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Thinking about entering your first race?

So you've read a few race reports, heard a few stories from your friends, seen the amazing photographs from previous events and have read the banter on the forums and now you feel like you're ready to see what all of the fuss is about and enter your first race. Good for you! Probably the hardest part of racing can be the preparation and actually getting to the start line but as long as you approach this first race with a little planning and a relaxed attitude then you'll find it's a lot easier than you imagined to get involved in the UK mountain bike racing scene.

Different types of mountain bike race
As you are looking at this site then you're probably interested in one of the following types of mountain bike race:

  • Cross country (sometimes called "XC"): Typically a race which last for a number of laps or a period of time. Distance covered is usually somewhere between 4-7 miles per lap, depending on the course. If the race is for a number of laps, the number of laps you ride is dependant upon the category but for the Fun\Novice\Beginner category it is usually only a 2 or 3 lap race. If the race is for a period of time then it is how many laps you can complete in the time stated. If the time stated is 1 hour and you come in at say 58 minutes and 25 seconds, then you are allowed to do another lap if you wish. Anyone crossing the line after the deadline (one hour in this case) has deemed to have finished and cannot do any more laps. The winner is decided by how many laps you've done and the time you finished with.
  • Enduro (sometimes called "Endurance", "Marathon", or "Challenge"): Exactly the same as a Cross Country race, except the length of the race is usually a much larger time period or a much larger distance. For example, Set 2 Rise is a time related event which I rode in last year, the idea is that you ride for 12 hours and complete as many laps as possible. I ended up completing 10 laps in 11 hours, 14 minutes and 36 seconds and will be back this year with a vengeance to try and beat that! The Whinlatter Challenge earlier this year however was distance related (approximately 37 miles) and it took me 4 hours, 51 minutes and 44 seconds to complete it as there was a large amount of climbing required for this particular event.

You pretty much have these two main options for the types of race you can enter. So, do you go for a shorter "cross country" race and just go flat out, or ride in an "enduro" where the focus is more on riding for a much longer distance? I personally found that enduro's were easier when starting racing as it was more of a personal battle to complete the distance, rather than a flat out sprint as it tends to be in the cross country races. Due to their shorter and therefore much faster nature, I found cross country races a little demoralising when I was starting racing as most riders sprinted off and left you riding along on your own. That's just my experience though, maybe I should have ridden a little faster! Some people prefer short, fast races where speed is the key. Others prefer more of a physical and mental battle, which is exactly what you get when taking on the enduro's. You'll need raw power and speed in your legs to succeed in a cross country race, whereas in an enduro you'll need endurance, strength and also mental toughness, to overcome the boredom which can set in when you've ridden the course a dozen times. It's all about finding out which you prefer, but that will come in time.

The three things you need to consider now are finding a race to enter, preparing for your race and then what you need to do on race day. We'll look at all three of these in turn.

Finding a suitable race
Now you are a little more familiar with the different types of races, you should start to look through the various UK racing calendars and diaries which can be found on the internet to find suitable races that you can enter. You could do a lot worse than look at the calendars on the British Cycling website (click here) or on (click here). Each site has a set of filters which allow you to filter the results to just "XC" or "Enduro" so you don't see the downhill, cyclocross and road races.

These sites will provide you with the details of most of the races which are happening on the UK racing scene over the coming 12 months so you can always plan ahead if you're not ready just yet. Details of how to enter are included in these diaries and usually involve either sending a cheque to the race organisor or more usually, visiting a website and paying online. It's really that simple.

The primary thing I consider when choosing a race to enter is usually its location as you'll have to get yourself and your bike there and back. Easier said than done when you're exhausted after a race so try and make your first race one where you don't have too long a drive afterwards. As it is your first race why not try and talk a friend into also signing up and then you can give each other some morale support as well as sharing the fuel bill. An added bonus is that you'll also be swapping stories about racing incidents, that great pass you made or sections of the course you cleaned for months to come. If you don't drive you can still take the train to most races. I have a friend who has been doing that for the last couple of years and he races at least once a month. It just requires a little bit more planning that's all.

The second thing I usually consider is if I will be riding on my own (called "solo") or if I want to arrange a team of riders to share the work and maybe make the event a little more social. Check the details of the race to see if you are allowed teams and how many riders you are allowed in your team. If you are riding solo then think about the race distance and whether you are fit enough to attempt it. There is no use entering a 24 hour race in the solo category for your first race if you are only starting to work on your fitness as you will suffer a great deal and it could put you off racing for good. Start with a small race and then work up the longer races when you've got some racing experience and are a little fitter.

