Athletes are creatures of habit, constantly repeating actions or rituals that are intended to improve their chances for optimal performance.
Unfortunately, most Athletes do not have a proven routine of race-day rituals designed and tested to create the situation that unleashes their highest potential.
Although no Athlete ever sets-out to sabotage their chances of a great performance, it is all to easy to skip over a few fundamental attributes that make a personal best performance possible.
It is with this notion in mind that we want to share four of our favorite pre-race rituals that can be used by every cyclist, on-road or off, to create a low-stress environment that will unlock their best performance at any event.
Even the nicest accommodations can't guarantee a great night's sleep. Thus, getting restful sleep while still in your regular surroundings is a small detail that can increase your event-day performance. Photo Credit: Rob Raede
#1: Start The Day Well-Rested
This may sound obvious, as sleep is paramount to optimal performance. However, many Athletes fail to recognize that the anxiety and excitement that is felt the night before a big event drastically reduces sleep quality.
That is why being well-rested leading into an event starts multiple-days before a race, before any anxiety or excitement sets-in.
If your event is on a Saturday, you can almost expect Friday night’s sleep to be less than optimal. That necessitates adding an extra half-hour of sleep (or more) to your regular routine during the middle of the week as a way to “charge” your batteries and build your energy reserves.
This is especially true for events in which you must travel. Sleeping in hotels or other unusual environments can make an Athlete sleep restlessly or simply interrupt the valuable deep-sleep cycles that our bodies depend-on for maximum rest.
That is why it is best to emphasize extra-sleep when an Athlete is in their regular surroundings, so that they can get the benefit of the extra rest.
This seemingly small detail and focus on sleep will undoubtedly help you arrive motivated and energized for a great performance on event-day!
An early arrival on event-day means more time for race-prep, like having a team meeting or looking at the course. Photo Credit: Joy McCulloch
#2: Arrive Early/Allow Plenty Of Time To Prepare
No one likes to rush, or be pressed for time, but that is all too often the case for many Athletes, especially for events that begin in the early morning.
Event-day is not the time to sleep-in to the last moment or hope that commute traffic is ‘lighter’ than normal.
In fact, when it comes to creating optimal performance, staying focused on the task at-hand is the best way to create what Sports Psychologists refer to as, the “Ideal Performance State” or IPS.
You might have heard this referred to as being “in the zone”.
By arriving early to an event and allowing plenty of time for parking, equipment set-up, number/packet pick-up or registration, not to mention the frequent bathroom stops that come with race-day nerves, it is much easier to create IPS.
Although arriving early to an event is not the only factor necessary to create the Ideal Performance State, it is most definitely a factor that will create a low-stress environment that makes it easy to produce a maximal physical effort.
A specific and individualized warm-up is key to helping you perform optimally on event-day. Photo Credit: Danny Munson, DMunsonPhoto.com
3: Warm-Up Appropriately: Do What Is Best For You!
Warming-up properly is another simple habit that can pay big dividends on event-day.
This is especially true for events that start out at high-intensity such as XC MTB-races, cyclocross events, and criterium’s. However, it should be said that a suitable warm-up for road races, Gran Fondo’s, and Endurance MTB events are important for optimal performance.
So what warm-up protocol is best? That depends…
As the title of this section states, finding the best warm-up for your body, event, and fitness is key. Warm-up's range from short bouts of riding smattered with “leg-opening” efforts to long-durations of easy riding and everything in between.
Suffice to say that, generally speaking, the longer your event is the shorter the warm-up is likely to be.
A warm-up for a short-course XC MTB race will be much longer than one used for a Gran Fondo.
Just as a dedicated time-trialist would have a different warm-up protocol for a 10km vs. a 40km TT, every Athlete should look to develop a variety of warm-ups that suit their particular style, fitness, and event.
Not sure what warm-up protocol is best for you and your next event? Call your coach or contact us to set-up a consultation. We would be glad to help you with this!
Knowing the course, and critical sections of a course, ahead of time can help you prepare equipment as well as your pacing for event-day! Photo Credit: PB Creative/Phil Beckman
#4: Do Your Homework On The Course & Competition
And you thought your days of homework ended in grade-school…Not-so!
Being an Athlete is much more than a physical endeavor and in no sport is that more true than cycling.
Tactics, strategy, pacing, fueling, wind conditions, drafting, equipment, hydration, and so many other aspects of the sport can, and do, influence an Athletes ability to perform optimally, which is why it is important to “do your homework”!
Leading into an event it is very important to know the course conditions, as well as the weather that is anticipated on event-day. It is also important to know your competition and predict how you might “stack-up” against them.
Gathering this information is much easier with the advent of internet as event-websites offer access to so much data, such as, complete lists of attending riders and archives of past editions of the event, not to mention finishing times and other relevant data.
This is all in addition to utilizing websites like Strava and TrainingPeaks to evaluate personal performances, segment times, and other important details that can give an Athlete a competitive-edge on the riders they will face.
Training is only one element of becoming the best Athlete possible.
Performing your best on event-day is at least as important, if not more so, than developing your very-best fitness.
With these simple habits as your base, it will be easy to develop a whole repertoire of race-day rituals that will enable you to perform to your absolute best every time you line-up for an event.
And there is nothing more gratifying in sport than setting a goal, knowing that you prepared well for it, and then performing to your potential on event-day!
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching