I’ve always enjoyed watching the UCI DH/XC racing, Crankworx, Red Bull Rampage and all the rest, but I’ve never really considered entering a race myself. I always thought racing was for either the super gnarly shredders, or pro team riders that have a huge support team, a boatload of sponsors and no day job.
Before now, I’ve also never really considered myself any good on a bike. Sure, for over 15 years I’ve been climbing uphill and rolling back down without wiping out (much!), but I’ve never felt good enough (or confident enough) to compete. Last Summer, things changed a little. I picked up a new, bigger travel bike from the guys at Bird Cycleworks and I started to go on ‘social’ night rides with Swinley Bike Hub (followed by an amazing post ride burger and some banter). I was quite surprised that I could actually keep up with people, although still ended the rides out of breath, shattered and feeling like I needed to improve (albeit with a big grin on my face, hungry for the next night session).
Since then, I’ve been out almost every Thursday night with the Hub (as well as social rides with mates and monster solo sessions) and I’m feeling fitter than ever. Strava is probably making me look better than I am, but I can climb with less pain and now even pop a little style into my descending. The main thing that’s improved above all else however, is my confidence in my abilities. I mentioned him in my first post, but Tristan Taylor, owner of the Swinley Hub has been instrumental in this confidence boost. I’m generally a bit of a pessimist, but Tris has been ever encouraging. If he didn’t run a bike shop, he’d make a great motivational speaker, I’m sure many others would say the same. So, cheers Tris, I owe you a lot more than you know buddy.
Downhill racing still seems a bit full on for my style (for now, at least), and Cross Country is just too damn quick for me, so when grass roots Enduro racing series came to the masses a few years back, the opportunity to race got a lot closer to home.
So, I figured ‘why not, what’s the worst that could happen’? I checked out some local races and the Southern Enduro sounded perfect. 4 races over the year, with an amazing choice of categories and organized by a great guy, Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve entered the ‘Masters’ category, although there’s still a niggling thought that perhaps the ‘Fun’ category would have been a better idea for my first venture into racing. It’s too late now though, and as the famous saying goes, ‘go big, or go home’. I plan to go big or go home via A&E.
As a beginner into the race circuit, I thought I’d share some quick tips that I’ve found useful to get me ‘race ready’:
- Know what type of race you’re doing. How long do you expect to be in the saddle, do you know if the trails will be technical, smooth, jumpy, full of drops and so on? If not, research, try to get an idea of what type of terrain you’ll be racing and get out riding those types of trails.
- Plan your rides and commit to them. Seriously. Don’t just say ‘I’ll ride tomorrow instead’. Get out when you say you’re going to. If you can get out at least 3 times a week, you’re on the path to podiums.
- Don’t think of it as training. I’ve personally found if I just go out for a blast, have a laugh and ride, I usually put more effort in. If I think of it as training, it feels more tiring and I won’t have as much fun.. after all, I ride to enjoy myself first and foremost! On race day, the only person I’ll be competing with in my mind, is myself.
- Hydrate. This is critical. If you’re going out for a ride, make sure you take enough water with you. A small bit of food (banana, energy bar, jelly beans) will help to give you a boost if you start flagging. Don’t overcompensate though; if you’re riding for less than 2 hours, usually water will be enough to get you through.
- Eat right. Pre ride pasta is a sure-fire way to feel pumped throughout your evening ride, and some porridge (Protip – a spoonful of jam in your porridge is always a winner), will give you a great boost for your morning spin.
- Homework. You can never learn enough. Look on forums, YouTube, anywhere that will give you hints and tips on how to increase your performance, train most effectively and get race ready. The GMBN (Global Mountain Bike Network) YouTube channel is an incredible resource for this, with short, insightful videos on how to make the most of your riding.
There is of course a whole lot more that you can do to feel prepared for your first race, but hopefully these will help a little. If you’re racing this year, let me know where in the comments below, and good luck!
As for inspiration, two people from the early days have remained consistent heroes of mine in the MTB scene; Rob Warner and his amazing commentary covering the UCI World Cup, and Steve Peat, still shredding the DH runs with the Santa Cruz Syndicate (although 2016 is his last year racing, I’ve no doubt he’ll still be a huge part of the DH world for years to come).
Closer to home, riders such as Sam Reynolds, Brendan Fairclough and Olly Wilkins are really helping to drive awareness for the the UK mountain bike scene. The trio, along with a lot of others have recently built S4P; a progressive Dirt Jump park just a few miles from me. I’ve signed up with B1KE and I’m really looking forward to heading over to see what it’s all about. Reynolds also recently won ‘best trick’ at the 2015 Red Bull Rampage with a Superman over the infamous 72ft Canyon gap. Super impressive, check the video out below:
(Credit: Red Bull Media)
Venturing into the racing world, I’ve no idea how I’ll do. I’ve no doubt still loads to learn, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the experience and will surely be hungry for more racing heading forward. Next week, I’ll be running through what to take with you on the trails and common questions & answers from beginners. If you’ve got any questions you’d like answered, let me know in the comments!
Ian @ Stealth Riders