Enduro Racing – How to get faster?

This year I started trying my hand at the massively popular new phenomenon: Enduro racing.
Enduro has boomed while I was busy skiing and cycling around the planet and it’s now time for me to play catch up. As most blog readers know I come from a more fitness based background of XC, MTB marathon racing and I also like cycling across countries, neither sets me up well for the physical, short and fast downhill based Enduro racing but I thought I’d try it out.

Basically an Enduro is a long mountain bike ride where about 5 or 6 stages of mostly downhill trail are timed for a total time of 20 about minutes. It’s fun for more people as it’s not so much fitness as skill based and a good bit of holding your nerve too. You can have a chat on the way up then race on the way down. Oh and it’s very fashionable at the moment too.

For once these aren’t my pictures instead they’re taken from Addy Pope’s FlickR, check his pictures out at:
Addy’s FlickR

In my first ever ‘duro race in March 2015 I did OK finishing 26th out of 200+ riders in the first Scottish Enduro Series race at Innerleithen. I fell off a fair bit and felt frustrated not to finish higher.  Since then I haven’t fared much better. I had a disaster in the mud at Whinlatter Gravity Stage Race in the Lake District, which was a blind (i.e. no practice) race that was universally won by local shop riders. In the recent Enduro world series I lowered my expectations and just wanted to have a clean, safe and most of all fun, couple of days racing which I succeeded in. But I wasn’t particularly fast in any of the races, so why wasn’t I quicker?

1. Blame Canada

I still hold out part of my issue is that the last trails I rode day in day out were in Fernie, Canada where I only really went out riding in the dry. Unlike Scotland it was dry almost everyday. The deep dry ‘n drifty brown pow makes for a different set up and style of riding. The trails are steep rooty and tight but the soil is soft and loamy with less rock. The standard of riders in Fernie was sky high so it was good riding with fast locals, but after I returned to the UK I hit the wet slippery roots and the deep mud of Scotland’s trails which are an entirely different skill-set. The bike squirms about and handling has to be loose, corners grab then release unpredictably and two wheel drifting around corners is a whole world more scary then in Fernie. The trails are much slower and tighter and it takes time to adjust.

Legitimacy of blame 5/10

2. Blaming the tyres

In the Tweed Valley here in Scotland tyre choice is a huge debate and something that I am slowly mastering. Each individual ride might require three different styles of tyre. Steep and rooty trails need super grippy soft low spike tyres like a Maxxis super tacky Minion, then the deep mud of newer trails require long mud spikes that are narrower to cut through and clear the gloop, then onto hardpack sections where speed is needed like at Glentress where I like a Maxxis High Roller or Schwalbe Nobby Nic. I still haven’t got it right but my Hans Dampf/High Roller combo is better all condition compromise than it was. I was also running my tyres at an XC’tastic 35 to 40 psi which is actually pretty scary now after I’ve been riding softer tyres with closer to 20psi, the difference in grip is colossal but damaging the tyres is still a bigger risk on the rockier trails, despite running tubeless.

Legitimacy of blame 7/10

From outer space

3. Blaming the bike

Firstly it’s easy to blame the bike so I did. To be fair there are a few short comings as my Intense Carbine is designed in California where thick mud is as scarce as drinking water. In Scotland we have plenty of both and it likes to accumulate on my VPP linkage until the rear wheel stops spinning. This is not ideal, but nor is me going so slowly that mud accumulates on the tyres. The bike is a dream to ride on most trails and with my new 780mm wide bars and ultra wide 35mm carbon rims it handles a lot better than it did.

Legitimacy of blame 5/10

4. Blaming my fitness

This is a tough one. From all my road riding and long haul touring my base fitness is great, in fact it’s about the best it’s ever been. However Enduro is not a marathon it is 6 short blasts and my legs struggle at this peak intensity, I like to treat the whole race as a race and spin around quickly and this gives me clean runs on stages as I arrive before the field but I gain little else.  I also have no real upper body strength from road riding so hauling the bike around is a real struggle in steep technical stages. If I can sit down for a section then I can spin a large gear at a high speed but that is rarely possible in Enduro. However I do recover quickly and that is a big plus, I normally feel fresh on the start line.

Legitimacy of blame 4/10

5. Blaming my nerve between trees at 30mph

This is a tough one as I do feel I am quick to pull the brakes on but if I don’t I tend to crash. Is this nerve or technique. The obvious answer is both, if I had the nerve to commit to a corner at speed and get in the right position I wouldn’t crash as much. Much like snowboarding off a 30ft cliff if there’s a moment of doubt and my balance is wrong then the landing is a failure. I need to visualize riding out of the corner at the speed I enter and not think about how I will wipe off speed in the corner. Easier said than done and that’s exactly why I never bother racing downhill.

Legitimacy of blame 6/10

Chase me

Final Thoughts
After much experimenting I have had to go back to the drawing board and ride slower to crash less and slowly rebuild my speed in these wet conditions. I am getting smoother where I can through the corners and now only stomping the pedals in straights or flat sections.
On reflection it seems equipment is actually more important than you might think in squeezing a few further seconds lead out. We may feel that the new fad is just a marketing tool, but most improvements reduce a few more crucial seconds. For me this was especially true for wider bars, carbon wheels and better suited tyres. However most importantly it seems I need to get a stronger upper body to move the bike about on these loose but tight trails. I will work on sprint intervals to increase my high ability to maintain a super high intensity for longer bursts while not neglecting just how important maintaining my high base fitness.
On the other hand I might save some money and just go ride my bike for a while 🙂