Executing your First 100 mile Mountain Bike Race

This weekend is The E-100. This one is the grand daddy of all 100 milers. It has a whopping 18,627 feet of climbing, mostly on single-track. Last year I finished in 12:44 and was so beaten up even my skin hurt. After the finish I said to my hubby "it's all yours for next year honey". Well I guess not as I'm back to toe the line again on Saturday with goals of going a little faster than last year.

As part of my consulting coaching business I work with athletes to put together a race-day plan to ensure they are doing everything right to hit their target goal. Quite a few are doing the E100 as their first ever off-road 100 miler - jumping in at the deep end!

Here is a sample race plan for a first timer at the E100:

Turning up on the start line peaked and fit is only half the E100. Executing an accurate race on the day is required to turn your speed and strength into results. All the training in the world aint gonna get you to the finish line without accurate execution of many race details. The key to success in your first off-road century is to start with a plan. Going into the race with no plan is relying on luck and the strength of your mojo.

The following is a race plan for an athlete with a goal to finish their first mountain bike 100 miler. A race plan for an athlete aiming for a podium spot or personal record performance will have a vastly different look.

Prep Work

First off, take care of the simple common sense details such as knowing the start time and location. Look up the weather. Considering you may be out on the trail for over 12 hours at a variety of elevations, knowing what conditions to anticipate and clothing to carry is essential. Check sunrise and sunset times to see if you will need lights. The E100 will start and finish in the dark for some racers. Being left out on the trail after dark with no lights is a preventable preparation mistake.

Learn as much as you can about the course from race staff and past racers. Race websites, mountain bike blogs and forums can be good information sources. Pre-riding sections of the course over a weekend trip is especially beneficial to assist with tire selection and bike choice. I recommend leaving the single-speed at home for your first ever 100 miler and choosing a full suspension cross country set up.

Pacing

Toeing the start line with an appropriate pacing strategy is required to achieve your goal. The goal assumed here is to finish within the time cut-off, elated and tired. To achieve this goal you must pace the race with close to even splits, meaning keep an even pace all day. This is not the same as keeping an even effort level or heart rate the whole day. Perceived exertion should be very low in the first few miles and gradually climb for the duration of the event. Pacing at an appropriate perceived exertion off the start line is extremely difficult in the face of race day excitement. Having an objective pacing control such as watts or heart rate on board can be useful.

Pacing Tips

  • Keep your pace entirely aerobic at all times.
  • It is ok to walk short steep sections (in fact your butt will love it) to stay aerobic.
  • Limit power spikes by avoiding short intense burst of speed or power.
  • Ignore other racers in the first few miles and focus on yourself.
  • Ride the first half of the race at a moderate to high cadence to keep your muscles fresh.
  • Allow cadence to drop in the second half of the race as your legs get tired.

Fueling

Speed, positive mental outlook and enjoyment of the second half of a 100 miler is almost entirely reliant on the fuel plan followed in the first half of the race – or more specifically keeping your stomach working. A foul stomach is the number one reason for ultra mountain bike race DNF’s at every level from first timer to pro.

A fuel plan has five parts:

  1. Pacing  How weird to have pacing as part one of the fuel plan right? Wrong… Over-pacing with sustained time over threshold at the start of a 100 miler is the fastest way to shut down your stomach and derail your fuel plan. A working stomach is the foundation of a fuel plan.
  2. Timing The stomach is a delicate creature and you should treat it with lots of TLC if you want to get some love back. Throwing down a big wad of anything quickly puts stress on your stomach and it will rebel. If you are indulging in a double whammy and over-pacing at the same time it will visibly rebel and that is no fun. Whatever goes into you stomach needs be in frequent and small portions. The smaller and more frequent, the happier your gut will be.
  3. Calorie Intake  Personal differences in the calorie amount athletes can process through their stomachs occur but a good rule of thumb is to aim for 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body mass per hour. A 150 pound athlete will be shooting for 75 grams per hour or 300 calories per hour. This is only achievable if #1 and #2 above are taken care of.
  4. Hydration Balance  Ideally replace the fluid you lose, no more and no less. On hot days you will lose more than cool days. Dehydration will slow stomach emptying and decrease performance. In training, weigh yourself before and after rides. For every pound lost, replace with 16 oz of fluid. Over-hydration is less than ideal and has its own problems. If you gain weight on a ride, drink less next time you are out in identical conditions.
  5. Electrolyte Balance  During exercise, electrolytes, largely sodium, are lost in sweat. Perfect body functioning and athletic performance requires attention to electrolyte balance. Again significant differences in electrolyte demands exist between athletes and under varying environmental conditions. Anywhere between 500 – 2000 mg of sodium per hour may be required.

Your Mental Edge

100 miles of mountain biking is a long time to be happy and focused. Having goals and staying task oriented are the keys. Remember at all times your goal: to finish. This keeps everything in the correct perspective and in general keeps your self-talk positive when you are behind schedule or you feel too many racers are in front of you. Keep your eyes on your prize and don’t allow distractions to derail you. But accidents and incidents do occur, from flat tires to developing leg cramps, interrupting your “A” race plan. When plan A goes awry, stay task focused and immediately get on the job of fixing what went wrong and moving on with plan B. Never waste time and energy getting annoyed that plan A didn’t work out perfectly. 100 miles is far too long for everything to work out perfectly. How to successfully deal with mishaps is part of the ultra mountain bike game.

Mechanical

Second in line to your stomach for TLC is your bike. You depend on your steed to make it over the finish line.

Ultra mtb bike care tips:

  • Start with a bike in tip-top condition.
  • Don’t crash. Crashing has a tendency to break non-repairable parts, including frames.
  • Put lube on your chain 1-4 times during the event depending on conditions. Use a long lasting lube such as Rock n’ Roll Extreme lube.
  • Shift gently and smoothly.
  • Ride around deep puddles, not through them, especially hub and bottom bracket deep puddles. These parts dislike swimming.
  • Walk your bike through any technical section you are unsure about.

On completely different note....Emma is getting it rolling on her bike these days. Yesterday was a big breakthrough ride as she figured out how to use the brakes. That means I don't have to be there so close to slow her down. She got a bit too confident this morning tho' and swerved off the bike path giving herself a big fright.