Following on from the Q+A that I did yesterday on my Instagram page, I decided to do a blog post on racing and how to get started. I got so many questions about this so I compiled them all and answered below. I hope it helps!
I wrote this blog post to help anyone who may be preparing for their first road race, or eager to make the transition from a recreational cyclist to a racer. I hope it helps you in some way! Discovering the road racing scene and the amazing community of cyclists who support it is what made me fall in love with cycling. I hope it can bring you the same joy that it brought me!
How to go from leisure cyclist to racing cyclist – step by step?
I suppose I came into this sport a bit backwards, because I started at an elite level (due to entering the sport through a talent identification program) and the first race I did was a stage race against international pros – so basically, do as I say, not as I did!
The best thing I would recommend doing before beginning to race is joining a local club or group ride every weekend. Having the experience of riding in a group will really stand to you when you begin to race, and you will learn to do things that should become second nature to you like drinking and fuelling properly on the bike, and proper bunch etiquette (things like indicating if there are obstructions or potholes in the road, taking turns on the front, etc). You also tend to pick up tips from riders in the group who may have raced in the past. I remember being on a group ride and having one of the older cyclists lean up against me as we were cycling and brushing his knuckles off mine while we cycled side-by-side, as he said that I should get used to being close to other riders! It petrified me at the time, but it helped when I ended up shoulder to shoulder with another rider at a race the following week.
You might find that a local club has a race that takes place on a weekday evening. Usually these races are a nice place to begin. The atmosphere is a bit more relaxed and the peloton will generally be a bit smaller than the races in the national series for example. I would recommend trying some of these first. Get used to being in a bunch moving at a high speed, and practice your fuelling strategy. It is handy at these beginning stages to take note of what fuel you take on board and how you felt finishing the race – then you can tailor your approach and figure out if you need to take on more or less.
When you feel like you’ve built up experience at this level, start to look towards some bigger races you can approach. You’ll probably feel like putting this off until you feel more ready, but the best thing you can do is just enter a race and have a date to work towards.
Sometimes, you just have to throw yourself into situations that you don’t feel ready for and then it really is sink or swim. You just have to force yourself to swim!
How do you know when you’re ready to race?
You don’t! And you don’t ever feel ready either. If I only raced when I felt ready, I’d never race. Sometimes, you just have to throw yourself into situations that you don’t feel ready for and then it really is sink or swim. You just have to force yourself to swim!
How should I prepare for a race?
1 or 2 months out, I would recommend that you begin to follow a structured program, even f it’s only a generic one you download from the internet. Knowing that you’ve put in the work to prepare for this race properly will help to calm you as you get closer to race day.
Trial out the duration of the race – will it be 2-3 hours? Try cycling this amount of time in training. Try out your fuelling strategy in different training situations – if you’re doing some intervals, try to find a gel that you can take on race day that doesn’t upset your stomach. It’s important not to try anything drastically different on race day.
If you get nervous before race day, a really great thing I like to do to tackle these nerves is meticulously plan my day. I’ll make a list of everything I’ll do that day, and break it down to the most menial of tasks. ‘8:30am – wake and brush teeth. 8:45am – drink coffee and prepare breakfast. 9:00am – eat breakfast.’ This might sound a bit crazy, but I started doing this years ago when I used to get really bad nerves before running races. Writing down all of the things I had control over helped me to forget the things that I couldn’t control – because there is no point worrying about them on race day.
Writing down all of the things I had control over helped me to forget the things that I couldn’t control – because there is no point worrying about them on race day.
If the course is nearby, I’ll try to cycle it once or twice in advance, so I know the important parts of the road – any bends or corners, any places where the surface of the road isn’t great, any potholes I need to avoid! If it’s not nearby, race organisers will generally put the GPS file online. This is handy because you can download it to your bike computer and follow the map in the race. I’ve seen some professional riders doing this – especially when it comes to more technical parts of the course and descents.
What to eat the evening before a race?
The evening before a race, I try not to do anything too different to normal meals. I nearly always have spaghetti Bolognese the night before a race. I don’t want to have anything too spicy, too creamy or too heavy so that meal fits the bill nicely. Generally, I will try to eat more carbs the day before a race – so I would also have a very big sandwich or even a pasta dish for my lunch before that too.
What to eat on the day of a race?
Let’s assume your race is at 3pm. Wake at 8am or 9am and have your baked oats and banana – a nice carb-heavy breakfast to get you ready for the day. I might have a mid-morning snack at about 11am of a waffle and a coffee. Then at 12pm, 3 hours out from my race, I will have my pre-race lunch. I try to give myself a full 3 hours from race-time as otherwise, I can feel quite sick during a race. This pre-race meal is usually quite plain and boring. I either have pasta with pesto or rice with chilli paste and some chopped up veg. I might have something between this lunch and the race – maybe another waffle, and on the start line I’ll take a caffeine gel. During the race, I’ll have my usual gels, and then after the race, I’ll try to have a recovery shake within 30 mins, and somewhat of a normal meal within an hour that contains protein and carbs – so a sandwich or a pasta dish that I can just eat cold in the car is a good option for me.