Between us, the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team have raced hundreds of events from Mongolia to New Zealand, South Africa to Scotland, Poland to the USA, and from the freezing The Ice Man Cometh on fat bikes to the baking heat of Australia’s Crocodile Trophy… So what makes a good marathon MTB race? What should you look for when you’re deciding where to spend your precious cash and leave days in 2017? Here’s our top five guide to get you started.
The best marathons take you places. In fact our definition of a marathon requires that an event take riders on a journey. Look for routes that consist of one big loop, or a point-to-point, rather than laps in some bike park where you never get to see anything. Transalp, the famous stage race running across the European Alps every year, rates each of its marathon stages on ‘emotional experience’ – and this is always tied to the route – mountain passes, changing geology, epic uphills and downhills, new challenges around every corner – these are the ingredients of a truly emotional experience on the bike. Say no to XCMs that are reduced to lap-based endurance events!
A variety of terrain goes hand-in-hand with the idea that a marathon should take you on a journey. We all love riding singletrack, sure, but five or six hours of singletrack might be enough to cure any shredder of a lifetime of enthusiasm. The best marathons, the ones riders most enjoy, offer a bit of everything mountain bikes are designed to tackle, and challenge different types of fitness and tactical knowledge (even roadie tactics!) over the length of the event. That means a race with fire trail, farm roads, hand-built singletrack, flow trails, jumps, rocky sections, and yes, even some bitumen, are going to be the most satisfying, interesting, and motivating courses to race on. Let alone making it possible to actually eat and drink.
Pick a race that isn’t impossible to get to! For our Australian readers, this can be a big ask, and it’s not the race that will leave you out of pocket, but the flights, hire car, and accommodation you’re shelling out on just to get you there. Look for events within driveable distance of your home, or a city with a big airport… At the race itself, logistics can also make or break. If it’s a point-to-point, is there transport for you and your bike back to your car at the start line?
The race village
Nothing makes an event special like a party atmosphere before and after: think food stalls, pumping euro trance, trade show to wander around, pump track, mini kids’ races, sunshine and a bunch of locals getting out to support the event. Look for a town that comes alive for a bike race.
Feedzones are a powerful indicator of the quality of race experience you’re likely to have. You’ve paid your entry money, so it’s nice when you can roll up to a table with gels, bars, fruit and fluids every 20km or so to replenish your stocks and fill your water bottle. Forget about cajoling your significant other into standing on the side of a track for an entire day, hiding bottles under bushes the night before an event, or carrying a five litre hydration pack, and find a race where you’ll get handed half a banana and a fresh bidon as you cruise on by.
So what are some of our picks for 2017?
Otway Odyssey (February, Victoria)
Easter in the Alice XCM (April, NT)
Convict 100 (May, NSW)
We can’t wait to try
RRR Mountain Bike Challenge (June, Qld)
Whakka 100 (October, Rotorua)
Rest of the world
Sellaronda Hero (June, Italy)
Grand Raid (August, Switzerland)
NationalPark Bike Marathon (August, Switzerland)
We can’t wait to try
Cascade Cream Puff (USA, August)
Shenandoah 100 (USA, September)
Roc d’Azur (France, October)
If only we could do them all… what do you recommend?