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Racing...which category is 'my' category?

When I first started racing in late 2007 I didn't give categories much thought other than, ride the category with the most laps. I did this for three main reasons, firstly I was travelling for at least three hours for races so the more time I was riding the bike the better. Secondly at my first ever race I watched the film '24 solo' and it made me think about the psychological side of riding your bike for that long and how you cope with it, so I decided that my goal should be to build up to a point when I feel fit enough to try to ride my bike for 24 hours...just to see what would happen, could I hack it, would I start hallucinating, how would I keep myself motivated (I'm motivated, but not sure if I'm THAT motivated). Finally, I rather foolishly thought if I entered the longer races people wouldn't ride as fast so I'd be able to keep up and hopefully dogged determination would get me a reasonable result (a reasonable result I thought was not finishing in last place).

Anyway, I've since learned a lot, sometimes from other racers, sometimes by doing something stupid. I thought I had figured out which category I should be in but when I started to think about riding in the national xc races, I realised I was still confused between the ability categories (Sport\Expert\Elite) and the age categories (Masters, Veterans, etc). So here is a little bit of information about who I think rides in these categories and why, based on what I've seen.

Under 12's, Youth, Juvenile, Juniors, etc
It's great seeing races where they have this category as it's the future of our sport so the future XC stars are probably already lining up on the start line. I always wish I'd thought to buy a mountain bike when I was a kid and get started early, rather than spend my time building ramps and messing around on my bmx. I learnt a lot of my awesome skills on my bmx and have scars to prove it so it wasn't a complete waste of time. These are all age related groups so ability doesn't really come into it. Don't be surprised when the 'whippets' in these groups pass you during races.

Under 23's
You'll find up and coming racers and racers starting to really hit their stride in this category. I'd expect this to be extremely competitive as the top guys here are probably heading for national\world domination. Obviously, like all of the older categories, there could be some sport\expert\elite riders here.

An age related category for 30-39 year olds which will contain people in this age range obviously but also watch out for ex-Elite riders who have switched categories and people who have been racing for a good few years already. I'm currently supposed to be in this category and although I'm getting quicker, I think I will get more competitive racing in the Sport category. There are some seriously quick people who ride in this category. As in any category, after a few races you'll find your main competitors and you can slowly work at beating them and moving up the rankings. When you are at the age for riding in this category, don't be alarmed to find the odd weird noise emitting from your body when you least expect it, such as when you reach down when seated to get your training bag from under your desk at work. These unexpected noises should be met with a look up/around of bewilderment and surprise. It's pretty normal, it's called your body getting old and it is to be fought tooth and nail to the bitter get used to it though.

An age related category for 40-49 year olds. This is what I have to look forward to in a few years time...gnarled ex-roadies, ex-Elite riders, guys who have been racing for twenty years, seasoned pro's, weekend leisure riders, Dad's who are regretting making drunken bets in the pub....they're all here and they're waiting to skin you alive. By this time I expect my knees to be making more noise than my bike during the average race. Most off bike activities such as bending down to tie my shoes, getting the bike out of the car, putting on my CamelBak are accompanied by a whole range of sighing\groaning\creaking noises which you didn't have in your thirties but which are now happily accepted.

Grand Veterans and upwards
I think racers in this category tend to be 50+. I really don't know what to say about the riders in this category other than they look fitter, ride harder whilst making less noise than me...they are racing gods...just stay out of their way, you're only fit to scrub their tyres clean...they won't trust you to clean the actual bike. Try to trick them into telling you racing tips and advice...promise them pancakes, beer or sanatogen in return.

This is the category I have been racing in for the Whyte Winter Series 2008-09. A real mixture of people racing for the first time, people just enjoying the trails and soaking up the whole epxerience, novice riders who are looking for a little friendly race experience with other novices. Mostly a very laid back category but there will no doubt be someone there who will give you a race. In some of the twenty four hour races, the Fun Team category can be extremely competitive.

This is usually a 'catch all' category. Some races do not have the age related categories so riders who are not looking to progress year on year or maybe aren't looking to race against people with a certain level of ability can be found here. That doesn't mean that there aren't riders from other categories here though...sometimes people fancy a change and just ride Open. Also, anyone who doesn't know which category they should be in will probably end up riding Open. A real mixed bag...riders could be riding their first race, weekend warriors just in it for fun but maybe racing fairly regularly or possibly ex Sport\Expert\Elite's...checking out their bike and kit should give an idea. Mis-matched kit, CamelBak, hairly legs? Probably just a weekend warrior or someone not taking it too seriously. Matching lycra, no excess baggage on them or the bike, tanned, shaved and oiled legs ...thinking of giving them a serious run for their money? If you don't look like them then you'd better be good!

Looking to progress year on year and move up the categories by earning points from BC ranked events. Starting in Sport, with some wins, a bag full of ranking points and recognition they'll be asked to move up to Expert. No doubt they're pretty good racers who probably finish in the top 25% of non-ranking races.

Next category up from Sport. I imagine their training regimes would have most people shaking their head and calling them nuts. They progress like sport, top handful go up to Elite. These are the guys you usually see at races riding really fast whilst holding a conversation about their latest turbo trainer training plan...for most of the least I think so, I usually can't keep up that long.

The top riders who put their heart and soul in to their racing and suffer accordingly...when they're training and when they're racing. The speed they ride at is something to see...I've been racing for a while and it still amazes me. They cane the fireroads, flow seemlessly through the singeltrack, have the audacity to look like they're enjoying the pain and probably eat babies for breakfast. If you are riding in races with these specific categories don't panic, they usually have their own race all to their own...that doesn't mean you won't meet on the singletrack though. You can usually tell when these guys are coming through as, if there is a bunch of them together then they'll be talking and laughing whilst riding at an incredible'll also sound like all hell is breaking loose over your shoulder as they taken any available route to get quickly and easily past you. Best to just get the hell out of the way really!

