Push Your Limits with Endurance Mountain Bike Racing

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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Push Your Limits with Endurance Mountain Bike Racing

If you are looking for a cycling event mixed with fun and adventure that pushes your limits, there is no better event than an endurance mountain bike race. Whether you choose a shorter marathon race, a 100-miler like the Leadville 100 or multi-day stage race, there will be an event to fit your fitness, experience and taste for adventure.


All riders start simultaneously in endurance mountain bike races. The fastest riders line-up near the front, while the riders looking to simply finish self-select toward the back of the start line. This low-key start, and the general atmosphere, is what attracts many people to endurance mountain bike racing initially, but the personal challenge keeps them coming back.


Success in endurance mountain biking is largely determined by your skill and fitness. Tactics play a small roll. You might get the chance to use some road tactics and draft behind a group of riders during a road section, or you could go harder for a couple minutes to get into a technical single-track ahead of less-skilled riders. Beyond these tactics, your race is mostly determined by your ability to pace your effort, fuel appropriately and ride smoothly for a long time. Typical training emphasizes spending the majority of training days on your mountain bike practicing nutrition, pacing, mechanical skill and efficiency over variable terrain.


Two good resources for races are the USA Cycling calendar of mountain bike races by region or the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) calendar that lists longer endurance races.

  • If you haven’t raced mountain bikes before, consider trying a lap-based XC race, which is much less intimidating. Most races will have beginner or even “try-a-race” categories that are cheaper and on terrain that is not as physically demanding or intimidating.
  • If you are getting bored of lap-races, or have decent tech skills, consider a smaller, grassroots single-day race like a 25-miler. These are the most fun you can have on a bike. Endurance races are typically very laid back with barbecue and fine beverages at the finish. Look for the words marathon, enduro or ‘miler’ (as in 50-miler) in the name of the race.
  • For those looking for more adventure than a single-day race, consider stage races like Breck Epic, Trans-Sylvania Epic and BC-Bike Race, which are popular multi-day MTB events. Stage races like those combine a social, summer camp-like experience with the finest trails in each area.


Once you have chosen a race, make sure your bike and equipment are suitable for the challenge. Short lap races don’t need much more than a functioning bike, so they are great for beginners. As you go longer and gain more experience, you will need a hydration pack, more tools, spare parts and spare clothing (like a rain jacket or windbreaker). Longer races also require you to carry more fuel, although most long events have aid stations to let you re-stock periodically during the day. This ‘survival’ aspect is what attracts many riders to longer mountain bike events. You can become very good at endurance mountain bike racing by riding with the gear you need frequently so you can practice using it on training rides.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.


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