Marathon MTB may seem more popular recently, but endurance MTB is hardly new. According to Bruce Brown, Co-Director of the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series, there is a long history of endurance events in mountain biking.
"For years the big trend was 12 and 24 hour events. At some point events started being measured more in miles – 50, 75, or 100 mile measuring sticks for endurance mountain bike races that were point to point or one large loop and became what is known as destination events. Chequamegon 40 in Wisconsin, Dakota Five-0 in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and Leadville 100 in Colorado are examples."
Destination events are popular, but they're also difficult to put on. "A point to point or large loop format requires more course marking, more trail trimming and course preparation, and more volunteers and crew to make it work. That's not possible for smaller, grass roots organizations such as our state mountain bike series here in Iowa. We don’t even have a venue with enough singletrack for a 50 mile point to point race. That's why a lot of endurance gravel races have been held in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Minnesota.
"The solution? A 'marathon' race run on a typical cross country singletrack loop that was already set up for the shorter duration XC races. A typical XC race is a set number of laps and the racer that completes the 2, 3, 4, or 5 laps in the fastest time wins. Using the same XC race loop, the marathon category is based on doing the most laps using a time cutoff of either 3 hours or 4 hours. Run on the same race day as the shorter XC races, the same crew that marked the trails, did registration, and officiated the results could do both at once with easier logistics than the destination mountain biking events that people travel to and spend a weekend. All three of the state series in Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota have added the marathon race category over the past few years as a result. Nebraska was the first to include it in their series, and now offer a marathon category at every event.
"IMBCS has five marathon events this year, and three are run as standalone marathon events: Squaw Creek Enduro, Sugar Cubed, and the upcoming Beverly Boondoggle. Noel wanted to show off the new trail system at Squaw Creek using a marathon format only this year. Mike Frasier prefers a separate marathon event at Sugar Bottom because we can use nearly all of the trails at Sugar Bottom for that event, as opposed to the shorter XC events."