I remember my first race like it was yesterday. Even though it’s more like 100 years ago now. I was nervous. A planner by trade, the more compulsive my pre-race checklist was the better I felt. Happily I’ve relaxed a little bit over the years and I am a little less OCD with my pre- and post-race rituals but I’ve identified those things that made my race weekends easier and prevent me from totally stressing on race day. Or from forgetting my bibs….
Thursdays: I generally take it easy on the bike if I am racing on Saturday. 1.5-2 hrs easy spinning but no hard efforts. Lots of hydration.
Fridays: On the bike – openers. An easy ride that includes a few short, intense efforts to “open” the legs and get your heart rate up briefly. The idea is to go hard long enough to prime your legs but not to induce any fatigue. Drink LOTS on the bike and off.
Pack your race bag early: I’m a compulsive over-packer. Unless it’s 90+ degrees in July, I’ve generally got riding gear for all weather permanently dwelling in my race bag; figure out what you’re going to need. But getting it done early reduces stress! Here’s my list of basics:
- USAC License
- At least 2 kits per day (jerseys, bibs, sports bra, socks)
- Rain jacket
- Long sleeve thermal jersey
- Arm Warmers / Knee Warmers
- Gloves (full fingers and half)
- Spare Tubes
- Mini Tool Kit
- Mini First Aid Kit
- Hat (for when the helmet is off)
- Change of clothes
- Action Wipes (in case you can’t shower right away after your race)
- DZ Bliss Chamois Creme
- Sunscreen (be sure you’ve got broad spectrum!)
- Embrocation (just in case!)
- Asthma Inhaler
- Extra Safety Pins
- Snacks (Clif Bars, Clif Blocks and gels)
Make your bottles – in nice clean bottles. I like to mix my sports drinks the night before and put them in the freezer. Same with water bottles. Make enough bottles for your warm up, race and cool-down
Food: I’m a big fan of peanut butter sandwiches (on whole wheat of course!) for post-race food. Protein is essential in the recovery process plus it’s pretty easy on the stomach and packs well. I’m also a BIG fan of Salty Oatmeal Cherry Cookies after my race. The salt is delicious and the hemp protein and oats are great post-race nutrition in quick pick-me up style. I also like to throw in some bananas and cokes (I know, I know – it’s bad for you but let me tell you, my last road race had an on-the-road high temp of 116 degrees. An icy cold coke felt like a life saver after that race….)
Load your car:
- Trainer for warm-up / cool-down
- Race Wheels / pit wheels / trainer wheel (or at least trainer skewer)
- Bike (cleaned, lubed, and given a good looking over first!)
Phew. The hard stuff is done. Relax. Drink some more. Eat a good dinner but don’t get all experimental – probably NOT the time to try the Puffer Fish….
I like to eat nice clean foods. Pasta, veggies, salad. Or quinoa with grilled vegetables. The times I’ve strayed from the plan, I’ve regretted it. I’m not much of a meat eater but the night before my last road race I went out with a friend for dinner – and decided to try the Bison Burger. BIG mistake. I thought it would be okay – lean and all that. Suffice to say I won’t do that again – sticking to what I know, the tried and tested.
Put your legs up. Relax. Make sure you know where you’re going the next day and how long it takes to get there, where they want you to park. Read the Tech Guide, know the race day schedule so there are no unpleasant race day surprises. Drink more. Go to bed early.
Saturday: Race Day!!
Eat a good breakfast. I have three race day breakfasts I alternate between depending on the race. If it’s a short criterium I like whole wheat toast and scrambled eggs. Eggs are super for easy digestion and lasting energy. Alternatively I like Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats with walnut bits, dates and a little brown sugar.
For longer road races I try to load up on calories a bit more. 7 Grain or 10 Grain Pancakes with Blueberries and real maple syrup. Scrambled eggs on the side.
Then it’s off to the races. Leave yourself plenty of time for getting lost, for parking, for pit stops on the road.
Park, say hullo to your friends. Go to registration and get your number. Bring your license with you. Be sure you ask what side they want your number pinned on. Don’t be the person on the line that holds up the start of your race because your number is upside down or pinned on the wrong side.
Drop your wheels in the wheel pit or wheel truck.
Kit up and, working back from start time, warm up.
If you can, get out and pre-ride the course. Look for bumpy spots in the pavement. How’s the wind blowing? Roll through the turns at speed. Get comfortable with the course. Be optimistic, know where you want to start your sprint 😉
If it’s a short fast crit, you want to go to the line nice and hot. The shorter the race, the longer and more intense your warm-up. Get your heart rate up. Get sweaty. I prefer trainer warm-ups. Safe, reliable. For longer road races your warm-up doesn’t need to be as long or as intense, but you still want to go to the line ready to go. For TTs [time trials] – where you are going as hard as you can for the entire duration of the race I like a long steady warm-up, opening you anaerobic pathways and getting HR up to race pace so your body is ready to go when you start. Drink the whole time!
RACE! You’ll feel like you need to go to the bathroom a million times. Leave yourself time for that before your start time. Have a gel. Drink more. Line up. Make sure you listen to the officials on the line. Often they have really useful things to say – like at which point in a crit there are no more free laps – or where there are dodgy sections on a road race.
Race your heart out.
After your race.
Drink. Get some food in you as soon as your stomach can handle it – hopefully with some protein in it.
If you were in it, check the posted results. Once posted there is an official protest period – so if they’ve totally messed up and you KNOW you finished second but they show you 10th or DNF make sure you talk to the officials right away. Once the protest period closes it gets a whole lot harder to get the results changed. But also be reasonable. If you are SURE you were 49th and they have you scored 51st ask yourself if it really matters. There’s no prize money for you. There are no upgrade points for you. Live to race another day.
Cool-down. Don’t just stop. Ride a cool down. Take it nice and easy. Small chain ring. Roll those legs. Your body will thank you on Sunday.
CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES. Nothing is ickier than people who hang out in a sweaty chamois all day. Bad things will happen. Saddle sores. Worse. Grab yourself some Action Wipes get yourself de-saltified and cleaned up. Put on a nice, clean dry set of clothes and enjoy the rest of the day spectating. Drink more. Have fun.