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  1. #1
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    Help with race strategy

    I'm trying two new things out this summer and am in need of a little guidance. 1) I'm racing longer courses 30-50 miles in Washington State (NW Epic Series) as opposed to typical 1-1.5 hour races. 2) I'm racing on a singlespeed.

    I tend to hold my own climbing (I'm ~150 lbs). Descending and cornering is my weakness (noticeably). In typical XC fashion, I try to put the hurt on the climbs and get a gap and let it dwindle when I hit the technical stuff and repeat.I don't have a ton of base miles although I'm trying to get them in 3-4 hours every weekend for the last couple months.

    [To avoid the trolls... yes, I'm actively trying to work on my weaknesses with drills during the week etc. Even signed up for a Ryan Leech online clinic. It is what it is at the moment, so I'm focusing on what can be changed immediately]

    The elevation profile for my next 30 mile race is interesting. It seems very nontechnical but with an initial 20 minute climb and fast 10 minute descent at the finish. It's all buff single and doubletrack.

    Questions:
    1) Since it starts with an immediate sustained climb, how hard should I go? Do I need a warmup?
    2) How do I pace? The SS winner was 2:20. My last race finished right at the 3 hour mark and I was toast
    3) How should I gear? I'm more of a spinner... but after the initial climb it just seems undulating.

    Based on previous SS winner times, I just need to bury myself for 2 hours then it's pretty much a good downhill where I hope not to get caught.

    Here is the Strava and a Youtube clip of the race. It's very buff.

    https://www.strava.com/activities/607585054#14817149288

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jrXnIrANK4&t=5778s

  2. #2
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    Average speed is fairly high; to me that track within the bounds of a Cat 1 race typical mileage, although 20-25 miles is preferred.

    In my opinion the biggest difference between a MTB Marathon and XC is the start. The first five minutes of an XC race is basically a mad stampede and an attempt to make everyone else but you blow up. I've tried metering this out in XC races, but it's counterproductive. One doesn't seem to be able to get back those first few minutes of anaerobic power and adrenaline, so might as well spend them. Go as hard as you can without hitting Zone 5 more than a couple of times, and hold on until the finish.

  3. #3
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    My take... do a really good warm-up... go to the start at the last possible minute... then kill it on that first climb. Just be-careful. There's a fine line between going hard at the start and totally cooking yourself for the rest of the day. Make sure you leave enough gas in the tank to finish the day. 30 miles isn't too bad, so you should be able to put in a good dig at the start.

    The usual problem with warming-up til the last minute is staging and getting a good spot on the starting line. Local Endurance races are usually a little more low key.
    TTUB - Ventura County California

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    Thanks. That makes sense and I agree.

    I guess I'm trying to be less subjective though. I run a HR monitor but usually don't reference it for normal shorter XC races. What should I shoot for on the initial climb (and rest of the race) in terms of HR and RPE? "Hard" or "Somewhat hard" or "Too hard" is fairly vague.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelFerrari View Post
    Thanks. That makes sense and I agree.

    I guess I'm trying to be less subjective though. I run a HR monitor but usually don't reference it for normal shorter XC races. What should I shoot for on the initial climb (and rest of the race) in terms of HR and RPE? "Hard" or "Somewhat hard" or "Too hard" is fairly vague.
    Unfortunately, only you can answer your question. You need to experiment, see how your body responds and recovers from specific effort levels and duration.

    For instance, I know that my key HR is 170. I have my Garmin set to alarm at 170 or higher. I can go to 170 and beyond, no problem... but, I have to limit my time in that zone. When I hear that alarm, I have to make a call... if I'm close to the top of a hill or getting a hole-shot on someone... I will press-on for a few minutes. If there's no strategic advantage to pushing it at that moment, then I back off. Basically, I just know that once beyond 170... I am burning a limited number of matches.
    TTUB - Ventura County California

  6. #6
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    I've done that race before on a geared bike...rather poorly. Will you be able to get over there and do a pre-ride? I feel like when I did the race I didn't have the bike set up very well because most of the course was so fast and smooth. The most technical section is the descent into the finish.

    For gearing, I looked into doing the race last year and I found a couple people on Strava that had their ratios posted. It might be worthwhile to do some searching but of course gear choice is very specific to the individual. From what I remember the course had a lot of climbing but was fast and there are only a couple steep sections so you could run higher gearing.

    Good luck.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by economatic View Post
    I've done that race before on a geared bike...rather poorly. Will you be able to get over there and do a pre-ride? I feel like when I did the race I didn't have the bike set up very well because most of the course was so fast and smooth. The most technical section is the descent into the finish.

    For gearing, I looked into doing the race last year and I found a couple people on Strava that had their ratios posted. It might be worthwhile to do some searching but of course gear choice is very specific to the individual. From what I remember the course had a lot of climbing but was fast and there are only a couple steep sections so you could run higher gearing.

