As I listened to the speakers blaring “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC, I could feel my adrenaline surging through my body. In 10 seconds, I would be pedaling as fast as my little legs would go for 12.5 kilometers of muddy, winding, trails.
I was lined up for my first cross-country mountain bike race, the Rundle’s Revenge in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Seeing a hundred bikers mashed together and ready to race is an unforgettable experience.
If you’re thinking about trying a mountain bike race, (which I highly recommend because they’re tons of fun), here are some pointers I wish I had known before I lined up on the start line.
- Train effectively, and train early. Training hard 2 weeks before the race isn’t going to do you any good. Start training as early and make it race specific. Racing cross country? Do hill training and intervals so you have more power. Tackling downhill? Practice descending different terrain and go for speed.
- Practice riding in all types of weather conditions. It pissed down rain the entire night before my race. Needless to say the course was in less than ideal conditions. Head out for a ride when it’s windy, cold, blistering hot, or even snowing. You want to know how you and your bike are going to perform together come race day.
- Check yo self before you wreck yo self. Race day is not when you want to find out your dropper post isn’t working, or you have a bent rim. Take the time beforehand to check over all your equipment (or have a trusted person check it for you), and ensure you have all the required items for the race. My race was in bear country in the Rocky Mountains so we were required to carry bear spray at all times.
- Nerves are a part of racing. The morning of my race I was so on edge I was like a rabbit on cocaine. I couldn’t sit still and my body was having a hard time deciding whether I was going to vomit or shit my pants. While most of you probably won’t have this much anxiety, you’ll likely be nervous. Do some stretches or meditate to try to calm your jitters.
- Get there early. This will also help settle your nerves. Be there early so you have time to check-in, set up your bike, and do some warm up riding. The morning of my race I was running late and on the way there we had to sit and wait for a train to go by. Shit happens, be prepared.
- There are NO timing chips. I was surprised by this. Most running races have timing chips so it doesn’t matter where you line up, your time doesn’t start until you cross the mat. This isn’t true for bike races. Place yourself in the start line accordingly. I stayed at the back of the pack because I was nervous. Unfortunately, this meant I lost time and was behind riders a lot of slower riders and it was hard to pass them. Be strategic.
- Prepare to get up close and personal. Bike races are in close quarters with other racers for a mass start, same as running, but the difference is you’re attached to a 30lb hunk of metal that can create chaos if driven incorrectly. And let me tell you, not everyone knows how to use this piece of equipment wisely. Keep your eyes open and pay attention to what’s around you. If somebody comes to a dead stop in front of you, you want to be able to avoid them instead of ending up in a pile of twisted metal.
Racing is a blast. The people, the atmosphere, there’s really nothing like it. If you want to take it seriously, awesome. If you want to go out and just have a good time, that’s good too. Find a group in your area to practice with if you’re nervous. If you know how to ride a bike there’s a race out there for you.
Do you have a first race experience you would like to share? I’d love to hear it!