Last week, Masters racer and Cyclocross Magazine columnist Lee Waldman talks about what he’s learned this summer from racing his mountain bike. This week, he’s looking at his race routine and hoping to share some of his wisdom.
It’s almost Autumn. Hard to believe when the temperature in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, yesterday was in the mid-90s. Our first ’cross race, the target of all my work this past summer, is in less than three weeks. As soon as I got back from Nationals I began thinking about, planning for, and training towards this season. How many times in my life am I going to have the chance to even consider going to Masters Worlds? With their presence in the US for the next two years, it actually is a reality for me. All of the goals I’ve set, every mile on the mountain bike this summer, each circuit on the ’cross course; they’re now money in the bank. This week I’ll finalize my racing schedule for the season and then, with Louisville firmly planted in my mind, I’ll start racing. One more endurance race over Labor Day weekend, and then, cyclocross. Scraped shins, mud of all varieties, ruts, sand, max heart rate, blood, sweat and drool. What could be more fun?
Some of you reading this may be seasoned veterans. You know what it takes to get ready for your first ’cross race. You might even be like me, having a set routine for the way you do things on race day. Mine never varies, down to which leg I rub the embrocation on first and where I begin. (For those of you who are interested, it’s my left calf). And if it that pattern does change, for whatever reason, be it sunspots, acid rain, tornadoes, other acts of G-d, I just feel out of sorts. Consistency is something I strive for at work and play.
Let’s say you’re brand new to ’cross; just getting for your first experience. You’ve got your bike. You might, or might not have ridden it much. You might, or might not, have added practicing dismounting and remounting into your schedule. You might even have done some running. If not, we can talk about that some other time. One way or the other you’re going to line up and turn your pedals in anger sometime very soon. (Thanks Phil and Paul.)
What do you need to do to be prepared physically, technologically and mentally for your first ’cross race? I can’t tell you what works for others, but I can tell you what helps me feel ready to toe the line. For me, it’s all about patterns and rituals. Call me crazy but, it works.
1. It starts with equipment. ’Cross is hard on bikes. It’s torture on componentry. Before you load your bike onto your car for your first race my advice is, make sure everything is working well. Find a good mechanic. Pay him, or her, what his or her time is worth. That’s a lot if you want to make it to the finish line. And once you’ve found that wrench, trust them to:
- Check your cables and get you good ones, ones that won’t gunk up making shifting next to impossible.
- Make sure your chain is in good shape.
- Examine your tires and if you’re using tubulars, guarantee that they are glued on properly. Nothing worse than a rolled tire going into your first “hot” corner.
- Lube everything.
- Clean your bike. For me a clean bike feels faster. Even if, in reatlity, it doesn’t matter, in my head it does. If the bike is clean, creak free, quiet, I feel fast.
Why are these things important? Because it’s a long way back to the pit or to the car if something breaks. It’s even a longer way till the next race when all you have to remember is that big DNF next to your name.
2. On race day, get there early. For me that means at least an hour and a half before I race. I can take my time then. First, I get the bike down off the car. Next, I pump the tires, starting out with them a bit hard, knowing that I’ll be bleeding pressure till I find the right grip for the course conditions. Then I get dressed and start rubbing my legs down. As I said, I have my routine. Next step, registration and checking to see who else is racing that day. Not that it matters, but I’m always curious. The race is within myself, I know that, but I like to know which wheels I might be able to follow if I’m feeling good. Since I race with men much younger than I, that’s always one of my personal challenges. Then, and only then, after I’ve done all of that, do I go out to pre-ride.
3. Pre-riding for me is also ritualistic. I start out very slow, just picking my way around the course, avoiding anyone who is actually racing then. What am I looking for? The best potential lines, places that I can make up time, hazards that might pose a problem in the race and the general feel of the course. Is it slippery, grippy, sloppy? And I’ll do that for at least one lap, more if I have time. Then, if I need to change wheels I’ll do that. If not, I’ll pick up the pace a little. I’ll start to test the lines to see which are going to work at race pace and which aren’t, knowing full well that once the racing starts things will change each lap anyway. That’s one of the beauties of cross, you can never relax. I rarely do a full hot lap on the course which I know is different from some riders but I will ride through the corners fast just to see … I’ll take a look at the start and think about where I’d like to position myself. I usually don’t get a call up so I need to look for places that I might be able to move up after the gun. Then I’ll roll back to the car. Some riders like to warm up on rollers. I prefer to get out onto the road, do a few sprints to elevate my heart rate and by then it’s time to race.
4. Pin on your number. And here’s another one of my weirdnesses: I hate pinning on my own. I’ll avoid it at all costs. So, I’ll ride around looking for someone to pin it on for me. It needs to be pinned on just right and if it isn’t, I’ll ask them to redo it. Bizarre, I know, but essential to my emotional health before the race.
And now, for me, it’s race time. Smile at the other riders. Don’t let them know you’re nervous, or excited. Look calm, cool and confident. Then, go!
Enough reading, go ride!