Lifestyle: Do you want to participate in an amateur road race, but don’t know how and where to start?
Preparation for your first race can begin months ahead of the big day. Although your aim might not necessarily be to win the race or finish on the podium, proper preparations can help you navigate the race like a more seasoned rider would, and will make the event a better experience. Here are a few simple ways to become race-ready.
Firstly, try to build on your aerobic efficiency, which will provide the foundation for successful racing. Increasing your efficiency slowly is the key here. Don’t be tempted to train too hard right from the start, as you’ll risk becoming too tired too early in the season and run out of steam for the rest of the year.
Having done this, you’ll then be ready to prepare for the intensity of a race, and its constant accelerations, that is sprinting or attacking. Several weeks before the race day, work on identifying your Functional Threshold Power, the heart rate that you are able to sustain for an hour. However, remember that during the race, you won’t be riding at one particular consistent heart rate, but you should expect many peaks and troughs, and your body needs to be prepared for riding at an uneven pace. In order to simulate sprinting or attacking on climbs, trainers often suggest doing anaerobic exercises. This could consist of a 15 second sprint, followed by a 15 second recovery, moving on to 30, 45 60, 90 second sprints and 2 minute sprints and recovery respectively.
Try to train both on your turbo trainer and the open road. The trainer will provide you with all the data you’ll need to adjust your training, however only riding on the open road will let you experience the movement between your body and the bike and the feeling of sprinting out of the corner, as well as how to get out of the saddle on a difficult climb. And while you’re out on the road, training solo is not the only preparation for a race. It can be a good idea to participate in group rides before the race day, to get you used to riding in a bunch with others at high speeds.
It’s also important to become familiar with the parcours of the particular race you’ll be participating in. Before race day, be sure that you know where the difficult-to-navigate road furniture and climbs are and that you’re familiar with the profile of the course and the speed you need to ride over different parts of the route.
Before the race
Unlike most other sports, cycling demands that athletes depend heavily on their equipment, so you should get into the habit of thoroughly checking your bike on a regular basis. Make sure it is well maintained, that all repairs have been carried out and that your tires are in good condition, essentially that your machine is good to go.
Before the race, have the race map handy and make sure you know how to arrive at the start line in time. Have your bidons ready and your energy bars topped up, preferably already the day before. You should have enough food and drink for pre-race if necessary, during the race, and post-race recovery. Have your kit, race license and bib number ready and laid out the night before, so you don’t panic trying to find what you need on the morning of the race. If possible, try to squeeze in a preparation ride the day before, but don’t tire yourself out too much.
Eat a nutritious breakfast about 2.5 hours before the start, consisting of fruit, toast, muesli, egg or yoghurt. Don’t load up on a massive fat-laden breakfast. Depending on the weather, make sure you wear appropriate clothing. Keep in mind that temperatures can change quickly. In this case, having gear such as arm and leg warmers, a cap or a jacket is critical.
Position yourself not at the back of the bunch, and but also not directly at the front. The right positioning plays an important role in road racing and experience will tell you what works best for you. If you are not particularly strong in climbing, be one of the first riders to start the climb, so you can then drift back slowly and not lose contact with the bunch.
If your first race ends in a bunch sprint, and you manage to hang on to the finish, it might be best to avoid trying to mix it with those who are more experienced. Not having much experience competing in such race situations can be dangerous not only to you, but also to other riders, particularly when everyone is attempting to jostle for position at high speeds.
Despite all the preparation in the days leading up to the event, it’s normal to have pre-race jitters. You may make some mistakes, but the goal in your first race isn’t to come out the winner, but rather to gain experience that you can apply to your next races.