5 Tips for the First Cycling Race | Barton Haynes

Bart Haynes here with some tips for your first cycling race. The first cycling race you go on will be a bit nerve wracking. Have I trained enough? What if I screw up? What if I can’t make it?

These are the kinds of questions that race through your mind, especially when you are packed into a large group of riders like an overstuffed wonton at the starting line before the race. 

Buy a Cheap Throw-Away Coat and Sweats at Thrift Store

This is a great tip that someone told me years ago. Races start early. It’s usually cold. You don’t want to be cold when you start your race, neither your legs nor your upper body. It’s a good way to start out sluggish or cramp up. 

For $5 to $10 dollars you can buy a cheap coat and pair of sweats to wear in the morning of the race, and don’t have to worry about trying to find clothes you care about after the race. I recommend getting big baggy sweats that will be easy to take off over your shoes. You will use them like this:

  • Directly before the start-gun sounds, take off your sweats and throw them to the side of the road
  • After you get riding and are sufficiently warm, take off your jacket and throw it to the side of the road

You will see others do this too. And you will thank yourself for doing it. 

Two Water Bottles

I’ve talked about this before in a previous blog. I illustrated this point with the following story:

“Let me use a story to illustrate my point. It was my first cycling race ever. It happens to be a full century, 107 miles. It’s early, I’m still a little bit sleepy, a little nervous because I haven’t been able to get on the bike in the last month, and I’m about to ride twice as far as I’ve ever ridden. 

The race starts. I’m close-ish to the front. I cross the start line and one minute later go around the first corner in that opens onto a long, downward slope where the pack is already starting to thin. I decide to wet my mouth for the beginning of the race as things open up. 

I take a swig, and set my bottle back into the holder. Except I don’t set it into the holder, I set it next to the holder and it drops to the ground and is soon far behind me. I can’t go back, there are far too many cyclists. It’s a tough loss, but fortunately I had prepared with two water bottles, so I still have another one.”

This will happen to you, if it already hasn’t. Chances are you will not want to or be able to stop and get your water bottle. 

Carb Load or Not?

Carb loading is historically the way people have prepared before the race. The night before, pasta. The morning of, bagels and bread and granola. During the race, energy bars.

But there are other diets to, which some people (including professional riders and myself) find much easier to manage and more effective for racing – namely, fat/protein loading before the race, like Paleo diet foods. We are all different and different diets work better for different people.

What I’m getting at is that there is no one way to do things, and I would highly recommend experimenting ahead of time with your diet and see what kind makes you feel best while riding. 

Get Lots of Sleep – It’s ESSENTIAL

Sleep will make or break your race. Seriously. Get as much as you can – at least 7-8 hours. Take a mild bit of sleep medicine if you have trouble getting to sleep. In the days leading up to the race, try and habituate yourself to going to sleep early and waking up early. I’ve raced on 5-6 hours of sleep, and the difference between that and a full night’s sleep is night and day. 

Go For More Than You Think You Can Do

This probably seems like counter-intuitive advice for your first race, but I would say go for more distance than you think. Most races offer many distances, such as century, half-century, etc. Go for more than you think you can. If you are ready for a half-century, go for a full century.

Why do I say this?

  • Races are significantly easier than training on your own
  • You will be jazzed up for the race and in better riding shape than simply going out for training rides

Case in point, my first race I did 106 miles. My longest ride up to that point was 55 miles. In the month before my first race, I was only able to go on a few rides of about 25 miles. I simply took my time, and tried to stay in groups.

Thanks for reading, fellow cyclists. Best of luck on the road.

-Barton Haynes