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AT SOME POINT during your first 24-hour mountain-bike race—probably when a wild-eyed buddy is rudely waking you up for your 3 A.M. lap—you will honestly wish you'd stayed home. But as soon as the race ends, you'll be thinking about how you and your teammates will do better next time. Because there will be a next time. It's tough to do something this fun just once.
A 24-hour race combines the adventure of a camping excursion, the athleticism of a bike race, the group bonding of a road trip, and the stamina of a rave. It's Burning Man with timing chips.
Invariably, these events are held on some of America's best and most beautiful trails. And when it comes to mountain biking in general, and 24-hour racing in particular, no place is more iconic than Moab, Utah. Over the past 15 years, 24 Hours of Moab has evolved into a 3,500-plus-person bacchanalia of aerobic suffering, technical riding, and beer tents. (The DJs and race announcers go nonstop through the night, too.) If you haven't already, you should join them.
And that's the great thing about 24-hour races: You really can. On a five-person team, all you have to be able to do is ride a mountain bike for maybe 90 minutes, rest for five hours, and then do it twice more. Of course, some technical bike-handling chops will help, but you can always walk sections that are too challenging. Almost everyone does.
While the event's vibe is always fun and inclusive, understand that the riding is real. Solo competitors sometimes log more than 250 miles on the 15-mile loop course. Racers on competitive four-person teams can expect to do five laps each. And even just-for-fun riders on five-person teams can get in 45 miles or more of epic riding on a challenging combination of singletrack, slickrock, fire roads, and soft sand. If you're lucky, you'll be out on course when the desert sunrise lights up the slickrock, reminding you that no matter how isolated you may have felt out there in the arc of your headlamp, you're not in this alone.
And there are still six more hours to go.
There's another great thing about 24-hour races: They last way longer than that. The experience begins months before the event, when you convince—or are convinced by—some friends to assemble a team. Suddenly you have gear to buy, and a team name to create (the bawdier the better). You've got to learn how to ride at night, how to fix a broken chain, how to convince your spouse to be your team manager.
Yep, it's not just about the riders. If you want to pull off a 24-hour race in style, you'll need a crew. This is a group effort. And you've also got to ride your bike. A lot. But that's what you signed up for in the first place, right?