How to Feel Like a Pro at Your Next Race (Even If You’re Back-of-the-Pack)

by | Sep 14, 2023 | Gear, Lifestyle

Some readers may remember the article I posted a few years back titled, “Luck favors the prepared.” Well, I still stand by it, and it’s a huge piece of the ‘how to look pro’ puzzle. And when I say ‘look pro,’ I don’t mean that you have the priciest gear or the biggest tent and trailer setup. I’m talking about showing up to the start line prepared, feeling calm and confident because you know you’re dialed.

If you get to most races feeling disheveled and disorganized and want to change that, read on:

Have a checklist

There’s a reason Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto is so popular: It works. (Alexey Vermeulen backed this idea up in this episode.) Before each race, we like to have a written-out schedule of events, from the night before to post-race with times for packet pickup, pre-ride, race start and more written down. We also have a packing list that we’ve made for running/triathlon/MTB/CX/gravel events that we check off before we head out. The packing list should have everything from gear to race to cleaning stuff (more on that in a sec) to post-race clothing to food/water to bike tools if needed. This is where the ‘being prepared’ comes in: It’s definitely not pro to be trying to borrow water or a multi-tool from someone! (This sounds like a lot of work, but once you create these once, they’re super easy to tweak for each event.)

Read more: Your Race Day Resources

Start with a big gear bag

Getting to the start line feeling calm is almost always based on being able to get ready for the race without freaking out over finding stuff that you need. I’ve tried having several bags with different gear in them—the main race bag, the bad weather bag, the casual bag—but that setup sucks for keeping a car organized and stuff tends to get everywhere. Before buying a giant bag, consider what you’ll do with it. If you regularly will need to walk it into hotels/houses/etc. and you have a lot of heavier stuff, consider one with wheels. But if you prefer to keep it simple or have minimal storage space at home, get a simpler giant duffel that can fold down to nothing.

… Then, organize into small bags

The giant gear bag is great, but the fastest way to feel like a disorganized, sloppy mess is to have your entire bag yardsaled across the parking lot as you search for your gloves. Avoid the sprawl at all costs. Because of that, the inside of your bag should be organized into smaller bags—you’ll have to work out a system that works for the gear you’re carrying, but again, once you figure it out, you’re good to go.

Race day isn’t time to fix your bike

I’ll say it again for the people in the back: Don’t show up to the race with a broken bike! This isn’t the time to be fixing your bike, that should be taken care of well in advance. You can make small tweaks to things like tire pressure, of course, but things like trying to replace a chain while at the race venue are bad ideas. Not only does this result in a potential mess and a ton of added stress, your bike is much more likely to not be properly fixed when you’re in a rush.

Have cleanup stuff

From a portable bike wash to a solar shower and a big towel, and always a garbage/laundry bag, having the ability to quickly clean up post-race makes a huge difference in how professional (and happy!) you are post-race. It’s also critical for if you’re racing MTB or CX and get muddy in pre-ride. Showing up to the startline with mud on your face already is not a great way to begin.

Act like a professional if you podium

Whether you’re a junior or a master’s racer, a club rider or part of a serious team, if you do end up on the podium, show up appropriately. This is context-dependent, of course. For bike races, generally this means showing up in a clean version of the kit you raced in. (If it’s chilly out, a team jacket and regular pants is fine.) Running events are a bit less serious about this, but a tshirt or sweatshirt with your sponsor’s logo on it is ideal. And of course, if you are a sponsored athlete, don’t show up in something with the competitor’s logo on it!!

Do a post-race debrief

Take 5 minutes after your race to look over the schedule and checklist that you created. Are there any additions/tweaks you would have made? Even if the schedule for your next race won’t be exactly the same, there might be things you realized from this race, like needing a bit more time to warm up, or needing more time allowed to hit the washroom pre-race. And look over your gear list too: Missing anything?


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