Our man Pete Scullion just completed the 2015 Epic Israel – a 180-mile, 3 day marathon mountain bike race.
Epic Israel was Pete’s first big mountain bike race and a “monumental learning curve”.
Here’s his top 5 tips for surviving your first big, gnarly, multi-day race.
Guess what? Epic Israel was tough. It left me in a pit of tiredness and self-pity like no other mountain bike race! Here are a few of my tips on how to survive your first big, multi-day mountain bike race … be it the Epic Israel or any other.
As soon as I crossed the start line I discovered that Epic Israel was potentially bigger than me, both mentally and physically. I learned so much about myself and my limits on that first day, and that will serve me well on any other daft mountain bike race or adventure I find myself roped into. I hope these help you too!
I picked Rab Wardell of Dirt School to be my team mate for this race.
Beyond the consultation and training plans we worked on, Rab was my eyes and ears (and legs on more than one occasion) when I started to wilt. As I rode into the unknown, I had every confidence that Rab was sat well within his comfort zone.
Beyond telling me to keep my feet wet to stay cool (pro-tip!), that I was going too fast, riding with an empty bottle or that I should sink a gel Rab is a master at chatting utter shite – and that really helped. When I started disintegrating at the 100km mark on day 1, the in-jokes we’d mastered through shared experience brought me up from a dark place and kept my legs spinning when I was really starting to suffer.
Even while we discussed the finer points of how long we’d known our caravan, the hilarious (to us) fact that ken is ‘yes’ in Hebrew but a whole different word in Scottish dialect, or thunder cannons (we had some impressive lightning storms on our first night in Tel Aviv) I knew that Rab was keeping an eye on me and all the stuff I mentioned above. To conclude, talking shite is the best way to keep me ticking and Rab is truly gifted at it. If you want to gain some of Rab’s experience, head here.
Day 1 was a mass start affair and everyone left the gate like a stabbed rat.
This I am sure was the undoing of many a promising race, not just my own. While I was merely content to have finished each day and the event itself, I don’t think I could ever say I was ‘racing’ the Epic Israel.
I would say my reluctance to use the granny ring until it was the only option, our pace off the start and enthusiasm up the first climb was what pulled the rug from under me. I’m confident had our pace been more relaxed on day 1, the following two days would have been straightforward (relatively speaking) and I wouldn’t have bottomed out so hard as we ticked past the 60 mile mark on day 1.
“I got too excited and blew my ring before the race had really started. Tit!”
It was on day 2 that I backed off to the pace I knew I could push all day and despite the kilometre of extra climbing over the first day, over practically the same distance, in my head, it was by far the easier day. Half the pack seemed to be in their hardest gear, smashing the flat fireroads, only to go backwards up the climbs and descents. It’s far too easy to get sucked into a race with a roadie on a mountain bike here. So, I got too excited and blew my ring before the race had really started. Tit!
A video posted by Pete Scullion (@petescullion) on
No matter how hard you train for a race like this, your first will be a raging whirlpool of unknowns.
Think you’re fit? 3 day stage races will uncover any flaw in your regime, not matter how big or small you’ve chosen it to be.
Despite a 3-tier training plan and ample time on the bike, I never once felt like this was an easy undertaking. Even despite my fitness being more endurance based anyway, the markers of my knee caps clicking (indication that legs are warm) and hilarious flatulence (indication I am working and working hard) never appeared.
Had I done more limit-reaching rides before the race, this might not have been so worrying an occurrence come race day. Three and a half months is not a lot of time to prepare for anything as big as this, and if I were to race Epic Israel again in 2016, I would start training hard and start training now.
Choose your kit wisely.
Shit kit won’t do you any good at a race like the Epic Israel.
When you’re racing in 30+ degrees, sweat and discomfort is a serious problem. Any hems or ill-fitting kit will rip you, quite literally, a new one over the course of 180 miles.
As each day progresses, discomfort and poor kit will leave you less able to ride effectively. Knowledge of your own body and how certain brands of kit fit is paramount, and failing that, enough time to make minor mods, like wearing a slightly thicker sock to pad a shoe out, are a godsend. The folks at Zyro were very kind indeed to hook me up with a set of theGiro Gauge shoes and a Fathom helmet. Both are top of the line cross country goods. Both fitted me perfectly and only a more comfy set of socks were needed to keep the fit in good order over the long days.
A carbon, or at least a very stiff, soled shoe is a must. Stage races are like big road races on dirt tracks, so power transfer and efficiency are king. A 4 year old set of Five Tens really won’t cut the mustard here. Continental sorted us out with race kit that sat comfy for the full 180 mile trip, while the X-King 2.2 Protection tyres, tubeless naturally, aren’t the lightest but saw us without a single puncture in 23 hours of racing.
My 2016 Saracen Mantra Trail Carbon, a sensibly light carbon hardtail, may not be the raciest out there, but sensible angles made it a joy to ride when the going was fast and smooth. Not a single mechanical in 3 days. It is surprising how little you need while racing one of these, so put the effort into taking what you do need the best.
It may sound obvious, but a race like Epic Israel is hard both physically and mentally, sleep is key!
My complete lack of sleep the night before day 1 will have no doubt contributed to my disintegration later the following day!
Priorities in a skewed order meant I wasn’t in my best shape as we flew out, and a crap night’s sleep in Tel Aviv started the downward spiral. I should have been a bit more ruthless in my sleep-chasing prior to this race to get me in better shape. I know full well I can tell my legs to keep going, the point at which mental fitness takes over, but I didn’t have that option 100km into day 1.
Avoiding the touristy stuff organised for us wouldn’t have seen our group become friends and for that it was a great experience, but it did wear us out when we should have been at the race village relaxing into our homes for the 3 days, in our case, a caravan.
If you missed Pete’s daily race diary, then you can catch up with all the action here.