Standing on a start line wasn’t new for us: we both race professionally, and have started hundreds upon hundreds of races. But this one was different because we were standing on the line together. And we would be racing together. For seven days in a row. It was our first time racing in a duo category, and while we love riding and training together, we were both a little apprehensive about what racing together would mean for our relationship. Would we bicker constantly for seven days? Would one of us feel resentful? How would we cope with the inevitable setbacks and struggles of multi-day XC racing?
You can see exactly what our experience was like in the video below, but spoiler alert: we didn’t kill each other or file for divorce! In fact, racing together strengthened our relationship and was a ton of fun, too. We even landed on the podium.
Here’s my advice to anyone looking to compete in a duo category with their life partner:
1. Snap into race mode — one of the things that helped Macky and I race together seamlessly was the fact that we both have a lot of race experience, so we both know how to access “race mode.” When we’re in race mode, we are single-mindedly focused on the task at hard, and we are able to tune out distractions and stay focused in the present. In an enduro race, this means getting up from a crash and immediately forgetting that it happened so that you can race to your best for the remainder of a run. When racing with your significant other, race mode means taking nothing personally and expending all your energy on going hard (as opposed to wasting energy on whinging or moping or feeling slighted by your partner).
2. If possible, assign roles — Macky is faster and stronger than me at every aspect of bike racing, so we knew going into this that I would be the limiting factor. Therefore, while my goal was to pace myself (and then bury myself), his goal was to support me. This meant letting me draft on the occasional road sections, letting me follow his lines on the descents, stopping at aid stations while I continued on ahead, and overall just trying to maximize my capacity to go fast. Since he knew this was his role going into the event, he knew he wouldn’t be able to go his own race pace and was prepared to play a support role. If the faster rider in your partnership isn’t prepared to fully embrace a supporting role, racing together may not be the best idea.
3. Make a game plan — similar to point number two, but a little bit more specific. Have a plan for who will pace on the climbs and who will lead on the descents. How often will you need to eat or hydrate? Will you stick together the entire time or split up? (BCBR allows duo teams to split up but some multi day stage races mandate that you are always within 1 minute of your partner — make sure you know the rules of your race!)
4. Communicate — weird how basic relationship rules still apply when your relationship is halfway through a seven day mountain bike race. It’s hard to over-communicate. It’s even harder to over-communicate when your heart rate is 180 bpm and you’ve already climbed over 4000 vertical feet. So, whenever you’re able to get enough breath into your airway to do so, let your partner know how you’re doing, how the pace feels, if your bike is having any issues, etc. Much better to discuss the fact that your partner might be going too fast BEFORE he/she blows your doors completely off. Macky and I developed a system where, if he was leading, he would check in periodically and I would tell him if he should go faster or slower by saying “you can go up a notch” or “down a notch” or, by Day 7, “down three to four notches please I’m dying.” This system took a bit to dial in, but by the end, we both had a pretty good idea of what a “notch” was.
5. Eat — They say eating wins races, but it’s equally true that eating saves marriages. Eat. Eat a lot. Eat all the time. You are racing for seven days. Keeping up with the caloric intake will save you and your domestic bliss.
Racing as a couple can be an incredibly positive experience, but it’s best to come prepared. If you want a closer look at what this experience was like, this video, produced by PEARL iZUMi, will give you a pretty good insight: