Hi Syd :)
Thanks for keeping your wonderful blog. I am a rider from Egypt who has been dreaming big for years despite that I have been riding for only 4 yrs. I started racing local enduros only two years ago and tried an EWS [Enduro World Series] qualifing event last year which was not successful. The racing conditions were terrible with a thunderstorm and I think mentally I wasn’t ready for it. This year, it’s different. I have an amazing mtb coach and I’m working on skills and fitness. Doing at least 1 local race a month to get better. I live in Israel by the way which makes it easier! So the plan is to try more EWS qualifiers this year! To make things more exciting I won the EWS lottery for Madeira, Portugal in May :))
Here’s my question: I am focusing on skills, fitness, mental preparation and nutrition… but I need to believe from the bottom of my heart that I can make it in EWS Madeira? Any advice?
I decided to post my response to Yasmine, because I think there are a lot of people out there who are interested in trying an Enduro World Series race, or maybe just got into their first one via the lottery this year and are curious what to expect. While I don’t really consider myself to be an EWS racer, I have a raced a handful of the events and I certainly know what it feels like to be unprepared for the challenges of these races. (See here and here for tales of woe from my EWS exploits in 2015.)
Here’s my advice for taking on your first EWS race —
1. Don’t set expectations/goals for finishing in a certain position. The competition is incredibly fast and there’s really no way to know how you stack up until you try. So try to release yourself from any pressure on that front — once you’ve done at least one EWS you can set a goal of improving your position at the next one. Thinking about it any other way is just going to add extra stress. So wherever you finish, just think of it as a learning experience. Even though I’ve done 6 EWS races at this point, I still never set any goal position-wise — I just shoot to finish and stay calm, competent and upright for the entire race. I’ve been last, and I’ve been top-20. Shit happens at these races, and sometimes it’s out of your control.
2. If you are unable to ride something in practice, don’t ride it in the race. Running/sliding-on-your-butt is almost always faster than crashing. I have learned this lesson the hard way a few times. The trails change a LOT between practice and the race at an EWS, especially for the women as we race after all but the top 30 men. This means that some 400 racers shred up the trails before us. This makes everything harder, and it’s really important to remember that and not get discouraged if you are having more trouble during the race than you did in practice.
3. Accept that the pre-ride schedule might be very physically challenging and you might be tired before you even start the race. This is a hard one for me because when a race is important to me I want to show up refreshed and at my best. Unfortunately long practice days are part of EWS racing and everyone is in the same boat. Every race is different but for Chile last year we rode 30 miles both Thursday and Friday for practice, and then again Saturday and Sunday for the race. So, 60 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing before the race even started. I was EXHAUSTED. This can be demoralizing but remember, everyone is in the same situation and they’re all tired, too, even if they pretend they aren’t ;)
4. Try to keep in perspective that these races are hard AF. EWS races have been some of the hardest mountain bike events I have ever done. Actually, come to that, hardest sporting events of any sort I have ever done. Part of this is physical, with very long days out on the bike. Part of this is skills based, as sometimes the stages are as hard as world cup DH stages, but four times as long. Part of this is mental, as the whole scene is very amped up and can be stressful. So, it’s important to keep all that perspective. You will be racing against women/men who have done 7-8 of these races every year for the past three years, and some of them raced world cup DH for 10 years before that — these people will make things that are hard for you look easy. But they didn’t get to where they are overnight. Just by showing up and giving it a go, you are doing awesome. We all have to start somewhere.
Ultimately, what I tried to tell Yasmine is a lesson I wish I had learned way earlier than I did: these races are a very different experience to pretty much any other bike race, and your first attempt is not a measure of what you are capable of — it is simply a starting point. And an incredible experience racing your bike on some of the world’s best trails. So enjoy it. And remember that you’re lucky to be there.