Choosing A Race Schedule to Balance Challenge and Fun

Enduro training in Sedona in the PEARL iZUMi Launch kit.
Training in Sedona in the PEARL iZUMi Launch kit.

written by Syd Schulz

Many professional athletes have their race schedules set for them by a team, a sponsor or a manager. As freelance athletes, Macky and I have the unique opportunity (or perhaps curse, depending on how you look at it) of setting our own schedule. This means we can do whatever races we think are fun, but it also means that there is no one looking over our shoulder going “wow that’s way too many races” or “how exactly do you plan to get from Oklahoma to California in three days, can you teleport?”

And if last year is any indication, we think ALL races will be fun, and we think (at least when we’re in planning mode) that the more races we do, the more fun we will have.

When it’s January, and you’re plotting your schedule, the idea of riding a bike on dry trails just sounds damn fun and you can’t imagine there will be a time when you might not find it fun to race in California one weekend and Oklahoma the next. I mean, IT’S BIKE RIDING! RIDE ALL THE BIKES! HAVE ALL THE FUN!

You can probably see where this is going but last year (arguably the last four years) we massively overdid it, which resulted in burnout and having to take a few months away from bikes entirely, which I’ve written about HERE and HERE and HERE.

So I guess it’s possible to have too much fun. Wow, what a depressing statement.

When planning our 2017 schedule, we did everything differently. Instead of just throwing every fun-looking race into a grab-bag summer of bikes and complicated travel logistics, we looked at the big picture. We chose races with intentionality. We chose races that packed a double punch of fun and fulfillment and that actually made logistical sense. Overall, we chose FEWER races, but we chose ones that meant more to us. We scheduled in a rest period in the middle of the summer — something we have never EVER done before, and we plan to fill it with non-bike activities like hiking, swimming and trail running.

As an athlete, sitting down and asking yourself “what competitions do I ACTUALLY care about?” can be an emotional task. It’s difficult to strip away the first impressions (“wow racing in Colombia sounds like such a great adventure! Let’s go!”) and the external pressures (“my sponsors want me to get an overall result in such-and-such series”) and actually get the core of what YOU want. Why do you race? What do YOU want to race? What will give you satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment, as well as being fun?

This sort of self-analysis can bring up a lot of “stuff.” For myself, I realized that I no longer cared much about following an entire series. There’s no national enduro series in the US right now, which means that all the enduro series are very regional, and following any single series will result in racing pretty homogenous terrain all year. That doesn’t excite me. I also have trouble caring about series over-all results — sure, over-all results CAN be significant, but often they are just a marker of showing up, being relatively consistent and making it through a handful of races without breaking anything major on your bike and body. All of these are good things, of course, but they are also the things that I am already relatively good at. I’ve gotten a fair amount of overall podiums — I’ve never actually WON a national enduro race. So why slog through a season that doesn’t excite me, just to prove (yet again – to a lot of people who aren’t paying attention anyway), that I can be consistent? I’ve done that for several years, and now it’s time for a change.

syd and macky training Sedona
Hopefully a more manageable schedule will keep us cheesin' all season long.

I also realized, somewhat to my own surprise, that I really wanted to race the Downieville All-Mountain Classic. Downieville is a two-day race, with a 30 mile XC course the first day and a long downhill (think 45 minutes!) the second day. All this is to say, it is absolutely NOT what I have been training for the past several years. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ridden for three hours without stopping since the last time I raced Downieville, which was in 2014. Doing this race makes almost zero sense, but it excites me, perhaps because it presents a different sort of challenge. And perhaps because I want some redemption for 2014, where I got a flat in the DH stage that took me nearly half an hour to fix (insert facepalm emoji here).

Our 2018 schedule won’t make that much sense to an outsider looking in. We’re not following anyone series. We’ll be racing a handful of Enduro World Series, a handful of Enduro Cup and also a handful of smaller, that happen to be in places we really want to go. We’ll be racing mainly enduro, but also Downieville, because why not? We’re also just not racing that much (at least not in comparison to past years).

By choosing fewer races, we have been able to prioritize the ones that matter to us – and also to prioritize our mental health and sanity with a much more manageable travel schedule. We chose this year’s schedule based on OUR needs, and not based on what our sponsors wanted or what we thought we “should” race, because at the end of the day, we are racing because we want to, and we’re doing it for ourselves.