Enduro racing has always been on my mind since I started mountain biking 3 years ago. But throughout that time, I never felt ready. Every time I wanted to sign up for a race, fear would pop up in the form of an excuse for why I shouldn’t do it. It’s too hard. I won’t finish. I’ll finish last. It’s too expensive and far away. I have to wash my hair that weekend.
At some point, I accepted that not finishing, or finishing last, are both inherent parts of the sport and so aren’t legitimate reasons to not race. But fear and logistical excuses remained.
This spring, I found a race that addressed most of my concerns. The Eastern States Cup Blue Mountain Enduro takes place near my childhood home in Philadelphia and is relatively affordable. It has mostly lift-assisted transfers which made it less scary to me. Plus, Blue Mountain is where I learned to snowboard so it’s only fitting that it be where I learn to race enduro. After a little more encouragement from friends and, of course, the VIDA community, I took a deep breath and signed up for it.
With it on my calendar, I started consciously preparing for it. I read Jillian Thatcher’s Why I Encourage Everyone to Race and it helped me solidify my race goals. Since it was my first enduro, my race day goals were to finish with my bike and body in one piece and learn as much as I could about how I can improve for the future. Leading up to race day, my goals revolved around sticking to a workout plan targeting increased power endurance and riding more lines that gave me the heeby-jeebies.
Now that the race is over, I am relieved and proud! I am proud of myself and the ladies I rode with throughout the day. There was a little blood, some bruises, and a missing saddle at the end of one stage, but those were totally worth the great sense of achievement we now share. I can’t wait to cheer for and ride with them in the future. Importantly for me, as someone who struggles with confidence, my first race helped me acknowledge the progress I made since I started mountain biking and provided direction for the progress I can pursue.
If you’re interested in how my first enduro race went and the lessons I learned from it, keep reading.
I woke up early, from the sunrise and nerves. I had several ominous dreams— one about losing my timing chip and another about not finishing the race because I spent too much time at a museum exhibit about Ancient Egypt in between stages (any dream interpreters out there?). With a solid 2 hours to prepare beforehand, I showed up to the 8:30am racers meeting rip-roaring ready to go… only to learn that Amateur Women don’t start until 10:50am. Instead of relaxing, my nerves started getting wacky again. Anticipation is the worst!
Luckily, I met the other women in my category at the meeting and I relaxed a bit knowing I was in good company. We shared similar enthusiasm, goals, and priorities (safety, fun, results, in that order). I started to feel the enduro camaraderie that everyone raves about.
But then Stage 1 happened and all I could think about was why did I sign up to race in the first place. Oof! From yesterday’s pre-riding, I wanted to just survive the long, super rocky, awkwardly punchy upper section. I planned on riding it conservatively. Instead, with my heart beating like it wanted to escape my chest, I sped out the gates and fell three times on parts I previously cleaned. These were dramatic falls too, including one where I rolled off the trail and ended up with my legs over my head. Each second felt like a minute and the “what’s the point of me being here?” feeling started creeping in while I clambered myself and my bike back upright.
At the bottom of Stage 1, I learned that almost everyone had a rough start. The stage felt a little like a hazing ritual. The shared struggle definitely brought us ladies closer together. Because while everyone was their own harshest critic, we were each other’s biggest fans. We motivated each other to keep going.
Stage 2 wasn’t very redeeming for me either. I rode it blind and cleanly the day before, including the crux– a steep tight chute through some trees. But now that I anticipated it, a minor hesitation in that section sent me flying as my handlebars nicked a tree at speed. Fortunately, I was only a little shaken and rode out the rest of the stage fine. I did find some nice gashes on my palm and shins after I chipped out. I hoped the blood from the first two stages was enough to appease the enduro gods for the rest of the day.
At this point in the race, I needed a mental reset. I needed to feel like I actually know how to mountain bike. And so I committed to riding as smoothly as possible, even if that meant only going 80% tops. It led to clean runs on Stage 3 and 4.
I carried that conservative but smooth mindset to Stage 5, which I dreaded as much as Stage 1. I knew with the Amateur Women going last, the trail was likely to be even looser than when I practiced it the day before. Fortunately, with calmer nerves and a cooler head, I got down it’s loose, rocky, rooty switchbacks without too much trouble. It was my best stage of the race.
And with that, I, along with all all the amateur ladies, completed the ESC Blue Mountain Enduro! We greeted each other at the finish line with high fives and a mandatory dance party (because it’s fun and everybody, guys included, should do it). We celebrated the whole experience of enduro racing, including the fear and anxiety that taunted us before each stage, because overcoming them together was what made the day’s accomplishments feel so spectacular.
Now that my first enduro race is over, would I do another? Absolutely. Here are a few things I learned and want to work on for future races.
FIRST ENDURO RACE LESSONS LEARNED
Practice smart – Practice too much or too fast and you risk wearing or injuring yourself out of the race. Practice too little or too slow and you’ll miss out on familiarizing yourself with the stages at speed. Concerned about over-practicing, I practiced each stage once at about 65%. As you’ve read, I could have benefitted from riding some of the stages more. Without many pedal transfers, this was a race where I shouldn’t have worried so much about conserving energy. I need to work on adapting practice strategies to the race and its unique demands.
Prepare for nerves – Straight out the gates on Stage 1, I was stiff, I couldn’t get my heart rate down, and my preparation went out the door. I was really caught off guard by how undisciplined my nerves were. Now that I’m aware of them, I’m going to have to figure out a pre-race routine that’ll help me cool my anxiety jets. Similarly…
Make a pre-stage checklist – I almost dropped into a stage with my shock locked out. After that near-miss, I came up with a short, pre-stage mental checklist to help avoid easily preventable mishaps. Goggles down? Suspension open? Dropper in right position? Gloves on? Pads, shoe laces, and timing chip tight? Fist bump the person behind you?
Make a post-stage checklist – 10 deep breathes? Handlebars straight? Tires keeping air? Enduro days are long and making sure you conserve your chill and maintain your gear between stages will also help ward off preventable issues.
Don’t change your bike too much right before the race – I heard this tip a lot but alas, I couldn’t stop myself from swapping out resin brake pads for metallic ones a week before the race. I read about how metallic pads are suppose to perform better in downhill-focused situations. While that might be true, I wasn’t prepared for the difference in feel and, oh my gosh, the sound. Was I riding a prehistoric turkey with something caught in its throat? Watch the clip of me below and decide for yourself. I think any benefit those pads brought were negated by how unfamiliar and jarring I found them.
Everybody wants to see you succeed – Really! Despite everyone telling me this, I wasn’t convinced it was true. I had these irrational concerns about falling, failing, and everybody LOL-ing at me. Confidence and reason are fickle beasts. But after finishing this race, I can say with certainty that in enduro, everybody is out there wanting to ride their best and rooting for everyone else to ride their best as well.
More arm workouts – As they say, friends don’t let friends skip leg day. In enduro, friends don’t let friends skip arm day either!
The last thing I learned worth mentioning is that reading or watching other people’s racing experience is useful but not as useful (or fun) as just doing one yourself! So here are a few links below where you can find and sign up for your first/next enduro race. Good luck and see you at the start gates!
- East Coast Enduro (Includes all the Eastern States Cup and Mid-Atlantic Super Series events)
- Clif Enduro Lite – An enduro targeted at beginners
- Big Mountain Enduro
- Scott Enduro Cup
- Revolution Enduro
- Montana Enduro Series
- Abajo Enduro
- Vail Outlier
- Moab Ho-Down
- Sturdy Dirty – Women’s only enduro series
- California Enduro Series
- SoCal Enduro Series
- Idaho Enduro Series