Here are eight wondrous pieces of first-race advice from six-time national champion Ned Overend.
Know thy course: Walking the course before each race is key. Walk it slowly, noting the parts that may give you trouble--and the spots where you might gain time.
Practice: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice! If there are tough technical sections, rehearse them several times. That's especially important if your handling skills aren't good yet.
Stay in control: If you don't have a chance to pre-ride, you really need to maintain a controllable speed for whatever's around the next corner. You lose more time by crashing than by being controlled.
Expect the unexpected: At smaller races you can find all sorts of stuff on the course: cars, motorcycles, hikers. Be careful. Never assume a closed course is an empty one. And never assume a course is closed just because the organizers say it is.
Pick your opponents: In your first race, just compete against yourself, and against the course. You want to do as well as you can, but don't pace yourself based on the other riders. Pace yourself based on your experience doing hard rides at that length.
Don't start too fast: If you think you'll be at the front of the pack, by all means go out fast. Otherwise, start at your regular riding pace. One exception: if there's a lot of dusk or traffic in the middle of the pack, you might think about an early break.
Beware of downhills: Most serious injuries occur in sport and beginner classes. People get so excited they tend to ride over their heads. You don't win races on downhills, usually. You win with consistent riding.
Review the results: When it's over, look at how you did. Did you go out fast and end up slower overall? Did you have problems on the flats? Did you get dropped on climbs? Did you have mechanical problems? If you identify your weaknesses, you can address them. Do the same for your strengths. If there were sections you put time on your competitors, give yourself a pat on the back--and work to add to those strengths in your second race.