    Good luck.
    Thanks. I watched the youtube clip and it cuts out before the finishing downhill; it did seem very nontechnical though. What do you mean by technical on the final downhill? I'm riding a rigid SS by the way.

    I think you also see my dilemma being on a SS. Do I gear for the one climb at the start and final climb before the finish and risk possibly get spun out? Or do I run a harder gear but risk going too hard for the couple climbs but can try and recover on the flat and final downhill? The last SS winner won it in 2:20 and had an average speed around 12.8mph so it's definitely fast.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelFerrari View Post
    Thanks. I watched the youtube clip and it cuts out before the finishing downhill; it did seem very nontechnical though. What do you mean by technical on the final downhill? I'm riding a rigid SS by the way.

    I think you also see my dilemma being on a SS. Do I gear for the one climb at the start and final climb before the finish and risk possibly get spun out? Or do I run a harder gear but risk going too hard for the couple climbs but can try and recover on the flat and final downhill? The last SS winner won it in 2:20 and had an average speed around 12.8mph so it's definitely fast.
    For the last descent I found it to be "technical" compared to the rest of the course, which is not technical at all. It has a lot of whoop-de-doos where you can unexpectedly catch air and things can get a bit rowdy since you'll likely be riding at your limit towards the end of the race. And I think rigid is an excellent choice for that course.

    Personally, I'd go for a higher gear and deal with those couple of climbs so I wouldn't be spun out during other sections of the course. But that's just my preference--I focus on 24 hour solos now and found I have an odd preference to do the low cadence grind on climbs.

  9. #9
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    How'd the race go? I ended up jumping in there at the last minute and raced the 60. The course was completely different from the last time I raced it with less climbing so I hope I didn't lead you astray with my gearing recommendation. I went with 32:19, which was on the low side but I was happy with my time.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelFerrari View Post
    I'm trying two new things out this summer and am in need of a little guidance. 1) I'm racing longer courses 30-50 miles in Washington State (NW Epic Series) as opposed to typical 1-1.5 hour races. 2) I'm racing on a singlespeed.

    I tend to hold my own climbing (I'm ~150 lbs). Descending and cornering is my weakness (noticeably). In typical XC fashion, I try to put the hurt on the climbs and get a gap and let it dwindle when I hit the technical stuff and repeat.I don't have a ton of base miles although I'm trying to get them in 3-4 hours every weekend for the last couple months.

    [To avoid the trolls... yes, I'm actively trying to work on my weaknesses with drills during the week etc. Even signed up for a Ryan Leech online clinic. It is what it is at the moment, so I'm focusing on what can be changed immediately]

    The elevation profile for my next 30 mile race is interesting. It seems very nontechnical but with an initial 20 minute climb and fast 10 minute descent at the finish. It's all buff single and doubletrack.

    Questions:
    1) Since it starts with an immediate sustained climb, how hard should I go? Do I need a warmup?
    2) How do I pace? The SS winner was 2:20. My last race finished right at the 3 hour mark and I was toast
    3) How should I gear? I'm more of a spinner... but after the initial climb it just seems undulating.

    Based on previous SS winner times, I just need to bury myself for 2 hours then it's pretty much a good downhill where I hope not to get caught.

    Here is the Strava and a Youtube clip of the race. It's very buff.

    https://www.strava.com/activities/607585054#14817149288

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jrXnIrANK4&t=5778s
    Ryan Leech certainly has some good skills, but I'd be very weary of learning 'trials' moves to help with XC racing.

    I come from a trials background. It really hindered my ability to race. I'd always slow down and pick my way through lines while others would bomb through them or RUN.

    The trials skills definitely complement MTBing in general, but I think your time would be better spent learning how to race Enduro or Downhill which both cross over much better.

    my 2c

  11. #11
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    I guess it is too late to pose this question, but I'll ask anyway.

    Does it matter on the descent if you spin out at 13 or 14 MPH if the you're going 16 MPH coasting down the hill?

    If the course was more flat where you could push a gear I could see going taller. But if you'll mostly coast down hill regardless of gearing, I'd gear for the climb and hammer that hard.

    But, I don't know the course (can't see it on my phone right now), and don't currently ride SS.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sidewalk View Post
    I guess it is too late to pose this question, but I'll ask anyway.

    Does it matter on the descent if you spin out at 13 or 14 MPH if the you're going 16 MPH coasting down the hill?

    If the course was more flat where you could push a gear I could see going taller. But if you'll mostly coast down hill regardless of gearing, I'd gear for the climb and hammer that hard.

