Race days can be intimidating! The build up is always so intense. You've followed your program to the 'T', you've been eating well, sleeping in, and feeling strong. Now it's time to open up the tap when it matters most. You're on the start line ready for action. You take a moment and ask yourself: "Did I prepare as absolutely best I could for this event?"
Well? Did you? Your answer could go two ways. You either did, or you didn't..
In this article, The Threshold’s experienced team of coaches share some insights that will give you a few things to add to your current strategy, or perhaps use our guidance to formulate your own pre-race routine. Either way, we have you covered.
I have just come off a season that consisted of 22 races. Sounds normal right? Except with those 22 races, I have had 59 race days. It has been an incredible year, but if there is something I could choose to do better, it would be my preparation. Preparation for race days doesn't begin the week prior to the event. It starts at the very beginning of the year, or for me, it has already begun for 2020. In order to prepare correctly, you need to understand what your body can tolerate, what your working schedule can allow in terms of racing and training, as well as what priority each race will hold during the course of the year. The enormous value of race preparation should not be underestimated and is something that you should investigate in order to make the most of your coaching. As a coach myself, I hope my advice guides you to improve you’re approach to preparation:
1. Race Calendars Are Everything
Some people start with New Year's resolutions, others plan family holidays. Athletes plan their racing calendars! Start by outlining your major goal for the year. It could be anything from losing 10kg, being able to hold onto the lead bunch while racing, coming top 5 in your category at the 94.7, or my personal favourite: making it to the final sprint. My advice to you would be to take a look at Cycling South Africa's website. Every SA Sanctioned race is there, separated by discipline. From there, pick 2 or 3 races that matter the most to you. These 'A' priority races will help shape your annual training plan, allowing your coach to plan your program around peaking at the right times. For me, these races would include the ABSA Cape Epic (March), SA Marathon Champs (June); and World Marathon Champs (September). Next would be to select the races that you would like to participate in. This often depends on budget and available leave. Make sure you schedule in time for the family and not use up all your work leave on bicycle races! These races will fit in to the program as fun training that help you peak for your 'A' races. If you're unsure on how to structure these races in your calendar, get in touch with us here.
2. Become a Packing Pro
The more you race, the more you travel. Take it from me, living out of a bag is less than ideal, but boy have I got good at it. Understanding what is absolutely necessary to pack is essential. Look at weather forecasts, your expected race time, if you're going to shower after the event, extra kit for the podium, and nutrition for pre, during and after the race are all extremely important.
My pearls of packing wisdom:
Pack only what you need: 1 warm jacket, 2 pairs of pants, just enough undies, 3 cycling kits, 1 set of sleepwear, 2-1 Shampoo, slops, towel, your own pillow / sleeping bag
Make separate space each item in your bag, and make sure you can get to everything with your eyes closed! No matter how bright your headlight is, you might as well be getting dressed in the dark before each stage.
Most importantly, have your race food set aside. Mixes for your bottles, bars, gels, bananas etc. I actually pack my cycling top pockets the night before. Then all I have to do is throw the top on and jump onto the bike!
3. Know Your Course
If the race organizers don't provide you with a profile sticker – make your own! This year at World Marathon Champs I made my own note of the climbs and the waterpoints. This helped me stay mentally strong through the 3100m of climbing. I knew the climbs were going to be long, so marking where they began and ended was crucial for me. The waterpoint markers were more for me to know if anything went wrong. There was neutral support in case I dehydrated or got a mechanical. I did end up running out of fuel while I was out there, so knowing I was only 5km from a waterpoint was a mental life saver! On a piece of paper, write down your key markers and sticky-tape them onto your top tube. It's 60% waterproof and 100% worth it. This procedure doesn't just have to be for A races, I do this at every single marathon race I participate in, no matter how important the event is.
4. Arrive Early!
You should aim to arrive at the race village about an hour before the start. This will give you enough time to kit up, go to the bathroom, and warm up. What? Warm up? YES! This is one of the most overlooked aspects of race prep! It doesn't matter how long the race, an adequate warm up will massively influence your physical and mental performance. Imagine not starting the event with ice-cold muscles. Did you know there was a way to not be in absolute agony 5min into the start of a 70km Nissan Trailseeker? 15 to 20 minutes of pedalling will do the trick. During your warm up, make sure you get your mind in check. You've done all the hard work up until this point, and now it's time to enjoy the ride. Imagine yourself conquering this challenge and get excited by the nerves fluttering around in your stomach. It's a sign that you're amped and stoked to be there.
Preparing for race days is a process, one that takes practice to perfect!
Below are our coaches tips to add to your race day prep:
Darrin Jordaan [Triathlete]:
Warm up on the day is a crucial aspect that many athletes take for granted. This can take different shapes for different athletes (swimmer vs runner vs cyclist vs triathlete). The key is that an increase in core temperature is needed for the warm up to be effective. A good general warm up is not shorter than 15 minutes and not longer than 30 minutes. 4 to 5 efforts of 20-30 seconds at or just above threshold is a good strategy with long recoveries. Lastly, make sure you consume some form of carbohydrate 10mins before the start of the event. Maltodextrin is always a winner. Train Hard!
Andrew Stockwell [MTB Stage Racer/Road Racer]:
A post race warm down is key especially if you planning to train or race the next day. Make sure you taking 10-20min to do an easy recovery ride straight after your event to settle your mind and body.
Sarah Hill [MTB Stage Racer]:
Remember to fuel yourself well while you race. If you’re hungry, it’s already too late! Aim to eat something every hour while you are out there. The longer the race, the more important it is to fuel early. If you’re participating in a multi day event, remember you are eating for the stages to follow. Hydration is a game changer, so don’t skimp! Rather stop at the waterpoints than risk bonking due to a lack of water/energy drink mix.
Good luck, and see you out there!
BSc Exercise Science - Sports Nutrition
BA - Sports Psychology
Sarah currently races professionally at UCI level, and enjoys cross country, as well as marathon and stage racing. Her most remarkable achievements of 2019 inlcude her wins at the Trans Baviaans, as well as the African Leaders Jersey st the ABSA Cape Epic, Joberg2C, and Cape Pioneer.