A list of race day do’s and don’ts could go on forever and each person you ask will have a different story or opinion. Rather than write a stale list of what to do and what not to do, I thought walking you through how I spent the 24-hours before, during and after the biggest one day race in America might have more of an impact. While I realize that most racers don’t have the luxury of traveling with support staff the way I do, the routine I follow can easily be adapted for the amateur racer.
My teammates and I arrived in Philadelphia several days before the race because of sponsor commitments. By Friday morning, we were settled into our race hotel and ready to pre-ride the course. When possible, we like to ride the course at the same time we will race the next day. This gives us a chance to get used to the conditions – wind direction, temperature, etc. – that we could encounter during the race.
Most of us had raced the Liberty Classic in the past, but a refresher of the course is always appreciated a year later. As we pre-rode the course, we reviewed the nuances of the course, recalled results of past editions and discussed potential tactics.
DO pre-ride the course when possible or review course profile online.
DON’T wait until you line up for the start to know your competition. Look at past results/reports to know how the race unfolded and which riders you should keep your eye on.
Following our pre-ride, it was back to the race hotel for showers and food. Having the luxury of traveling with staff, we dropped our race bikes off with the mechanic for final adjustments. I had a quick chat with my mechanic about my gearing and race wheel preference before I left my stead in his capable hands.
DO be prepared with the right equipment you need for the course.
DON’T wait until the day before to make changes to your bike (unless you have a mechanic at your disposal) to avoid last minute surprise mechanicals.
A shower was followed by a team dinner. I made sure I ate a well-balanced meal that included nutrient dense foods to provide me with the type of fuel I need come race day. My teammates and I generally eat together, and our Sports Director will conduct a team meeting before, during or after the meal.
DO fuel properly. Now is not the time to cut calories.
DON’T introduce foods you’ve never eaten before or during races. Experiment with new foods during training, not race day.
The team meeting included a repeat of the discussion points my teammates and I covered during our pre-ride before turning to the specific tactics we would employ the next day. We reviewed the course profile, designated team leader(s) and determined each rider’s roles.
DO know your race plan before you toe the line.
DON’T feel the need to make your plan alone. Seek input from you coach, your training partners, your friends who have raced the course before, etc.
Before bed, I packed my bag and pinned my numbers. Some people have a printed checklist that covers what needs to make it into their race bag for each race. Having raced for an eternity, I no longer need anything but a mental checklist to be sure my helmet, shoes, kit, gloves, socks, sunglasses, etc. make it into my bag. I rely on staff to ensure that anything I might require for nutritional and mechanical needs are packed in the team vehicles.
DO as much race prep the night before as possible so you aren’t scrambling the morning of the race and inevitably forget an important item.
DON’T feel the need to do everything yourself. Share the workload with teammates or enlist personal support.
Back in my hotel room, I chilled and stayed off my feet for the remainder of the evening before heading to bed at a reasonable hour.
DO get quality sleep.
DON’T spend more time than necessary on your feet.
Early morning wake-up for our 9AM start. Some of my teammates find that they need to eat their main pre-race meal three or four hours prior to race start. I’m lucky in that I can eat pretty much up to an hour before. As with my dinner, I make sure that I choose race day foods that provide me with all the nutrients I’ll need for my race.
My teammates and I biked to the course from our hotel and then rode the final few kilometers of the circuit. During our pre-ride the day before the course was not closed. Riding before the start we were able to see the final twists and turns just as they would be in the race. This served as both our warm-up and our final chance to talk through the tactics we had discussed the previous day.
DO warm up well. More intense warm up time is needed before shorter races, such as time trials and criteriums, than long road races.
DON’T allow the finish to be a surprise – ride the last couple kilometers with your teammates when possible to finalize tactics.
By the time we had finished our warm-up, our Sports Director had set up our team tent and pulled out our box of food and cooler of bottles. I stuffed my pocket with bars and gels and grabbed two bottles for my bike before throwing my extra clothes in the team van and heading to the start.
With four circuit laps under the blazing sun, the Liberty Classic generally gets off to a mellow start. As I surfed around in the pack, I reviewed my race nutritional plan. Ideally, I eat every thirty minutes and drop back to my team car for a bottle or grab one in a feed zone as soon as I’m empty.
DO know your eating and hydration schedule.
DON’T underestimate nutritional needs. Take more food than you think you’ll need, and if you won’t have the ability to grab a bottle during the race, consider sticking a third bottle in your jersey pocket.
My teammates and I stuck together on the course. It’s essential that we ride as a unit in order to communicate effectively. Team tactics carefully planned may need to be discarded if a race doesn’t unfold as expected, and riding as a group ensures that we’re able to discuss any required changes as they become necessary.
As the race heads into the final kilometers, everything becomes a bit more intense. The need to communicate clearly and effectively is even more heightened. My teammates and I chatted to make sure we remained on the same page regarding the plan we intended to execute.
DO communicate with your teammates as often as possible. Let them ‘in’ to a spot near you to facilitate communication.
DON’T be afraid to adjust your race plan on the fly.
Although we executed our plan to the best of our abilities at Philly, we had hoped for a better outcome than the fourth place we secured. Immediately following the race, we had a post-race meeting to discuss what we could have done better and what we need to improve upon for our next race. Together, we rode back to the hotel as a cool down before we indulged in another healthy recovery meal.
DO debrief post race to discuss what went right and what did not.
DON’T forget that post race nutrition is important, too, especially when racing again the next day.
Without question, this is not an exhaustive list of race day do’s and don’ts, but there is an abundant source of information here to help you get the most out of your racing experience. Remember that taking extra time to prepare yourself and your bike before the race will leave you best prepared for what happens during the race.
Photos courtesy of Larry Rosa