Preparing for your first race of the season
Tips for resuming racing after the off-season.
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I just finished my first race of the season, and the night before, as I laid out all of my race gear, thought about my warm-up and pre-race routine, I found myself suddenly remembering all of the little tidbits of information and preparation that gets lost somewhere in the off-season.
Also read: Set goals to become a better cyclist
With my last race of the year being in late October and my first race of the year in mid-February it’s been less than 4 months since toeing the line, yet, there are still so many nuisances of racing that needed some practice, so as not to forget them.
Most people understand that in order to race well you have to train, but sometimes people forget that in order to race well you have to practice as well. Not everything in bike racing is fitness-based; some aspects are also tactical and intellectual.
Let’s visit some of the boxes you should check before your first race of the season.
1. Practice your starts
Practicing your starts may be more important for some cycling disciplines than others, but regardless, spend some time doing starts from a start position. That means, unclip your foot, put it on the ground, and practice clipping in and accelerating.
Often times we practice “start intervals” or even do sprint workouts and think that this will be adequate preparation for the race because we are physically fit enough to hang with the pack at the start. We forget that we need to be able to start from a complete stop and allow our bodies the chance to remember exactly what it feels like for that cleat in the shoe to go straight to the pedal.
You can easily practice a couple of starts at the end of your ride, you can do a couple of starts as a part of your interval workout, or you can even practice clipping in quickly when a stoplight turns green.
2. Practice your nutrition/hydration
Practice your race-day nutrition and hydration plan. Often times we don’t think about executing exactly what we will do in a race in training because it’s impractical to eat the same thing every day. For example, if you train in the evening then you may be used to training after whatever you had for lunch, but on race day you plan to eat oatmeal in the morning. Make sure that you practice a couple of times with the exact nutrition that you plan to use on race morning.
Additionally, make sure that you practice your on-the-bike nutrition strategy before the race. In training, you may frequently train with bars or other goodies that you enjoy, but on race day that may be too difficult to chew while riding. Make sure to practice at least a few workouts with whatever gels, blocks, or drink mix you will use in the race.
3. Lay out your gear ahead of time
I cannot stress this enough, lay out all of your gear a day or two before the race. It’s all too easy to forget something that is critical to your success. You don’t want to be running around race morning asking your competitors if you can borrow something that you forgot at home.
Here is a simple packing list for the race to get you started:
- bike and spare parts
- pump and tire pressure gauge
- CO2 and other flat repair items
- nutrition and hydration for before, during, and after the race
- race kit
- change of clothes and shoes for after the race
- hand towel
- toilet paper, scissors, sharpie, zip ties, safety pins
- ID and cash for venue
4. Practice your warm-up
Make sure to practice your race warm-up and time it out before you race. If you will warm up on the trainer or rollers then make sure you practice that once or twice. If you will warm up outside, on the road, then practice that too. Every time you have an interval workout it’s a chance to practice and hone in on your pre-race warm-up. By the time it is race day, the warm-up should be the least of your concerns.
5. Have an open mind
The first race of the season comes with a lot of expectations for people. Usually, people are seeking affirmation of their hard-earned off-season miles. Approach the line with curiosity and an open mind rather than expectation and pressure. Be cautious about how you are measuring your success. Times are often impacted by weather conditions or race tactics and placement is impacted by your competitors’ success. Remember that you cannot control how hard other people have trained in the off-season or even whether they are coming into this race with peak fitness or just for training. Don’t measure months of work off of a couple of hours of competition. Instead, use the first race of the season to form some data points that will allow you to better hone in on your strengths and weaknesses and to identify what you want to work on next.
6. Race to your strengths
Finally, once you get to the start line, remember to race your strengths. Much of the time, we focus on your weaknesses in training so those may be fresh on your mind. Take some time to identify your strengths and remember that it is your strengths that will allow you to win this race. Racing is exciting! While you worked on your weaknesses in training, racing is the chance to show off the skills you are most proud of.
The big picture
The first race of the season is no more important than any other race just because it is the first. Celebrate your progress, but don’t worry about outcomes. Have fun and get excited for the season ahead!