Preparing For Your First Bike Race
Have you been thinking about signing up for your first bike race, but are unsure where to start?
I see it happen time and time again, newcomers never make it to the start line because choosing an event, preparation, and training overwhelms them. I’d like to help shed some light on the things that you can do to make it to the start line successfully. With a little guidance you can break into bike racing, and feel confident and prepared when race day arrives.
The first step in any race is actually signing up. You have to commit, and often times that can be the hardest part. Start by deciding what type of racing you’re interested in. Would you like to race off-road on your mountain bike? Maybe you’re looking for a long ride to mark off your bucket list? No matter what you’re interested in there’s a race for you. For your first race, I like to suggest signing up for an event that you think will be the most fun. Pick a destination race. Integrate the race into a vacation with friends or family. The more excited you are, the more likely you’ll be to follow through with your training. It’s also a good idea before you start training to set your intention for the race. Decide early on if you’re going to race to be competitive, or if you’re just getting your feet wet and are simply riding to finish. Either way is fine, but establishing your goals early on will make both training and racing more enjoyable.
After you’ve pulled the trigger and committed to signing up for a race, you need to set aside time to train. Depending on the length of the race, the intensity, and your current fitness level a 12-16 week training plan should be sufficient in preparing you for your event. Here are a few training techniques that will keep things fresh and ensure that you’re in great shape.
Mix things up. Training doesn’t have to be boring. Make it a point to ride in new places and on new routes. Remember that variety is the spice of life, and the more that you can keep it fresh and interesting on the bike the better.
While increased fitness on the bike is your primary objective, it’s important to not neglect other parts of your body. Maintain a consistent flexibility routine (yoga, Pilates, stretching) to keep your body happy and injury free.
Riding your bike makes you strong, but it does not replace the need for dedicated strength workouts. In order to be a well-rounded athlete it’s critical that strength building exercises be a part of your regular schedule. Focus on low weight and dynamic exercises to produce the best results.
One of the hardest parts of training is knowing exactly what types of workouts to do. Depending on your race you’ll need the right combination of specific workouts to produce the desired results. While the individual workout combinations are many, there are key workouts you’ll want to make sure and complete before lining up at the start.
The “long ride” is a quintessential part of cycling. You have to spend time on your bike to prepare for any race, and often times that will mean several hours covered over the course of one ride. Your long rides should mimic both the distance and terrain of your race. This is the perfect way to prepare yourself mentally and physically for your event.
Intervals are another critical part of most athletes training. These are comprised of shorter, harder efforts that are designed to take you out of your comfort zone. A great go-to interval workout is 10×30 second sprints with a 2-minute recovery between sets. These will help develop your top end speed and stamina.
Depending on where your race is located you may encounter big elevation gains. These big climbs can be one of the attributes that make the race both exciting and challenging, but you’ll need to prepare. During your training you should train on climbs that are similar to those found on the racecourse. Often times this will be a mix of long sustained climbs, as well as short, steep efforts. Hill repeats and climbs during your long rides are a great way to develop the muscular strength and endurance necessary for a hilly course.
With your race day goals in mind, it’s a good idea to complete several rides at or close to “race pace”. Your “race pace” should mimic the pace that you’d like to maintain during your race. These rides are typically done later in your training after you’ve establish a good fitness base, and are used to harder efforts. While you don’t want to go “all out” you should experiment with what it feels like to push yourself over longer distances. These rides are as much about mental preparation as they are physical.
Bike racing is a fun and exciting way to be a part of a passionate community of athletes. You’ll find people from all walks of life drawn to the sport by their love of cycling. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Find an event that excites and pushes you. At first, it may seem like a lot to take on, but stick to a few basic techniques and key workouts and your first bike race may not be your last!