Team Bobs-Bicycling.com Racing Tips

Author: Fritz Stafford

Published: April 1, 2015

Learning to Race Requires Training by Racing:

Getting to the start line of your first race is a tremendous accomplishment. Typically, this requires a year to become a “regular exerciser” and prepare your body / metabolism for a second year of “training to become competitive”. There has also probably been considerable investment in equipment and technique.

Go to the start line of your first race with the expectation that it will take several races to learn the “racing process” and become a beginning racer.

Do not have high expectations, as new racers typically encounter discouragement when they find their correct competition category. Focus on finishing the race, and do not worry about being last, as there is a last place finisher in every race. Rather, focus on getting to know your competition, and how you finished relative to them.

One key benefit of racing is that it provides a forum to assess your performance level. You may never beat some of your competitors, but it is very rewarding to go from losing by 20% longer time to losing by only 10% longer time.

The start of the race can be the most daunting, or exhilarating, depending on your perspective. The start is congested with all the contestants bunched together, and there is some truth in the adage, “how you start is how you’ll finish”. This is most true for the top contenders and courses with bottlenecks near the start. It is easy to avoid the race start aggressiveness by starting at the back of the bunch until you figure out your correct start position (i.e., not in front of faster riders, and not behind slower riders).

A key aspect of racing, and another thing that is best learned by racing, is learning how to start hard, but not too hard, and get to 95% of heart rate maximum quickly. A common sight at the beginning of races, especially races that start with a hill climb, is riders that started too hard falling back.

Course familiarity is critical. The USA Cycling rule is that it is the rider’s responsibility to know the course, and that riding off the course can result in race disqualification. Of course, race Directors are responsible to publish a course map, and mark the course adequately. If one is not familiar with a course, it is strongly recommended to arrive at the course the day before the race, and ride it in the late afternoon, when it will most likely be marked adequately. Thus, it can take a season of racing to familiarize oneself with all the courses.

Racing is difficult and challenging, but this leads to tremendous satisfaction, gratification, sense of accomplishment that only a very small percentage of humans ever attempt, or are capable of achieving. You will likely hear comments such as, “learning to suffer”, “learning to enjoy suffering”. There is also a unique camaraderie that you develop among your teammates and competitors, and this goes beyond social interaction to the cultural level, even lifestyle.

Most new racers quickly find they are lacking “race fitness”, as they have not yet realized the benefits of interval training. Some sort of interval training is required to take your fitness to the next level, and racing is the most fun, intense interval training available to amateur competitors. Thus, the realization that racing is required to develop race fitness.

The one caveat is that once per week interval training throughout the racing season is required to develop race fitness, and there are only seven or eight XC MtB race events per year. Hence, many XC MtB racers also race in other types of events, road bike races, running races, triathlon races.

In addition to the training regimen described under the Training Tips tab, there are some additional considerations to prepare for racing. One key point is to “train the way you race” during one of your weekly workouts. This means riding at 95% of race heart rate / power for the same duration, and learn how much to eat and drink prior to and during the race. Weekly training races can be a very valuable aid for this.

Many new racers think they know how to eat and drink, but when training, they slow down or stop to do this, and there is no such luxury during a race. A typical consequence is to not eat or drink enough during a race, and then bonking before the end of the race. Thus, a key item in course familiarization is to identify the best place(s) to eat / drink during the race (the start of a climb where there is adequate room for passing is a good choice).

The Racing Process:

The racing process includes everything you need to do to compete in a race event. It can also include ancillary things not directly related to racing (e.g., child / pet / elder care, lawn / house / car maintenance, spouse / child amusement / comfort during warm-up and race, etcetera).

  • Racing license and race registration.
  • Race travel and lodging / camping arrangements.
  • Bike in perfect working order.
  • Bike cleaned and lubricated.
  • Take a rest day two days before the race.
  • Take a fun ride the day before the race.
  • Racing kit covers the full range of weather possibilities.
  • Warm-up equipment (e.g., trainer, trainer wheel / bike).
  • Bike / equipment rack(s).
  • Food and twice as many water bottles as you think you need.
  • Memorize directions to race venue.
  • Arrive at race venue 1.5 hours before race start.
  • Check-in and affix race number(s).
  • Start warm-up ~60 minutes before race start.
  • Warm-up for ~25 minutes, sweat hard at 90% heart rate maximum for ~10 minutes.
  • Change undergarments in cold weather.
  • Be on the start line 10 minutes prior to race start.
  • Warm dry clothes for after the race.

Race anxiety is a serious issue. The most common problem is sleeping the night before a race. If you suffer this malady, do not fret, and remind yourself that most of the time warriors are not able to sleep the night before battle, but battle they must, or die. This is another one of those items that becomes less of an issue with practice.

The best way to lessen race anxiety is to assure complete preparedness before you go to bed: (1) Equipment completely ready; (2) Pre-ride the course for familiarization, and to determine drink / feed location(s); (3) Develop a warm-up routine that can be repeated at each race (e.g., trainer and trainer bike / wheel), and that works well for you (i.e., able to start race at 95% of heart rate maximum without feeling immediately gassed).

It is best to get out of bed at least three hours prior to race start, and preferably four hours before race start. (This can compound race anxiety sleep distress for races with early race start times.) Immediately drink coffee and / or juice, and eat a bagel or bowl of cereal. The reason for this is to achieve the goal of having bowel movement in the comfort of your own bathroom. This is preferable to the last minute rush to the port-a-potty, and squeezing into the tight space girdled in your kit, or worse yet, the no bowel movement nausea that can develop during the race.

On the flip side, do not eat too much before a race. The “Cowboy Breakfast” is a bad idea. Rather, augment the bagel or bowl of cereal with a second cup of coffee and banana or other fruit while driving to the race venue. Then, after warm-up, eat a Goo packet, or some other form of race rations, and wash it down with a big drink of water.

Race the whole race, regardless of how you are doing relative to the competition. It is important to develop the mindset of finishing, and it is critical to capitalize on the “Race Interval Training Opportunity”. This is how you get faster. It is also likely that you will catch and pass riders late in the race who have bonked, or simply are not fit enough to stay in front of you.

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