RACING Guide part 2
What events do I enter?
1) Before you start, have a think about what do you want to achieve
Well, let’s start at the beginning. First of all, you need to decide what your goals are going to be, especially if this is your first season. Goals should always be “SMART” – which stands for:
S - Specific – choose a specific goal – e.g. I want to ride a 10 mile time trial in under 30 minutes or I want to gain enough points to obtain my 3rd category licence (the latter will require a number of additional goals in order to achieve this).
M - Measurable - it is difficult to look at progress unless you pick goals that are measurable – e.g. by time or distance for a time trial, or staying with the bunch for the whole race (easier said than done, sometimes).
A – Adjustable - be flexible – if you find that your goal is easier than you thought (for example, you manage to do 28 minutes for your first 10 mile time trial when you wanted to do 30 minutes), adjust your goal to 27:30, maybe, or in the case of a road or circuit race, if there are only 15 people in the race, you might adjust your goal for the race to be in the top ten.
R - Realistic - the goals you set yourself need to be challenging but achievable – there is no point setting yourself a goal that is too difficult to achieve because you will become disillusioned, disappointed and give up but on the other hand, you don’t want goals that are too easy, as you won’t feel a sense of achievement upon reaching your target which again leads to disappointment. However, how challenging your goals are also depends on how confident you are – there is no reason why your first goals can’t be easier to help you grow your confidence, with your goals becoming more challenging as your confidence develops.
T – Time-based - have a long-term goal in mind but have short-term goals to help you reach it – there’s no point having a goal of riding a 10 mile time trial in 25 minutes in 5 years’ time, or winning a National Series Road Race by 2016, if you have no short-term goals to get you there. Having a long-term objective is good, it helps you to remember what you want out of the sport, but 5 years is a long time – it’s much better to have goals that you can see coming up in your calendar in one or two month’s time, as it keeps you focused, enthusiastic and keen.
2) I have my goals – what should I look for in a race?
Well, firstly, even if you’ve had a go at racing before, you never know what you’re going to like until you’ve done a few different types of races. At the beginning, you want to look at races that are maybe near to you, that aren’t too long and aren’t too technically demanding.
This is an important point to make – some of the newer closed circuits are narrow and have tight bends, with a lot of corners, which means that if you aren’t used to racing elbow to elbow with fellow cyclists, they can be a bit intimidating. In addition, smaller circuits can mean more corners, which can mean you end up sprinting out of every corner – and when they come every 20 metres, it gets tiring very quickly, which means that you can lose concentration if you’re not used to it. That can then lead to stupid mistakes, which can lead to pointless crashes – I have witnessed that.
Having said that, you should also look at the category of riders that can ride in the race. For example, a race specifically open to 4th category riders may be slightly less physically demanding than a race open to second category riders, however you then have to factor in the concept that they also might not be as skilled in bunch riding and slower races can be more dangerous as the pace changes.
The positive thing about circuit races is that they are usually on purpose built circuits, closed to traffic, so you don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic in the race. Having said that, as I’ve said above, some circuits can be quite narrow, and you may not be too keen at sprinting out of corners for 40 or 50 minutes. In which case, you might like to try road racing, which are held on circuits on the open roads, which also mean that they are open to oncoming traffic.
But that isn’t something to necessarily be afraid of – when you go out on your bike with your mates, you ride on the open road, right? The only thing that you need to remember is that your safety is paramount, which means that your concentration is extremely important.
For your first road race, if possible, pick a race that isn’t too long in distance. There’s a big jump between riding a race around a closed circuit for between 40 and 50 minutes and riding a 45 or 50 mile road race, which could last as long as 3 hours. If possible, try and pick an event that is open to lower category riders, as the speed will not be as high as an event open to elites and first category riders; however, this is not always possible, but remember that any race is not only a learning curve, it is also training (remember my point about setting goals).
The final point about road races is that there will be marshals on the circuit, usually positioned at junctions and “pinch points” for traffic. A marshal’s job is to warn traffic of the race that is approaching, not to tell you which way to go – it is your job as a rider to know the course. The marshal cannot stop traffic either, however some road races have the addition of motorbike marshals, called the National Escort Group (“NEG”), who help with the control of traffic (and do a marvellous job too!)
So, hopefully this section has shown you that you should have an idea in mind before entering anything about what you want to achieve, which shouldn’t be too challenging to start off with. Many people have been put off by the concept that they think they aren’t good enough, when in actual fact they are fit or fast enough, but they just don’t have the confidence in themselves to take that step into the unknown. Women’s cycling in particular is growing at the moment – you will find that there are plenty of people to provide encouragement. There are no “standards” to find out whether you are fast enough – the only way to find that out is to have a go. There are plenty of different types of races to have a go at – some people might be better suited to circuit races, whereas others might prefer to go it alone against the clock in a time trial, and other people might prefer longer road races.
I guess that there are a few things to take from this article: set realistic goals, you can enter whatever race you like (category dependent) and you may be better suited to some events than others, but if you don’t try you will never know. Have the confidence to give it a go and you never know, you might find that it’s really enjoyable!