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Racing...frequently asked questions

Although I've been riding mountain bikes since the mid nineties, I'm relatively new to the racing scene. In my first year I entered a lot of races, talked to a lot of people and read as much information about racing and training as I could lay my hands on. Despite trying to absorb all this information like a sponge, I still managed to burn myself out inside of ten months. I'd thrown myself in at the deep end, entered the wrong categories, trained incorrectly and basically did everything wrong except ride the bike.

Anyway, here in no particular order is my own personal list of do's and dont's, usually learnt the hard way! Some may seem obvious, some you might not have heard of before. Use them at your discretion, all I can tell you is they work for me but that doesn't mean they will work for you. If in doubt with regards to your health and fitness always, without fail, consult your GP.

Preparation

  • Your joints, particularly the knees, take a hammering riding mountain bikes so take Cod Liver Oil with Glucosamine and Chondroitin washed down with fresh orange juice to help repair the damage.
  • Ibuprofen is a good anti-inflammatory pain reliever if you're feeling sore after a race. Always use as directed on the packet. The anti-inflamatory properties will reduce any swelling you might have in your back, joints, etc.
  • Plan to be ready a good half hour before the race because when you arrive you'll need to build the bike, register, go to the loo, warm up, tighten or adjust something on the bike, sort your fuel out, attend the rider briefing, work out where your helper will be in the feed zone...I could go on.
  • Always bring spare loo roll, the toilets soon get unpleasant and only get worse.
  • Go tubeless....seriously, it's worth the hassle. Your speed will increase (depending on the combo you go for) thanks to less weight, less rolling resistance between tyre and tube, you can run lower pressures if you want to (I don't bother though)...oh and you won't get any punctures.
  • Don't lose your race number in the toilet four minutes after picking it up from registration (hah, no really!)

During the race
  • Ditch that rucksack and use bottles, even if you have to stop and grab one each lap as you have no helper. Put your tools in a saddlebag.
  • If you have to stop on the trail don't stop on a blind corner or block the path. If it's narrow, think about where you would ride if came round the corner, lost control and needed an escape route. It's no good getting out of the way if 'out of the way' is the escape route when things go wrong for someone else.
  • Wear glasses to protect your eyes and if you can afford it buy optically correct lenses...if you're going to bunny hop over that log you want to know it IS five feet away and not six.
  • Look out for your other riders, give people room and pass when it's safe to do so.

Eating and drinking
  • Find out if you need to bring water to the site. Don't rely on the catering for food. Don't try anything new and 'exotic' during a race in case it doesn't agree with you. Your stomach will be unsettled enough as it is. If, in your naivety, you decide to stop for a sandwich in your first race make sure your mates don't catch and pass you whilst you're sat at the side of the track having your lunch...you will be given stick about this for years to come and rightly so!
  • Eat pasta for a few meals before your race to load yourself up with good slow burn energy.
  • Mango or a banana is good if you're suffering from cramp...if it's an all night race you can't beat the taste of fresh mango at five in the morning when your taste buds are feeling jaded.

Afterwards
  • Don't forget a towel in case it rains....a change of clothes is great afterwards but if you're soaked to the skin and forget your towel...
  • If you have helpers then make sure you look after them after the race, they're worth their weight in gold and it's a long day sat waiting for you whilst you're having fun on your bike.
  • Take a recovery drink for afterwards to help your body recover...obviously!
  • Take your litter home or bin it.