#28 – 24-Hour Countdown: How to be ready for your race

In part 1 (Episode 24) of this 2-part series about what to do in the 24 hours before a race or big event, we talked mostly about the “warmup”.  Glen talked in detail about what he does in his extensive warmup that he needs to perform his best, which is complicated by many old injuries (to his back and heart, primarily) and just simply, a body that is getting older. 

Episode 24: The 4-Step Winkel Warmup:

Today, in part 2, we’re going to finish up by covering more variables that impact the day’s athletic performance, especially for the older athlete, and tactics that can be implemented to try to maximize performance. 

Why bother, you say? 

Well, here’s the thing.  Racing is a special opportunity.  As an adult, you don’t get to feel this alive very often.  Yeah, sure there are other things you can do but this is one of them.  Enjoy it, and avoid wasting it or turning it into a disaster you’ll regret.

So, if you want to do your best, after all your training and paying your money and bothering to show up, why not remove impediments that CAN be removed quite easily.  This stuff isn’t hard or expensive.  It just requires a little planning ahead.  And a little discipline.

Again, in the 24 hours prior to an event/race, you can do a set of things to get your body ready to perform maximally for your event.  So aside from the warmup that we discussed in detail in part 1, what are those tactics, those things we could do well to maximize our performance?  Why does they matter?  How does it matter even more for older athletes?

We are not going to talk about training for an event, or tapering for an event.  We’re just talking about the 24 hours before.   And there are a lot of things you can do that will probably help, yet, for all of us, time is a luxury. 

We’ll discuss 10 categories, and then we’ll put them into a timeline for implementation.

The categories are:

  • Exercise:  Goldie locks:  not too hot and not too cold.  You don’t want dead legs, but you don’t want a tired heart.  People are different.  You are different from year to year, and race to race.  Figure it out by seeing how you feel in advance.
  • Food – macros:  carbs, fat, protein.  No big changes.  Nothing new.  No alcohol.  Focus on carbs.  You already have plenty of fat, and fat is slow to digest.  Protein can also be slow to digest and is a poor fuel.  Eat real food, like oatmeal, in the final meal before the race.  Most carb sources have fat and protein but not too much.  Some protein before training has a protective effect, but get enough carbs.  Stay away from sugary junk until you are exercising.  Many people suffer from dropping blood sugar if they eat 1-2 hours before warmup due to the compounding effect of insulin and muscle pulling in sugar during exercise.  It makes you feel very tired.
  • Hydration:  avoid dehydration. No alcohol.  maybe drink extra water the day before and morning of.  Beware impact on sleep. And need for toilet at race.  It isn’t cool to pee in the bushes at a race.
  • Supplements:  nothing new,  caffeine,
  • Nerves:   adrenaline is good, but…(need a toilet, can’t concentrate, etc.)
  • Logistics – driving, parking, sign-in, toilet, water, food, ….
  • Race / course:  know the course (ride it, if possible, the day of if possible), know the competition (people (someone you want to beat; what will they do?), yourself (goals to feel good; weaknesses to offset)), have a plan to accomplish your goal (win?, finish with pack?, not crash?)
  • Gear prep (prep the bike, check the gear: bike bolts, shoes, cleats (no new cleats), check tires and tubes).  Spare wheels?
  • Tech prep (batteries, charged, spares, computer reads your data only, xxxx)
  • Cool down (starting the recovery with an easy ride afterward before the car ride, don’t do something stupid like contesting the sprint for 15th place, eat some food with carbs and protein, rehydrate),

Here’s the timeline:  We’ll assume the event is in the morning.

