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Good average speed for new XC woman racer?

3564 Views 20 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  Rod
Hi, I have been riding recreationally for many years and have been encouraged to start trying some races. I've never done an XC race, but my riding friends seem to think I am quick enough to be competitive.

I was wondering if anyone would have advice for an average speed target I can aim for when I start seriously training this spring. I'm 40 years old and would be in the novice class. On the local trails, I usually average around 7.5 mph. I know faster is always better, but how much faster do you think I need to be in order to run with the pack in a real race?
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My friendly advise, just go race and see where you stack up. It's all for fun anyways. The number you seek is pretty terrain specific anyways.

GL
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I second the idea to go race see what happens.

I got back into racing about a year ago, what I thought then and what I think now are pretty different lol. Best advice I can give is to start out at an easier pace and ramp up as you feel better. Many new racers over do it at the starts and basically bonk halfway into a race. My race pace is always a couple more mph than my trail riding pace.


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Are you nearby to any of the trails you'd race at? Look at past years results and see how you compare. I did that before my first race just to figure out which class to sign up for. There's really no way to answer without knowing the trail though. For example, in my last race I averaged 16.5mph for 18 miles, but there are some trails that I can't break 12-13mph. If I traveled to a race in the mountains, maybe I'd average 10mph. If I did a 100 mile race, I'd average much less.
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Hi, I have been riding recreationally for many years and have been encouraged to start trying some races. I've never done an XC race, but my riding friends seem to think I am quick enough to be competitive.

I was wondering if anyone would have advice for an average speed target I can aim for when I start seriously training this spring. I'm 40 years old and would be in the novice class. On the local trails, I usually average around 7.5 mph. I know faster is always better, but how much faster do you think I need to be in order to run with the pack in a real race?
Race results from a few races around here (25miles) show that if you average 10mp/h you’ll be in the middle of the pack. If you plan on being in the top ten you should set your target to 15mp/h.
Anything higher will get you onto the podium.
That’s for the annual “Flowmaster” here in SC. @ F.A.T.S. BTW
Just look up the year’s prior race results of the races you’re planning to compete in to get an idea.


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What region do you live in? Depending on where you live, that could be incredibly fast or incredibly mediocre. Do you have Strava? How do you stack up on leaderboards?

Like others have said, just go race. The Beginner category will be very low pressure, so don’t be intimidated. Just go out, have fun, and try to ride fast!
As said, average speed is tough metric. Depends so much on trails and trail conditions.
There has been world cup XC races where 7.5mph was the winning average speed.

Things to keep in mind, race speed is higher than training speed, sometimes significantly.
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As stated, an mph target is a tough one.

I'd "benchmark" some of your favorite training segments when you get started, and work to reduce them significanlty.
Trust your friends and just go have fun, and don't worry about predicting a finish. Quite a bit of the fun is riding new trails that are marked and 'one way' where you don't have to worry very much about someone coming the other way. Enjoy doing the event, meeting new people, and hanging around and supporting your friends, - and tell them that you expect them to be cheering for you during your race at some point along the course!
There's a huge variation on avg speed based on the individual trails (tight twisty and rooty?) On my local training trails 7mph avg is hauling.
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Agree with others that avg speed in mtb means very little. What correlates better is whether you can hit top 10 or top 5 on strava leadership boards for your local trails. A couple women in my area who hit the top 5 did very well in novice and even jumped to sport within a race or two, where they ran around midpack. Not bad for beginner racers.
Female racer here... I'll second what everyone else has said, and that is it really depends on the trails and terrain. I've had 15mph average races, and 8 mph average races. Depends on the course profile (hilly, flat, etc), length, technical level, where you are, etc.

Previous race times from past results can help, and also Strava. Strava is really what I used as a benchmark as I was progressing (and even still to this day). I would look at the times of the women at my level/category. I also had some real legit pros (World Cup/Olympic level) living in my area, too, that were always fun to chase on Strava as well.

Also, it isn't always about average speed. As you progress through racing, you learn being efficient and knowing when and how to save gas in the tank is key. I remember when I was really new being taught "the pros pedal the downhills" and I still think of that to this day... plenty of spots people might coast, but if you can stay pedaling, even better! If your trails are technical, practice riding fast and smoothly through the rocks, roots, whatever, helps keep your body from feeling too beat up and helps save those seconds that all add up.

Being a novice, I say just show up and give it a go!
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My average mph in races still ranges between 9-14 in races. XCO and Marathon.

