Keystone Challenge Preparation
The Keystone Challenge is a three day hard enduro event that navigates the back hills of Eastern Pennsylvania. The US Hard Enduro race weekend kicks off in the coal mining hills of Tamaqua, PA with the famously difficult two-day race, Tough Like RORR on Saturday - Sunday. The event then moves 35 minutes north to the Red Rock Ranch in Sugarloaf, PA for the Shotgun Hard Scramble presented by High Mountain Dirt Riders for the final beat down on Sunday.
Tough Like RORR - Saturday - Sunday
9 AM Start times
Saturday - Two Qualifiers
Top 70 go to main event on Sunday
Sunday Main Event - Two laps, 13 mile laps with extremely hard sections added on lap two.
6 hour time limit
Shotgun Hard Scramble - Monday
10 AM Start
2 laps, 13 mile course, 5 hour limit
These are three massive days on the bike and preparation is key. The question, what am I preparing for? The answer is different for everybody. It depends on individual experience and expectations coming into the event. For me personally, I would plan on finishing each day and spending 2-4 hard hours on the bike each day. Notice the 2 hour buffer zone? Yeah, that one is big for me. The buffer zone is needed because I have had some really weird shit happen at these types of races. One small mistake or big mistake can snowball you into the hell zone real quick. Having the extra hour or two for survival on tap is important, especially with more difficult sections being added in at the end of the race when you are most tired.
Here are breakdowns on the most important five areas of preparation. You can apply these concepts to your program to do your best at the Keystone Challenge.
Get your mind right
Get your body ready
Create a nutrition/hydration plan
Dial in your bike setup
Drink beer and keep charging
Start by running through the weekend in your head. What does it look like? When I do this, I usually end up with a note in my phone labeled "Shit to do to prepare for the Race". This gives me a starting point whether I am one week out or 12 weeks out from the race and gets the mind juices flowing in that direction.
What are my goals and why? These are good questions to ask to fuel the fire. It also gives us a framework to plan around.
Intentional difficulty during the week - Cold plunge, sauna, early runs, yard work, cold showers, hiking with the girlfriend are all difficult tasks that you can implement throughout your days to prepare you for the lack of comfort that you'll find out in the black coal dirt and dense forests of the Keystone Challenge. Subjecting yourself to intentional discomfort can help immensely with our mind and ability to overcome discomfort more than anything.
Emotions - learn to manage and control your emotions coming into the race. East coast slippery races especially have a tendency to bring the demons out. Emotional outbursts waste valuable energy and focus. Stay focused on the task at hand and keep solving the puzzle until you see the checkered flag.
Big days ahead - For short races/events, lots of rest the week before the event gives me the "poppiness" or explosiveness needed for Endurocross or the like. For longer events, it is important to acclimate the body to the big days expected at the Keystone Challenge. Long training days the weeks leading up to the event will help build the muscle endurance and mental fortitude. I tend to cut back my training and focus on recovery, hydration/nutrition and logistics the week before while keeping the body active and "revved up".
2 hour hikes, bikes and rides help build our base endurance.
Sleep - Possibly the most important aspect to ones performance. Sleep is the only time our body is in an anabolic (building) state. Testosterone, growth hormone and other elements are generated to rebuild the body after catabolic (breaking down) activity. Make sure you give your body time to rebuild and rejuvinate. I used to be Mr. Tough guy with sleep, thinking it was a waste of time. I only started excelling in my racing career when I started taking sleep seriously.
Protein, carbs and fats - Protein for rebuilding and longevity, carbohydrates for the fast burn and higher heart rate zones, and fats to keep the train rolling for a long time.
A whole food diet is ideal. Meat, fruit, avocados, greens and fermented foods work well for me personally.
Throughout the event, it is important to stay aware of our blood sugar levels. Baby food, fruit, and gel packs fuel the body with sugars so we don't bonk.
Here are some of my favorite foods for race weekend
Hard boiled eggs
Honey (Local if its around)
Organic New York Steaks
Applesauce packets, baby food
Lots of fruit - Pineapple, apples, melon, berries and mangos
Start drinking about a gallon of water daily for at least the 2 weeks leading up to the event.
Supplement with electrolytes - Fizz tablets or other electrolyte supplements or tablets are convenient and easy to use. The added flavor makes me drink more
Coconut water - Tastes good and has lots of good shit in it.
3 liter pack minimum - For these events I would definitely run a 3 liter pack. I cannot afford to run out of water and dehydrate my body. Staying hydrated and fed to keep the body ready for the next day is extremely important.
Drink mix - I like to use a product called Sustain by Race Provisions. All natural ingredients. Sugars and electrolytes keep the muscles fueled.
Local knowledge for tire choice - This has been a great way to dial in tire setup in the past. Find the locals with the flannel and old boots that fly right up the hills. Chances are, they know what tire works best on that specific rock and soil the same way that I know what works well here in my home state of Arizona.
Soft isn't always better - I've seen so many people running tire setups that are ultra soft and cause the tire to collapse and get worse traction than a harder tire. We want the tire to be pushed into the ground by the mousse to make a 3-dimensional connection to the ground. Drilling and shaving mousses goes against my values and I just can't do it. It also causes your mouses to break down prematurely so you get much less life out of them. I have had great luck with Mitas soft mousses. I'll use one and break it in and then save it for a race, or use a 120 sized mousse in a Terra Force 140 FIM tire.
Mousse Balls are adjustable and in theory, one can get the right amount of squish by adding or removing balls. I like this concept.
I dislike a soft front tire. I run a Mitas MX/MH 90/100-21 green stripe tire with a fresh mousse usually.
Run your tires in before the start - Most tires have a thin film of oil or lubricant still on them from the factory molding process. Nick Fahringer taught me this. Make sure and roost around a bit to wear that film off before the race.
Carry tools - I always carry tools so I don't have any issues. Murphy's law if you will. For mountain terrain, a lightweight folding Silky saw offers insurance for nasty situations.
Don't change anything before the race. But seriously, don't.
Don't forget the beer. All of this is about having fun and pushing yourself. Most people don't get it, and in a lot of ways they are right, it doesn't make sense. But, we are here for the challenge and the self gratification that comes from knowing that you completed a difficult challenge. Hard Enduro makes life a breeze. Don't forget to enjoy the process.
Always keep charging. Continual progress builds. Keep moving forward.
For me, preparation is everything and allows me to narrow my focus on the race day instead of worrying about all the little stuff. Coming into the race with a peace of mind is really what preparation is all about. Being prepared makes the event more fun, as I can enjoy the event knowing I have my shit together, instead of running around trying to figure out a plan at the race.
Thank you for reading. I hope this article offers perspective for you and helps you achieve your goals at the upcoming US Hard Enduro Races.
I am putting on a clinic the weekend before the race and will be covering more topics to help rider perform at their highest level.
If you want more of this, make sure and subscribe to the Max Off-Road newsletter.
- Max Gerston