You've trained diligently for your big race and now all you have to do is get a good night's rest, wake up refreshed and head to the starting line.
But have you prepared everything? Many off-road cyclists, from the top pros to first-timers, take last-minute preparations for granted. I remember back to my first novice mountain bike race, when I reached into my gear bag one hour before the start and, to my surprise, I had packed two left cycling shoes.
The routine below works for many off-road cyclists, and hopefully will give you some suggestions for your own psychological reassurance as you approach the final hours before the race and help you establish a proper warm-up strategy.
The evening before
Most experienced off-road cyclists begin their final preparation the night before a race. Begin by eating a high-carbohydrate dinner, to top off the glycogen stores in your muscles and liver. Throughout the evening, drink plenty of fluids to reduce the chance of dehydration the next day.
Before you hit the sack, make sure all your clothing, helmet, heart rate monitor, sunglasses, shoes everything you'll need are laid out and ready to go. You don't want to spend a sleepless night worrying whether you'll remember to pack everything.
Take a short spin on your bike if possible, check the gearing, shifting and brakes, make sure everything is working smoothly. Pack some extra safety pins, many times you do not receive enough to properly attach your number to your jersey.
Review your race plan. Look over the race map, imagine yourself riding the course. Picture yourself being relaxed and be confident of a good placing. Repeat this several times, with each session seeing yourself finishing stronger and feeling pleased about your performance.
Once you have checked everything twice, find a good book, listen to music or turn on the television and relax. Now it is time to put the race out of your mind until race day morning. Lastly, set two alarm clocks; this way, you fall asleep knowing you'll wake up on time.
Go to bed at your normal time; if you have a hard time falling asleep try to lie there as comfortably as possible. Resting quietly is almost as restful as if you were sleeping. Remember, it's the sleep in the last few days before the race that is important, not the last few hours of sleep.
Wake up in plenty of time to eat a good breakfast. If you drank enough fluids the previous evening, you'll probably have to sprint to the bathroom. Finish your breakfast at least two to three hours before the start and ensure that it contains at least 70 percent of its calories from carbohydrate; good ideas are bagels, pancakes, toast, sports bar, juice, skim milk. You want to ensure that your blood glucose levels are high and that you are not hungry on the start line.
Make sure all your warm-up and race clothes, helmet and shoes are packed in your bag for the race. Bring along extra shoelaces, a bottle or two of sports drink, race food, small first-aid kit, sunscreen and toilet paper...just in case.
The final hour
Your warm-up should start about 45 minutes to one hour before the race starts. Get on the bike and ride easy for about five to 10 minutes, then get off and complete a few stretches. An easy routine of stretching the lower back, calves, hamstrings and quadriceps that lasts for about five minutes is appropriate.
Or if your adrenaline and the effects of your morning coffee have kicked in, complete your stretch as you stand in line at the Port-A-Potty.
Get on your bike and begin your last warm-up on the bike. Start easily while checking your gears and brakes. Then throw in a few jump-sprints of about 100 meters, starting easy and building effort until about three-quarters and then coasting the final meters.
Your warm-up should be just hard enough to begin a light sweat. Do not warm up too long or too hard, since you do not want to burn up too much glycogen that will be your primary fuel in the race.f you know the race will demand a explosive start, the need for a thorough warm-up is greater. Begin to focus on the race. Now is not the time to be talking to your friends; put on your game face.
Keep drinking during your warm-up and even eat a little fruit or part of a sports bar about 20 to 30 minutes before the start.
The length of the warm-up depends on the weather and course conditions. During extra-warm weather, you do not need to warm up as much, since you do not want to raise your body temperature too much.
In addition, a long warm-up may dehydrate you before the race starts. On cold days, extra time may be needed to warm up longer and be sure to wear tights and a warm-up top.
Try to time your warm-up so that you will not be standing around too long or so that your heart rate and breathing return to resting levels as you are waiting on the start line for the gun to go off.
Once on the line, you can remain loose by shaking your arms and legs. In the seconds before the gun goes off, take one last drink, review your race plan and have a great race.