Tips for a stress free race day

Pre event stress is one of the worst feelings in sport! We’ve all had the horrible pre race dreams of sleeping through our alarm, getting a puncture on the start line or forgetting your cycling shoes and an unlucky fraction of people reading this will have experienced some of this themselves. Fear not, these tips will have you at your race with all your kit and, if you really pay attention, with enough time for a good warmup too! This article will help you with everything from packing up your kit, travelling to the event, accommodation (if it’s needed), nutrition, race day all the way to post race travel and unpacking. I’m a triathlete at heart so I will reference some tri bits but the majority of it is relevant to all types of racing with a bike.

Packing your kit

This is the absolute most important part of any race organisation and lists are your friend here! There’s nothing worse than turning up and realising you’ve forgotten something vital to your race. Take this from someone who’s been seen trudging round Sainsbury’s on race morning in a tri suit looking for elastic bands for transition. One way to prepare your kit is to write a list of what you’ll need. An upgrade to this technique is to split your race day into segments of travel to the venue, pre race, race (which can be split into swim, T1, bike, T2, run if you’re a triathlete), post race and travel back. Writing individual lists for each of these components means you have less to think about at any one time meaning you’re less likely to forget something. Some kit is also delicate and bringing a tool box, a couple of spare inner tubes and a track pump can come in handy! My general solution is to bring as many spares as I reasonably can – if there’s space in the car for a spare pair of socks, bring them (unless you’re a triathlete and don’t wear socks).

Booking travel and accommodation

It goes without saying that you need to plan your travel and book it in advance. Stress free travel and a good night’s sleep will improve the chances of a good performance. If, like me, you’re a bit cheap then this part can be a challenge but there are some solid techniques that will have you in a comfy bed without breaking the bank. Firstly, check reviews! It sounds obvious but taking that extra five minutes to check your £30 a night hotel is decent can make a big impact on your race result! Another tip is a rough plan B – sometimes your hotel booking will be wrong or you might have car troubles the morning of travel. Having a plan B, such as getting the train instead or a second hotel option, which is easy to enact proves useful if the worst was to happen – but I’d advise checking if you’ll be able to take your bike on the train. Finally, make sure your hotel is as near to the start as possible, minimising race-day travel will reduce the pre start line stress. Failing all this, and if you’re doing a lot of racing, investing in some good camping kit could be your best bet as many races will allow camping the night before.

Planning your food

‘You are what you eat’ and if you eat rubbish the day before your race when you’re travelling you’ll probably race badly too. Eating a carbohydrate based meal which will not sit heavily and avoiding too much fibre the day before your race will have you on the start line full of glycogen and ready to race. This feels drastically different to having spent the journey to the race eating service station fast food, coffee (and not enough water) and a takeaway the night before the race. Plan what you’re going to eat pre and post race. You should focus on low residue carbs pre race and a post race protein and carbohydrate snack consumed as soon as possible after finishing.

Post race plans and travel

Getting in your car and driving for several hours immediately after smashing yourself to pieces in a race is an unpleasant task to complete. Immediately after your race getting some food, a hot shower and time for a decent cool down will make your journey back that much better. Plan in some extra time post race for this. Writing an immediate post race itinerary from a cool down, protein based snack all the way to a shower and getting in the car for the journey back will have you recovering faster ready to train again as soon as possible.

What to do when you get home

As soon as you walk in the door, unpack. Unpacking post race (or even just a ride) is a job that many athletes don’t like doing. Getting it over and done with quickly and putting a wash on as soon as possible will make sure you have clean kit for the following week’s training. Writing a list of bike related jobs will also help. Everything from fixing small mechanicals, getting it booked into the bike shop or simply giving it a bit of a clean will reduce any post race kit related anxiety and help you get ready to prepare for what’s next as quickly as possible.

Being prepared and organised for a race or event, particularly when a bike is involved, will improve your enjoyment of them, improve your result and will have you recovering faster ready to get back training. A good night’s sleep, eating properly pre and post race and making sure you have your kit organised will all go into making sure you get the result out of your race that you’re going for. Writing lists are your friend and breaking these lists up into smaller sub lists pertaining to each portion of the race and its associated activities will make sure you remember everything. Finally, leaving yourself plenty of time for everything and building in allowances for stuff to go wrong will have you on the start line relaxed, warmed up and ready to compete.

Words by Tom Epton