If you live in many areas of the United States, race season is drawing near. Hopefully, you have been spending a lot of time on the trainer working on building up your engine to prepare for the Spring. Or maybe you have been able to brave this frigid winter and logged your miles outside. If you are lucky, you live in an area like California or Florida where it’s nice to ride year-round. Lucky you!
With the combination of an arrival of a newborn this year and the weather, I have spent exactly one day on the bike outside. Everything else has been on the trainer. Luckily, technology has introduced applications like Zwift and Cycleops Virtual Training to keep my mind occupied while riding the bike going nowhere. The days of watching bad movies or Spinervals videos are over! The life of a masters racer in the Mid-Atlantic!
I was recently asked to talk to a few new racers about race day preparation. As a masters racer, I sometimes take my routine for granted but, looking back to when I first started racing I remember one thing; being stressed out! When I was a newbie, I just kind of winged it and made almost every mistake in the book. I put together a brief outline of some thoughts about how to approach a race. This might seem like common sense to many seasoned veterans out there. If it does, please contribute in the comments section below with anything I might have neglected.
Outline for Race Day Preparation
- No matter the race, you should always have a few goals and/or objectives written down for every race you do. Write down at least two items that you would like to accomplish or learn from each race. It can be something simple as maintain a top 10 position through the race or maybe attack or get in a breakaway.
- Find out as much as you can about the race prior to race day. Talk to your cycling buddies about the race. Ask questions about the venue, the course, etc. The internet usually has a lot of information from the promoter and racers. These days you can find POV race clips via YouTube, write ups on blogs. You can even check out the course on Google Earth and figure out where the wind is coming from.
- Figure out what kind of course is it? Road race, crit, flat, hilly, sprint finish, etc.
- Decide on equipment. Make sure your bike is in tip top shape. Consider having your local bike shop do a once over before the season gets rolling. Learn to tune your own bike.
- Who else is going to be there? (from team, competition) You can look on pre-registration pages. Most registration sites now offer access to background information on past results of racers.
- Tactics. What is your best chances of doing well in this race? Weigh your strengths and weaknesses. Are you a good sprinter? A climber? Where will you need to make efforts? Where can you expect to ease up a bit?
- Visualize how the race will go, particularly the crucial moments such as a hill climb or final sprint.
- Pre-Race Fitness Prep and Nutrition
- One common mistake of many novices is riding too much the days leading to an event. Make sure you taper the days leading to the race.
- Sleep. Sleep is the secret weapon. Particularly the two nights before a race are critical. Get to bed early and wake up the same time you will need to wake up for your event. Make good sleep a habit if possible.
- Make sure you eat well the days leading to the race.
- You should always eat a well balanced and clean diet but the days leading up to an event are particularly critical. Stay away from processed and other junk foods. Eat natural food that is easy to digest. Don’t experiment with anything you haven’t eaten before. Drink water and sadly, limit alcohol.
- Race morning – Eat 2-4 hours before race with high carbohydrate meal, some protein. 1 hour before race, have another carbohydrate snack like a Clif Bar or PB and J. Finally, 10 minutes before race a carb drink or energy gel.
- Prepare in advance. Pack your bags the night before NOT day of the race!!
- Run down your list of things you need for the race.
- Start with essential items such as shoes, helmet, bibs, jersey (shoes are perhaps the most critical and most often forgotten piece of equipment)
- Make a checklist of items (see checklist below)
- Get directions to venue beforehand, set GPS the day before event
- Arrival at event venue
- Try to arrive at venue at least 1 hour before race, if not more.
- Arrive at location. Find teammates and park with them.
- Find registration and get bib number.
- If time, walk or bike course backwards (if criterium). If there is a race before yours, watch how the race unfolds. There is a good chance your race will have a similar ebb and flow. Watch how racers go into corners, especially the final corner.
- Return to vehicle or tent, pin on bib (make sure you have the numbers facing the correct way) and get dressed.
- Warm-up (on trainer or on road). Allow 30 minutes.
- Know what time your race starts! Arrive at start line no later than 5 minutes before start. Stage up front, especially if hard criterium.
- Post Race Fitness and Nutrition
- Always have a good cool down. 15-20 minutes of easy riding on trainer or road always aids recovery.
- Post race 4:1 carb:protein drink mix is great. Real food with similar mix is great too.
- Checklist for Bike Race.
- Keep a bag of all these items in it during race season. Take out and put in what you need but always run down your list. I keep mine near where I put my bag together. If you are preparing for a cyclocross race, the list gets about 3 times as long!
Spare wheels ready to race
Heart rate strap
Bike floor pump
Basic tools: Allen key multi-tool, flathead & Phillips screwdrivers, electrical tape
Spare tube, tire levers & CO2
Post-race, warm change of clothes
Post-race recovery drink/snack
What am I missing here? Leave in the comments section.
USA Cycling Coach, R2 Endurance Coaching