How to Prepare for a First Bike Race
If you have never competed in a bike race, you need to train your muscles and cardiovascular system for the specific type of racing you'll be doing. A criterium race features pack riding and sprints, while an endurance race covers long stretches of diverse terrain. Creating a plan that addresses your riding and fitness needs helps you maximize your chance for success.
Get a map of the course. Once you know the course, you can determine what type of riding you'll be doing, and what technical skills and physical fitness you'll need. In addition to looking at a map, research other aspects of the race. For example, try to find the finish times of riders in your skill group, and see if you can determine how much of the course is uphill, how much is downhill and what the grades are.
Buy a heart rate monitor so you can match your training to the demands you expect to face during your race. If you set pre-determined paces for different legs of the course and train at those paces, keeping your heartrate at a certain level, you can better maintain that pace on race day.
Ride the course. You don't need to ride at race pace; you are just getting an idea of what you will be facing and where you will be challenged. Note the terrain and the the lengths and grades of the uphills and downhills, so you can duplicate these conditions during your training. Note the gears you use and how long you stay in a particular gear. Use your heart monitor, and note your heart rate throughout the practice ride. If you can't go to the course, create a similar route near your home so you can take a practice ride.
Buy a bike trainer so you can exercise on the bike you will be riding. A stationary bike might not provide the same resistance setting to simulate the gears you will be using during your race, or have the same seat, handlebar and pedal setup as your bike.
Set your bike up the way you will ride it during your race. Make sure you adjust the handlebars, seat and pedals to provide the maximum benefit for a race in which at various times you might be standing, sitting straight up, leaning forward, power stroking and sprinting.
Build leg muscles with deadlifts, squats and leg presses. Several weeks before your race, switch to muscular endurance exercises. In these exercises, you use 30 percent to 50 percent of your maximum weight, performing eight to 10 reps per set. Lynda Wallenfels, author "The Triathlete's Guide to Bike Training," suggests that you set up a calendar grid to manage and chart your training.
Train your leg muscles using an exercise bike or your bike on a trainer. Use aerobic intensities that allow you to work for 15 minutes or longer, rather than sprints, which are very high intensity and tire you out quickly.
Add sprint training, if your race includes sprints, once you have an aerobic base that lets you ride for the same amount of time as your expected race duration. Ride hard for 30 to 90 seconds with breaks of 90 second or longer between sprints.
Train outdoors to simulate the demands of race riding, including lateral movements, navigating turns and going up and down hills. Check the weather forecast for the time of year you will be racing, and practice outdoors in conditions you are likely to encounter, including rain.
Eat the correct foods for your training and racing. During your muscle-building period, eat more lean protein. During your aerobic training, eat more complex carbohydrates. If you will be eating and drinking during your race, choose sports drinks, gels and energy bars to replace carbohydrates and fat, as well as sodium, potassium and electrolytes.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.