First race advice

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    • #245576

      I have been mountain biking for about a year now. I recently signed up for my first mountain bike race. The course is 36 miles on a mix of singletracks, two tracks, and gravel roads. Anyone have any advice that might help me?

    • #245592

      Try out your gear, hydration, snacks, etc before the race—don’t try anything new in the race. Prepare your bike to avoid mechanical failures: new chain, rings, cassette if old; fresh tires, sealant or tubes; cables or adjustments; etc—i.e. a good tune up. Pace yourself early, otherwise adrenaline of your first race might cause you to over do it and burn-out far too soon. Remember the 40% rule: when you think you are spent, remind yourself that you have only used up 40% of your capacity (supposedly a Navy Seal mantra). And most of all, enjoy.

    • #245595

      That’s great!  Racing is a lot of fun and a great way to significantly improve your fitness by pushing yourself to the limit.  The advice from drcbrath is spot on.  To provide greater insight it would be helpful to know how many miles you typically ride per week and how the terrain you ride compares to the race trails.  For instance if you typically ride enduro/downhill but your race is XC oriented with a lot of elevation gain you may want to spend some time working on climbs.  (Obviously, it also depends on how much time you have before the race).

      36 miles is a fairly long race.  Without knowing any of the other specifics here are some suggestions:

      • Pre-ride the course.  Almost all races allow you to pre-ride either the day before or early before the  race starts.  Take advantage of it if you are not familiar with the course already.  Even if you know the course see what direction their riding.   For example, riding clockwise may be very different than riding counterclockwise.  Most races post the race course in advance.  Understanding tight corners, big climbs, technical features, where to carry momentum, etc can be extremely valuable during a race.
      • Nutrition (before, during and after the race) is going to be critical.  Make sure you fuel up with a solid breakfast (with carbs) an hour or two before the start.  I always carry some energy gels, chews and bars with me.  Even if there are food/drink stations don’t rely on them for nutrition as (a) they may not agree with you (GI-wise), (b) you may not like them or (c) they could be gone when you get there.  I usually take a gel about once per hour.  As dcrbrath said, don’t try something new. Go with things you – and your GI system – are comfortable with.
      • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!  Make sure you start out hydrated (but don’t overdo it) before the race.  You should feel satiated and not at all thirsty.  If you intend to ride without stopping you should have a hydration pack or at least two bottle cages.  Fill it with your beverage of choice.  I would recommend you throw in electrolyte tablets.
      • Make sure you bike is operating as it should, i.e. crisp shifting, braking, etc.  If you’re not comfortable fixing things yourself take it to your LBS.  Nothing worse than poor shifting or a mechanical issue during a race (I know, it’s happened to me more than once).
      • With that said, be prepared just in case something goes wrong.  You should definitely carry a spare tube (even if tubeless), two tire levers, a compressed air tool with canister (or a small pump) as well as a multi-tool (with chain link repair) along with an spare link. These items are relatively light and don’t take up too much space.  You can easily fit them in a small saddle bag or in a backpack or hydration pack.  Barring a severe crash that should get you through just about anything.
      • Pace yourself.  Races are never won at the start.  There will be a huge surge at the start with the adrenaline rush when the gun goes off.  Unless there’s a prologue (some races have a starting location that’s wide open to allow faster riders to get in front before hitting the singletrack) or you are looking to podium, it’s better to go at your own pace.   After the first few miles racers should begin to thin out.  Settle in to a pace that feels ‘comfortably’ hard because you will need to sustain it for several hours.   Then focus on the rider(s) immediately ahead of you and start picking them off one at a time when the opportunity presents itself.
      • If passing, make sure you alert the racer ahead of you, eg “Passing on your left” and do so only when there is sufficient room to do so.  Do NOT try to pass someone on a tight turn or if you risk colliding with the rider ahead of you.  If getting passed, yield as appropriate to the rider passing but you should not have to stop since the same rules apply to them.  One pet peeve I have is that if you’re off your bike or walking it up a hill stay to the side of the trail as much as possible to allow riders still on their bikes a chance to pass.
      • As you get toward the end of the race (only a few miles left) start pushing the pace.  If you’ve paced yourself appropriately and fueled along the way you should feel very fatigued but you’ve still got some gas left in the tank.  Now’s the time to use it.  You’ll be amazed at what your body can do.

      Most importantly, ENJOY the experience and especially the post-race party!  Good luck!

      • #245596

        Thanks for the advice. I typically ride between 50 and 60 miles a week (mostly raid riding with 1 XC trail ride a week) though that has increased for training. The race is an XC race held about 30 minutes from where I live. It is on my home trail system and gravel roads around that area.

    • #245597

      Great that you know the trails.  Sounds like you’ve also put the miles in.  Good luck!

    • #245598

      Be sure to post afterwards.

      • #245600

        I will post after the race. Thanks for the advice.

    • #245604

      Good luck. What race is it? I just signed up for my first race in Michigan, too. The Iceman Cometh Challenge.

    • #245607

      The only racing I’ve done is against the setting sun, approaching inclement weather and my Strava times.


      Good luck, Daniel R and iiliketexmex! Looking forward to hearing about your experiences.

    • #246925

      iliketexmex sorry i didnt see you post sooner. The race was the Lord of the Springs race in the Michigan gravel race series.

      The race was today. It went as well as I could have hoped. It was hard, probably the hardest ride I’ve ever done. However, I enjoyed every minute of it. I didn’t have any problems. All the other racers were friendly, encouraging, and helpful. I felt like I did the best I could have. I learned a lot too.

      I finished in 3 hours and 6 minutes for about 38 miles. I averaged 12.2 mph. I placed 4th in my age group.

      It was hard but I learned a lot and I would probably do it again. Thanks for all the advice and encouragement.

    • #246926

      It was hard, probably the hardest ride I’ve ever done. However, I enjoyed every minute of it.

      That’s an indication of a good race.  Congrats on the 4th place finish in your age group!

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