Thursday, July 19, 2012

Race Day: Control the Chaos

What if I told you that I could make your race day more successful without buying any new components or even training for a minute?  You would probably take heed.  Well let’s take that hypothetical and make it into a reality.  I can make your race day more successful without telling you to buy new wheels or aerobars, or do hill repeats or over gears—despite the fact that I think you should actually do those things.  The thing is, many of you already do those things.  You have made the investment—both monetary and otherwise—in order to prevail on race day.  But there are still so many variables that can trip you up. 

Hill repeats: You should still do them.

Years ago, as an aspiring young classical musician, I would (and still sometimes do) attend masterclasses with some of the greatest players around.  They would all preach different approaches to music making, but when it came to audition day they always had the same advice when it came to the big audition.  Auditioning—or for our purposes today, racing—is all about controlling the things that you can control.  Eliminating variables that are within your reach leaves room for you to focus on the task at hand.  You want, nay, need to be focused on your race.  This means being prepared—in every sense of the word.  Not only in your training, but in every small detail that is so often overlooked. 

So the first step in any race preparation is identifying what is under your control and what is out of your control.  When setting out to prepare for an audition, I like to start with the things I cannot control.  Believe it or not it is a bit therapeutic to literally sit down and write these out.  Things like course design, climate, random mechanical failures, and disastrous acts of God would top this list.  Write out everything that is out of your control.  Now take a look at that list.  It may be pretty long, but here is the thing: you can’t do a thing about anything on that list.  Don’t waste another moment thinking about anything on that list.  If you find yourself worrying over something that you find there, then you are wasting your time and energy.  Don’t do that. 

Sometimes there can be gain without pain.

So now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about all the little details that you can control, but if left unchecked can derail your race day.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, just enough to get your mind flowing in the right direction. 

Check your fit

The points of contact for any triathlete.  

Fit is one of the most important aspects of riding a bike, yet so many people overlook it.  I won’t even get into the “how-tos” of bike fitting.  That is another topic for another time.  It’s also something that takes a long time to master, so I would highly recommend getting a fit done by a professional.  Come to think of it, I know a pretty good bike shop where they do that kind of thing. 

So now that you’re fit on your bike, it’s crucial that your fit stays where it should.  Your prerace checklist should include checking to make sure that your fit is where it is supposed to be.  Make sure your saddle has not slipped or started to point downwards.  Make sure your handlebars have not been moved or changed. 

Bike fitting can be complicated.  Once you have your pro fit done, make sure it stays where it should.

This is especially important when you have to travel to your race.  Travelling with your bike is not only notoriously difficult and expensive, but it is also ripe for mishaps when it comes to your two wheeled friend.  If you had to pack your bike make sure everything is marked before you disassemble it.  Wrap a piece of electrical tape around your seatpost to mark your saddle height, and if you have to move your handlebars, be sure to mark them so they go back into the exact same spot. Always use a torque wrench if you have any carbon components, and they aren’t a bad idea for aluminum either.  For travel we like these handy CDI wrenches that have present sizes and torque specs.  No adjustment necessary. 

CDI wrenches:  Now available at Cadence

Check your bike

It goes without saying that you should bring your bike in for a pre-race tune up.  DO NOT wait until just before the big day to take care of this.  Give yourself at least a full week between picking up your bike from the shop and race day.  Most shops operate at least 5-10 days out.  Don’t wait until the last moment to schedule your race check—you may be left out of luck.  Make sure that your tires are in immaculate condition.  Worn tires are much more likely to flat.  Check for major gouges or cuts anywhere along the tire.  Make sure your drive train is clean, lubed and adjusted correctly—replace any worn parts—chains, cassettes, etc. 

This tire would not survive a race.

So that is the obvious stuff, but what about immediately prior to your race? Some triathlons require that you put your bike in transition the night before.  Your tires will lose air overnight, so be sure you have the means to re-check those tires prior to your start in the morning.  Tire pressure is vitally important.  Don’t let something as easy as pumping up your tires lead to a flat or a crash.  This is even more important if you race tubulars.  They lose air pressure faster than clinchers, so by morning they could be at a significantly lower psi than where you left them the night before. 

Check yourself

I have a rather embarrassing story to accompany this section.  My first race ever was a local criterium put on by one of our teams, Philadelphia Ciclismo.  Like an idiot, I decided that I needed to stay super hydrated for the race—which is a good thought to have, but how I went about it was, well, not so good.  I proceeded to drink a large bottle of Gatorade before the race even started.  Going into the last corner I was in really good position.  I was thinking, “Wow, I could do okay here.”  Then my stomach—along with that bottle of Gatorade, decided otherwise.  I vomited in the final corner, finishing dead last. 

Race Day is not a day to experiment when it comes to what you eat.  

Other than being brutally embarrassing, but also quite funny, what does this story teach us about race day preparation?  Well race day should not be the day you adopt some kind of drink or meal plan that you haven’t ever had before.  Make sure you sit down with your coach (if you have one) and put together your race day menu to satisfy the calories for whatever race you are doing.  Make sure you try the menu before race day! You want to know exactly how your body will feel after drinking and eating that food. 

So do you feel better now?  Is your mind more at ease?  Thinking about all of the variables of race day shouldn’t make you feel more anxious, it should calm those anxieties.  The more variables you can check off your list, the less you have to stress out about and the more you can concentrate on the task at hand: Not puking in the last corner.  

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