How to Mentally Prepare for Endurance Mountain Bike Races

Race Mentality: Control What You Can, Don’t Sweat the Rest


As Olivia Smedley says, “Some things are simply unavoidable. Control what you can control. Accept that there are some things you can’t control.”

It is solid advice, especially when embarking on an endurance XC race as epic as the Cape Epic South African Stage Race. Our team of eight amateur and professional athletes who raced in this year’s Cape Epic encountered many obstacles over eight days of racing, from flat tires to crashes and illness. On top of that, they raced in teams of two and found that presented both benefits and challenges.

On the night before Stage 4, I became ill with the gastro bug that was making its way through camp. I was devastated. When it comes to coping with illness I am typically a total sook, particularly gastro. Gastro always leaves me feeling very, very sorry for myself. As I lay awake between toilet stops for most of the night, I couldn’t believe that I was going to be sick for Stage 4. The Queen Stage. The toughest stage of the race. How was I going to ride 113km after no sleep, being dehydrated and not eating? And all that on top of riding 358km in the proceeding 4 days????

Turns out, the answer was very simple. Lisa got sick first. And she just sucked it up and rode. She didn’t sook. She didn’t whine. She simply kept going. How could I quit when she hadn’t? We were in this race together and I was determined to do for her what she had done for me in the proceeding days - not quit!

-Kate Ross

While some obstacles you face in a stage race can be controlled and predicted, others completely blindside you. All you can do is roll with the punches. In a race setting like the Cape Epic, no one is immune to uncontrollable obstacles. Even elite athletes get sick. At the start of Stage 4, news spread through the Cape Epic village that the team sitting second overall in the women’s pro standings would be pulling out of the race. They were sick, and could not continue for the remaining four stages. Liv pros Serena Bishop Gordon and Kaysee Armstrong also fell ill, with only two days of racing left ahead of them.

All you can do is control the controllables. Hydrate, stay fueled, be supportive, and get as much sleep as possible. Stay positive and take the long view. Every day is new and keeping our eyes on the prize (finishing Cape Epic) provided the motivation I needed to keep pedaling when I felt like curling up trailside.

I wanted to be a role model for the rest of the Trail Squad; they were looking to Kaysee and me for guidance and direction. Having this obligation on our shoulders was a responsibility and a privilege. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

-Serena Bishop Gordon

So what can you control before and during an endurance race and what should you worry less about? With the help of all the Trail Squad athletes, we’ve put together the following list to help you better prepare for your next endurance XC race.

What You Can Control & How to Control It

What You Can’t Control & How to Deal

Even when the going gets tough during an endurance mountain bike race, just remember why you are doing it in the first place: the fun, the friendships, and the challenge. 

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