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All mountain bike races require an intense degree of physical fitness and mental preparedness, but none are more demanding than the 24 hour race. A set race course is designed for a 24 hour race and mountain bikers aim to do the most amount of laps in the 24 hour period. This means that cyclists must ride their bicycles through the night with lights mounted either on their helmets or handlebars, or both. A 24 hour race typically starts at noon on a Saturday and ends at noon on a Sunday, and while many riders will plan rest stops – ranging anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or more – other, more competitive, riders will ride non-stop for the entire 24 hour race, not counting brief stops to change clothes or equipment.
One of the most demanding aspects of a 24 hour race is the preparation involved. Because a rider must commit to riding a bicycle for 24 hours, the physical demands on the body are great and therefore the body needs support. Plenty of food and water is essential. The body will burn an immense amount of calories and use more water than the body is used to using in a 24 hour period, and so high carbohydrate, easily digestible foods are key, as well as an abundance of water and electrolyte-replacing drinks.
A 24 hour race is also demanding on a bicycle, which necessitates a support crew in most cases, or at least thorough mechanical ability in regards to the bicycle on the part of the rider. Because the race goes on for 24 hours non-stop, repairs must be made quickly and efficiently if and when they arise. Having a support crew helps the rider transition through the start-finish area quickly and efficiently, allowing more time to ride on the bicycle.
At night, riders must equip themselves with strong lights to ride the dark trails. These can be mounted on the helmet or on the handlebars of the bike. Lights run on strong batteries and have varying run times, usually necessitating more than one light. Lights for a 24 hour race vary in design, from LED lights to halogen and other types of lights.
A 24 hour race can be done either solo with one rider competing for himself, or as a team. Team categories vary by race, but they are often co-ed and range from duos to 5-rider teams. While riding on a team makes conservation of energy easier on riders, it can also lead to cramping as team members wait their turn to take a lap, as well as the mental fatigue and wearing down of motivation. This aspect of the 24 hour race – whether racing solo or as a team – makes mental exhaustion as big a part of the race as physical exhaustion.