Your heart rate is sky high, pumping at 170+ bpm for an hour straight. You’re chasing the rider in front of you, waiting for the moment to pass. You see the inside turn open up, you instinctually yell out, “On your left!”
You make the pass and then have your eyes set on the next rider a few switchbacks away. One down, and everyone else to go!
That’s what it’s like, for me, riding in Utah’s Midweek Mountain Bike Race Series. From that description you’d think it’s some hardcore, CAT1 race series. Except, it couldn’t be anything further from the truth. The Midweek MTB races are awesome, and an absolute blast. And that goes for the riders battling it out for 1st place in their category or the casual rider just looking to have a challenging ride on a Tuesday night.
I’ll be honest, as much as I tell myself otherwise, I’m not a fast rider. I can rip downhill decently quick, but races are completely different. How fast you can climb a hill and push it on the flats is really where the big difference lies. I found this out last year during my first few Midweek MTB races. I got to the starting line, lined up next to the reset of the riders in my category (which were mostly high schoolers), and thought I was going do decently well. Boy was I wrong. The easiest way to compare how poorly I rode is like asking a casual 10min/mile runner to go race against athletes who can race at a 6min/mile pace. Needless to say, I did not finish anywhere near the top of the pack, or middle either, but I still had an epic time! Getting out on a Tuesday night, in new trail systems, with hundreds (yes hundreds) of other riders is a great way to spend any night.
The Midweek MTB series is broken into 3 different types of races: XC, Women’s-Only Mini Enduro, and Mini Enduro. I’ve only participated in the XC races which are usually around 8-13 miles in length, 1-2K in vertical climbing, and usually on a course that is 1 or 2 laps. And each race is broken into separate categories depending on ability, age, and sex. This ensures a competitive race no matter your skill level. At the top, there is the Pro division, which are the best of the best and have a pro license. Below that there is the Expert division that get’s broken down into 4 age brackets 45+/35-44/25-34/24-. Then there is Sport division with same age breakdowns, which is what I compete in. And last but not least, there is a beginners division who race a different course that is usually less challenging and far.
When the 2019 season came around, I was not ready (again). The first race was scheduled for the last day in April. At that time, I was still skiing heavily and had barely spent more than a couple hours in the saddle since last season. Combine my out-of-shape legs with a wildly rainy May, I did not think I’d ever get into riding shape again. When the 4th race rolled around, I finally signed up. Plus, it was at Round Valley, which is like 3 miles away from my Condo. But as race-day showed up, I was nervous. I had ridden more than expected in the previous 3 days and wasn’t sure how long my legs would last. Luckily, my buddy Nate was also riding the event with me. After warming up, we lined up at the starting line with the 300 other riders. I was nervous as hell. There’s nothing worse than going out too fast and hitting “the wall” rendering your legs useless.
The marshal signaled “Go”, and we took off. I casually made my way behind the pack at a comfortable pace. I quickly got passed by the 24- group who started 30sec after me, but eventually found my place in the pack when we hit the single track. Luckily, there were some slower riders in the front that held the groups’ pace back because it was impossible to pass anyone. That saved me from burning out in the first 3 miles. Slowly, but surely, I found a good pace and started to pick riders off as I made my way up from the back.
The 3 climbs on the route became my status checks of how I felt and if I could keep pushing it. The entire time, my heart-rate was above threshold, and I wasn’t sure how long I could go like that. Each of the hill climbs, as I passed and overtook riders, my legs still had some gas in them. So I’d crank down into 10th gear and hammer downhill. But I couldn’t help but fear when my legs would give out. My watched clicked past mile 5, then 7, then 9. It got to the point when I realized I only had 1 mile left that was mostly flat, so I gave it everything I had. Ended up in a full out sprint for the last 100m with two other riders and won the sprint. Overall, finished like 167/300, but 5/15 in my category. So I couldn’t have been more stoked on the effort and the experience. I was able to ride the 11mile course in under an hour, an absolute personal best.
This story is just one of the many reasons why I love this race series. For only $15/race, you can get an unbelievable experience and adventure. So many of us get comfortable just cruising around our local trails at a casual pace, which is totally fine. But for those of you who want to push your limits and see how fast and well you can ride your mountain bike, this is definitely the race series for you. At the end of the day, we’re all out there to have a fun night riding bikes, and that’s exactly what happens every race. Sure, I didn’t place Top-3 or and overall Top-100, and I couldn’t care less. I pushed my body, and my mind, to a whole new level for 59minutes straight, and I count that as a Top 10 bike ride for me!
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.