- By Brian Fiske
Thinking of entering your first race but feeling a bit overwhelmed? We break it down from pre-race prep to post-race recovery in 7 easy steps.
Some cyclists go their entire two-wheeled lives without ever competing in a race. We feel sorry for them. Because never do we push as hard, go as fast or learn as much about our bodies and our bikes as we do when we take up the challenge and finally toe the line. And here’s the thing: getting to the start line is easy – as long as you mind a few key details.
If you’re looking for a race-day experience worth repeating, read on. Finishing in the top 10? That’s up to you.
Best Way To Prepare Your Body
It’s possible to develop race-worthy fitness on your own, but to learn race tactics and how to feel comfortable jockeying for position, you need to pedal with a group. Become a regular on your local shop’s ‘fast’ rides, or join a local club, and you’ll get a feel for riding shoulder-to-shoulder at speed, and gain instant access to the insights of more-experienced racers. If you have a race question, they’re the ones to ask. We are busy compiling a list of clubs in SA, but in the meantime ask around at your local bike shop.
How To Pick Your Race
First step is check out our comprehensive online race calendar which is updated regularly. Look for a relatively small but established event. Not only will entry fees be cheaper than larger regional events, but you’ll also race against a less-crowded, more evenly – matched field.
Best Way To Screw It All Up
Decide to do the race the night before and show up with just one hour to the start, saying, “Where do I enter?” Enter a few weeks, if not months, ahead. Early entry will prompt you to train more consistently by giving you a definite goal – and give you time to convince your buddies to enter for the same event too. Even better, you’ll have ample time to study the details, such as how to get there, the route, your start time, etc, reducing your chances of slap-to-the-forehead mistakes.
Make Sure You’re In The Right Group
At a road race, you’ll be in one of the later starting groups with others just making their way into racing. At a mountain bike race, you’ll probably be part of one big start group. Either way, the pace at the start will be faster than you expect.
Smartest Order Of Events
Pack the night before using a checklist. Many events have pre-race registration a day or two leading up to the race, while smaller events may have race-day registration.
On race day, arrive at least an hour before your start. Then do these things in this sequence, without straying: pick up your registration pack (if you haven’t already done so), which contains your race number. If it’s not obvious by watching other racers or reading your pre-race instructions, ask an official where you should place your race number (road race numbers are usually pinned on the back of your jersey and mountain bike numbers usually cable-tied to your handlebar). Pee. Get into your race clothes (if you aren’t already wearing them). Get a friend or family member to check that your number is securely fastened. Check the pressure of your tyres once more and infl ate them if necessary. Take a 20-minute or longer warm-up ride; after the fi rst fi ve minutes, add to the intensity, and build to a few bursts of race-pace, adrenalin-pumping effort. Check your bottles or hydration pack are filled and securely shut. Pee again. Roll up to the start 10 minutes before the race start time.
Best Way To Get From Start To Finish
At the start line, listen closely to the instructions; if you have a question, ask. Try to line up in the middle of the pack to avoid getting tangled up in a crash or being caught behind slower riders in the first corners. Mass starts are often chaotic and have an unbelievably fast pace, but things will settle down. Try to stay loose on the bike; wiggle your fingers and relax your shoulders. Drink often. Before the finish, look around. Don’t sprint if you’re alone, but don’t get nipped on the line. Savour the moment.
Post-Race Order Of Things
After you finish, catch your breath, change your clothes and grab that snack – nothing says novice like munching post-race goodies while you’re still chamoised up. Head back to the finish and, if the schedule works out that way, watch the more experienced racers compete. Study what they do, where they’re positioned, and how they look at the line – and picture yourself doing the same thing at your next race.