Marathon XC race strategy

For XCM racers about 100km/60mi+, there can often be quite a bunch for the first few km if there is no hill to break things up, especially if the racing isn’t on singletrack.

With the drafting effect having a real impact, is it better to push a bit higher than goal wattage (say 10-20%) to stay with the bunch and have a much higher pace, but pay for it later In the race by not being able to maintain goal wattage, or it is better to just ride a pace that is sustainable and try and stay consistent with as few power spikes as possible (which from what I understand is the fastest option of drafting isn’t taken into account)?

If haven’t done enough racing to test out each option and I normally choose staying with the bunch to try and chew up as much distance as I can before things spread out, but is this a bad idea and would I have a faster time overall just sticking to my own pacing strategy?

I know there can be a number of variables, but is there a general rule of thumb that people use?

For me personally, I know I push myself much harder if I’m riding with faster people, so my plan is always to try to stay up front as long as I can, as I think this will lead to a higher overall power output and a faster time. When you combine any potential drafting, with any singletrack or bottleneck pinch points, and this mental aspect, at least for me I think it’s the right call to go hard early to maximize my chance of having a great outcome.

I think it was in the “Endure” book by Alex Hutchinson, but he talks about these “overpacing” approaches as also a way to give yourself the best odds of having an amazing result. For him it was running but you can use any example. If you think your best day pace is 250 watts in this race, so you pace that way from the start, you may have a better average finish, but if you go out at 275 watts sure you might blow up sometime and only average 225 total, but you might surprise yourself and be able to hang 275 watts out there all day.


@KatuskaMTB nailed it above. I wouldn’t pace a MTB race necessarily. The first 10-15 mins will likely always be faster as it’s intended to split the group. This generally slows down afterwards and settles at a more reasonable pace. If you want to be part of the front group you’ll need to go at whatever pace the leaders are dictating.

If you stick to a certain pace for races you’ll likely have a string of mediocre finishes but possibly set a new PR for that race course. However, you’ve capped yourself and won’t allow a potential breakout effort and/or race result. By pushing yourself you’re likely to have some unexpected great results mixed in with some crash and burn bad results. That’s ok, it’s how you grow and learn about yourself both in fitness and race tactics.

That being said, be realistic if you’re newer to racing. Stick with the group that you feel is pushing you, which may be the chase and not the lead group. If the lead group is way over your limit and capabilities than there’s no sense of blowing up early and dragging yourself to the finish line.

1 Like

I’ve been racing XCM for 20 years now. Due to life had the “opportunity” to experience all rider typologies, front, mid, and back pack. For mid and back pack: simply ride your own pace. The further back you are the better it is to hold back in the beginning.

Front pack: you have to go with the hounds after start. As others have said, it’s not so much the drafting (this will depend on the course of course), it’s the mental aspect. You simply push harder. For most people the rank at 5 or 10 km corresponds to similar final rank. I rareley see folks holding back initially and making huge progress as the race goes along.

As alluded to before, the course will play a role as well. A punchy, fast 100k is different to a Alpine 100k with lots of steady climbing. For the latter a pacing strategy may be more beneficial. But this always depends on your realistic goals.

Train those fast start periods.


What race is this?

Separate the start to first single track (or pinch points) from the rest of the race.

For this first part it’s worth going deep to stay with a fast group. Avoiding all the traffic at the back. Trying to hitch a ride in a faster paced group can set you up well once you get past that first obstacle. Starts are fast fast fast no matter the length so be warmed up.

For the rest of a long xcm I’d stay within myself. Others will fade off and blow up. As you go deeper into the race you can start to push yourself if you feel you have more.