If you have any questions or comments about entering races then drop me a line (use the "contact me" link at the bottom of this page) and I'll help you out and also update these guidelines.

A quick summary of what you need to do.
  • You need to decide if you want to ride solo or ride in a team.
  • Have a look at the race diaries and find a suitable event.
  • Get your entry in before it fills up!

Preparing for race day
For your first event, the hard work of finding the event and getting your entry in is now done. As far as preparation goes it's relatively straight forward.
  • Make sure your bike is in good working order.
  • If the race involves some night riding make sure your lights are also in good working order. If you don't own any lights then borrow some from a friend, your local cycling club, rent them from your local bike shop or check with the organisors as one of the light manafacturers maybe at the event providing a rental service.
  • Ensure the essentials of helmet, shoes, comfortable shorts, close fitting cycling top are clean and in good condition. You won't be able to race without a helmet so don't forget it and you should also check it for any damage. If there is any damage at all then replace it. It's simply not worth the risk.
  • You'll also ideally need the following optional items: gloves, glasses\sunglasses, pump, tyre levers, a spare inner tube or two, puncture repair kit, something to eat, something to drink.

What to do on race day
Again, for your first event, do not worry too much, just enjoy the day and smile for the photographers so you can buy a momento of your epic struggle, your surprise victory or your embarassing stack! Here are some other useful tips.
  • Get a good nights sleep the night before the race.
  • Plan your journey to the race and ensure that you arrive in plenty of time for registration. This is essential! I have set off for races before and then got five miles down the road and realised I don't know how to get there once I've left the motorway.
  • Get your kit together the night before. Run over a mental checklist as you load the car or go out the door. I have gone back for my shoes on numerous occassions so run through the checklist again in your head as you start your journey.
  • When you arrive, leave everything in the car and go and register. Then find out where and exactly when you race starts. If there is time do a pre-ride of the course.

That's about it. Standing on the start line takes plenty of bottle so you have nothing to prove to anyone. During the race let the faster riders through, telling them which side to pass on, tell slower riders which side you would like to pass and be courteous to the general public who may be very close to the course in places. It can be a privilege to be riding on some race courses as somewhere down the line someone has been asked permission to allow the event to take place on their private land so be grateful, give your feedback to the race orgnisors and most importantly, take your litter home.

click here to post a comment


iv just read your blog on entering your first race and think its very good.

i need a bit of help and you maybe able to help i raced at llandegla in the open category in march and did looking at racing hanchurch which is the midlands series but they have a 'fun and 'open' category and im unsure which to enter. the race at llandegla didnt have a fun category. i dont want to jump in to deep by entering a categroy thats above me but also want to feel like iv had a race.

whats the difference between the two,is open a lap extra?

Hi Chris

Thanks for the feedback and I'm more than happy to help. If you look on the entry form it gives an indication of the approximate laps. You can find the entry form here:

Midlands XC entry form

It's 4 for Open and 3 for Fun (females doing 1 less, not sure which 'type' of Chris you are, sorry!) so you're right in thinking that Open is 1 lap more. Here are some useful links:

Midlands XC Race Forum

Midlands XC Race Details

Midlands XC Series Details

As far as which category to enter, that is always a tough one. I usually look at who as entered the race (Midlands XC Race Entries) and see if I recognise any people in the category I like the look of. You probably won't know anyone but you may recognise someone who was riding at Llandegla. The only way you can be sure I think is to start at the bottom and work up. You're new to racing so can do this. If you start going down the categories looking for easy victories and are already an established racer this will get spotted but I don't think you have anything to worry about. I would enter Fun this time and give it your all. If you are seriously quick and very fit and expect to finish in the top 25% then I would enter Open but given you're new then you're probably not sure. Enter Fun, do your best and if you get a good battle and there are people at your level then why not stick with this category for now. If you cruise it then great, no one will mind as anyone who has raced much will know you're a new face (we tend to keep an eye on results and podiums). I guess at the end of the day only you know how fit and fast you are!

Hope this helps. May I post your question on the site with my reply? It may help others. I don't post any personal details other than your first name and a website link if you want one.

Cheers and please let me know how you get on. Good luck!
Si |

Good info, I have just entered my first race since 2006 when I completed the 10 under the ben,Im doing the SXC race at Perth this August.Im still fit but Im going to really kick start my training soon,but this info has helped me. Cheers and good luck.
Ryan Boyd