The Last 7 Days Before Your Big Race
The week of an important race is a critical time. Too much or too little stress will leave you with either flat or tired on race day. When done right, a week of tapering finishes off the peak period by boosting physical abilities and sharpening mental skills. Let’s examine how the plan for a peak performance by counting down the days leading to an A-priority race.
Six Days before the Race
For a Sunday race, today is Monday. This is a good day for an active recovery ride or day off since the day before was probably a race effort simulation at the end of a peak period week. Don’t lift weights today or any day this week. Now is not the time to tear down muscle tissues or attempt to maintain strength. If you find yourself exceptionally tired from the previous day’s workout, a day off is wise. This is a good day to get your bike ready for the race by cleaning it, ensuring bolts are tight, lubricating all movement parts, and ensuring the wheels. Most of the rides this week are done on a road bike, but at least one race effort, although short, should be off-road.
On these rides, make sure that everything is working properly. Race day is not the time to discover a mechanical problem. One exception is race tires. These are best saved until the day before the race to protect them from cuts and tiny slivers that could go unnoticed. When installing your race tires later this week, check them for potential problems.
Today and everyday this week, be cautious about how much and what you eat. Due to the increased workload, fewer calories are needed, but the tendency is to eat normally or even reward yourself by overeating. By the end of the week, you may have gained an extra pound or so, primarily due to the storage of water. That’s okay, but avoid adding body fat.
Three to Five Days before the Race
If the race is on a Sunday, this period consists of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Rest is still the most important ingredient, but some intense effort is also necessary. Feeling flat on race day may result from not riding hard a few times this week. Several university studies have demonstrated that a moderate and decreasing amount of high-intensity during a taper week produces better endurance, performances than either total rest or easy slow training. The reason for this is that the rest allows glycogen stores to rebuild, increases aerobic enzyme levels, boosts blood volume, and allows for repair of damaged tissues. Well-spaced, high-intensity training maintains or even improves muscle recruitment patterns. Not doing any high-intensity in this week is likely to leave you feeling a bit weak on short climbs and a little awkward on the bike at high cadence. The speed skill and power abilities are lost first when workload is reduced. Maintenance of this must be paramount in race week.
Brief bursts of intense movement with long recoveries are effective for these days. Another workout sometimes riders complete at this time is 90-second repetitions at race intensity or just slightly harder than they do one of these repetitions for every day remaining until race day. So, if it’s Tuesday and the race is Sunday, five days away, that would be five reps of 90 seconds. Wednesdays would have four of these reps, Thursday three. There is a 3-minute recovery after a trip and then fewer of them done each day. This workout is not stressful. A full recovery is certain by the next day, yet they are long and intense enough to maintain and even sharpen race-specific fitness. At least one of these workouts should be off-road.
Thursday is the best day to pre-ride the course. Pay special attention to the technical sections, places where you might be able to pass other riders, corners in fast descent, and landmarks approaching the finish line. Because it’s off-road, this workout will be hard enough without adding any repetitions or power work. Be careful not to make it long, however. One or two laps at the most if you’re playing close attention is enough. This is best done at the time of day of your race. If possible, stay off your legs for the rest of the day.
Two Days before the Race
This is Friday for a Sunday race. The emphasis today is on making sure you are rested for the race. If you arrive at the race site today, it’s still better to take the day off and ride the course tomorrow. It’s important you get one last day of full recovery. If travelling to the race today, the night before is the time to pack your bike. Travel is quite stressful, so anything you can do to reduce its psychological and physical impact is beneficial. A travel checklist that includes everything you might want to take reduces your fear of forgetting something.
Another stress reliever is travelling with a non-racing friend or spouse who can deal with the inevitable hassles as they arise. Besides staying calm and relaxed as you can today, eat food that you are accustomed to. Drink plenty of water, not sports drink, throughout the day. Go to bed at the time that is normal for you.
The Day before the Race
Today is the last time to work-out before the race. If you’ve arrived at the race venue yesterday, it’s also the time to check out the course. If it is possible, the best time to do this is at the hour you’re supposed to race tomorrow. That way, shadows, wind, and air temperature are likely to be much as they will be tomorrow. Keep this course preview mostly as easy as possible, but attack a few short hills at race effort. Of course, it’s better to have done this earlier in the week, leaving today free to practice your warm-up routine.
Rehearsing all the details of the warm-up today, including when, where, how, and how long will make the real thing easier tomorrow. The warm-up should have enough intensity to maintain race fitness and keep you from feeling flat tomorrow. Avoid rushing through the pre-race administration process. Keep everything in perspective today by minimizing the significance of the inevitable day before the race hassles. Remain calm and collected and don’t let anything frazzle you. Neither physical nor psychological energy should be wasted today.
After all race activities are taken care of, get your mind off the race. Avoid crowds and nervous athletes and stay off your legs and out of the sun. Some possible activities include going to a movie, renting a DVD, watching TV, and reading. Throughout the day, continue to sip from a bottle of water, not sports drink and don’t allow hunger to set in. Also, don’t overeat today. Have dinner a bit on the early side. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and roughage. Eat foods that are normal for you the day before the race.
If you’ve carefully prepared during the week, there is little that can go wrong today. Now, it’s simply a matter of following a procedure ritual that hopefully you’ve done scores of times before. The day of an A-priority race is not the time to experiment with new pre-race rituals. Stick with what you know works.
Race day rituals are important because they let you operate without making decisions, allowing you to think highly about what is important for the coming race. There is a confident, focused, and business-like manner about the successful athlete’s pre-race rituals from the moment of waking until the race starts. If you don’t have a ritual established for race day, waking, eating, and travelling, do see priority races and hard workouts develop one that exactly fits your needs and personality. This will allow you to prepare calmly and confidently prepare for an important race.