Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Your First Bike Race

One of the newest members of my racing team is about to embark on his first-ever race. He sent an email to the team the other day, asking for some advice.
A friend saw my longish reply and suggested I put it on my blog.
I don't pretend to be an expert, so that's not what this is about. I'm not the world's most experienced racer, and Lord knows I'm not a good one.
But on the other hand, guys who have been racing for many years probably don't remember that first race, or that first season of racing, well enough to recall a lot of the little things they learned in the early going.
So if you or someone you know is where teammate Craig is as he heads to Malabar Farms this weekend to begin his weekend-warrior career, here is a baker's dozen of pointers.
I invite contributions and comments from anyone else who wants to contribute!

1) Get your stuff together the night before, as much as possible. Pack from the feet up to help you remember everything: SHOES (just about everyone forgets shoes once), socks, tights/warmers, shorts, under layer, jersey, whatever your top layer is; then gloves (maybe you don't wear gloves in the summer, but you damn well will now -- or your race will end prematurely for treatment of your frostbit fingers); shades; polyprop hat or ear covers; helmet. And post-race clothes: See No. 10 below. And a post-race snack. And a beach towel. (Wrap the beach towel around your waist while you change strip out of your shorts and into your sweats or whatever.) And your race fee. Now go back through it all and make sure you've got it all.
2) Wearing your team kit (uniform) on the drive to the race is generally not done. Not sure why, exactly, except that no one likes to race in shorts that are pre-stank and pre-sweated-up. But racers generally change into their race clothes about an hour or so before their race, or right after registering.
3) Arrive at least 90 minutes early. That'll give you plenty of time if there's a long line at registration (count on it), and time for getting your number pinned on and warming up.
4) Warm up. Rule of thumb is that the longer the race, the shorter the warmup -- and vice versa. Start out slow and easy, shifting through all your gears to make sure everything's working. Then, after about 10-15 minutes of easy spinning, start jamming hard. Work your way up to some all-out efforts, sustained for a minute or two. Spend at least 5-10 minutes doing hard efforts. Then wind down. This will get you ready for the hard efforts in the race. If your body isn't geared up for it, you could get dropped on the first surge, because the first couple feel a lot harder than the ones that follow -- less so if you get all your aerobic and anaerobic systems warmed up.
5) Ride backwards. If you're allowed to warm up on the course, spend part of your time riding backward from the finish line for a mile or so. Visualize how the race is likely to unfold there. Using your cyclocompuer, note some markers that are 0.1 from the end, 0.2 from the end and about 0.5 miles. Those translate into 175 yards, 350 yards and 880 yards, respectively. We'll come back to these momentarily (No. 9, below).
6) Expect to suffer more than you ever did on "fun" rides. When you think you're about to get dropped -- and you WILL think that at some point -- push harder, longer, to stay on.

The pace will let up just when you think you're about to completely explode, and you'll get time to catch your breath. If you slip off the back, dig hard to catch back on. It is so much easier in the pack, and the inhuman effort it might take to close that 10-foot or 10-yard gap will prove worthwhile when you get back on.
7) If you do get spit off the back, look for other people to work with. Take turns pulling. It's to everyone's advantage to work together to catch up to the main group.
8) Conversely, if you find yourself in a break with another rider or two, work together! Take turns pulling; the more people in the break, the shorter the time each one spends on the front. If you get in a Cat 5 break, odds are that you'll find at least one of the other people in it don't understand how a breakaway is supposed to work and they won't understand that it's to everyone's advantage to make the break work and stay away from the chase. They'll think you're trying to trick them if you tell them to work together, or they'll try to wheelsuck. Those people you gotta get rid of -- unless they're trying to get away from you. In that case, if a dude is real strong, milk him for everything he wants to put into it until he's starting to get gassed, then pull around him and drop him. He will have learned his lesson, one hopes.
9) Back to those markers at the end of the race: Let's hope you're in the main bunch at this point.
a) Start moving up no later than a mile from the end, so that you are among the first 3-4 racers at the half-mile mark, but ideally not first. Draft off someone else until it's time to sprint.
b) Some fellow novice will probably go off at 350 yards, which is probably WAY too soon, and will blow up well before the end. Grab that dude's wheel. You should be at a pace that's just barely short of the max you can sustain. If the wheel you're riding gives even the slightest hint of slowing down, come around, or if you're getting passed, surf to the next strong wheel. Do not be caught taking it easy, saving up too much for the end etc. You need to be working your ass off aty this point..
c) At 175 yards, or maybe 200 if you feel really strong, you should wind up to 100 percent of your sprint -- to the point where you are absolutely going to blow up within 15 seconds or so and you cannot give any more. At that point, give more. You will probably surprise yourself. When you get inside 100 yards, if anyone is in front of you, go around him -- you've passed the point of surfing wheels and drafting off the leader. It's time to win. You don't want to get caught behind someone when he blows up. And you do not want to look back, because you can't control any of the shit going on behind you. All you can do is to hit your max -- and then go beyond what you think you can possibly do, until AFTER you cross the line. You want to feel like you're gonna puke at that point -- and maybe you will.
10) At this point, win or lose, you will be celebrating that the goddamn fucking pain is finally over. Spend five minutes cooling down. Then come back and talk to everyone who will listen about the experience and every detail that happened.
11) Bring nice warm comfy clothes to change into afterward, and use that towel wrapped around yourself to get out of your race shorts. You might want to bring an alcohol wipe to, uh, freshen up. You won't want to wear a single item of clothes that you just raced in once you're done. You'll be chilled and uncomfortable, and wearing that damp crap will help give you saddle sores. Think dry and loose.
12) Bring something to eat right afterward -- a Payday bar and a chocolate milk is a good combo. Don't overdo it, but be sure to refuel. You have a window of maybe a bit over an hour in which your body is most receptive to glycogen and protein replenishment. This is the time your body needs stuff to help rebuild damaged muscles.
13) When you get home, write it all down. You will want to remember this day and relive it over and over someday.

- JN


Anonymous said...

I don't know about you, Jim, but in all my races, the surges keep getting harder, not easier. It doesn't ever feel good.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jim, thanks for the advice and I will let you know how it goes. Right now, I'll be happy if it's dry. Paul Maton is going to
Take care

Ray Huang said...

Sorry it took me awhile to read this one. All very good advice. I especially liked the part about surfing wheels at the end. When it happens like that (and it does) and your feeling good it really is a whole lot of fun.

ds said...

You mean you don't sleep in your bibshorts the night before the race?


Hua said...

Hi Jimmy,

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