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You’re sitting in front of your computer one evening feeling a mix of excitement, nervousness, and fear. Your friend convinced you to sign up for a big endurance event and you’re just not quite sure, but then you do it. You click ‘Register.’ Now what?
For the next couple of weeks or months you put in the best training that your schedule allows. Maybe you feel like you’ve nailed every workout, or maybe you feel like you’ve fallen short of the goal. Perhaps you’ve trained with lots of long hours or maybe you targeted this endurance event using lots of shorter rides. Regardless of your approach, there are several things you can do in the final weeks leading up to your event that will likely be the make it or break it out on course.
Here are the 10 things you need to prepare for a long race, other than fitness:
Before your event, download the route onto your cycling computer. Some events require this, others just highly recommend it. While most of the time you can get away with following course signs and other competitors there may be a time in a long event in which the course signs are misplaced or few and far between and you find yourself on a solo mission. You’ll be very thankful for the added reassurance of a map. The last thing you want to do is attempt a long event and have a missed turn discredit your effort.
Also read: Top tips for how to pace your race
If you’ve never downloaded a map onto a cycling computer, I recommend doing this sooner rather than later because there can be a little bit of a learning curve with the technology.
Plan out all of your food and hydration needs before your event. It’s likely that you’ll want to aim for about 30-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour and 10-30 ounces of fluids per hour depending on your body and the weather conditions. Don’t stop with these metrics though. You’ll want to actually plan out the items you’re going to eat and in what order. I always recommend telling the athletes I coach to write down each hour of the race and the items they plan to eat each hour. Then, if you have time, practice that strategy in training so that you know how that food sits in your stomach hour after hour.
You’ll want to establish a pacing plan before you line up for the race. The plan might include powers or heart rates that you don’t exceed, groups that you want to stay with, or time cuts that you want to hit. Make sure you have a clear-cut plan ahead of time, because once you’re in the thick of it, ‘race-brain’ rarely makes good decisions.
Even if you have the map downloaded on your cycling computer, you’ll also want to make a special note of where the biggest climbs and/or hardest terrain hits. Five miles of climbing or five miles of descending take vastly different amounts of time. Five miles on dirt or five miles on pavement are also very different experiences. It might not seem critical to know ahead of time, but when you’re hurting out on course, knowing that the course is going to change for the easier at some point can make all of the difference.
For shorter events, you can get away with being a little uncomfortable or roughing it, but in longer events, you need to be comfortable in order to push yourself to your maximum. Make sure that you test out whatever clothing you plan to race in so that you know you won’t be chafing a couple of hours in. Also, have contingency plans based on the weather so that you don’t have to start digging through your drawers last minute when you need an extra layer.
Mindset may be the most critical element when tackling a long event. It is going to be hard. In fact, it may be the hardest thing you have ever done. Enter the event with patience and respect. If you entertain the idea of quitting or start the event thinking it will be a walk in the park, I can almost guarantee that it will be even harder.
A longer time on the bike means more time and miles for things to go wrong. Make sure that you have the basic mechanic skills dialed in. Even if you don’t have extra time to practice, you would be better off skipping one training ride in favor of practicing working on your bike than be left with limited to no mechanical skills. You must know how to fix a flat and mend a chain.
Research what support is allowed or available to you during the race. Some races require you to have support, and others forbid it. Some races will also have neutral support that anyone can use. It’s important to know what’s available so that you can make the smartest decisions on race day.
In short events, you might be able to get away with coming in last minute or driving home right after the finish, but long events often require much more time and energy. Most longer events start early in the morning and finish in the evening or even at night. You may need to plan to stay the night somewhere because driving home after spending all day in the saddle can feel nearly impossible. Long events can fry you physically, mentally, and emotionally, figure out all of the logistics ahead of time when your brainpower is at max capacity.
Make sure that your position is dialed in because you’ll be sitting in it all day long. One of the first things that will make it difficult to continue will be pain. Make sure that your bike is set up in a way that keeps you efficient and comfortable mile after mile. If you have the time and the resources consider getting a bike fit.
Go For It!
I’ve always found comfort and confidence in knowing that I’ve done everything I can to prepare. If you can check off this list of items before your next event you can stand on the start line with your head held high knowing that you’ve done your homework.