The first race of the year is always an intense feeling. There are always thoughts of uncertainty. You are really not sure how you are going to feel, how you will compare to your peers, or if you will struggle to make it to the finish line. The first event is always a small bump in the road but an easy one to conquer. Your first race of the season should be a race where you test your engine, and learn your weaknesses. It is an event where you have no expectations of the outcome but still plan to work hard to test your strengths.
The first thing to think about is to get a good night’s rest, wake up at a decent time, eat a smart breakfast, and get to the race venue with plenty of time to get ready and loose some of the pre-race jitters. The last thing you want to do is to create unwanted stress by arriving late to the race for example.
Be realistic about how you will feel in the race and you will ease the tension mentally. If you had a long winter, cross training on skis often and spending a lot of time training indoors, you then may not feel as strong earlier in the season as someone who has been able to ride or run outside all year long. Realize that going into it and race with a few less expectations. There is no need to experience pressure mentally so early in the year. Being nervous and spending energy on what possibly could happen will only take away from what actually does happen.
Use this race as a learning experience. Learn what you felt strong about and struggled with. You can use early season races as part of training too. Train into the week of the race, tapering three to four days prior to allow for a small amount of recovery. Training into a race will not always equate to a great result but the fitness you will gain from the training leading up to the race plus the race effort can be significant. Your level of fitness and where you are at within your training block will determine if you can train on top of the race effort the following week or if rest and recovery are needed.
Plan to work hard. You know you’re not going to be in peak shape and form, so working a little harder should be expected. Racing places a stress on your body different than any other type of training could possibly place, so it is impossible to be ready for the first race of the year if you have not raced in a few months or more. You can train hard but you will never be able to train as hard as a race effort.
It is important to have as much fun as you can with your first few events of the season. Early races are to work out the cob webs, polish up on skills, and walk away with a new source of excitement for the sport and racing. Early season races are also the best way to gain greater levels of fitness towards your main goals for the season. So have fun at your first race of the season, and walk away with the knowledge of your weaknesses and a great sense of your current fitness levels.