As many of you have read previously, I dipped my hat back into the racing circuit for a quick second at a local event here in town. Ironically enough, it is happening again as the friend I raced with lost his partner for a 2 man, 12 hour this coming up weekend which is twice the length of the previous. While I am in ok shape this time of year so it shouldn’t hurt too much…there is one big issue I run into…
I do not train for races.
I am a weekend warrior in the truest sense of the word. I build bikes that are in the 30 pound range and I pick weekly rides that allow me to maximize the kind of riding I enjoy the most. None of this includes intervals, nights on the trainer or paying attention to what I eat on a daily basis (unless you are counting ice cream intake).
Basically…I come to these events completely unprepared.
I imagine I am not much different in this aspect than a lot of racers on that day. While there are plenty of racers in full, sponsored kits trying for their spot at the podium. There are equally — if not more — as many mountain bikers just looking to get their competitive spirit flowing by getting out to a couple of races a year. So the big question is…how do you prepare for a race when you have not been training?
How To Prepare For A MTB Race As A Non-Racer
Seasoned racers have a training schedule that leads all the way up to the minute the gun is fired. As a weekend warrior just looking to get out for a couple of races a year, you do not have that luxury…nor do you want it. But, it is a good idea to at least plan ahead by doing a couple of things in the week leading up to the race to insure your legs don’t lock up and your brilliant idea that was supposed to be fun turns into misery. Here are some tips on what I do the week leading up to the race if I have that much warning.
1. Taper Your Riding Intensity
Experienced racers taper the difficulty of their rides leading up to big races. They dig deep the weeks leading up to the event and then bring down the intensity of their rides to allow their bodies to recover and be at their best at the start line. You are not going to have weeks to prepare for this. So what do I do? The week before (roughly 7 days before the race), I try to get in at least one hard ride where I dig deep and really let my legs have it. This is most easily done on a road bike but you can also go rip up your local trail and get similar results.
The day after, I either stay off the bike completely or do a low intensity recovery spin…just enough to spin out the day before.
In the days leading up to the race, I do my regular 2 rides during the week further tapering down my intensity. The Tuesday ride is not as hard as the weekend push and my Thursday ride is really just an attempt to keep the legs fresh and moving. The idea here is to make sure your legs are fresh for the race and not in recovery mode. By tearing them down the week prior, you are able to build some muscle endurance that you then support throughout the week. While this is a crash course in ride tapering, it does seem to work once you get to race time.
2. Sleep…Sleep…And More Sleep
In the days leading up to the race, I make sure to get as much sleep at night as possible. Your body recovers its best while your eyes are closed, so if you want to make sure your legs are fully recovered by race time, make sure to get your 8 hours in the nights leading up to the event.
3. Hydration and Nutrition Is Key
In the week leading up to the race, I make sure to hydrate properly and eat plenty of protein and carbohydrates. If you think you are going to get any benefit from just loading up the night before, you are wrong. Hydration and nutrition is built up over time, so you need to start at least 6 to 7 days before the race to insure you have a good base built up in your system.
The night before the race, a big pasta bowl with chicken is still a good idea with a lot of water. Also make sure to have a good breakfast the morning of and keep hydrating your body. You want to be fully hydrated at the start line so any liquid you consume during the race is purely replacing what you have expelled through sweat. You do not want to be playing catchup on lap one or you will be behind the 8 ball the entire race and you will probably cramp out early. You will also have to keep the nutrition going throughout the race more than experienced racers. Experiment with bars, fruits (grapes and oranges rock during hot races especially) and drink a recovery drink after each session if you are riding in a multi-rider team.
4. Tweak Your Bike Setup
If you are anything like me, I go for grip over weight when it comes to tires. If you are planning on doing an XC race, that extra weight is going to be doing nothing but holding you down. By switching out several components on your bike, you can make life much easier in conditions you are not used to riding. If possible, borrow a friends lighter bike for the event if you do not have one available. The reality is that you do not build bikes for XC or endurance races if you are a weekend warrior (unless you enjoy the weight weenie part of the build), so you will have to make adjustments accordingly to perform at your best. I remember one time lending a rear wheel to a friend to help out his bike setup for a race.
5. Find A Friend That Races Often And Pit With Them
One of the biggest favors a friend of mine did on the last race was open up his pit area for us to work out of. Having a tent to race out of drastically increased the ability to make the event fun even though we were kicking our own asses. If you do not race regularly (or this is your first race), you do not realize everything you will need during the race. Furthermore, they will know where to pit for the best accessibility and you will have somewhere to escape the sun. You will also be able to leach off of their experience that will help you throughout the race.
When you do pit with a friend, make sure to pull your own weight by helping setup and tear down. Also, bring your own tools, cooler and other things you may need so you are not encroaching on their setup. Just because you are sharing a space, that does not mean you need to share everything they own. Come prepared and thankful they are opening up their area to you.
6. Pace Yourself During The Race
Lastly, make sure you pace yourself during the race. It is extremely easy to feel the rush of the start and try to stay out front with all of the experienced racers. You have to remember to race your race…not your competitors. You might be surprised towards the end of the race as you start passing riders that were sprinting the start. Racing is all about your own pace…know your body and how you ride. The more you do that…the more success you will have.
Wrapping It Up
So there it is…everything I do to prepare for a mountain bike race when I haven’t been racing. Hopefully these tips can help as you try to prepare for the start line. Most importantly, try to have some fun with it as racing can be another way to get your dirt fix.
Note: If you are preparing for a gravity event and not an XC event, these same tips apply except you will need to add heavier parts/more grip to your bike rather than lighter.