As a top Washington State racer, Pirate Coach Nick's advice to our riders is invaluable! One of the most unnerving aspects of mountain bike racing is the start - especially your FIRST start.
We prepare our riders for starts as well as support them "on the line", but as Nick points out preparation begins well before the start....
from Coach Nick....
Race starts are easy and the more experience you have the less stressful they are/will be. No matter who you are and how experienced you might be whenever you hear 30 seconds to go your heart starts to race, palms get sweaty, and your mind starts to race; literally.
So here are a few pointers to help combat the stress and be the most prepared to start your race at 100%! Keep in mind, not all of these things are required and if you don’t succeed on one of these points below, don’t stress!
Your race starts the night before!
- Bike Maintenance - It's always a good question to ask earlier, but how’s the bike doing? Is your chain lubed and are any repairs/modifications complete? Bike repairs are the last thing you want to worry about the day of a race.
- Food Prep - It's good to prepare or have a plan for a post race meal/protein ahead of time. Your normally find me with a protein shake immediately after a race is over and subsequently looking for tacos.
- Dinner - Eat a well balanced meal that your body is familiar with and won't upset your stomach. A pasta with a protein works well for me; I like to keep it simple.
- Packing - Are you packed and ready for your race? I normally have a race bag prepared ahead of time with everything I need (see race checklist, http://www.mfgcyclocross.com/race-day-checklist/).
- Planning - Do you know when your race is going to start and do you know what time you need to wake-up to leave? I normally take notes on these things on my phone.
- Sleep - Try to get a good night sleep (8-10+ hrs). Sleep is essential in making sure you are fresh, focused, and ready to compete.
Race Day Morning
- Breakfast - Eat a well balanced breakfast that is easy on the stomach, fast to digest (2-4hrs before the race start or earlier if your race is later in the day). This ensures your carbohydrate stores are high to provide the energy your body needs. A safe bet is oatmeal, its fast/easy and has a great balance of carbs/protein. Overnight oats are my favorite, because I can prepare it ahead of time.
At the Race Venue
- Prep - I try to start getting ready for my race at least 1hr before it starts, that means getting dressed, prepping bike (tire pressure/other), putting my number on, etc.
- Warmup - Some riders find that a warmup is essential to get the body ready for an effort, however the duration is something you will have to figure out for yourself. Generally, for hard/short races I try to do a 20-60min warmup with most of it feeling pretty easy. You’ll see professional cyclists on trainers before a race doing this, however the road or trails are perfect and arguably even better for warmups, just make sure you don't get your bike too dirty or get lost (it's happened).
- Nutrition - For most mountain bike races I will have a gel about 15mins before a race starts. This makes sure I will have enough energy for the effort (tops off the carbohydrate stores). Alternatives to gels might include honey packets, dates, or even maple syrup.
- Water - If you think your going to get thirsty then bring a water bottle or hydration pack, but this may be just extra weight for races <1hr.
- Tools - It’s good to bring a repair kit with you in mountain bike races just like rides, however keep in mind there will be an adult sweep riding behind the group to help you fix your mechanical problem, so if you forget a tool or don’t want to carry anything don't worry.
- Start Position - For high school races you will be assigned a starting position and will normally line up 20-30mins before you start your race. Coaches will ensure that you know when your starting and that you find your spot. Remember, everyone on the start line will be feeling the same thing you are, have a conversation, now's your time to make some friends, this will reduce the stress of the start that much more.
- Gear Choice - When rolling to the line think about what gear you want to be in, think easy to spin up, but hard to put power down (normally your 3rd or 4th gear).
- Jacket - If its a cold or wet start try and keep your jacket on as long as you can to keep the warmth that you might have built up in your during your warmup. A coach, parent, friend, or the ground can grab it for you and it will be there when you get done.
- Goal - The goal of a race start is always to get into the front group. However, if you don’t make it don't fret! Keep focused and try to start moving your way up.
- Cool down - Its good to ride for 10-20 mins after a race easy, even just riding around the venue counts.
- Eat Food - Now it's time to eat what you’ve been thinking about during your whole race! This is essential to start the process to make sure your muscles are fully recovered for the next race.
- Socialize - The most important part of bike racing is to have fun, which includes making friends! Everyone at the race venue is doing the same thing, therefore probably has the same interests as you do. Making friends at bike races is probably one of the easiest things you can do! Also just like any other sport it is important at the finish or podium presentation to cheer on the winners and congratulate them!
At the end of the day we all go to bike races to have fun and whether or not it's a race or just a group/team ride I hope that this guide helps you have the most fun possible!