Ah, it is the Wednesday before a double-header cyclo-cross weekend. Travel plans are likely made – carpooling is sorted out. A hotel or host housing has been arranged. Heck, maybe even the GPS is programmed. You’ve checked the weekend weather forecast and have loaded your iPod with a warm-up music mix. Your bikes are ready. You’ve got tire and wheel combinations sorted out and you’ve even written out your packing list.
So, all the little details are sorted. Now what about the big stuff?
Yes, the big stuff. I’m talking about the stuff that is going on between your ears. This is the stuff that ultimately determines how the weekend turns out. We’re all really good at planning the trip, the packing, the gear, and the stuff we need to take with us for a race but we often forget about the racing itself. This is where a plan helps. I’m not talking a “at the first corner I’ll attack and then if this happens I’ll do this and then when this happens I’ll do this” kind of plan – because frankly you can’t plan a bike race. If it was possible to create a definite race plan and follow it as it is written, bike racing would be downright boring.
I’m talking about a plan for the day. A plan that allows you to relax and enjoy it all. This is a plan that outlines things such as:
- When you want to arrive at the race venue.
- When you plan to get on the course to pre-ride.
- Approximately how many pre-race laps you want to do.
- What you will do with those pre-race laps.
- Knowing when you want to eat and what you’re going to eat.
- When you’re going to get your warm-up done.
- Knowing what you’ll do after the race for your cool down and recovery.
This list might seem like a lot of picky little details, but simply knowing these simple things really does help keep you calm and collected. It is so easy on race day to get “sucked in” to doing what your friends or team mates are doing – but it is important to remember that you have to prepare for the race in a way that works for me.
Some people thrive on a frantic pace and are not concerned about arriving at the race with barely enough time to pre-ride or to even get in a warm-up. Others (like me) like to arrive at the race venue early (yes, 3 hours early) so I can get in multiple pre-race laps, relax, take my time pinning on my numbers, eat at the correct time, talk to my friends and get in a good warm-up. Everyone is different but ultimately having some kind of loose plan or outline for the day really will help with your 40 or 60 minutes of cyclo-cross racing.
You can arrive at the start line feeling confident and ready and just get out there and have fun. The training is done and it is simply time to race. Because you had a plan for the day, you didn’t forget to pack the extra pair of shoes, your pre-race meal is not sitting somewhere between your throat and your gut like a brick, you got in a good warm-up, and you’re comfortable with the course. All this lends to positive stuff happening between your ears.
Yes, there will be moments during the race when thoughts like “wow – this is hard, maybe I can just dial it back for a bit” or “man, I’m so far off pace – I suck” – ignore this voice and know that the guy or girl who took the hole shot and currently has a half lap lead is thinking the same thing. This is just your brain telling you that you’re riding super hard and it might be a good idea to stop hurting. Well, this is what cyclo-cross racing is all about. Getting out there and riding hard and seeing how many people you can catch and pass.
Have fun this weekend and remember to think about some of details that might not seem like such a big deal but really can make a difference on the day. And the best part of it all – you get to do it again on Sunday so maybe you can take some lessons from Saturday and use them on Sunday.
This is a great time of the year – the start of a new cyclo-cross season. Remember, everyone is nervous and has some self-doubt. A little bit of extra preparation can go a long way in helping calm those nerves.
(Marc and I will be down in Williston, Vermont this weekend for the Green Mountain Cyclocross Weekend – if you see me standing in the pits for Marc’s race or hanging out trying to figure out what to do with myself during the elite women’s race – come by and say hi.)