Hard enduro events
are among the most challenging tests you can put your bike and body through. The spectacular courses are designed to showcase extreme elements and cover mountain tracks, woodland, rocky ground, mud, hills and valleys. The physical and mental demands of even a short ride over this sort of terrain would challenge most riders, making the decision to compete in a multi-day enduro event somewhere between inspired and insane.
Clicking ‘apply’ for your first race will get the adrenaline pumping before you even leave home, but don’t underestimate how punishing hard enduro is. Even the pros find themselves praying on the starting line. Follow our tips to get yourself in peak physical and mental condition before hitting the start line.
Build a foundation of aerobic endurance
Aerobic endurance is the foundation of successful extreme enduro riding. Building the stamina needed to compete with your heart rate elevated to 70-80% of maximum for five or six hours of racing is tough — and don’t forget that in multi day events, you will be back in the saddle tomorrow, soreness, fatigue and all.
In reality, the base fitness needed for hard enduro takes time to achieve. Walking, biking, swimming, cross-country skiing and other activities complemented by a healthy diet are good for endurance improvement. This is a level of fitness that takes not weeks but years to build, so plan for the long haul.
Wherever you are on this journey, harness the cumulative power of small changes and improvements. Small changes to your diet, exercise regime, and rest can add up to a big difference in your overall fitness and endurance on race day.
- Newbies might see the greatest impact from aerobic training on their riding, but even pros crosstrain to get closer to their maximum potential output.
- Look to build endurance fitness more than sprint fitness. You need to be able to keep your heart rate elevated for hours on end without exhaustion setting in.
- Aim for consistent improvement of your aerobic endurance. Establish a base level of fitness and then ‘level up’ by gradually increasing distance or difficulty.
- Once you have a good base fitness, try a new activity to shake things up and keep yourself interested.
- Figure out and address any specific physical weaknesses well in advance of your race. If you have some muscle groups that need more attention, or if you struggle with stamina, don’t ignore that!
- As with all athletic training, rest and recovery are important factors that are often overlooked. Plan rest days and listen to your body as you train harder.
Ride, ride and ride some more
Riding, more riding and even more riding are the best preparation for racing. Enjoy training rides on different terrains and in different conditions to get better physically and mentally prepared for your race. Get some trials skills — you’re going to need them for tackling the obstacles, uphills and downhills. Push some boundaries in practice and see what works for you.
Aside from building skills, hours in the saddle help you understand how you and your bike can work together to conserve energy. You won’t regret it when you’re feeling the heat on the extreme enduro course.
- Develop your riding skills with variety — different tracks and conditions will build your awareness and skills.
- The more time you spend on the bike, the more relaxed you become, meaning less energy consumption and fatigue. With a lower heart rate, you can focus more on riding intelligently and less on hanging on to the handlebar with your teeth.
- Prior to the race, try to get some practice in race-like conditions. This will prepare you for the difficulties ahead and help you tune in to the terrain. Don’t forget to make sure your bike is race ready with our checklist.
- Trials riding is as much about your brain as your bike. Develop the art of anticipation and learn to hone your judgement with regular practice so you can be ready for the worst an extreme enduro course can throw at you.
- Avoid arm pump by gripping the tank. On a rough course, your quads (as some of your largest muscles) are the best place to absorb the ruts.
Develop mental toughness
Besides the physical stress, extreme enduros can also be mentally tough. Your brain is working every bit as hard as your body in judging the terrain and anticipating the next necessary move. Nobody wants to crash or have problems, but it will happen when you’re riding to push yourself. Having the mental toughness to focus on avoiding issues, and the resilience to regain momentum if it should happen, are key to a successful enduro experience.
- Have a plan. Whether you ride sections of the course or just visualise your race, do whatever you can to avoid unsettling surprises on race day.
- Make your training rides as challenging as possible to test and develop your ability to retain focus after a long time in the saddle.
- Relax. If the course is rough – and it will be – then every hole or bump will jolt a tense rider. Make a conscious effort to relax your muscles, breathe deep and easy, and you will find focus much easier to come by.
- Some riders simulate restarting and regaining momentum after an abrupt stop in training to get used to doing the same in crash experiences. Learning to focus again when you’ve been thrown by the unexpected during a race is an important element of mental training.
Fuel your body right
Like your bike, your body is not going to reach optimum performance without the right fuel. Good, nutritious food is a must to get the best from intensive training. When it comes to race day, riders vary in approach. Some are happy with just enough water and snacks to see them through, while others take a more scientific approach, including supplements and specific sports nutrition products.
At the very least, it is common to have some energy gels, sport drinks and snacks for the race. For Romaniacs, Rabaconda co-owner Jakob Saks consulted with one of the best cyclists in Estonia who helped him put together a list of specialist products to use before, during, and after the 4-day race for quick recovery. These included isotonic drinks, energy bars and anti-cramp tablets. If you feel like you need more to optimise your race day performance, experiment with the products available or seek specialist advice.
If you’re considering the challenge of an extreme enduro competition, don’t forget that an ounce of preparation is better than a pound of cure. Develop your endurance fitness to handle the distance, and your mental toughness to overcome the obstacles you will doubtless meet. And most of all, lay down all the hours in the saddle you possibly can to make sure your bike, brain and body are in the best possible condition for your hard enduro race.
Didn’t read our previous article on Preparing Your Gear for a Hard Enduro Race? Check it out here.