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XC Marathon Training

XC Marathon (XCM) racing is a form of cross-country mountain bike racing that takes place on over a long, and typically rugged, backcountry course. These courses can take place over a wide range of distances and durations, but in most cases, a cross-country race will be considered a "Marathon Race" if the duration is longer than 3 hours. The added duration of a Marathon XC race shifts the overall demands on your body towards the sustained side of the spectrum, which is good for those willing to spend plenty of time in their "dark place".

The Different Types of XC Marathon Racing

Shorter Marathon Races (3-7 Hours)

A Marathon Race on the shorter side of the spectrum is a race that you expect to finish within 3-7 hours. These races may require a bit of supra-threshold efforts, however, a majority of your time outputting power will be spent in the Threshold and Sweet Spot power zones. By limiting supra-threshold power output and maximizing time spent below threshold, you can prevent excessive fatigue and finish your race strong.  

Popular Races Include:  Epic Rides Series

Epic Rides is a US-based marathon racing series that is growing in popularity due to its warm and welcoming culture, high level of professional competition, and its ability to pack a weekend chock full of fun and engaging activities. Their races take place over a 50-mile backcountry course on some of the most scenic trails in the US.

Event Specific Discussion:

Optimal Training Approach

Base: General Base I, II, III  

Build: Sustained Power Build

Specialty: Marathon XC Specialty


Longer Marathon Races (7+ Hours)

 A Marathon race that leans towards the ultra-endurance side of things will be in the 7+ hour range. In this type of race, it is paramount to do all you can to limit your efforts to sub-threshold output. Due to the power profile that will be needed during your race, the recommended training approach will focus on long and sustained efforts to help bolster that portion of your power curve.  

Popular Races Include:  Leadville 100

Leadville is a race that needs no introduction. It is a legendary 100-mile race in Leadville CO where racers battle extreme elevation, loads of climbing, and a very long day in the saddle.

Event Specific Discussion:

Optimal Training Approach

Base: General Base I, II, III

Build: Sustained Power Build

Specialty: Gran Fondo Specialty Plan


As with all mountain bike racing, bike handling skills can save you a lot of time out on the course. The ability to carry speed through corners and attack technical sections with confidence can provide a huge amount of "free speed", allowing you to use your watts when they matter the most.

Below is a video we made with Lee McCormack that can help you hone your skills become a more capable bike handler.

Nutrition and Hydration

In a long marathon race, fueling your body will be critical to your success on course. To hear how Keegan Swenson handles his Epic Rides race nutrition, tune into the video below:

Not quite the perfect fit?

Cross Country Training: This approach is optimized for races in the 60-120 minute range, where the races require more punchy and explosive efforts compared to XC Marathon races.

Short Track Training: This approach is optimized for races in the 30-60 minute range. Typically, these take place over many laps on a short course. This type of racing demands extremely explosive efforts with a high level of repeatability.

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