Ask the Experts: How to Train for Your First Bike Race

There is a reason why you are motivated to put hundreds of hours of preparation behind your training. The reason why there is a fire inside you that allows you to wake at early hours or come home after work and put in the hard yards. Racing gives us a motivational boost when we find ourselves unmotivated or too tired to complete our next session. If you haven’t raced yet, the thought of competition day can be a bit nerve-wracking as you anticipate what is to come. Racing itself should be the easy part; the part where you can showcase all of your hard work and dedication. When you are new to racing, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with how to prepare accordingly, but just like your training, racing should be approached the same: methodically and appropriately. In order to set yourself up for racing success, it is important to form good habits from the start in order to maximize your journey and longevity in the sport. 


Bike Race Training Timeline


When you set out choosing races it is important to remember that you need time to prepare appropriately. Try to find races that give you ample time to fit in training that will set you up for success. When is the best time to do this? The off-season is a great time to begin planning your race season schedule. The off-season allows you plenty of opportunities to train properly in accordance with the timeline of your events. Keep in mind, depending on your goals and what you are training for, not every race will be your “A” race. Some races may be practice for the big event, some races may serve as mini stepping stones, and in some cases, you may be trying to peak for a few A races. Having a set race schedule will help you not only to get ample training time but allow you to periodize and plan your training in order to peak for your race season. 

When you are in the planning stages, remember to plan for outside factors: family, work schedules, and other obligations that will inevitably have to be worked into the equation. These may not seem like a big issue now, but come race time, outside influences can add unnecessary stress to a sometimes stressful time. You want to be as prepared as possible come race day, and that means preparing and being ready for any obstacles that may come.

So how much time should you give yourself for training when preparing to race? Most coaches and training programs typically base schedules out 16 weeks prior to an event! That being said, your prior history and endurance background will definitely need to be taken into consideration. The more time you are able to get a solid foundation of miles under you, the better (and stronger) you will be when it comes time to prepare for race-specific work.


Bike Race Frequency and Training Plan


When selecting races for the first time it can be easy to find yourself signing up for too many races at once. Don’t feel obligated or overwhelmed in thinking that you need to sign up and do every race that appears on the schedule, especially if you are new to racing. Pick races that fit with your schedule and allow you to be able to train properly. If you find yourself racing for 8 weekends straight, your ability to get in proper training decreases as you’ll need to plan rest days, recovery days, and then a few race tune-up training days. 

When it comes to training, the idea that “more is better,” is not true. Stick to your training plan. When race season comes, it is a good idea to put on blinders as to what your competitors are doing. Every athlete is different and will require a different approach when it comes to race preparation. It is too easy to get sucked into the idea that what someone else is doing is better, especially with today’s technology that allows us to quickly swipe our phones and see someone’s workout metrics. Going too hard on easy days, or doing too many high-intensity workouts when they aren’t planned will only diminish your ability to produce high efforts on the days when it is needed. Quality efforts are for days when they are needed: workout days.

Training Fundamentals:

  1. Consistency is Key: First and foremost, this is the most important principle when it comes to endurance training. As the saying goes, it is better to be undercooked than overdone when you arrive on race day. The more healthy consistent training you can have under your belt, the better you will be in the long run. Beware of trying to force more training, as it can lead to injury and therefore, inconsistency.
  2. Foundation: Building a solid foundation is the building block of future success. When you are able to build foundational strength, you have a bigger base to build a race prep platform off of. If you have no base, then the risk of injury is much higher when you begin to do high-intensity race-specific efforts. Having not only a large aerobic engine in you, but solid muscular endurance strength will help with your longevity into the racing season.
  3. Training Metrics: Understanding and utilizing your personal training metrics is crucial to maximizing your training plan. By using a heart rate monitor or power meter, you are able to properly track progress throughout each workout as well as throughout the entirety of your season. These metrics can help you establish appropriate training zones in order to minimize overtraining and maximize training specific to you. Training metrics also can help to better understand when you may need to back off and take rest days in order to prepare for important workout days or race days. 
  4. Race Specificity: Are you training for the kilometer on the track or a 40k TT? Specificity in training is key! Your training should be designed to prepare you for what is to come on race day. Your training should be targeting the specific energy systems that will be stressed, the terrain, weather, etc. that you will encounter come race day. This means that sometimes you may have to say no to certain group rides or efforts that don’t bring you closer to your goals.
  5. Periodization: Proper planning will involve periodizing your training schedule to allow you to peak when race day comes. Periodization is a cornerstone in almost every training plan. Planning workouts that properly build towards your race day is critical! 

Racing can and should be exciting for all athletes. It is a day where you can showcase all of the hard work and dedication you put in for your goal. Remember to channel your energy productively when it comes to planning and execution. Giving yourself proper amounts of time to build your fitness is crucial. Rushing into anything is never the best option whether that is in training or racing. When you are able to lay down a solid foundation, you are able to maximize your preparations when race day comes.  It is important that when it is crunch time, focus on all of the things you have done in training to get you to where you are now. Have confidence in your preparation and know that you did all you can to prepare yourself for this moment. 


Mac Cassin is the Chief Cycling Physiologist at Wahoo Sports Science. He holds a degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado-Boulder and has won multiple National Championships. The experience of juggling athletic goals with collegiate and career responsibilities has taught Mac that peak performance is achievable even for those who cannot focus exclusively on training.  While concentrating on exercise physiology in an academic setting, Mac competed at the World Championships, Pan American Championships, and World Cups on both the road and track.

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