  • 2 nights before (yes, a bit more than 24 hours ahead).
    • Just focus on getting a good night’s sleep for the last bit of recovery when you don’t have much stress to contend with. 
    • Keep the same diet as before. 
    • Check the gear that you don’t use everyday…have time to react / replace / fix something. 
    • If possible, ride or drive the course.  Look for off camber and broken pavement, sand on the road, manhole covers, low hanging trees, anything that helps you visualize the race.  You’ll need to ride the course again on race day to discover any newly arriving obstacles, such as parked cars, standing water or wet pavement, etc.
    • Make sure you’ll have a clean kit for the race
  • Morning of the day before the race (before going to work):
    • Okay, you are now on the clock.  24 hours to go.
    • You need to figure out how to get the legs to be super fresh and full of energy on race day.  Some people feel best with an easy spin with a few hard efforts.  Some people like complete rest the day before.  Find what works for you, but the morning of the day before, it will be useful to see how you feel.  Do you feel great?  Do you feel tired?  Do you feel injured?  Now you have a bit of time to figure something out.
    • Keep down the caffeine intake.  You may have nerves anyway; you don’t need so much.  Definitely stop the caffeine after your wakeup drink.
  • After work of the day before
    • This is the most common timing for “openers” which is a few very short duration but high intensity efforts along with some spinning / super easy to flush out / burn off the lactate.  You just want to feel your legs are strong, but not get them tired.  Discipline is key.
    • Check the bike now if you haven’t so far.  Maybe you can get to the store before it closes.  Or have spares handy.
    • Plug in the batteries.
    • Figure out the directions, where to park, when to leave. 
    • Ride or drive the course, if you can.  Look for off camber and broken pavement, sand on the road, manhole covers, low hanging trees,
    • Pack the car or your bag now.  Anything you don’t put in the car, put by the door.  Don’t rely on thinking about what you need in the AM.  Your brain will not be functioning well from sleepiness and/or nerves.
  • The Night before (the battle of nerves)
    • The main things here are dinner and sleep, and anything you didn’t do from the earlier times
    • Don’t change your normal meals.  NO surprises.  Eat earlier than normal if you normally eat late.  You want to go to bed early, especially if you have to get up early (we’ll get to this).
    • Don’t sweat it if you don’t sleep well.  The previous night was the important one.  But don’t be crazy either, if this event is important.  Don’t stay up late, don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat stuff that interferes with your normal bowel movements in the morning.
    • Pump up your race tire.  We’ll see if they hold air in time to make a change.
    • Did you get your directions worked out?  Set the alarm for Race Time minus ~2 hours (your on site work plus warmup) minus drive / look for parking spot time (with a cushion) minus wake up / make breakfast / eat breakfast / get into car time.  For me, that’s 2+1+1 or 4 hours before race time assuming only 1 hour drive.  I usually have extra time to kill, but once in a while the extra time saved me.  It’s always nice to be able to stop and chat with a teammate or a friend you see at the race.  And, yes, racing on zwift is much easier as far as logistics go.       
  • The morning of before you leave the house
    • You got up in time to eat your breakfast 3 hours before race time (or before warmup!).  Yup.  That’s the deal.  Don’t eat much fat.  Don’t eat much protein.  It’s a slow carb breakfast.  Don’t eat anything again until warmup begins.
    • Check to see if the air leaked out of your tires.
    • Pack the car if you haven’t already.
  • The pre-race
    • So you found the race and got a good parking spot. 
    • Find the toilet, and use it as soon as you can.  Having a bit of spare paper in a ziplock bag can be a lifesaver.
    • Find the race organizers table and check in.  Ask about which side to face the race number.   Grab some safety pins if they have some.  You should have some spare ones in your car just in case.
    • Pin the numbers on.  Yes, you have to take off your jersey and put it back on. Or use glue. Or have someone else pin on your number and take your chances (ouch).
    • Do your warmup
    • Leave time to ride the course in between races or just before your own. Visualize the race. Where are the key checkpoints for assessing pace and performance?  Competition?  It could be a simple as just knowing when to get to the front before a hill or knowing which side of the road is better along the course or knowing how to avoid that pothole that you’ll never see coming
  • The race
    • Now we’re going to find out if you are a winner or a learner.  There are no losers.  It is not your living, and your ego should not rely on being the fastest or the strongest in your hobby.  Enjoy yourself, learn a lot, and use the race competition to push you to work harder than you can on your own.  Racing is wonderful if you win AND if you just allow the experience to be a pleasurable one.  There aren’t many ways to get this kind of experience.  Not everyone is as mature as you, so be careful out there.
    • We are not going to get into race tactics or team tactics, even though that would be very fun.  We’ll definitely get into that in the future.  So, all that is left to talk about for the race in today’s episode is the start line, eating and drinking during the race, and the finish line.  Oh, and preems.
      • If you want to do well, get to the start line early so you can get a spot on the front.  If you are just happy to be there, don’t get on the front line; there will be some very fast people trying to get around you very fast.
      • Know how to clip in quickly.  Use speedplay if you have trouble.  Practice this until you never miss a clip.  Don’t put on new clips before a race.
      • Don’t bring water and food unless the race is more than 1 hour.  If it is that short, the race will be too intense to use food and water and you won’t need it.  If it is longer, then plan ahead.  Carbs in the water can definitely help
      • Should you go for the preems? I’m always glad to see my competitors burning matches that don’t cost me anything.  Preems are a race organizer trick to spice up the race.  I never do unless I think it is an attack. 
      • If you are there for the finishing sprint, go for it.  And congrats, you already succeeded.  Staying with the front group is a fine goal.  The final sprint is where bad things happen.  If they happen behind you, that’s a shame it happened.  If happens in front of you, that is a problem.  Don’t sprint for 17th place if the field is crowded.  And don’t sprint for 1st place if the field is crazy.  Instead, start your sprint way early to catch everyone off guard and try to stay away.  A mass sprint is a crazy, hazardous activity that even the pros get wrong sometimes.  Nothing to gain and everything to lose:  your health, your gear, your nerve.
  • The post race
    • The post race can start before the end of the race.  If you are off the back, make sure to finish your water and food.
    • You need to clear your legs before you get into the car for a long drive home.  You don’t want blood pooling in your legs.
    • If you do have a crash, get it cleaned up before you head home.  An infection will keep you off the bike for too long.
The ever curious athlete who demands answers.
About the Author
Curious athlete who demands answers. Husband to Susan ( Father of 3 daughters. Athletic pursuits over time, in reverse order: cycling, skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, triathlon, golf, tennis, football.

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