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Thread: First Race Tips

  1. #1
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    First Race Tips

    I'm going to enter my first race this weekend. I'm in good shape and know the course well but I'm going to enter as Cat 3 since I've never raced. What tips would you give for a noob? I'm going to try to take off from the start to get an early lead because the course is pretty tight so it will be tough to pass. Is there etiquette when trying to pass someone or getting passed? I don't want to get stuck behind any log jams.

    Also, the course is relatively flat but I'm wondering if I should go balls out on the inclines and be pretty exhausted for the entire race, or hold back a bit on the hills so I can go balls out on the other parts of the course (about 3/4 of it is mostly flat).

    Also, what do you eat the day before / morning of?

  2. #2
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    I'll paraphrase something I remember someone saying on here "start at a pace you think you can't maintain for the entire race, then maintain it for the entire race." That really sums up mountain bike racing.

    In cat 3 yes, get the hole shot or at least top 3. If you aren't the first cat 3 heat you'll have a lot of passing to do regardless, but at least you aren't racing against those people. As far as etiquette, just say "rider back" and/or "can I pass when you get a chance" ... most people will let you by quickly but you'll also get some aholes.

    If you reach the base of a climb and are feeling good, it can be a great place to pull a gap or put nails in the coffin of other riders. It's all up what works best for you and your strengths, but I'm pretty exhausted the entire race :-)

    I focus more on hydration leading up to the race and just eat regularly. I like steel cut oats with some almonds, cinnamon and a bit of brown sugar the mornings of.

    Good luck, have fun!

  3. #3
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    I agree with the first poster i only have two races under my belt but getting to the front early is important. not only cause you don't want to get stuck behind the guys that don't have technical skills but also cause you want to get in the front group with the best guys is the race. It's much easier to start the race in this gruop than it is to chase them down.

    For mourning of breakfast just eat whatever you do before a regular ride.
    "Shut up legs!"- Jens Voigt

  4. #4
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    you'll learn alot

    If this is a highly competitive state series (like WORS), there may be some racing animals in CAT 3 that have actually trained throughout the winter, have a coach etc. and are waiting to podium in the series before moving to CAT 2. Otherwise, you may just be up against first timer peers. You may be able to find race times from previous years online an compare with your ride times to see what you are up against. Yes, this is obsessive, but since you asked...

    Please note that pre-race adrenaline may make you feel like superman for 5-7 minutes after the gun goes off.

    If you think the competition is at your level of fitness, definitely go out with the leaders. This is the no guts, no glory approach. It will take about 5-7 minutes to find out if it was a mistake or not (nausea, cramping, blurred vision, burning lungs and legs etc). An alternative approach is to go out at a hard, but not furious, pace and then slowly adjust that pace to what you think you can handle over the length of the course. This can also be a mistake because then you have to work your way past all those people using the guts/glory approach and who are now puking and cramping. Doing an actual race is the only way to learn what the best approach will be for you.


    As far as eating, I eat foods I normally eat in a good size meal about 3 hours before the race and then have a carbohydrate rich snack about 30 minutes before the start. I never want to feel full at the start line, but not hungry either.

    Of course, don't forget to have fun. And after the race, write down everything you want to do different next time out.

    Also, you are obliged to give a race report here.

  5. #5
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    I eat the same breakfast as I do on every other day.

    I try to avoid making any major changes to my bike before a race. I have a "no major mechanical work" rule for the night before, although one doesn't always get a choice...

    Try to warm up. Try to pre-ride, maybe the day before, maybe before the racing starts or in between races - etiquette and opportunity vary from series to series, but knowing the course is always useful.

    Strategy is something you'll have to develop for yourself - the usual saying is "race your strengths." It's hard to know what that means the first time out. As a default, I generally try to do everything at a sort-of sustainable effort. I know I'm strong on hills, so I'll spend a little extra effort making sure I'm not letting someone slow me down on a climb, and I'll sometimes also work extra hard to try and gain position on them. I'm not as fast on singletrack as I'd like to be, so I won't contest a place, necessarily, and I'll do my best to hang on to someone if they're showing me a good line. You may find you want to do the opposite. I try to speed up in the last lap - I don't have to do it again. I try not to redline myself if I'm going to be in singletrack, because then I make mistakes and I think I go slower overall. I always sprint my finishes because I can't always tell if someone's near me, and I think it's good practice.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  6. #6
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    It took me awhile to value the importance of a good warmup. If I don't get at least an hour warmup, I feel like crap the early part of the race. XC Races are all out from the beginning, so your body needs to be prepared. Some people are fine with shorter warmups, but unless it's a marathon distance, I need some real time to warmup.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for all of the advice. The race is a smaller regional one, and Cat 3 is two 6 mile laps. I'll probably push it the entire first lap and hopefully maintain a similar pace for the second. The course is close to my house so I plan on getting some practice in this week and possibly taking my SS out there for a run or two.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whambat View Post
    It took me awhile to value the importance of a good warmup. If I don't get at least an hour warmup, I feel like crap the early part of the race. XC Races are all out from the beginning, so your body needs to be prepared. Some people are fine with shorter warmups, but unless it's a marathon distance, I need some real time to warmup.
    I definitely need to take that tip to heart. I warmed up for ~40min before my last race but nothing full gas, then loafed around for 10-15min dumping arm warmers at the car and waiting around at the start area (should have gotten my HR up all the way by emulating the race's starting sprint/climb intensity and timed it way closer ).

