Question: How should my pre-race warm-up be different for a marathon or longer race than a XC distance race?
The start of an endurance race is as crucial to race placing as it is in XC racing. In endurance racing, the entire field (all age groups and categories) starts as one mixed group mass start. It is common to have hundreds of racers starting at the same time. XC racers usually have the advantage of starting and competing with only their category members for position at the first race bottleneck. Endurance race starts are larger, more crowded, chaotic and fast!
The traffic aspect of the mass field start in endurance races has a large tactical impact on race strategies. A pro man starting slowly may end up with enough age group racers out in front on the single track that he would have little chance of regaining contact with the lead group. A pro woman starting fast can potentially put 30 age group racers between her and the next pro woman on the single track, which is an obvious advantage.
The most effective pre-race warm-up for a marathon (or longer race than a XC distance) event depends on how fast you plan to start.
For marathon up to 100-mile distances, if you plan on a fast start to gain a superior position on the first section of single track: you must be warmed up and ready to drill it when the gun goes off. Your warm-up will not differ from your XC warm-up.
For any endurance distance race, if you plan to ride at a conservative, steady pace with a focus on finishing: the best warm-up is a 5-10 minute aerobic spin to loosen up. Use the actual start of the race to complete your warm-up. This preserves muscle glycogen for the race.
Don’t confuse or mix-up these two strategies! Plan to warm up well and start fast, or start conservatively and use the first part of the race to warm-up.
For endurance distance events lasting 24 hours and longer, a light aerobic spin for 10 minutes is a sufficient warm-up. All you need to do is loosen up and get in the ride flow. The start of the race will complete your warm-up. A more substantial warm-up prior to a 24 hour or longer event may impair performance if it results in residual fatigue or glycogen depletion.