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Hi, I thought i had the bug bad but now i know i do not have it bad enough. You have inspired me. I am 34 and have returned to xc mtb for one year now after 6 years out (Children). Last year i did Grizedale MTB Challenge and Dark Peak Challenge, like you thinking the longer the event the slower people will ride (Not). This year i want to race but i am struggling with the catagory's. I am a reasonable standard but want to be competetive within the category that i enter. I will be entering the Midlands XC series and do not know whether to enter the Fun or Open Category. I used to be in-decisive but now i am not too sure. If you had your time again would you have gone straight to "Open/Sport"? Great website made me laugh lots. Keep up the great work.

Thanks for your very kind's most appreciated. Categories, they're a nightmare aren't they? Last year I entered all the wrong categories...I know why I did it, for the same reasons you outlined in your message...looking back now it feels like I was racing without a purpose. I know that it taught me a lot, I enjoyed some events, suffered miserably at others even though they were sometimes shorter! I never used to warm up, saving my energy for the race. Now I know that both from a warming up point of view and also a psychological point of view, a warm up lap actually helps me realise that the course isn't as bad as it seems...without the warm up lap it usually takes me until lap three to realise that the course ain't too bad and there is nothing I can't do. Realising this earlier in the race definitely makes me feel better about the next 4, 6, 12 or however many hours it is I have to's a real confidence boost when you're relatively new to the sport. Try it, see if it works for you.

As for the Midlands XC, I would say do 'Fun' and just do your best. Maybe put in an "all or nothing" lap and once the results are in that'll give you an indicator of (a) roughly how long you can keep the faster pace up for and (b) how your fast lap compares with people in different categories. Hopefully from that the category choice for the next round should be a little easier as you'll know how competitive you'll be in the different categories. Remember that you only count your best three results so don't be worried about throwing this Fun round away if you decide to move to Open or Sport, if you stay with the Fun category it will count if you have a worse round, but hopefully you'll get faster with your training as the round progress! If you move to a different category then you can then hit the ground running so to speak, knowing roughly what position you should aim to finish in and who your main competitors for the places around you are (remember to look out for them on the start line so if you see them in front of you, you can identify them from their clothing and you'll know if you need to get past them or not!).

I hope this helps and I hope my site continues to be an inspiration to you and others. It's a work in progress and as long as I keep racing and people enjoy reading me pouring my brains out all over the internet then long may in continue. If you want some more inspiration I can thoroughly recommend that you watch this trailer and buy the continues to inspire me 18 months after I first saw it. An incredible piece of film making.

To be honest, I wouldn't change a thing, I learnt too many lessons doing it the hard way! I'm doing Sport this year, but only after much consultation with my racing peers, most of the decisions for why I chose Sport are outlined above.
Si |

Hi Si....

A bit of advise if you don't mind, regarding the winter series.

Which class do you think would be best to enter....i don't want to get battered and i would like to try and get a placing in the series.

My choice's are the fun mixed or the 40+ 2 hour..looking at my times at the D2D my best lap was a 48 min and the other 4 nothing over 57 mins ??

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated....Cheers Mike
Mike Robinson

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the email, I think your choice is quite clear cut...although obviously only you can make the decision.

If you enter the 'fun mixed' I think you will possibly win every round or at least be in a right ding dong fight with the other people who are quick in that category. Two words of caution though. Firstly I think that you are a lot faster than we were last year so it would be a walk in the park and you might look like a ringer - there were only really three of us in that category who were going to win it last year...others were finishing a good way behind us at each round so we were possibly looking a little like this so I know how it feels - a little awkward! Also, it is a long way to travel for two laps. Having said that, if you are doing it for fun then why not, although I suspect you will be quite keen to put in good times which would indicate you are to all intents and purposes, racing. I wanted to get some good competition and start from the ground up which is why I entered this category last year. I think you will get some good competition in other categories though and could easily be finishing in the top 25% which is what I would be aiming for when thinking about what category to enter. You want to be in a category where you are competitive with the top people in that category...go too far though and it will be too easy which can lead to dull racing and a less satisfactory feeling when you win I imagine...a hollow victory if you will.

The four hour 40+ category will be a mix of older riders aiming to get round and/or beat their previous performance and people who have been racing for a number of years including ex roadies, time triallists, elite, etc. A mixed bag...but good healthy competition and I think you would do well in this category. I know some people in this category have been riding and racing on the road for a number of decades!

Only you can decide but I think I know the category you will choose. Each year I set myself goals for the races through a series if I know I am going to be riding all of the rounds. I seem to remember they were something like this...

2007/8 - 4 hour mens
Round 1: First solo race, just finish
Round 2: 2nd solo race, do not come last
Round 3: 3rd solo race, finish top 75%
Round 4: 4th solo race, finish top 50%

I met most of these targets although I was borderline on them all which I think shows they were challenging but achievable.

2008/9 - Fun mixed
Round 1: Ride, see what happens, no expectations (there was a real scrap between myself, Rob C and Andy S)
Round 2: If Andy and Rob ride then do this category and try to beat them again (lap 1, 1 second gap between me and Andy, lap 2 I passed Andy coming through the feed zone and in the last three hundred yards gain an 8 second gap to narrowly beat Andy)
Round 3: Try to seal up the series so I could do 2 hour for the final round (a tough scrap with Andy and a new very fast rider called Dean, got well beat by several minutes to finish third although was recovering from a cold)
Round 4: Tied on points, try to win the series (again finished third behind Dean and Andy, it went to a count back on points and I won with more wins)

As you can see it was pretty close! Let me know what you decide.
Si |