Tips from a seasoned pro

By Sarah Jordan

Ace Your Race

So you’ve signed up for your first mountain bike race. Now what? Follow these tips to help ensure that your upcoming enduro, gravel grinder, or cross-country mountain bike race is the first of many.

#1 – Set your goals

Assess your current fitness level and time available for training, define your personal reasons for racing, then set your goal. Is fun your priority? Or are you aiming to beat a certain time? Setting an achievable goal will motivate you through tough times, while setting you up for the blissful afterglow of race day.

#2 – Get to know the course

Prepare yourself mentally and physically by first taking the time to learn all you can about the race course. You’ll want to find out details on the mileage, elevation gain, and nature of the terrain.

If the race demands more than what you’re capable of at the moment, train by gradually increasing your mileage and climbing until you can complete 80% of what the race requires, but with energy to spare. If the terrain is different from what you’re used to, consider a weekend getaway before the race to ride trails similar to what the event will serve up.

#3 – Choose your equipment

Following from #2, knowledge of the terrain you’ll be racing on is key. Cross-country races vary greatly from venue to venue, so you can choose from any dirt-capable bike in your stable depending on the terrain. For enduro racing, a dual suspension bike with a dropper post is usually a must. Cyclocross and hardtail mountain bikes will help you sail through the long miles of a gravel grinder.

Tire choice is important — a race in the rocky Sierras will require bigger tires with more traction and stronger casing, while lighter and faster rolling tires would be a good choice for a race on smooth flowing coastal trails.

#4 – Have a race day plan

If the distance and elevation gain will test your limits, start your race at a relaxed pace, then dial up your effort later to finish strong. If you can pre-ride the course before race day, do it! You’ll be able to pick out key spots that play to your strengths, and spend time practicing where needed.

Find out if the race organizer will provide water and snacks (or whiskey and bacon) and plan to carry your own nutritional supplies if needed. For best results, eat and drink what is familiar to you and stay away from strange new food choices before and during your race.

Relax, smile, and take a deep breath on the start line. You’ve made it this far! Remember: You can always walk sections that you aren’t ready to ride and pull off the trail to let other riders pass.

#5 – Enjoy the process

From now until race day, relish the thrill of this new adventure! You’ll meet lots of like-minded new riding buddies at the event, and you may just get hooked. In the week before the big day, rest more, ride a little less, and get plenty of sleep.

Race CuriousSarah Jordan recently placed 5th in her age group at Cyclocross Nationals and is a former pro racer. Jordan leads the Race Curious program for Girls Rock Santa Cruz Women’s Mountain Biking. Visit them at to find out more!