For those about to suffer, we salute you.
Let's pretend you're in the middle of a cross-country mountain bike
race. And the race
officials go to a movie and forget you're out there. So you
just keep riding and riding. Now you're dehydrated and exhausted and
cramping. But you keep going. That's endurance racing.
Christian Burrell enjoys a moment of quiet
contemplation after finishing the Wasatch Back 50. Your first endurance
race will be quite an education.
|Surviving the Endurance Race
||Endurance races may be defined by either time or distance.
For example at Six Hours of Frog Hollow you'll ride laps around the race
loop. The winner is the rider who's done the most laps when time
expires. There are also 12-hour and 24-hour races. Longer races are
often relays, as team members trade off.
Other races, for example the Draper Fall Classic, have a defined
distance to complete. The race is over when you cross the finish line,
whether that's 4 hours or 7 hours.
Checking in. Most endurance races require you to
pick up your race number and packet the day before. With an early
morning start, there are just too many racers and too little time to do
||Endurance races also vary significantly in technical requirement.
True Grit in St. George serves up some very technical rock riding.
Crusher in the Tushar is more of a leg-and-lung contest on dirt roads at
By the time you consider trying an endurance race, you should be
well-acquainted with your own strengths and weaknesses.
Like cross-country races, most endurance races will
offer categories that match you against racers of similar ability, age,
or gender. There may even be a half-a-race option for those who aren't
ready to go the distance.
||Training! Your legs will need to last a long
time. It's hard to get the right type of training on mountain trails.
Consider training on a road bike. If you can routinely do road rides of
50 miles -- while constantly in your training zone -- you're probably ready
from a leg-and-lungs standpoint.
Pre-riding. If the course is a point to point
(instead of a loop with multiple laps) you may need to break
up the pre-ride. That means two or even three rides on different days.
Some racers choose only to pre-ride selected technical sections.
Test out the tech sections. Decide what
you'll ride and what you'll walk. Find the gear that doesn't stress your
||Tools and supplies. You'll need a basic
multi-tool, chain quick-link, spare tube, and pump. Maybe two spare tubes.
As the ride gets longer, the chance of a mechanical problem increases. And
when you're tired, you're more likely to make the mistakes that create a
pinch-flat or broken chain. In an endurance race, you can stop and fix
something, then make up the lost time.
You don't want to abort after four long hours. Come
fully prepared to fix your bike.
||Fluids and nutrition! Plan your calorie and
fluid needs carefully. By race day, you should know what types of fluid
and food your stomach can handle during sustained effort. Most of us use
electrolyte drinks as part of our calorie intake. I plan one bottle for
every 40 minutes of racing (50 miles in 5-1/2 hours = 8 bottles), then add
an extra backup bottle to each supply bag. For additional food, use
what works for you. Chomps, bars, balls, or gels. (Personally, I
find GU flasks interfere the least with riding and breathing.)
You'll ride better with the food and drinks that your
body likes. A drop bag lets you have your own supplies out on the race
course. Mark it prominently with your race number. If you're going out of
town, don't forget the duct tape and felt-tip marker!
||The race will have one or more "feed zones." This
is a spot where you can restock. Find out where they are as you make your
plans. The distance between feed zones may decide whether you'll use water
bottles or a Camelbak.
A "neutral feed zone" has food and fluid for everybody. It
takes a little longer to restock at the neutral zone, especially if
there's a crowd. And the food or electrolyte drink
may not be what you're used to. But for some races, you'll need to restock
A neutral feed zone. Some zones are strictly
"help yourself." Others may have helpers who hold your
bike, quickly fill your bottles with whatever fluid you request, and give
you a shove down the trail.
||A feed zone with drop bags lets you use your own
supplies. Pre-fill some bottles or a spare Camelbak, add your favorite source of
calories, and stick them in your drop bag. Your drop bag can include some
ibuprofen, a backup tube or tire, a new chain, whatever.
On raceday morning, you'll
usually find a pickup truck that's taking all the bags to the feed zone.
Find out in advance whether you'll need to drop off your bag yourself.
Also, find out if there's more than one feed zone -- you might need two
drop bags. Plan your supplies based on the distance and the climbing
between feed zones.
The drop bag zone at the Wasatch Back 50. Bags will
usually be ordered by race number. Be sure your bag is well-marked. And it
doesn't hurt to have a distinctive bag that you can spot from a distance.
||Setting your effort level! You'll be out there
a long time. Find the effort level that lets you keep going the longest.
Usually, this will be your upper training zone, not your
"racing" zone. Don't attack the ledges too enthusiastically. Sit
back, spin, and save some leg for mile 45.
Once you've done two or three endurance races, you'll know how hard you
can go and still make the distance.
Waiting for the racers at the Draper Fall Classic.
||What's after the finish line? Plan for
recovery drinks and calorie replacement after the race. At a defined-miles race,
racers will be finishing hours apart. Your buddy may be delayed, or you'll
need to hang around for awards. Have stuff in your car, ready to mix up if
you need it. If you don't recover right, an endurance race can knock out
your legs for weeks.
Racers may finish literally hours apart. Have a
contingency plan for late finishers. That means emergency calories and
fluid at your car. You may not be able to hit the taco stand right after
||Money. Fees for an endurance race are usually
about three times the amount for the typical cross-country race. (A long
course needs more markers, more course marshals, more racer support. And
from check-in to award ceremony, it simply requires more time by more
Awards are correspondingly sweeter, should you be good enough to hit
the podium. But the real reward is the bragging rights. If you've finished
a 50 on dirt, you've completed a very difficult task. You've earned the
right to brag.
The Men 50-plus podium finishers.