A 24hr endurance mountain bike race is pretty simply, you just ride a mountain bike around in circles in a forest in north Scotland for 24hours. The winner is whoever rides the furthest.
Stopping and sleeping are entirely optional, clearly both mean you’ll lose time. The more complicated part is understanding why you entered it in the first place.
Relentless 24 hour race takes in a slightly more enjoyable trail and with 15.5hrs of pitch black night riding it offers enough challenge to make it slightly ‘fun’, unlike the Strathpuffer 24hr race held even further north and even further into the depths of Scottish winter which is just brutal. Relentless is however being held over Halloween which also adds a certain spice to the event.
This will be by far the longest race I have ever entered and it will probably also be the only 24hr race I will enter, solo at least! Then again who knows I might love it and many of the fastest riders are still 10 years older than me so I have time!
Training for a 24 hour race
In a definite change of tact to my normal training regime for XC racing I opted to do way more of my preparation on my hardtail mountain bike – the bike I will be racing.
Road riding is all about a constant steady cadence and is a great way to control you power outputs and ensure a good workout. However this race is about more than strong legs, it’s about having the ability to hold on and survive tough bumpy riding for hour after hour. The only way to acclimatize and prepare for that is to train over long rides on a mountain bike I decided.
Phase 1 – Base Fitness
For me this was my daily commute and then less of a strict training regime and more a holiday that worked out as perfect training! I went cycle touring for three weeks at high altitude in Central Asia in late August/September as the blog is full of pictures from. This is not your standard training for a Scottish MTB race, but riding 100km every day at high altitude (mostly 4,000m+) is a great way to boost base fitness levels. I highly recommend cycling near Afghanistan to increase your stamina, as you’ll want to make rapid progress! A training camp in the Alps or somewhere else involving mountains and riding solid for a week or so would have similar effects, although a bit less extreme. A prolonged cycling trip like this undoubtedly boosts your fitness but underlying stamina takes longer to build up.
Building up my base fitness I thought would be the key for surviving 24hrs, hopefully all my riding almost everyday over the last year should help as well as the solid block of daily riding in Central Asia.
Phase 2 – Specific mountain biking training.
This was where I might normally get out on the road bike, however after returning home I had a couple of months to step up the training and I decided to take this chance to explore the best off road biking in the Tweed valley by planning a series of long 70km+ mountain bike rides from my home in Peebles.
Week one I did the Complete Tweed valley trail centre loop, a loop everyone should do once: Glentress, Black, Red, Blue, then along the cycle path to Innerleithen to do the red trail, before riding back to Peebles.
For this phase I really think you have to be anti-social and train on your own to be effective, I wanted to ride non stop and at a decent pace, others might want to go faster or slower than what suits you making it pretty difficult. Normally I can maintain this fast rate for about 7 hours, however I took too little food so struggled on most of my longer rides. I used the Strava GPS App to monitor my speed and distance. For the trail centre loop it showed I set the fastest ever lap of the current Red at Glentress. I also did the 7th fastest lap of the Innerleithen Red XC route, but I was 30mins off my fastest lap of the black – it was fair to say I totally burnt out…. lesson learnt I needed to go slower if I was to survive 24 hours.
Next week was probably the best super long MTB loop in the Tweed Valley: I road Gypsy Glen from Peebles, then up Cardrona forest and over to Traquair, next I was up to Minch Moor and across to the Three brethren by Selkirk. Light was fading so I missed the Elibank climb, but I did ride up the ‘golfie’ for a lap of community service, then up Leithen water’s never ending climb into Glentress, doing a descent of Mast of Zorro before riding home via a loop of gravel forest tracks. An amazing 100km loop with all the best bits of the Tweed valley included.
I did a few more great natural tweed longer rides. By varying the routes and getting out into the hills the training went past quickly and was great opportunity to link up old and find new trails in the Tweed valley.
Phase 3 – Tapering and Eating like a pro
So the final two weeks have been the hardest, I have been trying to stay off the bike and recover from recent efforts. This is the tough part because not riding my bike very much is hard when I’m addicted (if only there was an addiction clinic nearby!) I am still doing about 160km a week on the road but eating lots of food and trying to sleep lots. I should have had more time off the bike but with my commute and testing night lights and getting into night riding again I’ve done a bit too much.
Eating the right food is probably also key, I’ve cut down on Ben & Jerrys instead eating lots protein, decent carbs and reduced to clear Bounty Cookies.
I have used my trusty XC race bike without too many tweaks:
1. Swapped saddle to my touring bike saddle as I know I can rely on this for bit more comfort.
2. Put a new chain on to ensure it doesn’t wear out during the race, the cassette is still in good shape.
3. New brake pads in so they shouldn’t need swapping out during the race.
4. Comfortable foam grips on forgiving carbon handlebars to help with trail feedback
5. I am testing out the Absolute Black Oval chainrings that should lower fatigue on the legs in theory in practice the seem little different, I have swapped my single 36t front ring for an easier 32t.
6. I will start with skinny race tyres – Schwalbe Thunderburts before swapping to a heavier set of wheels with Nobby Nics later in the race, for comfort mostly.
7. Ensure I have enough lights and charged batteries! I have my Chinese CREED LED lights to use see my review of chinese LED night lights here. I will use low power on all fire roads to try an inch out every minute of light to ensure I can ride the 15.5hrs of darkness!
8.Two pairs of SPD shoes ready in case I get soaked and cold feet!
9. At least 4 Complete separate sets of clothing to adjust to temperature and also in case I get soaked. It’s also probably good hygiene to swap!
10.I have packed spare wheels, chain, tyres, tubes, chainset, bars, saddle, pedals and a third back up light unit. This means something else will break but I have most situations covered!
Most of all I must remember it’s 24hrs and to go slowly from the start, so wish me luck…..