Summer is on its the way in the Northern Hemisphere, which means that racing season has officially arrived. If you've always meant to try a race but somehow never got around to it, or if you've been in self-imposed retirement for a few seasons, there's no time like the present to add a couple events onto your calendar. They don't need to be massive undertakings either – some of the best races are the small, relatively unknown local events, the ones where it's just you and your buddies racing for glory and a few bucks of prize money.
I know, I know, racing's hard. It's expensive. It requires traveling away from your familiar home trails, and there's a good chance that at the end of the day someone other than yourself will be standing on top of the podium. So why do it? Because of the way you'll feel when it's all over. The sensation of crossing a finish line knowing that you gave it your best shot, that you pushed yourself as hard as you could is something special, something that's hard to achieve while out on a 'regular' ride.1. It will force you out of your comfort zone
The potential for pain isn't exactly the best way to convince someone to sign up for an event, but pain, whether it's mental or physical, is part of what makes racing such a worthwhile endeavor. It might not seem like it when you're dry heaving and seeing red, or picking yourself up off the ground after pushing too hard to beat the clock, but after the fact it's the most grueling, physically taxing events that tend to make the strongest impressions.
It's all too easy to get stuck in a rut, comfortably riding the same well-worn path day after day. Having a go-to loop is all well and good, but it's important to mix things up, to step out of your comfort zone in every once in a while. Racing introduces all sorts of unknown elements, forcing your brain cells to fire in new ways as the flood of information that comes with riding unfamiliar terrain at a high level of exertion is processed. It's a trial by fire method of progression, and when those endorphins are flowing you may find yourself riding sections of trail that didn't seem possible.2. You'll make new friends
Racing may seem like an activity best left to Type-A extroverts, but even if you don't think there's a competitive bone in your body it's still worth giving it a try – you may be surprised what happens after that starting gun goes off.
Even if you finish dead last, and decide that racing's not for you, there's a good chance you'll meet a bunch of new friends along the way. Whether it's the volunteer holding the start list, the rider who stops to see if you need anything when they see you balled up in the bushes in the middle of their race run, or the friendly face selling burritos and hot dogs at the finish line, there's usually no shortage of happy, energetic, and just all-around good people that show up to races.
Mountain bikers can seem overly judgmental and standoffish if you spend too much time on the internet, but out in the real world it's a different story – other than a few outliers, the vast majority of riders and racers I've met over the years have been friendly, genuine people. 3. You'll have even more motivation to get out and ride
Have you ever found yourself sitting on the couch after a long day of work debating between going out for a ride or eating a bunch of snacks and taking a nap instead? Yeah, me too. Having a race penciled in on the calendar can help tip the scales, providing the little nudge that's necessary leave the couch behind and head for the trails.
I'm a big fan of the 'ride a whole bunch without any structure' method of training, but if you want to take things a little more seriously there's no shortage of training programs out there that can be used to make your riding time more productive, and to get in the best shape possible by the time race weekend rolls around. 4. It's FUN.
This is the real reason to race, one that sometimes gets overlooked amid all the obsessing about training and equipment selection. Going as fast as possible, hopefully faster than all of your friends – what's not to like? There's no speed limit between the tape, no park rangers to give you a ticket, or absentminded hikers walking their dog right up the middle of a downhill track to worry about. Instead, you're given the freedom to fire the booster rockets, to turn the rest of the world into a blur as your focus narrows to one objective: reaching the finish line as fast as possible. It doesn't get much better than that.