If you’re relatively new to cycling but feel ready to step up your game, you might be considering entering your first race.
Preparing for competitive racing, even at the beginner level, can take a lot more physical and mental effort than you might think. “Even starting from a beginner category, you race in a group of runners that can range from 30 to 75 runners.” Bill Elliston, longtime cyclist, USAC Level 3 cycling coach and owner of Elliston Coaching, says Ride a bike. “You have a large group of runners all running together very tightly – shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow. This aspect alone requires a lot of experience to get used to.
Completing a beginner training plan, working out on an indoor bike or trainer, or using cycling apps have their benefits — building strength and endurance, for example — but they can’t match them. only you prepare for your first race, says Elliston.
To make sure you’re prepared before heading to the start line, here are four things you should do before you consider signing up for your first race.
1. Master the basics and attend at least one skills clinic
Attending a cycling clinic can have major benefits, especially if you are a new cyclist or are used to training on your own. Elliston says skills clinics can help you master more complicated techniques, like riding alongside other cyclists at higher speeds. Often, cycling clinics are designed to help cyclists develop a variety of skills, such as how to corner, ride with one hand, and master front wheel control. The clinics also cover discipline specific skills and how to handle real race situations.
Much like driving a car, says Elliston, when you’re racing in a peloton, everything tends to happen faster and you have to be able to prepare to react. “It’s rarely the situation that’s the problem that causes an accident or anything. It’s almost always the reaction,” he says.
You can find a clinic for just about every discipline, including track cycling, mountain biking, and road running. A simple internet search can help you find the right skills clinic in your area to meet your needs.
2. Do a group run
If you haven’t joined a cycling club or completed a group race, it’s probably best to do so before signing up for your first competition. There are many benefits of joining a cycling club. For starters, it can help you gain more experience and knowledge about the sport. Also, it can help you become a more diverse cyclist by exposing yourself to different routes and speeds.
Riding with a cycling club or joining a group ride is like riding in a race, except it’s not as fast and there are often fewer riders. Elliston says it’s a great way to know if you’re ready for the mental and physical demands of a race.
Cycling clubs or group rides are not hard to find and they are easy to join. Some clubs may offer a free trial period followed by an annual fee. You can find information about a local club with a quick search on Google, social media, or even a local bike shop.
3. Identify your favorite discipline
It is important to find your niche before entering your first race. Just like finding a club, identifying a race can be easy, but not all races are the same. If you’ve been to a charity event or a fun ride, you might think you’re ready to take on a competitive race. But not so fast.
Elliston says fun rides or charity events have traditional racing qualities, but completing one won’t prepare you for your first race. Charity Rides or Fun Rides may give you the opportunity to ride in packs at faster speeds, but they are not competitive events. “Most people don’t really want to get [point] one to [point] B—start to finish—in any type of real time record. They just do it more for fun or the cause,” he says.
Your previous workouts, routes, and routines will be a good indication of the distances and disciplines that are likely to be most appealing to you. Beginner runs can range from half a mile to 10 miles and most likely take around 30 minutes or less. Before you sign up for a run, ask yourself if you’ve covered the distance and how it compares to an environment you’ve covered in the past, Elliston says.
4. Prepare yourself mentally
Many of the steps on this list (like completing a group run or attending a skills clinic) will help you mentally prepare for your first run. Mental fitness is important even at the beginner level. “You have to accept the idea of stepping out of your comfort zone,” says Elliston. ” It will hurt. We all know that anything worthwhile in life probably takes a bit of blood, sweat, and tears to achieve. And it’s the same with a sporting activity,” he says.
The bottom line
Like many other sports, cycling is meant to challenge you both physically and mentally. And for some, the first step is to register for their first race. But make sure you are fully prepared. Attending clinics, training with groups, tracking your progress, and even pairing up with a trainer are great ways to prepare for your first race.
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