4 Things to Know About Prepping for Your First Race

If you’re new to cycling but feel like you’re ready to step up your game, you might be thinking about participating in your first race.

By Monique Lebrun |

Preparing for a competitive race even at the beginner level can require a lot more effort—physically and mentally—than you may think. “Even starting from a beginner category, you’re racing in a group of riders that can be anywhere from 30 to 75 riders.” Bill Elliston, long time cyclist, USAC Level 3 cycling coach, and owner of Elliston Coaching, tells Bicycling. “You have a large group of riders that are all racing together very close knit—shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow. Just that aspect alone requires a lot of experience to get used to.”

Completing a beginner training plan, practicing on an indoor bike or trainer, or using cycling apps have their benefits—building strength and endurance, for instance—but they might not alone prepare you for your first race, Elliston says.

To make sure you’re prepared before you make your way to the starting line, here are four things you should do before you consider signing up for your first race.

1. Master the basics and attend at least one skills clinic

Attending a cycling clinic can have major benefits, especially if you’re a new rider or are accustomed to training alone. Elliston says that skills clinics can help you master more complicated techniques, like riding alongside other riders at higher speeds. Often, cycling clinics are designed to help riders develop a variety of skills, such as how to corner, ride with one hand, and master front wheel control. Clinics also cover discipline-specific skills and how to handle real race situations.

Just like driving in a car, Elliston says, when you race in a pack, everything tends to happen faster and you need to be able to prepare yourself on how to react. “It’s rarely the situation that is the problem that causes a crash or whatever. It’s almost always the reaction,” he says.

You can find a clinic for just about every discipline including track cycling, mountain biking, and road racing. A simple internet search can help you locate the right skills clinic in your area to meet your needs.

2. Complete a group ride

If you haven’t joined a cycling club or completed a group ride, then it’s probably best you do so before entering in your first competition. There are plenty of benefits to joining a cycling club. For starters, doing so can help you gain more experience and knowledge about the sport. Also, it can help you become a more diverse rider by exposing you to different routes and speeds.

Riding with a cycling club or joining a group ride is like riding in a race except it’s not as fast and often has fewer riders. Elliston says it’s a great way to find out if you’re ready for the mental and physical demands of a race.

Cycling clubs or group rides aren’t hard to find and they’re easy to join. Some clubs may offer a free trial period followed by a yearly fee. You can find information on a local club with a quick Google search, on social media, or even at a local bike shop.

3. Identify your favourite discipline

It’s important to find your niche before you enter your first race. Just like finding a club, identifying a race can be easy, but not every race is the same. If you’ve ridden in a charity event or fun ride, you might think you’re ready to take on a competitive race. But, not so fast.

Elliston says fun rides or charity events do have some traditional race-like qualities, but completing one won’t prepare you for your first race. Charity rides or fun rides may give you the opportunity to ride in a pack at faster speeds, but they aren’t competitive events. “Most people aren’t really looking to get from [point] A to [point] B—start to finish—in any kind of a real record time. They’re just doing it more for the enjoyment or the cause,” he says.

Your previous workouts, routes, and routines will be a good indication of which distances and discipline(s) will probably be the most appealing to you. Beginner races can range from a kilometre or two to up to 20km and most likely take about 30 minutes or less to complete. Before you sign up for a race, consider if you’ve completed the distance and if it compares to an environment that you’ve ridden in the past, Elliston says.

4. Prepare yourself mentally

A lot of the steps on this list (like completing a group ride or attending a skills clinic) will help you mentally prepare for your first race. Mental fitness is important even at the beginner level. “You have to embrace the idea of stepping out of your comfort zone,” Elliston says. “It’s going to hurt. We all know that anything worth while in life takes probably a little bit of blood, sweat, and tears to get it. And it’s the same thing with an athletic endeavour,” he says.

The bottom line

Like many other sports, cycling is meant to challenge you both physically and mentally. And for some, the first step is signing up for your first race. But just make sure you’re fully prepared. Attending clinics, practicing with groups, tracking your progress, and even pairing with a coach are all great ways to prepare for your first race.

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