A month ago I did my first mountain bike enduro event – the Capital Punishment - 50 kms of riding through some of the prettiest parts of Canberra on a spectacular autumn morning. Well…it was spectacular after the fog lifted
I thought I’d share some of the things I learned along the way…things I’ll remember for the next event I sign up for!
- It’s a mental game – you can do what you believe you can do. I had a pretty good go at trying to talk myself out of being able to complete the race. It was only when I decided to tell myself that I really could do the event that I started to enjoy it.
- It takes preparation – training is necessary. You can’t do a long event without some forethought and preparation. Get your fitness up there, and some kms in your legs…and at least once before the event, get out and ride the same distance as the event is going to be (it’s great for fitness and for the mental game). Remember to slow your training right down in the week before the event so that your body is not over-tired.
- Pay attention to fuel for your body – the right food and drink are ridiculously important for this type of event. I tried to deny it for a long time. I thought I could keep going on my low-carb regime through a long ride, and as it turned out it was a good thing I tested my theory before I actually did an event. It didn’t do it for me, I hit a wall after a couple of hours of solid riding. After much testing and tweaking I ended up following the tried and true approach – get up a couple of hours before the race and have whatever breakfast you feel like you can keep down (you’re going to be nervous and your system is going to be upset…stick with what you know) have a cup of coffee and allow enough time for your system to do what it does. Take enough carb-rich food with you to be able to eat something small every 30-45 minutes (have a good mix of fast and medium burn carbs). You may also find that you don’t feel like eating…eat anyway...your body needs the energy, and if you wait until your body crashes for lack of sugar, you’ll have an uphill battle to get back over the hump. If you are planning on using gels, try them ahead of time so that you know what flavours you like and whether or not the caffeine and sugar concentration are going to make you feel ill. In terms of hydration, drink lots of water and cut alcohol for the couple of days before. During the race…carry plenty of liquid and use electrolytes to replace lost body salts and help with cramps. I found that liquid sugar uptake was a good, gentle, easy way for my body to get the energy it needed….for the Capital Punishment I used a mix of flat lemonade and electrolyte tablets. A sip here and there was a good steady stream of fast-uptake sugar.
- Be aware of people around you – be particularly aware of whether or not your event is part of a larger series that involves points and serious racing. You will be able to recognise the truly serious racers…they are the ones with very tall seatposts, very long legs, no hips, no butts, and they usually travel in pairs…fast. My husband calls them “lungs on legs”. They are there to race, let them through
- It’s lonely – unless you are riding with a friend or a group, you need to be prepared for several hours slogging away in the saddle on your own. Being an introvert, I hadn’t anticipated any issues with this aspect, but I was surprised to find that I was really in need of some company from time to time. Be prepared to talk to strangers
- Learn some basic bike mechanics – you’ll at least need to know how to fix your own flats and fix a broken chain. A fair percentage of us girls get into mountain biking because our significant other was into it first. They lure us into the sport with promises of ongoing mechanical magic and bike cleaning duties. The problem is that there’s a pretty good chance that he’s not going to be around for the race. If your other half is anything like mine, the competitive bug bites and off they go trying to beat the next person or their last time (which is fine by the way). You’re going to need to be self-sufficient, otherwise for the sake of a simple flat tyre you might be forced to retire at the nearest check point. The other half can teach you, or local clubs and bike shops sometimes run classes.
- Watch for signs – a lot of events are hosted on courses that are a mishmash of single track, fire trails and sometimes urban streets. Make sure you watch for the course marking signs. When you are tired it’s (extremely) easy to lose track of where you are supposed to be going, don’t necessarily rely on the person in front of you either.
- It’s a mental game (again! ) – I cannot emphasise how much of endurance riding is a mental game. You can be fit, you can be fueled, but unless you believe you can do the distance…you won’t.
- What goes up must come down – someone clever once told me that the best plan of attack is to go hard up hills and catch your breath down the hills. That’s where you can make up some ground if you have hill-climbing fitness.
- Ride within your skill level – now is not the time to try new things. For the technical sections, ride the bits you know you can comfortably ride, and walk what you can’t. Don’t be a hero, you are more likely to make it to the end in one piece if you take a realistic view of your skills.
- Track etiquette – if you are accustomed to riding by yourself or with a small evenly-paced or skilled group, try and get out on your local tracks when it’s really busy. You need to get used to riding with lots of people around. Practice passing other riders as well as allowing other riders to pass you under pressure. Learn the lingo. In a pinch you can practice this with your partner or a friend, but if you can get out there when there are strangers (possibly cranky ones) needing to get past, it will give you a good feel for what a race situation will feel like.
- Pace yourself – an enduro event is nothing like your average weekend ride. Even if you have done a ride of a similar length, there’s something about starting out in an event with a couple of hundred other people that makes you want to go hard early. Try to resist If you want to get to the other end, aim for a solid consistent medium pace from the beginning. You don’t want to burn out early and not be able to finish.
- Sensible goals – don’t set silly goals in terms of keeping up with anyone in your first event. As far as you are concerned, you are the only one in this event. You don’t have to beat anyone. You don’t have to set an amazing time. My kids like to set goals for themselves when we go out for a ride….like doing the whole ride without changing gears, or trying to beat so and so. Your first endurance event is not the time to try this!! Getting to the end in one piece is a sensible goal for your first event, and no one cares if you’re last, they know it’s a HUGE achievement to do an event like this in the first place
- Cramps hurt -I haven’t figured out how to kill cramps yet. This was the second event where I had issues with cramps. It doesn’t matter what supplementation I go for, I don’t seem to be able to avoid them. I didn’t cramp in training, but I guess that I was pushing myself harder in the event? Try magnesium tablets or electrolytes, and warm up well. Good luck!
- Keep moving after you cross the finish line - I made the mistake of stopping dead after I crossed the finish line. I have since learned that I should have kept moving. I beg you…don’t make the mistake I did! Once you cross the finish line, keep moving…keep riding. Ten to 15 minutes of easy spinning, no hills, no pushing – just easy riding – even if it’s round and round in circles – just keep moving. Trust me on this one! I didn’t, and my quads were so cramped and lactic acid-infused that I literally could not move. I stood over my bike for a good 15 minutes before I could get off! An epsom salts bath is your best friend when you get home.
Over all I enjoyed the event far more than I thought I would. I had managed to work myself up into such a state beforehand that I was perilously close to losing my breakfast, but once I started pedalling I was fine. So…my final piece of advice? Just start…you’ll be fine. Have fun!
Hours and hours in the saddle and here’s me crossing the line…although that looks suspiciously like a grimace on my face, I was just very, very pleased that I had finished the event.
Are you a seasoned racer? What other advice would you give novice enduro riders? Do YOU know how to kill cramps?