a few hours.
This was my bike the night before my last big race:
Have a plan of what you want to eat. It doesn’t need to be fancy bike specific food; any food is better than no food. Take sandwiches if that’s what you want to eat. Food that you don’t have to chew is always best and it needs to be wet enough that you can easily swallow it. No one wants to be chomping cream crackers up a climb in the middle of July, even a 3-litre camelback isn’t going to help you wash that down.
If you want to get a bit more scientific a good rule of thumb is 60-100g of carbohydrates an hour, this can be taken as gels, energy drink or solid foods. Experiment in the lead up to the race to find out the amount that works best for you. If you don’t eat enough, you’ll run out of energy and bonk but eating too much can leave you feeling sick and possibly getting muddier shorts than you bargained for. Don’t be afraid to change the amount you eat mid race depending on how you feel. IF you find yourself needing the toilet loads, have half a bottle a lap. Food is very personal so what works for your mate wont always work you for. Time to get checking the little table on the back of the wrappers and come up with your feeding plan.
The age old saying in bike racing is that it’s team sport with individual winners and unfortunately its true for Endurance racing too.
If you can try and con a loved one or friend into helping, lie about how fun it will be for them and how great the atmosphere will be that it’s really worth them giving up their Saturday to watch you cycle past every 40 minutes with a mild panic as they’ve forgotten your complex feed plan because they were stuck in the scroll hole on Instagram and have only got you’re dirty bottle that your threw at them the lap before. Believe me, I’ve been on both sides. You need to trust them and make sure they know what to do if things go wrong, the plan needs to be flexible.
If you can’t convince anyone and have to go it alone, most races have solo feeding areas where you can have a little box with your food and drinks in. Buy plenty of bottles and prepare them all in advance so you don’t lose precious time having to wander off and find a tap mid race.
The night before
Oh dear, you’ve not done any preparation and the race is looming.
Check over the bike just before you go to bed even though you’ve known about the race for weeks., you only have 10 of your 11 gears. The bike shop is closed.
Don’t worry you’ve got this; how hard can it be?
Panic and fiddle with the twiddly bit on the shifter for the first time ever and lose all the indexing of your gears. Quickly get onto YouTube, thankfully Calvin at Park tools has your back.
All joking aside, it’s a good idea to double check the bolts are tight, the tyres are inflated, your brakes work and your wheel’s spin. Most other niggles you can get away with.
Get plenty of rest, don’t eat anything you wouldn’t normally, relax and have think about how well tomorrow is going go.
Get to the venue nice and early, sign on and then the most important part of the day, choose your spot to set up the pit. The spot you pick is key, ideally track side or close enough to the track to see the racing.
If you’re in a team or pair, make it comfy and social. You want to sit there relax and recover. There’s nothing better when you’ve just finished a lap than coming back to a BBQ cooking away with your mates chatting about a tree they narrowly missed whilst heckling the other riders riding past, envious of your pit set up. If you have one bring a mini ramp, there’s nothing people love more than seeing a tired rider pulling up and tweaking their bars after 5 hours of racing.
Sadly, if you’re a solo or pair, you pit won’t be as exiting. It’ll be a place to rest and get ready for your next lap as a pair or a place for your helper to stare in the distance wondering when they need jump into action for your next feed.
Riding the course
Once you’ve collected your number get out and do a practice lap, take your time, session section of the track you struggle with. Watch other riders to see how they tackle the features. You want to save as much energy as possible so focus on smooth and efficient lines, rather than trying to find milliseconds by hoping a root or playing chicken with a tree. You’ll make up more time at the end of the race when the others are feeling tired than you will by wasting energy taking risky lines. That said it makes it more fun for you, then do it, you need to enjoy yourself whilst your riding. Work out where you can make up time efficiently, where you can save energy and where you can overtake.
10 minutes to go
Get to the race briefing, ignore it as its always the same, essentially don’t be a dick. Be polite, if you need to overtake, let the person in front know and say thanks if they’ve moved over. If your being overtaken listen to the person behind and move over when you can, you don’t have to do it straight away, it’s still a race, they need to get around you. Be polite to the other racers, there shouldn’t be any ego’s, its not a road race.
Line up nice and early and try and get as close to front as possible, you’ve paid the same amount to enter as everyone else. You deserve to be there as much as they do. If you can take an extra layer. Relax and chat to people on the start line or if you’re feeling keen, scope out your opposition and visualise how your first lap is going to go, try and picture the course, where you’re going to overtake and where you need to stay smooth.
During the race
I don’t like watching the time go by, I find I get fixated on it but you may be different. Keep a mental note of your lap times to stay as consistent as possible, you don’t want to push too hard too early. Save that for your final blaze of glory, there’s no better feeling than zooming past someone you’ve been racing for 6 hours on the last lap, it’ll will make them feel even worse as you disappear into the distance with no hope of catching you back up. That said, you’ve got to cross the line to finish so don’t get complacent and stay focused right until the end.
If you find yourself struggling to comprehend the length of the race or lap, break it down into 1/3rds and treat each one like a mini race. The 1st race is a practice, you’re finding your groove. 2nd race, you want to stay smooth, slowly build the speed and get the lines dialled. The last part you can give it everything you’ve got, empty the tank and push all the way to the line, caffeine gels are great for this. You can even split the lap into sections, once you get up the last climb, you’ve only got the descent until the end of the lap.
Finally it’s over, you popped a wheelie over the line grabbed a beer wait and trawl through endless thumbnails to find 1 picture of your terrible wheelie or bolt upright cornering.
There will be more on this in the next Chasers Podcast- check it out on iTunes, Spotify or below.