    I spent my first lap of three in a ~1.5hr race warming up and it wasn't pleasant.

    Some other random tips I picked up:
    - If you get passed by a faster rider try to latch on, even if just for a few seconds. (S)he's a rabbit to chase after or at least someone who's probably taking faster lines than you that you may be able to learn from.
    - Don't get in group ride mode. No sitting in if you catch other riders (especially if they're not even in your category). Recovery just enough and then pass them. Ride your own race pace, not theirs.
    - Keep on the gas right until the line. Everyone else will be suffering and all those fast starts or mid-race attacks will be catching up with people. Someone almost always comes into sight at the tail end of your final lap.
    - Pre-ride if at all possible. Don't just learn the corners and technical sections, learn and plan where you can attack and recover.

  9. #9
    psycho cyclo addict
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    Quote Originally Posted by climr View Post
    I'll paraphrase something I remember someone saying on here "start at a pace you think you can't maintain for the entire race, then maintain it for the entire race." That really sums up mountain bike racing.
    That's great- gotta remember it.

    Quote Originally Posted by climr View Post
    In cat 3 yes, get the hole shot or at least top 3. If you aren't the first cat 3 heat you'll have a lot of passing to do regardless, but at least you aren't racing against those people. As far as etiquette, just say "rider back" and/or "can I pass when you get a chance" ... most people will let you by quickly but you'll also get some aholes.
    I think of it more as dodging than passing. Some people are nervous/adrenaline juiced and make mistakes that inadvertently block the progress of others, inexperienced (for whatever reason, end up dismounting in places you would never expect), have mechanical issues out of the blue early on (broken chain, flat, etc.) or just plain old 1delta10tango's (idiots). So more generally: expect the unexpected and move on (don't waste energy getting wound up about it).

  10. #10
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    Great topic! I've read some great advice on warming up, a huge area I struggle with. Is there a particular HR goal or zone you try to sustain for a period of time?
    Any other insight would b appreciated!

  11. #11
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    I have only done one race(i won ) And i did not shoot for a target heartrate. If you are familiar with the course you will know how hard you can push it and where. And the Adrenaline will keep you going as fast as you need to.

    Prepare to be hooked!
    Raised in a Chicken-Coop by Chickens

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpastore22 View Post
    Great topic! I've read some great advice on warming up, a huge area I struggle with. Is there a particular HR goal or zone you try to sustain for a period of time?
    Any other insight would b appreciated!
    I like ramps. I think I get that warmed up feeling a little faster than just riding, and without the blown out feeling that can come with spending too long at high effort.

    I start in a really low gear. If I'm warming up by riding up and down the road, maybe something silly like 32/34. I click up through one gear at a time, taking a little time to really get up to a high cadence in each, until I run out of gears at the top of the cassette. Repeat. Depending on the road surface, it might make more sense to do it in the big ring. At the highest ratios, it should be a little difficult to stay at that effort.

    I pay attention to pedaling a really high cadence in the lower ratios.

    The idea is to reach some race-level power outputs, but not really burn any matches.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  13. #13
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    When you say "top of the cassette" do mean mean smallest/hardest cog or largest/easiest cog? I assume you mean the former but I want to confirm.

  14. #14
    The Missing
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    hit it hard on the start and remember it is supposed to hurt.

    just focus on "your" race and have fun, that will make the most of it

    and prepare to learn even after 100 races I am still learning after each one

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by shapelike View Post
    When you say "top of the cassette" do mean mean smallest/hardest cog or largest/easiest cog? I assume you mean the former but I want to confirm.
    Yeah - hardest cog. Because I'm ramping up my effort.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by climr View Post
    I'll paraphrase something I remember someone saying on here "start at a pace you think you can't maintain for the entire race, then maintain it for the entire race." That really sums up mountain bike racing.
    Good quote to race by, I like this one too:

    "Pain is temporary, Pride is forever"

  17. #17
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    yep, I have "pain is temporary, quitting last forever" engraved into my headset cap. That's gotten me through a few rough spots before :-)

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