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  • Writer's pictureLauren O'Bryan

Gearing Up For My First Ultra-Endurance Cycling Race

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

You could say the expression “if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough” certainly resonates with me. Despite the many elements pitted against me, I entered an ultra-endurance cycling race. The race, Ascend Armenia, is the first of its kind in the tiny Caucasus nation.

Before you assume I entered on some kind of crazy whim, that’s not my style. I’m a logical person that will think things through, and this was an idea I had tossed up for some time.

Overnight bike trip to Levitana Lake, Georgia

The ABCs of Ultra-Endurance Cycling

But, what even is ultra-endurance cycling? The definition of ultra-endurance cycling is a little murky, but it’s generally considered to be any bike race longer than 200 kilometres, that isn’t broken up into stages. Essentially, the timer starts and doesn’t stop when the sun goes down.

The types of ultra-endurance cycling events range from road-based like the TransContinental to almost entirely off-road races like the TransBalkan race. Ultra-distance bikepacking races are multi-day, long-distance races that must be completed entirely self-supported. That means carrying or purchasing what you need along the route, with any outside assistance leading to disqualification.

My first 200km brevet race.
Samegrelo 200km Brevet

Ultra-endurance sporting events have been gaining popularity in recent years — particularly amongst women — and self-supported bikepacking races are not unique in this. The interesting thing about this style of racing is that, whilst it pays to be fast, there’s also a lot of strategy involved. Certainly, a deep understanding of your own personal limits comes in handy.

About Ascend Armenia

Ascend Armenia will run for the first time in 2023. It will join the ranks of other challenging self-supported bikepacking races such as the Silk Road Mountain Race in Kyrgyzstan, Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco, and another newbie the Hellenic Mountain Race in Greece.

The race is run primarily off-road following abandoned Soviet roads looping some 1,200km around the country. As the name suggests the race route includes a significant amount of climbing — something I’m very uncertain about.

From Cycle Touring To a Self-Supported Bikepacking Race

I am an amateur at ultra-endurance racing, in fact, I’m an amateur at any racing at all. I wouldn’t even say I’m a highly competitive person, but I am stubbornly determined.

In 2019 I set off cycling touring from the UK to Australia. I was new to cycle touring as well and I learned a lot about myself over the course of that year, as well as the subsequent upheaval through the pandemic.

Ccyle touring through the Netherlands

Of course, a self-supported bikepacking race is more like cycle touring on steroids. But, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that people are capable of a lot more than they realise.

I had been considering tackling a multi-day bikepacking race for some time and was trolling through event lists for something that seemed like a good entry-level race. Ideally, somewhere I was already familiar with (I think this helps to an extent), and possible on the bike that I have.

As fate would have it, I was scrolling Instagram one day and saw something about Ascend Armenia. Initially supposed to have been held in 2022, they pushed the date back to 2023.

The route for Ascend Armenia is anything but beginner-friendly or entry-level. But, it’s in my part of the world. I’m reasonably familiar with Armenia having traveled there a couple of times, although never by bike. The race entry fees are expensive, not to mention the kit upgrades I need, insurance, and transportation just to get to the start line. The route length is tough, and the elevation gain is unfathomable, but I just couldn’t not try.

From Now Until June 25

I’ve been slowly chipping away at testing my setup and building strength in my legs. It’s as much about building my mental resilience as it is building my physical strength, so I’m trying to stay focused on just riding my race.

If you’d like to sponsor me it would be greatly appreciated, but you can also stay tuned with my race preparation by following me on Instagram.

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