According to Nick Emsley, the key to surviving 24 hours of mountain biking is to look at the goal, not the time.
“When I’m halfway into a race, I’m not looking at that 12 hours left. I’m looking at being closer to that 24,” he said.
Based in Haliburton, Emsley has found a home within a tiny niche of the multimillion-member world cycling community. He races ultra-endurance mountain bike events.
With COVID-19 restrictions likely in the rearview mirror, Emsley is aiming to take his career to new heights in 2022.
He’s armed with a new sponsorship deal and a goal of lining up for the start of the World Endurance Mountain Bike Organization’s (WEMBO) championships in New South Wales, Australia in 2023, the pinnacle of ultra-endurance mountain biking.
“That’s going to be an amazing feeling,” Emsley said.
That race would mark a capstone on his career dotted with wins and top-three finishes.
First, he’s spending the summer competing in regional races such as the Three-hour Sea Otter Canada marathon at Blue Mountain and a three-day “Crank the Shield” staged race in Sault Ste. Marie at the end of July.
Then he wants to do a 24-hour race in Canmore, Alberta this fall. It’s WEMBO’s biggest race in the Americas.
That continental championship is key for landing sponsorships and gauging whether he’s fast enough to compete with the best of the best in Australia.
“Getting a specific position out there on this race would really, really help,” he said.
After an impressive performance at 2021’s infamous “8 Hours of Hurtin’ in Haliburton” race at the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Preserve, he also landed a bike deal with Montu bikes. In the past few years, he has become a regular top-three finisher in nearly every event he pedals.
He spends the entire winter training for races, tracking his heart rate and other fitness metrics, which determine how hard he’s able to work on the bike and keep his energy up.
Many people watching Emsley might have the same question: who would willingly spend 24 hours in the saddle? “I get that all the time,” he said with a laugh.
“I like to challenge myself. There’s a reason why there’s only a handful of us who compete hard in these events.”
After racing short mountain bike circuits for a few years, Emsley tried out an endurance race and fell in love with the strategy, mental demands and physical training required to keep your body in motion for extended periods of time.
“It brings you a lot of satisfaction,” he said.
Sometimes success can hang on a knife’s edge. “If I worked really late the night before or had a hard week leading into the race, maybe the first few hours will be great, but all of a sudden you have nothing left in your body,” he said. “The mental part of it all is huge.”
Just like each individual race, he said his long-term plan for racing next year’s WEMBO world championship requires planning and patience.
“You have to look at the long-term. It’s a lot of dedication,” he said.