20 Sep 2017
MTB: 5 Tips on getting ready for your first race
While simply entering and completing your first ever mountain bike race is a significant achievement, with a little of the right knowledge and preparation you can get the best from your efforts – from picking a goal to riding across the finish line with a smile on your face. Here are our top tips to help you get the most from your first taste of mountain bike competition.
Choose a goal
Are you after a result – and if so, what, exactly? Or do you simply want to finish? You need to decide early in order to know how to prepare. And while it pays to set yourself a challenge, don’t lose sight of the one thing your goal must be: achievable. If you beast yourself trying to keep an impossible pace, or give it your best shot only to fall well short, you’re not going to enjoy it. And unless you’re very young and this is the first step to a glittering race career, why are you doing it if not for enjoyment? It's also a very good idea to choose one that’s a few months away rather than next week!
Find a friend
Getting out on the bike can be hard – mentally, physically and in terms of finding the time – but add the pressure of training for a deadline and it can get grim. If you can rope in a riding friend, however, you can be each other’s moral support, each other’s excuses and each other’s competition. If you work well together (i.e. with a healthy rivalry), you can push each other to new heights.
Keep it local
It’s tempting, when searching out events, to go for something exotic and dramatic to match your ambition. Enter something more local, however, and you’ll know the terrain, the likely conditions and what you’re in for. The easier travel requirements will obviously save time and expense come the race itself, too.
Service your bike
The last thing you want, after all that hard work, is for a snapped cable, broken chain or other mechanical mishap to end your day. So, with your go-to tools at-the-ready, thoroughly clean and lube your bike, then check consumables such as tires, brake pads, cables and drivetrain for wear or damage. Check all the bolts – particularly around the brakes and steering – and feel for play in any bearings (wheels, headset, linkages, BB etc).
Also, check you have the relevant puncture repair equipment in any pack , and that your pump both works and fits! Then take the bike for at least one test ride before the race to ensure that all is well. If you’ve replaced or adjusted anything, check it’s tight again afterwards.
The internet is awash with training plans, and even more advice on nutrition, such as carb-loading, that covers what, when and even how to eat in the most efficient way. It’d be foolish to ignore it… though as ever, it’s vital to look for authoritative sources (such as national governing bodies and established cycling companies) and filter out the pseudoscience. Your race success will absolutely depend on your preparation, so don’t go thinking you can magically step it up on the day.
Avoid shiny new things
At least, avoid fitting them on the day of the race! Don’t fit new parts or even wear anything untested – use what you know works. New bars or stems can do wonders for your aero performance, for instance, but you won’t have time to stop and adjust them if you’re uncomfortable. Likewise, a few miles into a multi-hour race is no time to discover your new saddle, tires or shorts are massively harder than you’re used to, or that your brand new clipless shoes burn like the sun!
By all means upgrade and reap the performance benefits – just ensure you do it early enough to familiarise, adjust and perfect them well before the event.