In a continuation of the series started a few weeks ago, here are more tips for how best to prepare for early morning races like the upcoming April 21 Club Race and Women’s 3/4 Series Race. The article here (excerpts previously published in part 1 of the series) was written by CRCA coach and CRCA/Fuoriclasse-Eumaeus racer, Ann Marie Miller (thumbnail of morning racing courtesy of Andy Shen, story idea Marc Mauceri).
Tell your friends and family you are planning to do a bike race, and they might think you are a little crazy; tell them the race starts at 5:45am and they will think you have lost your mind.
We all know the reasons we are restricted to racing at the crack of dawn (literally) and while we can accept that intellectually, convincing your body to perform at its best at that hour is another matter. So what can you do to enhance your performance at that hour, or at least be coherent enough to show up at the start line with your mind & body reasonably prepared?
It is a fact that due to the natural circadian rhythm of our bodies, most people are at a “physiological peak” sometime in the late afternoon, after 4:00pm. So if you are planning to win an Olympic Gold Medal, it would be nice to have your event scheduled in the late afternoon.
But the individual circadian rhythm among individuals; some people are naturally “night owls” and others are “morning people”. If you are a “morning person” you are probably already comfortable with waking up full of energy & diving into your day, wearing a big smile and singing on your way out the door. “Night Owls” may take much longer to wake up, and like to start he day more slowly.
There are strategies you can adopt to perform better early in the morning. The first is; try to adjust your schedule to waking up earlier on a regular, not an occasional basis. Go to bed earlier & wake up early on a regular basis so your body adapts to the routine. Try to wake up regularly at a time close to the time you need to wake up for races. This works best for those who live near Central Park and don’t have to drive a considerable distance. If you live a couple of blocks form the Rambles parking lot, it’s not so hard to wake up at 4:30am on race day, and around 5:00am during the week, but if you have to drive over an hour to Central Park, it may not be practical to wake up at 3:30 am on a regular basis.
Train at a time similar to the time you race; again, all those people training at 5:30 or 6:00am in the park have an advantage because the body becomes accustomed to vigorous exercise at that hour. If you are an afternoon or evening exerciser, it may be a shock to your system to subject it to high-intensity exercise early in the morning.
Although your physiological peak may occur in the afternoon, you may be just disinhibited enough in the morning to be able to push yourself harder, because you aren’t bombarded with that little voice that give you excuses at 5:00pm “ooh, I’m too tired for LT intervals”, “oooh, it’s been a tough day; I just can’t do hill repeats repeats today.” You’ve heard that little voice that gets louder during the day, right?
Plan ahead so all your gear, clothing & equipment are ready the night before your race to minimize prep time the morning of a race. Set out your kit, pin your number, fix your drink mix the night before he race and refrigerate it overnight. Set yourself up so all you have to do is brush your teeth, slide into your kit & out the door. Besides, if you will til the morning of the race to get your things together, in your drowsy stupor, you may forget something (like your signed, standard release form!!! And then you’ll have to pay $5.00 at registration to buy one).
Set the timer on your coffee maker the night before the race, and have a light breakfast ready to eat so you don’t waste time preparing food. For the park races, 250-400 calories before the race in the form of an energy bar, or a bagel & banana, or snack that is mostly carbohydrates with some protein is sufficient. Avoid racing on an “empty tank” – remember, your body has been fasting while you sleep, and your all-important blood sugar stores are low, so you should take in some food to fuel yourself for the race. Also, use a sports drink during the race to provide fluids, and electrolytes and carbohydrates fro energy.
Don’t expect to do a really long warm-up before a pre-dawn start, unless you happen to have a long commute on your bike to the race venue, and even then, don’t leave your best 2 minute effort out on your commute to the race. Use some restraint and warm-up slowly; build up the intensity gradually, and depending on the type of race, do a couple of “openers”, or short, high-intensity intervals to spark your high-end energy system, without inducing fatigue. Try a few fast-cadence efforts at a low intensity to warm up the legs and the neuromuscular system without loading the muscles excessively. Especially if you have a respiratory condition such as asthma, warm up gradually, perform a couple of short, high-intensity efforts, and use your inhaler as prescribed.
Have your race sign-in procedure organized so you don’t waste time & get flustered at registration; have your race credentials (USA Cycling license, signed standard release form, CRCA membership card) in one place that is accessible when you get to the registration desk. Get through registration smoothly & do a final check of your bike & equipment.
Avoid unnecessary chaos & confusion; steer clear of friends or teammates who are “high-maintenance”; you know who they are – everything is a drama and they are always on the edge of a crisis. You don’t need that before a race. Smile at them, and excuse yourself. Finally, give yourself a moment to collect your thoughts, calm yourself and acknowledge how it is pretty cool to be racing at a time when others are just staggering home.
Ann Marie Miller