No one, from the fastest riders to the first-time 100 milers, enters a seven or eight hour race on a whim. The demands of such a grueling day are too much to take lightly, and simply being prepared can make the ride much more enjoyable. It could even be fun. Maybe.
Tip #1. Bike Prep. When you put in a lot of training miles leading into a race, your body might be getting stronger, but your bike is getting worked over, too. Especially in Northern Michigan, where there's enough sand to confuse some trails with a beach, your drivetrain, brake pads and other parts can get worn out relatively quickly. A week or two out, bring your bike in for a check over. That will give you time to replace any shot parts, but still get some time on them to work out any kinks. Just checking the chain is a huge indicator of the miles you might have in your drivetrain.
Tip #2. Body Prep. At this point, with the race two weeks off, you've got a limited amount of time to fine tune your fitness. From here on out, focus on getting comfortable riding tempo, controlling your effort over climbs, and being ready for a handful of short, sharp accelerations for the first hour or so of racing. A week out, it's time to shorten the riders, limit the miles and taper down to be rested. Everyone is different; do what works best for you, but keep all of your efforts in check. If you use Strava or track your workouts, go back and see what you did heading into a very strong race and try to mimic that heading into X100.
Tip #3. Food. Whatever you call it, you're going to want to be comfortable with what you're eating and have a plan in place. Race day is not the time to try something new. Stick with the snacks you train with, and stay on schedule. A lot of riders will actually set their lap function on their Garmin for 20-30 minutes, and eat along with that schedule. When you hear the beep, it's time to eat. Gels are great, but try to mix in solid foods like Erg! bars or Kate's bars as well. The solid food is more satisfying and more calorically dense. And with a race as long as X100, get calories from wherever you can. Using HEED or Carborocket, two great options you probably already use, instead of regular water ups the amount of calories you take on, giving you a bit more wiggle room on how often you absolutely need to eat.
Tip #4. Pace. It's a long day, and the race you need to ride is yours. Balance riding with a group and riding within yourself. Riding with a few other racers can let you take turns on the front, keep your morale up, and give you motivation as the hours tick by. However, make sure you're not in over your head. If the group you're in is too fast, you risk blowing up and maybe even not being able to finish as a result. Riding with a heart rate monitor or power meter can help keep you honest with your effort, while going by average speed is an even easier way to just keep tabs of your pace. The biggest thing is to check in; do you feel just slightly uncomfortable? You want to toe that line for as long as you can.
Tip #5. Ruthless Robot. In spite of the incredible physical effort, the best endurance racers find success-and the finish line-because of their ability to stay mentally focused and positive all day long. There are two ways to approach the mental aspect of a 100 mile mountain bike race. The first is to be optimistic, no matter what, and exude a positive thought process. Everything is going good, or so riders tell themselves, even if things go wrong. Approach mechanicals, getting dropped, or the creep of fatigue as chipper as you can. Another popular approach is to remove emotion completely. Riders that race this way are typically those who like data, numbers and the scientific side of riding. They can stare at a heart rate monitor or average speed, focus on that, and put every reaction or emotion to one side.
The uniform aspect of both approaches is that there is no negativity. Negative thoughts and emotions sap your energy, and you're going to need every bit of pep you've got. Check in with your mind as much as your body; are you feeling good, are you staying positive, or is doubt starting to set in? Remember, this is a big challenge, but one you decided to do, for fun. Even when it's tough, keep in mind this race is about you and doing your own best. Everything else is peripheral aspect to the day's experience.
Ride hard, have fun, and don't forget to in for the X100 on August 23.