Max Knox’s Top MTB Ultra Marathon Tips

2012 MTN Sabie Ultra XCM#3 UCI World Series event 1-0163

Photo: Zoon Cronje

The Barberton and Sabie Ultra marathons get the year off to a long distance start. Here are my top three tips to get you through each race.

Barberton Ultra | 120km | 3,300m of climbing

1 Pedals Barberton is a strange place and there’s a good chance there will be a hard day of rain before the race. This makes the ground really soft and if you’re on and off the bike a few times it’s very easy for your feet and pedals to get clogged up with mud. That’s why it’s super important to ride with pedals with an easy platform to clip in. I use LOOK pedals, they’re perfect for the job: very easy to clip in and they hold my feet comfortably.

2 Prepare yourself for some hills In Barberton they seem to never end and often this can break the spirit and legs of even the strongest rider. Look at the route profile before the race and break it up into sections. Look at making the first hard 30km one section. The next 45km which is a little more easy, another section, and the remaining hard 45km the last section. Concentrate on the sections individually, don’t worry about what is after. Fuel yourself for these sections. Have little strategies to conquer the sections. Reward yourself when you make it through them. Having little personal successes like this keeps the spirits high.

3 Lube Carry lube with you in addition to all the usual stuff you carry with you. There are many river crossings during the race and the constant water on the chain leaves it lube free. Your race wont be over but the constant squealing of a dry chain is very bad for the it and the friction can grow surprisingly high. Keeping it lubed up often will just make things go more smoothly. A man that takes care of his bike, is taken care of by his bike.

A man that takes care of his bike, is taken care of by his bike

Sabie Ultra | 110km | 3,200m of climbing

1 Tubeless tyres and stronger equipment At Sabie, often guys are caught out using equipment that’s too light. I have been one of these guys in the past unfortunately. So in honour of learning from my mistakes I recommend going tubeless. Don’t start with the thin foldable ones or you are playing with fire. I recommend more robust options for the moving parts.

2 Pace yourself It’s very easy to start too fast. Even if you think everyone is going past you at the beginning. Just keep it at a steady pace, you will catch those guys again later when they’re paying for the early effort. Finding a rhythm on the rough forest roads is also something of a skill here. Keep this in the back of your mind and use the whole road, staying on the smoothest sections. On the downhills always be vigilant for rough rocks, they can end your race.

3 Hydration Always have good supplies of water on you. Don’t be scared to stop at waterpoints on the route to fill up again. The temperature can really soar on the forest roads and been stuck in the heat without water is asking for trouble. Also try to keep eating along the route when the trail needs less concentration. Often you will be spending lots of time on the hills, so eat there. This will keep your energy levels up and constant as they can be considering you are pushing yourself hard.

Originally published in the January/February 2013 issue.


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About Max Knox

The popular Specialized rider is the current national MTB marathon champion. Some say that the sprouting of his retro moustache last year gave him power and speed. Rumour has it 2013 will be the year of the mullet.

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