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Endurance riding tips from the experts

How much more can we Endure? – The BIKEmagic guide to doing endurance events. Part 1

All of us have had our endurance tested to the max by foot and mouth. But with new cases dying down in all but a few hot spots, perhaps it’s not tempting fate too much to start thinking about doing events again. And we reckon there are a fair few of you out there (judging by the topics on the forum and those of you we’ve met) who will want to test your endurance further with your choice of mountain bike events. So in order to get everyone back up to speed, and to make sure that you get the best out of what’s left of the year, we’ve put together the BIKEmagic guide to doing endurance events.

What we’re not going to do is to start telling you that you’ve got to be doing an average of 150 miles a week and to have cut your fat intake down to 3% before you enter anything. This is about getting the most out of an event, whether it’s your first, or just one of many that you do – and we’re not assuming that you plan on winning it, or even necessarily being competitive. In part 1 we are looking at the types of event that are available so you can decide which ones you might want to do, and in part 2 we will look at some hints and tips for training and taking part in events. In putting this together we’ve been talking to a few top endurance riders and one thing you will notice is that their preparation varies a lot. So whatever your approach hopefully you’ll pick up something useful, if only a bit of inspiration to see you through to the end of the current crisis.

Choose an event

What is an endurance event? We’re going to stick our necks out and come up with the definition that it’s any type of event that requires a sustained effort. For some that might bring a two or three hour Trailquest type navigation event into the category, whilst others might not consider it to be anything less that the Enduro Six – six hours flat out round an off road circuit. Under our definition of an endurance event there may be breaks involved, like in the Red Bull, but these will be scheduled in, rather than of the “Ooh there’s an interesting olde worlde teashoppe” variety.

One thing that is a feature of some endurance events is that they are often for teams. So if you’ve got no mates then stick to racing – (only kidding, if you do want to do an event but can’t find a partner/team try posting a message on the Forum. Sometimes the team approach (Red Bull) is in order to give riders a break, but usually it is for safety reasons (Polaris) when people are being sent out into a large wilderness area. In other cases of course people just choose the team option because there’s someone there to moan at when the going gets tough.
For lots of people the archetypal endurance event is the Polaris Challenge. This has been around for donkeys’ years and attracts big numbers of regular competitors – around 500 teams of 2 for Autumn and Spring events and around 1000 competitors including solos in the summer. But for many, its combination of two long days of riding and navigation might seem a bit daunting, or just too much to do with camping, not getting lost, and generally being an outdoorsy rufty tufty type. However, there are now plenty more events on the scene for people who just want to do long mountain bike rides, either competitively, as a personal challenge, or because they “just blooming well want to, and why does there always have to be a reason for everything”.

Two events that really seem to have captured the imagination are the Red Bull Mountain Mayhem and the Schwinn 100. Two totally different events, but both of which fall into the endurance category for most people. Just in case any of you don’t know what they are about, the Red Bull is a non-stop 24 hour team relay event (which after a pilot solo event last year is now being opened up to more solo riders) whilst the Schwinn is a 100 km single loop race. Both have been incredibly popular and have spawned imitations. With over 1000 riders at the Red Bull and over 800 at the Schwinn last year, both events have a terrific atmosphere that is well worth experiencing. Unfortunately the Red Bull is already full for this year but although the Schwinn already has over a 1000 entries this time, they still have room for more.

Other styles of endurance events are randonees – like the Newnham 90 (sponsored by your very own BIKEmagic – click here for an entry form) and Trailbreak’s Evans rides (taking place largely in the South East. These events are promoted as non competitive long distance rides involving a couple of hundred (or more) riders, where you probably push yourself just a little bit harder than you would if you were doing the ride on your own or with your normal riding partners. Trial break also do other non-competitive (honest) rides with their Lemming events, following a defined trail in the company of 50+ other riders over a weekend with accommodation arranged half way.

But if all of the events mentioned so far still sound like a walk in the park there are some harder ones available internationally. The Transalp is an eight day stage race for teams of two in (you guessed it) the Alps at the end of July. Covering 600 miles with 20,000 meters of climbing overall it is divided up to produce a five or six hour race every day, with sleeping bags and other kit transported ahead to the stop-overs. Again, its full this year (it was full in January about a month after the entry forms came out), and it does seem to be the case that the bigger the profile of the event, even if it caters for thousands, the quicker you need to get your entry in. That said the event has been reported in the UK bike mags, and this year the British contingent is going to be pretty big.

To our knowledge there are at least eight or nine teams from the UK taking part in the Transalp this time, including some BIKEmagic regulars, so there should be quite a ‘team UK’ camaraderie going on. Expect it to be very tough though. Aiden Leihup, one half of the most consistently successful Polaris team, said that when he did it last year he had anticipated taking the riding steadily to start with. But that shear competitive instinct had made him ride harder than he wanted leaving him tired in the middle of the week and simply hanging on towards the end – not an event for the faint hearted. If you want to try a one day endurance ride in the Alps then consider the Grand Raid Crystalp or search the web for lots more marathons which are springing up all the time in the more mountainous areas of mainland Europe.

Perhaps the biggest endurance event (in terms of the challenge) of them all is the Iditasport Impossible based on the Iditarod trail in Alaska. There are shorter versions of the race, the Iditasport Extreme, covering just 350 miles and the Iditasport using just a paltry 100 miles of the snow covered trial in balmy sub -40º temperatures. This year the Iditasport Impossible was won by Andy Heading from the UK in just 26 days, and in part 2 he will be sharing a few of his training tips such as overnight 180 mile mid-winter bike rides.

Just before we wind up part one it is worth mentioning the growing number of multi-sport endurance events, or adventure races, as quite often these include a good deal of mountain biking. ACE races take place around the UK and although more biased towards running and navigation always include a 5 to 7 hour Trailquest type mountain bike section. Again travelling into Europe the Rocky Man event held in the Czech Republic is an arduous one day foot and mountain bike orienteering event that has been well attended by Brits over the last few years. It is a small event with just tens of entries, but takes place in unbelievably beautiful scenery in a country where beer is almost free.

As a final thought, which definitely fits in with the endurance event theme, mountain biking is a sport that (strangely) is a bit short on challenges and records. Whilst there are plenty of acknowledged feats in the hiking, fell running and even road biking arenas, there are not too many in our sport. One of Andy Heading’s early accomplishments was to complete the whole South Downs way and back in a 24 hour period, but since then the route has changed. He is now keen to have another crack at it and maybe there are other similar challenges out there that will allow some of us to do endurance ‘events’ when we feel that we are ready. No doubt you’ll let us know your ideas on the Forum.

Events mentioned in the article:

Fat Tyre Evans Rides and Lemming Trails
Red Bull Mountain Mayhem
ACE races
Rocky Man


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