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Your First MTB 24h Marthon - How To Prepare.


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What is a 24-hour Mountain Bike Race

24-hour MTB race is a marathon, or an ultra-marathon, which 24 hours in duration. The riders can usually compete individually, or as a team. The solo riders will basically push the pedals all day and all night, with some breaks for a meal or bike / lights maintenance. The teams will exchange their riders according to team tactics, but each team can only have one rider on the course at a time. Who wins? Within each category, the rider, or a team who has completed the most laps is the winner. For riders on the same number of laps, the rider who has completed them in the shortest total race time will receive the higher placing.

How To Prepare

Here's the key thought of this article: the 24-hour race is NOT a discipline for super humans and if you are an active cyclists with a moderate fitness level, you probably will be able to finish such an event. Below are the tips I collected from my "shorter", 110 km marathons and from the riders, who compete in 24-hour events on a high level.

The Equipment

If you watch my videos on YouTube, then you have probably noticed, that I always mention the bike and the components as the LEAST important in our training and racing. But here I'll start with it, and for a reason - just keep reading ;) The ultra-marathons are the ones, where the strategy and the equipment play a huge role. It is the 24-hour events, where the best trained riders not always win. Your bike doesn't have to be the lightest, but it has to endure much more, than on any of your rides before. Technical problems can cause huge time losses, or sometimes lead to DNF... So remember about these things:

  1. The tires. Do not focus on getting the featherweight, fast rolling tires, assuming that they will save so much time over a 24-hour period. Let's leave this risk to those, who set world records (I'm surprised, that pro riders risk so much here - the XC riders puncture on a number of events each season). On such a long race you need puncture resistance and traction. Remember - you'll be tired, you'll be sleepy and your focus will go away after a couple of racing hours. That means making mistakes, which a grippier tires can forgive you.
    I personally don't feel that comfortable on Maxxis Aspen, but loe Maxxis Crossmark and for even more technical marathon I wouldn't hesitate to ride on Schwalbe Nobby Nic front and rear. 
  2. The saddle. The saddle I say! ;) Smashing some 3 hours workouts and riding for 24 hours in the rain are two different things. You must know your saddle and be sure, that it gives you enough support, but doesn't create to much pressure on your veins. If you're going to race in wet conditions, the wrong saddle can lead to a serious abrasion. You need some 5 hours rides to see, whether your saddle feels fine, but test in the shorts you're going to use during the events. Some pads in the bib-shorts may work well with the saddle, some might not.
    The saddles can come with cut outs, different softness and shaping.
  3. Comfortable gloves and handlebar grips. The pain you're gonne suffer from during the race is a complex thing and results from many factors. Try to eliminate as many as you can.
  4. The brakes and the drivetrain. Your bike has obviously to be "roadworthy". Keep in mind though, that you're going to push it to the limits. In extreme conditions you might wear the braking pads to the metal, so don't bring the bike to the start, if your pads have already 30% wear. Get the new ones and eliminate another reason for not completing the race (or crashing). Your drivetrain should be lubed, but not sticky, so that you don't collect a lot of grime with each lap.

Drinking And Nutrition 

  1. You simply can not run out of water and food. Do not rely on the meals provided in the feeding zones only. Try out using a hydration pack. It works fine for many riders.
  2. Do not use any power bars or food, which is new to your stomach. The 24-hour race day is the worse for testing out anything.


Important message once more - if you are healthy and you ride a bike on a regular basis, the 24-hour race isn't out of your reach. Why so? Because for the most of the time you're going to be riding in your 2nd zone, which is aerobic and very sustainable. How to train then?

  1. Many 24-hour race top riders come from Cross Country or "short" 100 miles marathons. Some of them don't even do a specific training for 24-hour events. What it means for you? If you simply ride the bike every week, with some 3-5 hours rides on the weekends, you WILL be able to finish an ultra-marathon. You're not gonna win, but with good tactics and preparation, you're going to have a lot of fun.
  2. Learn how to pace! You may not have an FTP of 350 Watts, but with your 220 Watts plus smart pacing, the race will unfold nicely to you. Right after the start, your tempo should be very comfortable, almost like on a ride with your kids. Some 5 hours into the race, you'll start feeling the pain, without even changing the pace and that's a smart ride. A power meter could help in pacing, but you can also monitor your heart rate, or even use the perceived exertion rate method. If you start to fast, you may not even finish the race. Don't attempt to ride on somebody's wheel. Set your own pace and remember, that others might ride in the team category, while you're a solo fighter ;) Do some pacing sessions with me:
  3. Learn to drink and eat DURING a race. It's not an easy thing. You most likely won't be able to consume as many calories, as you burn with each hour of the event. Forgetting to hydrate and eat would be a big mistake. Therefore when you prepare for the marathon, set a reminder on your bike computer or smartphone and try to drink and eat something every 20 minutes. With time, you'll make your own schedule for that.
  4. Learn what your stomach tolerates when under pressure. Try to eat a real food besides your power bars. You may feel pretty relaxed going to the event, saying: "it's just for fun", but your body prepares for a battle, knowing very well, that it will be put to test.
  5. Training plan. I know you probably expect me in this article to give you a training formula, but I don't know you - your habits, experience, age etc. Remember, that before even getting into your training, you should consult your physician. If the doctor gives you a green light for the training, here's how you can do it. Try to plan 3-4 rides in the week, and destine one of these for a long, endurance workout. Just go out with your friends and make it a great day in the saddle. With time you'll be able to increase the average speed, but don't focus on it. During the shorter, 2-3 hours riders plan some tempo intervals - e.g. 3x10 minutes in zone 3-4, with 5-10 minutes recovery between them. Zone 3-4 shouldn't feel extreme, but your breathing will be deeper and more intense. That is what you need for a long, endurance event. No sprint, no attacks, just smart pacing throughout.
  6. Pedalling technique. During each workout focus on your pedaling efficiency, as it may save you a lot of energy during a marathon, but can also save your muscles and joints. Here's my session for you: 

Have fun planning your first 24-hour MTB Race and I invite you to a discussion below...

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  • 1 month later...

Guys! Thank you for the cognitive article. I think that I have already ripe for such a ride and I want to try myself in this world. But what about weather conditions? Would they not drive a ride? I recently read a cognitive article on how to keep pace when riding in different weather conditions http://bestadviser.net/how-to/how-to-keep-riding-in-wet-and-cold-conditions/   Share your opinion. This is important to me, because I am an amateur but with great enthusiasmO.o:D

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