Advice to New Racers
So you’ve decided to try out High School Cross-Country Mountain Bike Racing with NICA, and you’re excited! We’re excited you’re joining in on the fun, and we want you to have a great experience. Leading up to your first race, most people are nervous, and often overwhelmed by the huge number of things they’ve heard can make them a better racer. Many have unrealistic goals and expectations as well. It’s a lot to sort out! The good news is, if you follow some simple bits of advice, you will have a great season no matter where you’re starting from. In the sections below, you’ll find some Bad Goals, some Good Goals, and a little more Helpful Advice
Come as you are
At your first race, you’re going to meet a wide spectrum of racers. It’s easy to get stuck focusing on the handful who already have race experience, a sweet (and expensive) XC race bike, and are dressed like they’re going to a road bike race. You might think you need to be equipped like them, or worry that you don’t belong and won’t be able to compete. My advice here is plain - come as you are! Bring the bike you have, the helmet you have, wear baggies, and ride flat pedals if that’s what you’re comfortable with. Then take a different look around - look at the whole field and you’ll see the full range of race experience, equipment, skill, and fitness. You are not alone! Do you belong? Definitely! Once you’ve had a ton of fun in a race (or a season) then maybe invest as it makes sense for future races and years. Some kids have 4 years of fun on the equipment they raced on as a freshman.
Avoid Bad Goals
One of the best ways to ruin your season is to make Bad Goals for yourself! Here are the classics for first year racers
- Getting on the Podium
- Racing at your peak ability
- Qualifying for States
Set Good Goals
Good goals and expectations are absolutely key to having a great season. If you want to have a great season, your goals should sound like these
- Learn to Race
- Make Friends
- Race Clean and Finish
- (optional) Attend States
Good Goal #1 - Learn to Race
Your first race will not reflect what you’re capable of. Take the time to reflect and learn from your experience. Even experienced racers do this, but it’s critical for new racers. A great goal for new racers is to learn to “do racing” over the course of the season so that by the last race or two you’re actually performing at a level that is starting to match your fitness and skill levels. Be a student of your sport. Listen to your coaches. Read the info on this website. Know your game.
Good Goal #2 - Improve Yourself
See if you can improve over the course of the season relative to the others you are racing near. We call this “the race within the race”. This is when you beat that rider that has beaten you the first two races. And then you do it again. The day you finish in the top half instead of the bottom half can be a big deal. Even if your placing percentage stays the same, knowing you upped your skills and fitness is satisfying. Make a goal of improving yourself, and you will achieve something very worthwhile.
Good Goal #3 - Make Friends with your Competition
You train and pit with your team, but you race with those who are your equals in speed. These people are rarely your teammates! Aspire to make friends with your competitors, not enemies. This has a HUGE impact on how fun your season is. Making friends with your equals is easy!
- Let them pass if they ask (unless it’s the end of the race), then hang on their wheel.
- Pass them back when you can do it cleanly.
- If you both yield when asked, you can work together to catch solo riders who are faster than you.
- Encourage them to stick with you.
- After the race, stop and talk to them (once you can breathe).
- Congratulate them if they beat you.
- Lose a place rather than to endanger another rider with a risky move. Trust me, you won’t feel good about that extra place if you end someone’s season getting it.
Good Goal #4 - Race Clean
Keep the rubber side down! High risk riding pretty much never moves you up, but can definitely move you back or even take you out. It’s never wise to risk losing 45 seconds over a half-second gained at something that has a 1 in 10 risk of crashing. Be realistic about risk, and do the math on your probabilites! For example:
- the risks you are taking gain about 1/2 second each time
- you can reliably get away with it 49 out of 50 times, even when dead-dog tired and going crosseyed.
- a crash will cost you 45 seconds.
- So out of 50 risks, 49 will gain you 25 seconds, and 1 will lose you 45. Net loss of 20 seconds! Not looking good!
How to Pace Yourself
A lot of first time racers ask “how do I pace myself”? Here is the classic answer. Break your race into three sections.
- Start out a little hot. It’s ok if you can’t sustain it. No one else can either. Note though that I said a little hot, not a lot.
- In the middle, settle into a sustainable pace
- At the end (last lap or half lap or so) ramp it up and finish empty.
Don’t miss the first 2 races
Maybe you’re just trying a race or two, or maybe you’re just picking the “best” venues. My advice? Try to make it to the first 2 races. Missing the first race is like missing the first week of your freshman year in high school. This is when no one knows what is going on, and this is when everyone sorts and figures it all out. If you miss it, you’re playing a bit of social catch up the rest of the season. You’re also playing catch-up on your call-up. The call-up is when they line you up at the 2nd race according to how well you did the first race. If you miss it, you start in the back half of the field. I’ve seen many new racers realize after their first race that they want to come to all the rest, then wind up regretting missing the first. If you want to try a race or two, make it the first one or two if at all possible.
Optional Good Goal - Attend States
If you qualify for States, that’s great, but most of you won’t. Still, you can come and race the non-championship race! States is a pretty special experience with a huge number of riders in every field, and a fresh group of competitors to race with. If you want to come to states and race Non-Championship, it’s easy - enter 2 of the first 3 races then sign up as soon as the signups open! The field will be limited to the first 100 who sign up.