9 ways to ensure you survive your first mountain bike marathon - tips, tricks and what to expect
We headed along to the Scott MTB Marathon in Minehead a couple of weeks ago to take on a hilly and beautiful course in the gorgeous Exmoor countryside. Whilst we were there we got thinking about the best ways to make the most of marathon even like this one. Wherever your ‘off-road’ sportive takes you, these tips will come in handy both during your preparation and on the day!
Before we get started, its best just to explain what kind of event this was. The Scott MTB Marathons are akin to a road sportive, there is a pre-planned and signposted cross-country route (or routes) which are all timed, but it’s not a race. Riders take part at their own pace and can choose between the different length of rides, usually varying from 25 to 80km. This type of marathon differs from marathon races which is a timed XC race event over one or more laps or even covering several days. Here are our top nine tips to help you get the most out of your day:
1. Start on time
It might sound obvious but you need to be ready to start on time. There can be a large number of riders at these events and it’s best to be ready to go when the pack leaves. Get yourself into a position in the queue of riders setting off near to similarly paced people, although if you don’t know them this may be a bit of educated guesswork. Take a look at their bikes and talk to them about their ride intentions to give you some clues of the speed they will be riding.
If you are a faster rider left at the back, you will be faced with a wall of riders to make your way through in order to be able to settle into a group riding at the same pace as you. Similarly if you are going to be taking the ride at a leisurely pace then best situate yourself near the rear of the pack so you won’t be bothered by the XC whippets trying to get past you on narrow singletrack.
2. Strap stuff to your bike
Whilst a rucksack is good for hydration, you might be out on course for a good couple of hours, maybe more if you are taking on a longer distance. It’s a good idea to strap your gear to your bike in order to get the weight off your bike and make the ride more comfortable. We used a Louri frame strap to secure an inner tube and tyre levers to our bike although we have in the past also added a pump or a CO2 canister to this bundle too. You could also experiment with using frame bags for tools and spare clothing or a top tube bag or handlebar bag for valuables and snacks.
3. Wear a pack with plenty of water/electrolytes
On long rides, a hydration pack is a great idea, the day was super hot for the event we took part in and we’d have struggled to make it between feed stations on just a bottle of water. Rachael used her Osprey Raven pack for the job of carrying 2litre of water (men's version also available). Hydration is key to good performance and I will pay off to carry a good amount of water. With tools strapped to the bike, your pack will become lighter as you ride too, result! We also added some electrolyte to our water bladder to fend off any heat stroke or dehydration. We looked at some ways to survive the summer heat, including some information on electrolytes to try here.
4. Any bike goes but a trail bike is best for fun
One of the great things about these events are the sheer variety of bikes and riders. You will see cross country races alongside fat bikers, lots of kids with families in tow and just about every kind of trail rider in between. With this in mind, any bike really does go! If you want to set a seriously fast time and use the event as fitness training then a cross-country bike will be best, if you want to smash the descents then your enduro rig will be your best friend. But if you want to enjoy the ups as well as the downs then a good all round trail bike is the best option. We rode the Canyon Spectral WMN which is a 140mm trail bike and had a blast!
5. Use a dropper post
It’s not compulsory but most rides are better with a dropper post, right?! This may be a cross country style event but there are still some serious descents to be had and it helps to be well prepared. 100mm droppers are becoming commonplace on XC bikes now too, so whether you have a short travel race machine or a longer travel trail bike, make sure your dropper post is working correctly and if you don’t have one then consider getting one. There are some good value options available to buy, like this one from Merida (Rockshox Reverb pictured).
If the event you take part in is anything like the Scott MTB Marathon series then they will be plenty of feed stations along the route. We took part in the 45km route which offered two feed stations laden with water, fruit, cake and drink supplements from the sponsor Torq. We still recommend you take your own snacks as an emergency back up though so you don’t have to wait for the feed station to appear before your can replenish your energy levels. Packing your own snacks is also a good idea if you have particular dietary requirements or tastes.
7. Pack a jacket
Even though we rode the MTB Marathon in Minehead on a boiling hot day, we still got surprised by a rather heavy rain shower – and got rather chilly at the same time. Not packing a jacket was a big mistake, it wasn’t needed whilst pedalling but if we’d have had to stop for a mechanical we would have got pretty cold pretty quickly. Lesson learnt, even if is baking hot you still need to take a waterproof.
8.Talk to everyone
This is a sociable event and there is a high likelihood you will be riding amongst riders you don’t know for a few hours. It’s the perfect opportunity to talk about bikes and make friends! Even if you are just overtaking or passing a rider, a friendly hello as you go helps create a great atmosphere.
9. Thank car drivers and walkers
Drivers and walkers were more than happy to make way for us down in Minehead, a quick ‘thank you’ is all it takes to show your appreciation, they have stopped so you don’t have too! With all those riders ahead of you (or behind you), car drivers and walkers can often be stuck for quite some time in a lane or on a narrow patch of trail waiting for you to pass – say thanks and they will hopefully be happy to stop again another time for cyclists!
Is there anything we have missed off this list? Have you been to an event like this and got a tip to share with other readers? Just let us know in the comments below.
If you want to get involved in a marathon race such as this one check out www.mtb-marathon.co.uk for more events from the Scott MTB Marathon team. There is an event in the Peak District on the 1st-2nd September 2018. There are other events just like these too, look at UK Cycling events or check out British Cycling or More Dirt for event details.
Rider Photos - Anthony Pease for MTB Marathon
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