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How to prepare for your first enduro mountain bike race
Are you thinking about entering your first enduro race, but not quite sure what to expect or whether you’re ready for the challenge? Don’t worry, I’ve been there. It’s scary, but once you take the plunge it’s totally worth it. Racing is a blast and if you want to become a better mountain biker, there’s not better way than to pit yourself against other riders. Below are a few tips (that I wish I had known) to help you prepare mentally and physically for your first race.
1. Choose the right race and the right division
My first enduro race was the Mammoth Mountain Kamikaze Games. Not exactly a small race, but not a huge one either. The advantage I had, though, was that it was my home turf. I had ridden Mammoth Mountain countless times over the summer and I was well practiced in navigating the ‘kitty litter’ terrain that Mammoth is notorious for. Plus, I was acclimated to the 9,000ft+ of elevation. You want to choose a race that you feel comfortable entering. Maybe it’s small and local and your friends will be cheering you on or maybe you know the trails like the back of your hand. The more comfortable you are with entering, the less scary it’s going to be.
Now for choosing a category. It can be hard to know which category to choose. I don’t ride with a lot of women, so I didn’t really know how I stacked up against other female racers. Therefore, I entered into the pro/open-women’s category. Not a good idea. In hindsight, pro was not the best option for me because even though I knew the mountain and trails and I’m a good rider, I was not in racing shape and I was more stressed about keeping up with my competition than I was interested in having fun. Expert would have been the better choice.
Still not sure what category is best for you? These descriptions are taken from the California Enduro Series website:
Racers can use the following category descriptions as a guide for determining the appropriate category for a racer. Racers should use this guide along with their best judgment when determining in which category they should compete.
Pro – Pro riders are the elite athletes of our sport. They are extremely competent at jumping, drops, cornering and technical rock or trail features. A pro rider can ride any trail in any condition at race speed without hesitation. They have a résumé with top 5 podium finishes from other races.
Open – This is a semi-Pro category for elite riders racing beyond the Expert level, but not racing professionally.
Expert – Expert riders are comfortable with most obstacles they encounter on a trail. They are comfortable with steep and loose terrain and technical rock gardens. They are able to ride most trail features without hesitation, but occasionally take an alternate line around large trail features. They are able to complete a 20+ mile trail ride and race competitively several times a year.
Sport – Sport riders can ride technical terrain, smaller jumps and drops, and are comfortable at cornering. A sport rider can complete most trails without stopping to walk a section but will often take an alternate line around larger jumps or drops on a trail. They may or may not have raced in the past.
Beginner – Beginner racers are experienced mountain bikers who are happier traveling down a trail at slower speeds, but still desire to compete against other racers at their skill level. They are not comfortable on jumps or drops and are working on the fundamentals of cornering. A beginner can ride most trails and will not hesitate to walk technical sections that they feel are above their riding ability.
2. You will get passed
Ugh, this was so hard for me to swallow and a huge downer during my first race. Women in my category passed me and men in probably several categories passed me. (Pet peeve: they started the pro-men racers after the pro-women races, which is not fair in my opinion). Anyway, you will most likely get passed and it’s not going to feel great, but just keep going! One thing to remember, though, is that you must let riders pass to avoid making serious enemies. Move off the trail a bit, let them pass, then get back to it.
3. It’s not as scary as you think
I was terrified before my first race. I had no idea what to expect, I was worried that I’d get eliminated for not doing the climbs in time, and most of all, I didn’t want to look like a fool. But you know what? It really wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be in my mind. Sure I was shaking a bit at the start of stage one, but after that? I realized that race day is really just a ton of fun riding with cool people. Don’t let your fear stop you from entering a race. Or anything for that matter.
4. Make friends with the other riders
I’m a competitive person at heart, so I tend to isolate myself during competition and focus solely on the challenge at hand. But during my first enduro race (actually after I realized there was no way I was going to stand on the podium), I let my guard down a bit and started chatting with the other ladies in my division. And they were super nice! Like the kind of badass girl nice that you makes you want to plan a fun, adventurous weekend with the. Racing definitely wouldn’t be as gratifying if I didn’t make friends with my fellow racers.
5. Just ride your bike
My brother gave me this advice moments before I dropped into my first stage and it stuck with my throughout the entire race. Just ride your bike. You’re racing because you love to ride, right? Well just do that and don’t worry about your times or looking good for the photographers.
6. Practice. But not too much
Practice makes perfect, right? Well maybe not exactly, but practice does help, especially if you’re not familiar with the trails that you’ll be racing. Give yourself a day or two to familiarize yourself with the terrain, but don’t go overboard. I like to take a full day off from riding between practice and race day to give my body time to rest up.
1. Use hydration supplements
I’ve raced using hydration supplements and I’ve raced without. I honestly notice a difference and I’d be hard-pressed to forgo my Nuun tabs or Skratch powder for future races. They provide carbohydrates to keep energy levels high and electrolytes to keep muscles from crapping out. High quality is the key, though. Don’t buy anything with artificial sweeteners, colors, or fillers.
2. Pack your bag efficiently
Some racers decide to forgo a pack altogether and use a water bottle cage and a small frame bag or seat bag for tools and such, but I like riding with a pack. Either way, there are a few necessities you need:
Water fortified with a hydration supplement – like Skratch
High carb, easy to eat snacks
A print out of the race course and start times
You can obviously pack more depending on your situation, but these are the basic necessities.
3. Take your time on the ups
During my first race, I powered up the non-timed climbs because I was so worried that I wouldn’t make it to the start of the next stage in time. Looking back? I had plenty of time and I probably wasted precious energy working my legs and lungs so hard. So pace yourself. You have time and if you’re worried that you don’t, you can usually start the race early (i.e. before your given start time).
4. Snacks. Lots of snacks.
Even if you’re not hungry, it’s a good idea to have a bite of something high-carb every 20-30 minutes. Or, as I like to do, at the bottom of each timed stage. This makes sure your blood sugar stays steady and you don’t crash mid-course. My go-to snacks are Clif Bars and Clif Shots.
5. Check your bike over the night before and day of
This is so important! Check your bike the night before the race and the morning of the race. Things to check or remedy are:
Front and rear shock pressure
Chain – clean and lube if needed
All bolts – tighten if loose
Shifting – make sure it feels smooth
Brake pads – replace and bed-in if worn
But THE most important thing to remember on your first race day is to HAVE FUN! Just like other competitions, it’s not about winning (or at least it shouldn’t be). It’s about having fun and doing what you love. If you love mountain biking and you start racing because you want to win, chances are you aren’t going to love mountain biking any more. Do it because you love it and because the challenge inspires you. Maybe you’ll stand on the podium at the end of the day or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have an amazing run or maybe you’ll crash halfway down the mountain. Whatever happens, remember why you ride.
Gear up for your first Enduro race!
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