Believe it or not achievers of amazing endurance mountain bike feats were once just normal people with normal lives, jobs, families and lots of other life commitments. Despite standing on podiums and being hailed for their achievements, they still are. One of our riders Matt Jones current 24 hour solo European mountain bike champion gives us an insight on how to get started with endurance mountain biking and his journey.
Before going to University despite have done mountain biking for a few years I would say I was just a fairly bog standard rider, enjoying shorter 12 mile or so trail centre routes predominantly and not particularly enjoying any big long rides that required more than one water bottle. At Uni I continued to be a bog standard rider and even though I was ‘president’ of the cycling club this really just meant president of the boozing and party club with the occasional appearance at the weekly club ride where I was too unfit to keep up (or hungover). If I’m honest I always sort of dreaded the feeling of being left behind by the faster riders. This probably made me turn more to downhill where a couple of bimble push ups at Wharncliffe Woods were a bit more manageable! I played in goal in the Geography football team and died a death trying to keep up with my housemates on their weekly 2mile run (I joined them once only…). Looking back now I wish I had made more of the amazing peak district trails instead of the Sheffield Tavern’s! Still they were good times for sure.
It was only when I started full time work in Newcastle that I actually got a bit of fitness, really by accident. This was purely down to starting to ride my bike every day to work. I only had a full suspension santa cruz heckler (loved that bike!) so this was what I used. I even got fully geared up in cycling clothes for the 3 mile ride in to town. This base mileage although not amazing in total distance made a real difference to my fitness level on the off road stuff at the weekend. I didn’t do it for fitness it was just quicker and cheaper than the bus or car. I started to enjoy the feeling of being a bit fitter as the endorphins were released. Regularity of riding here was the key.
A few mates suggested I go up to Kielder Forest for a local mountain bike race. With the promise of a laid back atmosphere, decent trails and a soup and sandwich in the pub after for the £15 entry fee mostly for local charities, I was sold. I’m not sure I can remember that much of my first xc race other than it being quite hard. I expected to finish last on my full suspension heavy setup but came somewhere near the back a few hours later. I do remember discovering that for the first time I could push myself a little bit beyond what fitness I had by being determined to give it 100%. Like all first time long riders, my arse was sore and I wanted it to end about 2 hours before it did!
I’m not going to give a race by race blow by blow account of races since then but I thought it was useful to give a bit of context to mine and probably other people’s similar journey to fitness and beyond to getting to the sharp end of races. Everyone has some sort of adversity to overcome in their journey to their target fitness level, you can use this to your advantage. I personally had a health scare with the big C back in 2012 which after two operations left me off the bike for a few months and on a real downer. I came out the other side though with a renewed enthusiasm to ‘smash it’ and I know lots of other people who have drawn on life experiences to fuel their legs and motivation to much greater things than pre drama. The mind is such a powerful thing. Even now despite all the training I’m no world beater but I can think back to how much better I feel now about riding in general compared to being unfit.
So what am I saying about ‘getting started’ in endurance events. As the above is a little monologue I’ll go for some top tip more succinct bullet points which aren’t really what kit to use or what training to do but more on the philosophical and mind of matter game:
- Everyone starts somewhere, a fellow endurance athlete advised me on my first 24 hour race “keep going and you will surprise yourself” very true words. YOU CAN DO IT.
- Find some local races, there are some great ones out there that are low key, often for charity, usually involve cake at the end, check out pedalplanner and british cycling event websites
- Ask other more experienced riders for advice, everyone is happy to help, they have ALL been in your shoes. Get a coach for some guidance, you don’t have to be fast to have the benefit of someone helping you on your journey.
- Racing is a great way to help target your road to fitness around a goal. ‘Fear training’ is powerful motivation I find!
- Start small and work your way up. Nobody started mountain biking and said oh I’m going to ride the South Downs Way as my first outing. Build up gradually. Those Red Bull Rampage cliff hucking freeriders didn’t start off life by throwing themselves of 50ft drops, it was a set of 3 steps…
- We are all built differently, not everyone is naturally a racing snake. Always have in mind to give it 100% rather than worrying about the podium, the latter will come if you want it to.
- Enjoy your riding. Don’t lose sight of why you ride bikes, keep in touch with the Tuesday night riding crew who only do six miles before heading to the pub. This keeps things grounded and not always numbers focused and seriousness which can become a burden.
- As you get fitter, riding actually becomes more fun as you have more energy for the descents (which are of course the best bits)
- Make use of ‘dead’ travel time, ride to your parents for the weekend instead of driving!
- As you going longer, harder etc bear in mind that you’ll have to do things differently to keep progressing. Again ask around fellow riders. For example protein intake will need to take a hike if you are to keep your body able to recover from the training load.
- Use adversity to your advantage, draw strength from life events you’ve overcome or use training to get away from stresses.
I hope at least bits of this help you on your journey.