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Five things to make a successful race-day routine

One of the best ways to ensure that you stay on track is to develop a race-day routine.

There’s always a lot happening on race day. It feels like you could catch whiplash with all of the people and things fighting for your attention. Scenarios that you never even consider will suddenly demand all of your attention. If you’re not careful, you’ll quickly find yourself late, distracted, or forgetting something.

Also read: Five biggest mistakes to avoid on race day

One of the best ways to ensure that you stay on track on race day is to develop a routine. Plan ahead, think about how you want the day to go, and create a routine that you can replicate. The next thing you now, race day will feel second nature.

Why develop a race-day routine?

It’s important to develop a race day routine for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reason would be to help stay on track and to ensure that you don’t forget anything. Other reasons to develop a race day routine are to help eliminate variables and to help your mind prepare for the race.

When you create a reliable race day routine, you are eliminating variables that have the potential to unknowingly impact your race. When you have a routine, you are able to consistently evaluate the elements of the routine and make slight adjustments to optimize your performance. For example, if you find that you consistently experience stomach distress when eating your meal two hours before race start, but no longer experience stomach distress when eating your pre-race meal three hours before race start, you will logically be able to conclude that eating further out from the race is a beneficial change for you. On the other hand, if you constantly change your warm-up, pre-race meal, meal timing, and caffeine consumption before the race but still experience stomach distress, you won’t know which element needs to be altered in order to achieve optimal performance. Small and intentional changes are best for analyzing outcomes.

Another important reason to establish a race day routine is to signal to your brain that it’s time to race. Our brains can recognize patterns and they try to anticipate what is coming next. Therefore, when we give our brains the same routine before every race we give our brains the opportunity to anticipate and prepare for the hard effort that we are about to produce.

1. Pack ahead

There’s nothing worse than digging through your bag minutes before the start of your race and having to concede that you left that ever-important item at home. Pack your race bag the night before. Develop a packing list and try to pack in the same way every time (e.g., bike computer in the front pocket, gloves in the side pocket, etc). Over time, this makes remembering all of your equipment a breeze.

Here’s a packing list to get you started:

  • bike (clean with fresh sealant in good tires and battery charged if applicable)
  • helmet
  • shoes
  • glasses
  • gloves
  • kit (jersey and bibs)
  • water bottles (fluids, drink mix)
  • food (pre-, during, and post-ride)
  • bike computer
  • post-race clothing
  • pump
  • co2 and tire plugs
  • towel
  • extra tools
  • weather-specific equipment (sunscreen, umbrella, rain jacket, etc.)
  • wallet (with race license if needed)

2. Plan Your Meals

sammich and chips
Plan your meals ahead of time.  Photo: Jim Cotton

What you eat before the race doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, in most cases, the simpler the better. A lot of people get thrown off when races are at different times of the day. I recommend eating the same pre-race meal no matter what time your race is. You may need to add other food throughout the day, but the pre-race meal can remain the same.

Generally speaking, aim to have your pre-race meal three to four hours before the race start to allow yourself plenty of time to digest without being hungry at the start. Look for food that is high in carbohydrates, but easy on the stomach. A few suggestions would be pancakes or waffles, PB&J sandwiches, or instant oatmeal.

After your pre-race meal, you may find that you need a little something extra in the hours leading up to the race. Try to avoid eating something from 15-60 minutes before you start warming up to avoid feeling lethargic. Other than that, consider bringing a little extra of your pre-race meal to snack on, or try consuming a gel, energy blocks, or bar.

Plan your nutrition and hydration ahead of time. Photo: @dylanmhowell

3. Mental preparation

It’s really important to spend some time before the race focusing on mental preparation. This will look different for everyone and it’s important to understand what motivates you.

The stress response curve is an inverted-U. As arousal increases, performance also increases until you reach a certain threshold. Once beyond that threshold, additional arousal will decrease performance.

It’s important to understand where you lay on this stress response curve. If you have a tendency to be too calm before a race then you may need to increase your arousal through things like pump-up music. If you tend to be overly aroused or nervous, then you may need to decrease your arousal state through something like meditation.

Once you understand what you need, it’s easy to incorporate your mental preparation into your race routine. You can complete mental preparation during your own dedicated time or even while warming up or kitting up before your event.

4. Make a schedule

Make a schedule for race day. It’s amazing how quickly everything can happen on race day. If you’re not careful, you may suddenly find yourself rushing to the start line feeling frazzled. Once you establish your schedule, send it to anyone helping you on race day. It will only help to have everyone on the same page, and having people to hold you accountable. This could be a friend, mechanic, team manager, coach, or spouse.

Here’s an example of a pre-race schedule:

6:30 wake up
7:00 breakfast
8:15 leave for venue
8:30 arrive at venue
8:45 kit up
9:15 warm-up
9:40 buffer time (bathroom break)
9:50 arrive at startline
10:00 start

5. Warm up

Sofia Gomez Villafañe warms up
Plan time for an effective warmup.  Photo: Wil Matthews

Establish a warm-up routine that you like and that makes you feel ready both mentally and physically for the race ahead. Your warm-up may vary depending on what type of race you are doing. Generally speaking, the shorter and higher intensity of the race, the longer the warm-up will be. Most race-day warm-ups should last between 20-30 minutes and include some combination of tempo, high cadence drills, and openers.

Practice develops confidence

Don’t forget to practice your race routine. Every time you head out for a workout, it’s a chance to practice your pre-race routine and preparation. You’ve probably heard people say to never try something new on race day. That sentiment holds true here. That said, never be afraid to switch things up in training. Your next big breakthrough could be right around the corner.