    But, I don't know the course (can't see it on my phone right now), and don't currently ride SS.
    Long shallow descent you'd probably want more gearing, shorter technical descents I wouldn't worry about:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9B3G2U4O7Kk

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    Quote Originally Posted by economatic View Post
    How'd the race go? I ended up jumping in there at the last minute and raced the 60. The course was completely different from the last time I raced it with less climbing so I hope I didn't lead you astray with my gearing recommendation. I went with 32:19, which was on the low side but I was happy with my time.
    It went well; raced with 34x21 which was money. it let me hammer up every climb with a good cadence and wasn't too bad on the flats. I decided to gear lower, as I pulled my back a little bit last week trying to test a harder gear (34x20) on one of my rides.
    Also, I ride an oval chainring so it's not an apples to apples comparison to a round chainring (not even sure how to compare it really...)

    How were you feeling? I couldn't imagine doing a 2nd lap. The rain and hail made my hands numb and absolutely wrecked me for that finishing descent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sidewalk View Post
    I guess it is too late to pose this question, but I'll ask anyway.

    Does it matter on the descent if you spin out at 13 or 14 MPH if the you're going 16 MPH coasting down the hill?

    If the course was more flat where you could push a gear I could see going taller. But if you'll mostly coast down hill regardless of gearing, I'd gear for the climb and hammer that hard.

    But, I don't know the course (can't see it on my phone right now), and don't currently ride SS.
    Bingo. You and I are on the same page. I decided to gear easier and just attacked every climb.

  15. #15
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    I'm also running an oval chainring and I agree, not exactly sure how it translates.

    Overall I felt OK. I had some fatigue from a race a couple weeks earlier so I had concerns early on that lap 2 would be a shit show. It all worked out and I was actually faster towards the end of the race. All that rain and hail was brutal--couldn't feel my hands and spent about an hour after the race shivering.

    And the last descent to the finish added an interesting challenge--someone's off leash dog took off in front of me on the trail. I don't know how long I followed that dog but it had to be close to a mile of riding the brakes on the fastest descent of the course.

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    Take a small lesson from my first half marathon race. I went out fairly easy, unlike I do in XC. I proceeded to be held up by people falling, sliding, spastically running into you when you go to pass. I probably lost 5-10 minutes in the race between this and being stuck behind people in singletrack.

    If I had to do it all over again. I would have gone out hard and stayed in the top of zone 4 through the first two big climbs. Next year...

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelFerrari View Post
    Bingo. You and I are on the same page. I decided to gear easier and just attacked every climb.
    Ha, I feel better now for future SS exploits

    Quote Originally Posted by FJSnoozer View Post
    Take a small lesson from my first half marathon race. I went out fairly easy, unlike I do in XC. I proceeded to be held up by people falling, sliding, spastically running into you when you go to pass. I probably lost 5-10 minutes in the race between this and being stuck behind people in singletrack.

    If I had to do it all over again. I would have gone out hard and stayed in the top of zone 4 through the first two big climbs. Next year...
    This is an unfortunate reality for me in my races. I have to race near XCO pace at the beginning of my endurance events (8 hour races) for about the first 30-45 minutes to keep clear of traffic. I would rather stay in back and conserve energy, but I also want to flow the descents and I can't do that stuck behind non technically skilled riders (no offense to them).

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    Lets not forget the two AAA holes in the marathon group that left 10 minutes ahead of me. They stopped to take a picture at the top of the tallest hill. I crested at 188 BPM and started charging to descend and one of them hopped on his bike despite his friends calls to yield and started coasting/braking down in front of me for the entire rocky singletrack decent!

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by FJSnoozer View Post
    Take a small lesson from my first half marathon race. I went out fairly easy, unlike I do in XC. I proceeded to be held up by people falling, sliding, spastically running into you when you go to pass. I probably lost 5-10 minutes in the race between this and being stuck behind people in singletrack.

    If I had to do it all over again. I would have gone out hard and stayed in the top of zone 4 through the first two big climbs. Next year...
    What's the difference between a half MTB marathon and an XC race?


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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    I see your point. Half marathon at flat rock ranch is 28 miles plus less jeep road and a little bit more tech than the 28 mile loop used in the pro XC loop at the same venue. I had other commitments and couldn't stay for the full.

    I agree with you that if you are a veteran Cat1/pro, this is the same as a normal race. If you are just catting up to Cat 2 or a time crunched Cat 2 racer, racing for 2:15-2:30 is a whole different animal in pacing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FJSnoozer View Post
    Lets not forget the two AAA holes in the marathon group that left 10 minutes ahead of me. They stopped to take a picture at the top of the tallest hill. I crested at 188 BPM and started charging to descend and one of them hopped on his bike despite his friends calls to yield and started coasting/braking down in front of me for the entire rocky singletrack decent!
    Yep, that is the truth about half marathons. While he might be an asshole, he is in his own right if he goes first than you, after all its a race.

