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Endurance Racing
For those about to suffer, we salute you.

Let's pretend you're in the middle of a cross-country mountain bike race. And the race officials go to a movie and forget you're out there. So you just keep riding and riding. Now you're dehydrated and exhausted and cramping. But you keep going. That's endurance racing.

Christian Burrell enjoys a moment of quiet contemplation after finishing the Wasatch Back 50. Your first endurance race will be quite an education.

Surviving the Endurance Race
Endurance races may be defined by either time or distance. For example at Six Hours of Frog Hollow you'll ride laps around the race loop. The winner is the rider who's done the most laps when time expires. There are also 12-hour and 24-hour races. Longer races are often relays, as team members trade off.

Other races, for example the Draper Fall Classic, have a defined distance to complete. The race is over when you cross the finish line, whether that's 4 hours or 7 hours.

Checking in. Most endurance races require you to pick up your race number and packet the day before. With an early morning start, there are just too many racers and too little time to do morning-of check-in.

Endurance races also vary significantly in technical requirement. True Grit in St. George serves up some very technical rock riding. Crusher in the Tushar is more of a leg-and-lung contest on dirt roads at altitude.

By the time you consider trying an endurance race, you should be well-acquainted with your own strengths and weaknesses.

Like cross-country races, most endurance races will offer categories that match you against racers of similar ability, age, or gender. There may even be a half-a-race option for those who aren't ready to go the distance.

Training!  Your legs will need to last a long time. It's hard to get the right type of training on mountain trails. Consider training on a road bike. If you can routinely do road rides of 50 miles -- while constantly in your training zone -- you're probably ready from a leg-and-lungs standpoint.

Pre-riding.  If the course is a  point to point (instead of a loop with multiple laps) you may need to break up the pre-ride. That means two or even three rides on different days. Some racers choose only to pre-ride selected technical sections.

Test out the tech sections. Decide what you'll ride and what you'll walk. Find the gear that doesn't stress your leg muscles.

Tools and supplies.  You'll need a basic multi-tool, chain quick-link, spare tube, and pump. Maybe two spare tubes. As the ride gets longer, the chance of a mechanical problem increases. And when you're tired, you're more likely to make the mistakes that create a pinch-flat or broken chain. In an endurance race, you can stop and fix something, then make up the lost time.

You don't want to abort after four long hours. Come fully prepared to fix your bike.

Fluids and nutrition!  Plan your calorie and fluid needs carefully. By race day, you should know what types of fluid and food your stomach can handle during sustained effort. Most of us use electrolyte drinks as part of our calorie intake. I plan one bottle for every 40 minutes of racing (50 miles in 5-1/2 hours = 8 bottles), then add an extra backup bottle to each supply bag. For additional food, use what works for you. Chomps, bars, balls, or gels. (Personally,  I find GU flasks interfere the least with riding and breathing.)

You'll ride better with the food and drinks that your body likes. A drop bag lets you have your own supplies out on the race course. Mark it prominently with your race number. If you're going out of town, don't forget the duct tape and felt-tip marker!

The race will have one or more "feed zones." This is a spot where you can restock. Find out where they are as you make your plans. The distance between feed zones may decide whether you'll use water bottles or a Camelbak.

A "neutral feed zone" has food and fluid for everybody. It takes a little longer to restock at the neutral zone, especially if there's a crowd. And the food or electrolyte drink may not be what you're used to. But for some races, you'll need to restock there.

A neutral feed zone. Some zones are strictly "help yourself." Others may have helpers who hold your bike, quickly fill your bottles with whatever fluid you request, and give you a shove down the trail.

A feed zone with drop bags lets you use your own supplies. Pre-fill some bottles or a spare Camelbak, add your favorite source of calories, and stick them in your drop bag. Your drop bag can include some ibuprofen, a backup tube or tire, a new chain, whatever.

On raceday morning, you'll usually find a pickup truck that's taking all the bags to the feed zone. Find out in advance whether you'll need to drop off your bag yourself. Also, find out if there's more than one feed zone -- you might need two drop bags. Plan your supplies based on the distance and the climbing between feed zones.

The drop bag zone at the Wasatch Back 50. Bags will usually be ordered by race number. Be sure your bag is well-marked. And it doesn't hurt to have a distinctive bag that you can spot from a distance.

Setting your effort level!  You'll be out there a long time. Find the effort level that lets you keep going the longest. Usually, this will be your upper training zone, not your "racing" zone. Don't attack the ledges too enthusiastically. Sit back, spin, and save some leg for mile 45.

Once you've done two or three endurance races, you'll know how hard you can go and still make the distance.

Waiting for the racers at the Draper Fall Classic.

What's after the finish line?  Plan for recovery drinks and calorie replacement after the race. At a defined-miles race, racers will be finishing hours apart. Your buddy may be delayed, or you'll need to hang around for awards. Have stuff in your car, ready to mix up if you need it. If you don't recover right, an endurance race can knock out your legs for weeks.

Racers may finish literally hours apart. Have a contingency plan for late finishers. That means emergency calories and fluid at your car. You may not be able to hit the taco stand right after the race.

Money.  Fees for an endurance race are usually about three times the amount for the typical cross-country race. (A long course needs more markers, more course marshals, more racer support. And from check-in to award ceremony, it simply requires more time by more people.)

Awards are correspondingly sweeter, should you be good enough to hit the podium. But the real reward is the bragging rights. If you've finished a 50 on dirt, you've completed a very difficult task. You've earned the right to brag.

The Men 50-plus podium finishers.