Decided: I’m Going to Race Next Season
If you have made the decision to race your bike for the first time, congratulations. You are getting ready to participate in what many believe to be one of the most beautiful and difficult sports in the world.
One of the many reasons that cycling is such an incredible and rewarding sport is it's difficulty. It’s why I say, “Be a hero; race your bike!” Speed, endurance, and strategy all combined is a lot to take in! In order to be a competent cyclist you have to be skilled at a very large number of things. It's not just enough to be able to ride far, or to be able to have a good sprint.
Oh yeah, and a little luck now and then doesn't hurt!
What can you do to make sure that your first season is a rewarding one? How can you make sure that you aren't one of the many beginning racers who become so overwhelmed that they don't return for their second season?
Here are some tips.
Make intensity your friend
Many racers state after their first race that they had no idea that the intensity would be so high. This is true even for many new racers who spend several seasons riding with fast groups, for example, on shop rides. The fact is, when you're in the heat of competition you find yourself pushing way over any threshold you previously thought you had. So you must find a way to push yourself to that level of intensity while you train.
Make it a habit to ride with groups over your level. The old adage is absolutely true… The best way to get faster is to ride with those faster than you. Yes, you will get dropped. However, you will learn a lot. Make it a point to emulate the best riders. Watch when they drink. Follow their lines. Notice when they get out of the saddle and when they stay seated. Look how they brake before turns and the lines they take leaning into them. Years of riding at a high-level teach you to become efficient with your body so that you aren't wringing it out every single second of a tough ride. Learn from those who have learned that lesson.
Pick no more then two "A" races
You might be looking forward to several races next season. However, you can't give 100% weekend after weekend for very long. Choose no more than two races in a season that you want to be your absolute best for. Then, learn what it will take to be at your best for those two races. For example, if one of those races features a climb of five minutes in length at 7% grade, and you have to do that climb three times because it's a three lap race, you know that you will have to practice that level of climbing during your training. Plus, you will have to be able to endure the entire distance of the race at a fairly high speed. If the race ends on a flat section, then you can be assured that it is likely to be a sprint finish. Multiple climbs of a particular length and grade, endurance for a particular length of time, and a sprint. Now you know what to practice, and how hard you need to go.
Learn the value of not going hard
It may seem that I'm contradicting my first point. Actually, I'm complementing it. Proper training pairs high-intensity with very low intensity recovery. During your high-intensity training, you want to be climbing at a high intensity, sprinting at your max intensity, etc. However your body also needs to recover after those hard efforts. If every session on the bike is a hard one, you will not only burn out your body, you will burn out your love of cycling. Learn to listen to your body. Incredibly easy recovery spins, combined with proper sleep, and proper nutrition are the overlooked secrets of maximizing training.
Become a pre-race planner
Another secret to being at your best for your peak events during the season is to learn how to lower your stress prior to those events. Understand the logistics of every race. Have everything laid out and ready to go the night before you leave. Have your recovery meal planned before you go. Understand what your warm-up routine will be long before you get there. And make sure you understand the specifics of the course before you race. Review the course online. Arrive early enough to at least drive the course before you warm up.
If you really want to make sure that you are miles and miles ahead of most of your fellow early competitors sign up with an accredited USA cycling coach. Having structured training and knowledgeable guidance months prior to your first season will liberate you to only put your attention on those things that are the most helpful. While your peers are trying to figure out where pre-race registration is, you will be calmly warming up and reviewing your pre-race plan thanks to your coach looking after you. Your confidence will be high, your stress level will be lower, and your training will be focused.
Good luck in that first season!
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