Bike marathon challenge

5. March 2019

While a long bike race requires a certain level of fitness, it offers incomparable scenic experiences and a welcome change for endurance athletes of all kinds. This is how to prepare for your first bike marathon.

Mountain biking is a sport that involves many changes in rhythm due to the different surfaces and varying terrain. You therefore need to get used to speeding up in steep passages for a short period of time and then recovering again without needing to get off your bike. On long bike races, the distances and differences in altitude are also considerable, which means a very good basic level of fitness is required in order to pull through without any setbacks. You will easily spend five or more hours in the saddle. In order to take the technical aspects into account, your preparation should also include several tours on alpine terrain. Or you can test yourself by cycling on part of the target route beforehand. The most important tips:

Regular basic training

Doing 2 to 4 hours of basic training on a regular basis will build up your foundation. From time to time you can also intersperse it with relaxed and shorter intensive units. However, most of your training should be done in medium-paced continuous mode.

Allow for enough recovery

It is important to incorporate rest days on a regular basis to enable your body to recover. Make sure you listen to your body and if you feel tired or weak, then it is better to take a day off. And lastly, the following also applies when training for a bike marathon: less is more.

Test the racing distance when training

Unlike a runner’s marathon, you can prepare for the bike marathon by testing the racing distance because it won’t detrimentally affect your musculoskeletal system. A 5 to 6-hour training unit is a great way to get your body used to the load or work out your nutrition strategy. However, such a long training unit will drain your body considerably, so you should treat yourself to plenty of rest and relaxation! Long training units can also be used to determine whether your saddle is comfortable and whether your shoulders and neck are able to cope with the stooped position for a long period of time without hurting.


If you want, cycle the race track

It is naturally an advantage if you know the route really well. So, if you have the time and the inclination, cycle the route beforehand. But you shouldn’t do it just before the marathon. And if you are not in a position to do so, then this is also not a problem. With some experience, you can divide up the route well according to the kilometre markers and altitude profile. In terms of cycling technique, the marathons are not usually extremely difficult. They rarely have passages that you need to examine several times beforehand.

Incorporate a tapering week

Tapering before a bike marathon does not take as long as before a runner’s marathon. But it is extremely important to be completely rested and ready to start with full batteries. Around one week before the marathon, amateur athletes should again do a good - in other words, longer - training unit and then focus on their recovery. You can still do one or two short training units (1-2 hours) during the final week. And as with a running competition, the following applies: in the final week, don’t do any other types of sport but stay completely focussed on your target sport. Ambitious cyclists can challenge themselves with a longer training stimulus four days before the competition and only then start tapering for the marathon.

Fill up your reserves and sleep a lot

During the tapering week, make sure you eat a good and healthy (carbohydrate-rich) diet and get plenty of sleep. Take a rest day two days before the marathon and “train your emotions” the day before the race doing short leg movements.

Plan your nutrition for the competition in advance

Food and drink are the be-all and end-all when it comes to getting through a bike marathon! And not just when you start feeling hungry and thirsty! A clear strategy makes sense and you should strictly adhere to it during the race. This is because it is important to give back the energy your body consumes right from the very first minute. Otherwise, you will soon hit the wall! A good guideline is to drink a carbohydrate drink every 10-15 minutes and carbohydrate-rich and easily digestible food (banana, Biberli, bar, etc.) every 45 minutes. Keeping a gel in reserve can work wonders in an emergency. If you are starting the race with well-stocked carbohydrate reserves, you will not need to eat a particularly large breakfast on the day. It will only burden the stomach and your reserves should already be full on the morning of the race.

Equipment check

Choosing the right equipment (and the weight of the bike) is important when it comes to a mountain bike race. What’s more: there is a really high risk of puncturing a tyre, so it is essential you practice changing an inner tube by yourself and make sure you have all the equipment you need during the competition! Those wanting to play it (almost) safe can install tubeless tyres on their bike, so it is even better protected against a puncture. And as a tip: depending on the weather, the choice of tyre on the bike can play a crucial role, as wide tyres are usually not absolutely necessary in dry weather.


Dividing up the race

Due to the sheer length of a bike marathon, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t let the other competitors tempt you into starting too quickly. Patience and constancy are called for. Tip: an altitude profile on the top tube helps you to estimate the length of the ascents (if need be together with a sports watch equipped with an altimeter) and approach them at the correct tempo, so you can cycle uphill at a constant speed.

Training example for a key mountain interval unit

As already mentioned, longer units form the basis for a bike marathon. However, shorter training units now and again are also appropriate and beneficial. The following sample training is for a faster unit, which can be varied at will.

  • Cycle at an easy pace for 15-30 minutes to warm up.
  • Cycle 4-10 x 3 minutes at a medium to fast pace; then 1 minute at full speed.
  • Cycle at an easy pace for 4 minutes in between.
  • Cycle at an easy pace for 30 minutes to wind down.

This unit should be lengthened during the run-up to the competition, which means at the start you cycle 4 x 3 minutes at a medium to fast pace and then one minute at full speed and at the end (5-2 weeks before the competition), you cycle 10 x 2 minutes at a medium to fast pace and then 2 minutes at full speed, for example.