In the Texas series for 1 lap, cat 3, (1 hour the podium will range between 8-10 for women.

My first year of racing Cat 3, some races were 9 and some were 12, so you can’t really peg a mph unless you are practicing on that course.

Also, races don’t work out that way. The first 1-2 miles of the race will likely be almost 2 mph average higher than the actual race average. If anything, I would highly recommend you train/practice for race starts vs race average.

Preriding the course is also one of the single best things you can do for increasing lap time. I would recommend a sighting lap as well as a lap at 95% so you can get a feel for how that course will corner at race pace. In my experience, really knowing a course can save you 10+ seconds per mile.

While preriding Think about:
where you will drink and take a gel
Where you can pass if the course is tight
A landmark for where you will absolutely empty the tank towards the finish.


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I'm no expert but top 5's around here on Strava is a hell of a lot faster than Cat 3.
I know a guy that has podiumed in Cat 2 but isn't in the top 50 on most Strava segments and uses it regularly.

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I'm no expert but top 5's around here on Strava is a hell of a lot faster than Cat 3.
I know a guy that has podiumed in Cat 2 but isn't in the top 50 on most Strava segments and uses it regularly.

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Comparing on Strava is very subjective and you don’t know the conditions or what they truly rode for those times. If it’s not a segment or loop that’s been part of a race course, those leaderboards don’t hold much weight imo. Every race promoter I’ve raced with has maps and results online. If someone must know how they measure up, using a past race course and results would be the best comparison.

I still say, just go race and see what happens. Decide what kind of racer you want to be after that and make adjustments.


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XCO races are pretty long whereas Strava boards are just a measure of a hotlap. Still, I think there is correlation. Someone who can pull a top 5 is a pretty good bike handler. It also indicates that they are "probably" not novice riders (even if they have never raced) and have been doing this for a while. So they wouldn't be starting from scratch fitness wise. I'd say someone who has never raced but can pull a top 5 or even a top 10 on Strava will be competitive in at least CAT 3. They may or may not have the fitness to compete in CAT2 but they would have the bike handling.

But that doesn't mean good racers will always be at the top of Strava boards. I know a pointy end of the pack CAT 1 guy who rides mostly long and easy when not racing and won't burn his matches just to do hot laps to hit Strava leaderboards.
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XCO races are pretty long whereas Strava boards are just a measure of a hotlap.
Yup, there's that! 🙃
If I do a race that's multiple laps and everyone has done the same number of laps then I'll make the Strava segment the whole race.
If people are doing differing numbers of laps then I'll set a single lap as the segment.

Our local organisers last season were fond of a varying number of long loops depending on age group, followed by shorter loops until a 50min cutoff for the last lap. Youngsters would just do short laps.
Please keep in mind, if you are trying to use Strava to calculate average speed. A race loop segment will often pick up past race loops which are miles shorter or longer.

Example: if you make the 2022 race loop, it may pull in times from the 2016 racers who ran a similar loop but may cut or add trails.

This will leave you scratching your head.

The womens groups are usually not highly attended anyway, so really it’s about racing against that other person at the front and staying with them. Don’t let them get out of site if you want to beat them. It is unlikely you will bring them back. Although you may catch that person walking a technical section later.

Also, do not be intimidated by the background or dress of any person. Being a “cat 1 roadie” or in a fancy team kit does not make you fast around a mountain bike trail.


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If it is something you are interested in, go sign up and line up with zero expectation. You might line up and find out you are a natural and blow them all away, or that you are just average, or slower. You really won't know until you finish the race (finish!). No reason to get expectations this early with random numbers that mean nothing.

Line up with all the ladies in your class. Assuming it is like where I race, you all take turns humble bragging then self deprecating until the start. You will probably suddenly feel like you made the biggest mistake of your life, how in the hell will you ever keep up with these people? Eventually you just tell yourself you will do your personal best job and finish the race because you signed up for it. Then you finish, feel accomplished, and decide you will never do that again.

Then you go home and google "XC training" and end up back in this forum.
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Also, do not be intimidated by the background or dress of any person. Being a “cat 1 roadie” or in a fancy team kit does not make you fast around a mountain bike trail.
- that's a good point: at the start line it's fairly common to feel like you're surrounded by professionals, with all the team kits and fancy bikes ("what the heck am I doing here!?", try not to let that make you feel like you don't belong.
If you really want to get immersed: talk to the promoters and volunteer to help take down the course afterwards.
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