A niece of mine has recently started cycling. And I don’t mean just riding a bike, I mean investing a small bit of money in a fairly nice road bike and sticking close to a training regimen [Bart Haynes Average Weekly Riding Schedule]. Her first race is coming up this fall – a full century in the El Tour de Tucson race.
I was recently talking with her about various things to prepare for, and what to expect from the race. Naturally, being older and “wiser” about riding in these races, I couldn’t help but lecture advice on mistakes to avoid in the race. Afterwards, I thought it is probably something to write about for all of the nieces and nephews out there who don’t have “wise” uncle to get lectured from. Case in point, my first race I made just about every mistake you can make simply because I didn’t have anyone to tell me otherwise.
Any seasoned cyclist will recognize these mistakes. Here are the 5 big first race mistakes in cycling.
1 – Not enough pre-race training
Here’s the thing: four to five weeks before your race, I highly recommend doing close to your race distance. If you are cycling in a full century, then ride about 100 miles 4-5 weeks before the race. If you are racing a metric century, then race about 60 miles beforehand. Do it far enough ahead of time where your legs will be 100% come race day.
Until you actually race the requisite distance, it’s hard to know how you will feel 80% into the race. You might realize that you are actually under prepared, and need to push a little harder before the race. In my first race, I was young and arrogant (i.e., dumb) enough to think I could “wing it” for 100 miles. I finished the race, but could hardly walk for the preceding weeks (no joke).
2 – Riding too hard too close to race day
Riding a really long ride a week before your race is not a good idea. Riding hard the week of your race is not a good idea. You would think this is common sense, but I see people make these mistakes all the time.
The week before your race should be light riding. Ideally, the 2 weeks before race day will feature no exhaustively-long races. I like to have two weeks of consistent but comfortable rides before a race.
3 – Starting the race riding hard
Starting a cycling race riding too hard is definitely the most common mistake I see. It happens to both veterans and green riders. You are feeling good, you are excited, you have your goals, and so you hit the asphault hard and try to stay with the top riders. You keep up this pace for about 50% of the race before the lactic acid in your muscles reaches the tipping point and you hit a wall.
This is the scenario I see every race for many riders, and have personally experienced. It’s no fun.
It’s better to finish a race peddling strong and feeling good than barely scraping it to the finish line and then spending the ensuing days feeling tired, sick, and weak. Go out with a bang, not a whimper. When in doubt, start out slow. If you are still feeling fresh at 50% of the race, pick up the pace.
4 – Not practicing in pace lines
If you train alone and have never ridden in a race before, please please please do your research about riding in pace lines. Watch videos of professional riders. Try and catch a group of riders on one of your rides before your race .
For one, you will feel much better about riding in a group on race day. Two, you are significantly less likely to make a dangerous mistake on your first race.
5 – Nutrition
This final point doesn’t need a lot of explanation. A lot of riders hit their wall on their first race. Staying hydraded ant having anti-cramping, high potassium foods is a good idea. I personally carry with me on every race:
- Two water bottles
- Two Ziploc baggies of a mashed mixture of bananas, dates, oats, and yogurt – I call it my Race Mash
My race match is soaked overnight so that it’s really soft. Not only does it taste great, but it high calorie, light weight, full of potassium and micro nutrients, sugars, and protein. Most importantly, it’s near-liquid state makes it easily digestible (no digestive cramps during riding!). You can fit in a squeeze tube rather than a Ziploc baggie for added convenience. Since using this Race Mash and being careful about constantly hydrating while riding, I have significantly reduced fatigue and cramping while riding.
Good luck on your first race!