Congratulations! You’ve signed-up for your first race. Now what? Here’s a pre-race guide for the uninitiated. How to go from “I’m going to enter a bike race” to “I’ve finished my first bike race” without freaking out.
What do you after you enter a race, but before you start the race?
There is a bunch of nervous energy and loads of excitement running around your head and through your body. You’ve decided to enter a race, or maybe you have already entered it.
What do you need to do to prepare yourself? There are a couple of different areas which you will want to focus on to make sure your race day is as smooth as possible.
- Physical Training
- Getting Your Bike Race Ready
- Mental Preparation
- Packing and Transport
- Race Day
Spending a little bit of time before the race can save you a lot of frustration come race day. Some of these topics have a bit of crossover, so let’s tackle them one by one.
Make sure you are getting a consistent weekly training load. How do you know if it is enough? A good rule of thumb is to have a slight build-up (5-10% week on week) in training load leading up to the race, over a 4-6 week period.
Come race week you want to cut back your kilometres and intensity by about 20% so you can be fresh for race day.
Consistency is better than huge single efforts.
If you are looking for more information regarding training plans and physical workload, I can recommend some books and resources, please feel free to contact me by leaving a message below.
Getting Your Bike Race Ready
Getting your bike serviced and in good working order is paramount to an enjoyable race day. Aim to get this done about 1-2 weeks before the race. The reason behind doing it a week out is to give yourself some time to ride post service, and to be able to fix any minor issues. Ask your mechanic to check over everything — giving you a full service.
- Cassette and Chain rings
- Bar tape
The last thing you want is to roll up to the start line with a freshly serviced bike and find out your brakes are rubbing, or your gears don’t shift correctly.
Give your bike a good check over.
Go through all the gears, making sure your shifting is smooth. Ride in and out of the saddle, checking whether you have enough brake compliance. Note down anything which might be off and get it resolved.
Avoiding punctures on race day is highly recommended. Inspect your tyres, and replace them if they are worn, have pits or are old. This should be done around the same time as your bike service.
You can always put on new tyres leading up to the race, and swap back to your older tyres for training after the race. Keeping a good set of tyres for race day is a something a lot of people do and with good reason.
Mental preparation for race day
Mental preparation is an aspect that often gets overlooked when it comes to race day. For this article we will touch on some basics to ensure a smooth mental flow for race day.
Covering all the points in this article is a good way to mentally check off any stress or anxiety.
Without any race experience it’s hard to know what to expect during the race.
Visualisation can help. Try it out on the following:
- Visualise yourself riding in the pack.
- Climbing up a hill with the peloton around you.
- Following someone’s wheel through a fast corner.
- Coming into the finishing straight.
Do some form of route reconnaissance. Check out Strava for the race route. Go build it with the Route Tool if the race route doesn’t exist. Talk to people who have raced the roads before, ask them for any tips or pointers. Ask them specifically about the parcours.
Don’t try new things on race morning.
Keep to your normal routine the night before and morning of the race — that includes food, race nutrition, sports drinks, kit, sunglasses, shoes – anything that you do regularly.
The night before a race, go to bed on time, wake up on time. Have breakfast and check over your bike. Pin your race numbers on.
If you don’t yet have a routine, try a race day routine one Saturday morning before your ride. Wake up, have breakfast and give your bike a quick check over. The same as you would on race day.
Setting goals and managing your own expectations is highly recommended. Ask yourself, “what will I be happy with achieving in this race?” Make your goals SMART. Here are some examples of goals.
I want to:
- Finish in X number of hours:minutes.
- Attack in the first 20km.
- Make sure I stick to my nutrition plan and enjoy myself.
Whatever your goal is, making it achievable and bite sized is a perfect way to enjoy your race.
Packing and Transportation
With local races you will most likely drive or ride to the race. Overseas races will require a flight and drive to your destination. Accommodation becomes a factor and travel time needs to be taken into consideration. Make sure you plan extra time for transport delays.
Like with mental preparation, try not to change your normal process when packing. If you lay your stuff out the week before and pack in the morning, do the same with your race packing. It’s recommended to pack early in case you forget something.
Pack your bike bag with ONLY your bike and spares. It will make it easier to transport and reduce the chances something will break. Have a look at the pre-race packing checklist for an idea of what you should be packing.
Race nutrition is important and you should remember to take enough for your race, and for transport. Hydration is also just as important as food. Make sure to stay hydrated during your race, and transport.
I always try out my race nutrition before race day. Take your bars, gels, and drinks out on a ride of similar time to your race, see how you feel. Energy expenditure during a race is likely to be higher than during training. You will want to take this into account so you don’t fall into a hunger flat.
Try and pack more energy for a race than you would for training. It’s better to carry more food on race day than bonking during your race.
On race day, remove as many variables as possible. What that means is: trial run as much of your race day preparation as possible. Try to have everything in place the evening before.
The last thing you want on race day is to make decisions and second guess your preparation.
- Layout your kit
- Pre-check your bike
- Put your nutrition next to your kit
- Fill your water bottles
- Have a Race Day list that you can follow
At the start line try to find friendly faces to chat with. It will reduce your nerves and it’s always better racing with friends.
Congratulations, you’ve finished the race! That race was hard. Regardless of how you performed, book yourself some Rest and Recovery time. You deserve it! It’s important to unwind and relax post race.
Get a massage, sit on the beach, have a beer or wine.
Whatever you do to unwind, now is the time.
Lastly and the most important thing to remember about bike racing is you should enjoy yourself. Have fun! Racing is tough and challenging. It’s physically and mentally demanding. But it needn’t be scary or frightening.
By making sure you have your goals and expectations in check you will have the best race day possible!