VitalMTB.com currently has a forum post up asking for the one piece of advice members would give to someone racing; it gave me a chance to reflect on everything I've learned over the last three and a half years. Of course, there's always more than one piece to the racing puzzle, so I listed my thoughts that immediately came to mind:
"Chin up, eyes forward. Two-one breath ratio is what works for me (in-in-out), and relaxed shoulders.
Put the work in before race day. Once that beep goes, the work is over. Everything you've done up to this point will now manifest and it's time to play. Be prepared... Confidence comes from knowing that you've eliminated every possible angle that you're able to control. Now it's time to trust in your process.
Part of race weekend prep... Know the course. Once you can draw it in your mind, your brain knows what's coming. Remember the scene in cool Runnings, where they're all in the bathtub doing "turn one... Turn two..." You should be able to do that with your eyes closed. Visualize.
Elbows out -- come hell or high water, chin up, eyes forward and elbows out will always make you a few seconds faster, even if you're scared to death.
Race like you practice, but don't go into practice full-balls. Take it slow. Roll the course if you can, but remember that the little things you see in course walk aren't going to even exist once you're moving. Don't focus on the little shit. That said, don't forget the little shit -- know the difference between a rock that will move and a root or chopped stump that will end your day.
Plan on noise -- if you can practice with shouts and bells and cheers in a headphone, do it (just one). The more familiar you are with race day conditions, the less they'll startle you...
Race day? Realize that your body's natural response to stress in increased heart rate, tense muscles, constructing airways. Do what you're able to mitigate that stress. Secret of Stevie Smith: nasal strips. Breathe right strips are the shit. Not only do they force your airways open, they also tend to help a ton with goggle smash. It's nice to be able to get oxygen.
Most of all, enjoy the ride. Soak in the adrenaline. Breathe in the scent of the dirt, listen to the sound of the tires, and at the end of it all, realize that between the tape, this is your world. You have just been given permission to go as fast as you can physically handle."
As I gave it a bit more thought, however, a few other tips came to mind for a successful race weekend. As I'm currently planning for the ProGRT in Angelfire, some of these are right at the front of my mind.
1: Have a plan for the worst-case scenario. Break a bike? Know where to rent one. Blow a wheel? Bring an extra hoop (or two!) Things will come loose and you'll break at least one part when you don't expect it. My solution? Even when I'm flying, I pack so that I know I'm prepared. Funnily enough, every time I'm perfectly prepared, only tiny things go wrong. It's when I'm completely unready that shit really hits the fan.
2: Dial in your diet and hydration. On a hot race weekend, it's easy to get dehydrated and worn out between practice, mechanic work, sunshine, dirt and high elevation. Any athlete's body needs water and fuel to perform its best. I like to get my schedule, plan out meal times and hydration/fuel breaks, then have the resources close and available (like a jug of water at the finish line and a bottle at the gate).
3: Prepare weeks beforehand. I know pre-race panic all too well, where I've procrastinated with parts or maintenance or jerseys or money or SOMETHING. It rarely (if ever) goes well on race day if you've spent the week up to race weekend freaking out about something you should have done three weeks ago. Trust me -- the last thing you need weighing on your brain and body during practice is more stress, especially when research shows that mental stress can affect muscle coordination and short-term memory, two of the very most important things during an MTB race.
But most of all, even if I forget one or two of these points, the most crucial thing is to have fun -- not everyone gets these moments between the tape and to be here doing this, healthy and optimistic, is a gift. It's a privilege to be able to enjoy this.
Now tell me:
What are yours?