By Luke Ramseth
Vicky Sama asked me to do a couple posts about some of the tips and tricks I learned during three years of bike racing at HSU. Much of the knowledge I gained was through trial and error, or little tidbits I picked up from fellow racers. Be mindful that what works for me might not for you, but maybe some general advice can help you pick up on some of the intricacies of collegiate bike racing more quickly.
Also, feel free to give me feedback! If you want me to try and answer a training, racing, nutrition or any other cycling question for you, I’d be happy to give it a shot. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Traveling from Humboldt to, say, Los Angeles, as some HSU racers did two weekends ago, is inherently hard to do. You might’ve had the perfect week of training, but your legs and body just refuse to feel up to snuff after 12 hours in the backseat of a car.
Geographically, HSU has it tough: every race you’ll travel to is at least a six hour drive away. This makes learning both how to travel well, eat well, and recover well on the road almost as important as your training back home during the week. I don’t know any better way than to take it step-by-step through a typical race weekend, so here goes:
Thursday night: (or two nights before you race) is the most important night to get a full night’s sleep. Shoot for eight or more hours.
Pre-departure: Going on a little ride — also known as an “opener” — prior to jumping in the car Friday to head to a race is key to having good legs when you arrive. The ride can be super short, or whatever you have time for; you should spin out your legs, and get a couple brief yet intense efforts in.
If you haven’t had much time to ride during the week, maybe try for a slightly longer opener to wake up your legs for the intense weekend of racing to come. Ideally I like to do about an hour, mixing in 6 to 10 bursts of about 20 seconds each in a relatively easy gear, with a minute or two of recovery in between. Experiment and figure out what works best for you.
In the car: Get a pair of compression tights or socks. They help keep the blood in your legs circulating evenly, and prevent swelling after several hours in the cramped backseat of your friend’s two-door coupe. The really nice ones can be pricey, like over $100. But there’s a cheap alternative that can be bought at CVS or any other drugstore, intended for elderly folks with circulation problems. They work almost as well, and cost maybe $30.
Stretch out your legs in the car whenever possible. Put them up on the center console. When you stop for gas, get out. Shake ‘em. Run around. Get your blood flowing. All of these minute and seemingly pointless steps will help you to feel fresh later on.
Upon arrival: It’s best to ride or spin on the trainer when you get there, whether that’s a hotel room or a teammate’s home base. This can be tough to do, and shouldn’t come at the expense of getting a good night’s sleep (like if you arrive at midnight on Friday). But it’s a huge advantage in terms of flushing out the swelling and soreness that may have built up in your legs on the car ride down. Also, try to get some stretching in. Ten minutes of loosening up is all you need to feel a tad more limber and ready to tear it up when the alarm clock goes off the next morning.
You should know: Being stressed out or tired overrides much of the advice I’ve mentioned above. More times than I can count, I didn’t have time to do a proper opener Friday because of class or other obligations. No worries! Or maybe, the car you’re in pulls in late to the hotel, and there’s no time for a little trainer spin. Calm down and just hit the sack.
Kristin McGrath (a former collegiate cyclist and now one of the top women professionals in the country) imprinted this on my bike racing psyche: Keeping stress low on race weekend is more important than just about anything, even more so in collegiate bike racing (when you have, uh, homework and other responsibilities to worry about, too). It will almost always lead to a better result than trying to go through all the protocols while being tightly wound and tired.
Race morning: Get up with plenty of time to spare before your start — a minimum of two to three hours. This time buffer gives you the chance to digest your breakfast, drive to the start, pin on your number, inspect the course, put on your sunscreen, chamois cream, etc., without feeling rushed. Recall: low stress.
Warm-up: If you’re prepping for a race that starts out fast from the gun like a criterium or time trial, do a long warm-up on the trainer or on nearby roads. I can’t stress this enough. I’m continually reminded that every time I do a lengthy warm-up, I feel and perform better. A half-hour or more is ideal. Figure out what gets your juices flowing. Perhaps some spinning interspersed with several one-minute efforts while listening to music will do the trick.
Similar to the two openers you hopefully did the day before, the warm-up will continue to get your legs dialed for competition. And if you didn’t have time for those rides on Friday, the warm-up is even more crucial, and should be even longer — enough time to really get your legs flushed out and work up a sweat.
Cool down: Whew! The race is over, but your recovery (read: lounging around and snacking on stuff) is only just beginning. Take a nice and easy cruise on your bike for a couple minutes in order to flush out the lactic acid you may have built up in your race winning field sprint. Then, have something handy to eat right when you get off the bike. Eat something. Anything. We could go into more detail of what’s best nutrition-wise, but I’ll save that for a different post.
Next, get out of your chamois. It’s bad for your recovery (and your cleanliness) to leave that puppy on. Wipe the crust and sweat off your legs and face. And, if you’ve got ‘em, throw on those compression socks.
Get something more solid to eat, grab a recovery beverage — whatever that might be — and chill out.
Finally, go through some of the same motions you did Friday night. Get a nice stretch session in. Lay on the couch or bed, and prop your legs up on some pillows. Ahhhhh. If someone has a foam roller or “The Stick” for stretching and massage, pass it around. Your taught, sore muscles will thank you during the next day’s race.
The ride home: Recovery is still important after your last race of the weekend. You’ll feel ready to ride again by Tuesday, if you’re lucky, and you can start getting ready for your next weekend of bike racing. Wear the compression tights on the way home, shake out the legs, and replace the fluids you lost.
The big picture: As a collegiate bike racer the past couple seasons, it was the epic drives to Reno, Davis, Stanford and Santa Cruz — just the stresses of travel itself, combined with school obligations and others — that wore me down the most over the course of a racing season. The travel tired me out more than the training or racing itself. Thus, be sure to take weekends — or entire weeks — totally of the bike if you need it. Several times, I ended up going bonkers racing nearly every weekend, but when it came time to perform at conference championships or at nationals at the tail end of the season, I was totally burned out and tired. Don’t make the same mistake — when your body, or your overwhelming load of school work asks you to take a few days off the bike, or maybe asks you to skip a weekend of racing, don’t hesitate. You’ll be considerably more motivated next time around.