    That is why you gotta start very fast and hope not to blow yourself up, despite the long miles ahead. Very often that's the difference between losing 20 mins to traffic or gaining them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TDLover View Post
    , he is in his own right if he goes first than you, after all its a race.
    Your rights in a race and the right thing to do are two different things. If you want to stop and take pictures in a race, that's your right. If you want to treat your race as a supporter ride, that's your right. If you are going to do those things, then blocking people who are there to race is NOT the right thing to do.

    If you want to justify that etiquette, then you also need to justify throwing elbows in tight single track to make a pass.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sidewalk View Post
    Your rights in a race and the right thing to do are two different things. If you want to stop and take pictures in a race, that's your right. If you want to treat your race as a supporter ride, that's your right. If you are going to do those things, then blocking people who are there to race is NOT the right thing to do.

    If you want to justify that etiquette, then you also need to justify throwing elbows in tight single track to make a pass.
    You omitted the part of my sentence where I agree with what you said about the guy, still he is in his right to ride the downhill as he sees fit.

    As I said it's a race, blocking is fair play, might be an asshole move, but fair play nonetheless. Of course if we are talking about a normal casual ride, slower riders have no excuse for blocking or slowing faster ones.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sidewalk View Post
    If you want to justify that etiquette, then you also need to justify throwing elbows in tight single track to make a pass.
    At last weekends really slippery fun CX race we were told "as long as your hands stay on the bars, it's all good"

    Probably not as applicable in a MTB race though

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by TDLover View Post
    You omitted the part of my sentence where I agree with what you said about the guy, still he is in his right to ride the downhill as he sees fit.
    Just not how it comes across on my screen.

    I've just found that the Cat 1 and pro guys have no problem allowing faster riders by. Unless fast guys in my area are just more polite, but I doubt we are special. I've had people in front of me ask me if I am holding them up (usually I am borrowing their pace for a while), and I have moved out of peoples way without even being asked. The blocking strategy doesn't really pay off long term (this isn't motorcycle racing, totally different sport).

    Quote Originally Posted by NordieBoy View Post
    At last weekends really slippery fun CX race we were told "as long as your hands stay on the bars, it's all good"

    Probably not as applicable in a MTB race though
    Ha ha, I got yelled at by a girl I was lapping for not calling out far enough ahead. The course was about 10' wide and I was kinda winded, didn't think leaving a 3' gap was a close pass! I didn't feel guilt

    CX is a whole different world though. Those guys are weird

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    I prefer to start out hard so as to minimize getting caught in traffic. Last race was a twisty, CX-style start on wet grass, so I wasn't able to do much and found myself around 7th when we finally hit the singletrack. Pace was just fine on the downhill and flat sections to start out, but as soon as we hit the first hill I was on the wheels on the 3 riders ahead of me with no way to pass them. I probably lost at least a minute and maybe as much as 1:30 in a 98-minute race. On the other hand I didn't blow-up or feel the need to lay off the gas due to fatigue at any point.

  27. #27
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    A couple of minutes lost on a climb in a 1.5 hour race isn't catastrophic. As long as it doesn't get to you mentally, you can recover that time. You can save your energy and burn it later in the race. At my last race I made a mid race push and gained over a minute on my rivals knowing they would pull it all back on the 3 mike descent at the end.

    Up until this season I used to start out easy and slowly build up steam. I'd end up passing all those people who pushed hard at the beginning. I don't think the race times have changed dramatically, but racing a shorter course format doesn't allow you to do that so I've been trying to start hard from the beginning. Not how I like to pace, but I want to get as many laps as possible before getting pulled!

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    Quote Originally Posted by TDLover View Post
    You omitted the part of my sentence where I agree with what you said about the guy, still he is in his right to ride the downhill as he sees fit.

    As I said it's a race, blocking is fair play, might be an asshole move, but fair play nonetheless. Of course if we are talking about a normal casual ride, slower riders have no excuse for blocking or slowing faster ones.
    Let me clarify for you what happened. Marathon group start was 10 minutes in front of half marathon. (My wife and I rode the half because we had to get to an event later) I caught two gentleman that got off their bikes at the top of one of the last supper steep climbs to take a picture and converse with volunteer race marshals. I had to work through the group of people chatting, and called for Track. Everyone yielded except for one friend who did that awkward leg over skip/push move to get going and cut me off. I ask for the track again and he slowly clips in and proceeds to go his pace.

    He is not in his right to be standing trailside, then walk his bike into the singletrack and block me. He does have the right to get more pressure than he has ever felt on a downhill in his life. I do have a propensity to encourage people to have more confidence and let off the brakes when I know the conditions of the course can handle. Maybe its my own twist on a chapter out of Ned book.

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