When the big mountain bike race is only a week away, you may begin to wonder how you’ll do. Is your fitness good enough for the length of the race? Can you sprint fast to be first into the woods? How much should you ride as you approach the big day? What should you eat?
Well, to a large degree, your fitness is going to be what it will be. One week is not enough to improve it very much, but it is enough to time to hurt it if you do the wrong things. So, if you’ve been riding and training for the last few months, go ahead and rely on that work to get you through. The main focus at this point is to enhance your performance in small ways, and not to do anything detrimental.
I’ve written out a checklist of tips that you can use each day as you approach the race. Hopefully, some of these things will help you tap into your potential to have your best race of the year!
Saturday (one week before the race)
Speed Work: Focus on intensity and speed on the racecourse. Think about carrying speed and momentum, railing the curves, being smooth over the roots. Spend some time easing up on the speed while you plan alternate lines, good places to pass people, and when to drink and eat your gel.
Eating for fuel: Eat a hearty meal two hours before your preride. Try to simulate what you’ll eat on race day morning. Be sure to take in sugars during your ride. As you burn energy on those intense bursts, you’ll need to replenish it continually. Immediately after your ride, eat carbs and protein. You need to replenish because your body is going into overdrive to repair muscle damage caused by the intense workout. Take advantage of this window of opportunity. If you can’t stomach a meal right after you ride, have a protein drink that you can keep in your cooler. Then eat as soon as you get home.
Endurance Work: Get in a long ride today. The pace should be more even. Keep the intense bursts to a minimum and focus on constant pedaling. You want to get in some distance today. Be sure to stay hydrated and fueled up!
Rest: You went hard this weekend. Take a day to recover. Stretch, do an easy spin, or completely rest your body.
Visualize: Replay the preride in your head. Think about those spots where you bogged down and plan how to prevent those moments by refueling more often. Think about the moments you nailed it. Picture yourself doing that in the race. After that rest day, you should be starting to think about getting back on the bike. Let yourself get excited as your ride approaches.
Ride: Do another preride. Stay on top of your eating and drinking. Focus on riding fast and smooth. Think about race day as you ride. Memorize that trail!
Eat: Be sure to get your carbs and protein as soon as possible after stopping your ride.
Switch over to race prep mentality: Everything you do from here on out is to prepare yourself for race day. This is where you do every little possible thing to help your performance. As you do it, visualize how it is helping you to be better prepared for the race.
Eating: Eat plenty of food. You want to build up glycogen stores in your muscles. Give your body the protein it needs for muscle repair. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables so you’ll get all the vitamins and minerals you need. This will boost your immunity and help your organs function at their best. Avoid soda, processed foods, and alcohol. You don’t want anything that will bog you down. Don’t cut out caffeine if you’re used to getting it. You don’t want that horrible headache. But avoid soda if possible.
Drinking: Start drinking more water than normal. You will find yourself visiting the bathroom more, but that’s ok. Just think of it like this… If you are well hydrated going into the race, the chances of becoming dehydrated are slimmer.
Preregister: Don’t miss the cutoff for pre-reg!
Ride: If you ride at all, keep it easy. You don’t want your heart rate to get high. The effort level should be easy enough that you can carry a conversation the whole time. The intensity level should be low enough where you never feel a burn in your legs.
Sleep: Starting Wednesday night, make it a point to go to bed on time. You need a full night of sleep so that your body is strong and rested.
Bike Prep: Check over your race bike. Make sure it’s clean and lubed. Be sure the shifting and braking are acceptable. You have a couple days to get over to your local bike shop if necessary, but don’t wait until the last minute! Be sure that your seat bag has the proper compliment of tubes, tools, CO2, etc. Check your tires. Is the tread in good shape?
Visualize: Throughout the day, think about the course. Plan when you will eat and drink. Where your bottle handoff will be. If you don’t need one, think about how much water to put in your pack. Imagine yourself racing well, being ultra focused, and attacking aggressively.
Eating: Don’t scrimp on meals today. Eat plenty of carbs. The best kinds are rice and potatoes, as opposed to breads and pastas. Think minimal processed foods! Your body was built to digest natural foods anyway. Don't forget to eat lean meats and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Drinking: Keep drinking plenty of water.
Ride: Keep this ride easy paced. If you’re used to staying off the bike for a couple days in advance of a race, think of it this way… A super easy paced ride is not going to stress your aerobic system, or your powerful reserves… As long as you keep it EASY. The key is to get the legs spinning to prevent stiffness. You want to open up the legs, so to speak. You can do a simple spin. I do some opener efforts. These are short intervals where you gradually build the intensity of your effort over the course of a couple minutes. Basically, take 3 minutes to gradually get up to top speed. You can use a long stretch of open road or you could circle around the perimeter of a grassy field so you'll have an uninterrupted run. Remember, you’re only going hard for about 15 seconds right at the end. If you feel like this is too much effort for an “easy day”, then a short spin or a complete rest is fine.
Logistics: Plan out the race day prep. What are you going to do the night before the race? Can you pre-pack some things so there will be less to do on the morning of the race? What time will you wake up on race day? What time will you leave the house? Think about how long it’ll take to get suited up. Remember, you’ll need a warm-up too!
Sleep: Go to bed early tonight. If you can't, at least, get a full night of sleep.
Friday (the day before the race)
Eating: Don’t pig out today. You don’t want to feel lethargic tomorrow. Eat a well-balanced meal with healthy carbs, lean meat, and plenty of vegetables. Eat a banana so that your stores of potassium are full. This is especially important if you'll be racing in high temperatures.
Drinking: Get plenty of water. If you feel thirsty, then you’re not drinking enough. No alcohol!
Riding: Spin out the legs. You want to make sure you don’t have any stiffness. An easy spin will loosen up the legs. Try those opener efforts. The ride should only be 30 min to an hour. Only do 2-4 openers. Make them 3 minutes long and gradually build up to your top speed for the last 15 seconds. Be sure to spin at a super-easy pace in between each effort for 5-10 minutes in between. At the end of the openers, you should feel limber and energized. You should not feel like you worked. If you do, then it was too hard. You want to be able to say, “My legs are strong and loose now.” That’s how you know you did it right.
Race prep: Pack or set out as many things as possible the night before the race. The goal is to make the morning stress-free. Buy any last minute snacks or sports drinks you need. Get ice and put it in the cooler now. It’ll keep overnight. You can add your food and drinks to it in the morning. Is the bike ready? If you already cleaned the bike, the openers should not have gotten it too dirty. You should be set!
Sleep: Go to bed early, or at least on time. As you drift off, visualize yourself racing well. Picture a successful race start, where you clip in quickly. Imagine yourself powering past everyone else to get the holeshot. Remember the course. Replay it in your head and picture each section. Remind yourself where you’ll eat and drink.
This list takes you through the week leading up to the race. I hope it helps you. Check back tomorrow for a checklist for race day.