What You'll Need:
- CX bike (mountain bikes are also okay! Anything with tread will do, really)
- Clipless shoes & pedals
- Race number & USAC license (if it's a USAC sanctioned event)
- Sunglasses / Clear Lenses (some courses are too shaded for sunglasses, but you'll still want protection from dirt, tree branches, etc)
- Water (most racers take their bottle cages off their bikes before racing, so you'll want to fuel up before the race!)
- Toe spikes for muddy races & loose run-ups
- Cycling computer (optional, but helpful)
- Heart rate monitor (also optional, but helpful)
What's In My Bag:
** A good habit to get into is to set up your race bag exactly the same every week. This will ensure that something will feel "off" in the event that something isn't exactly where it's supposed to be and you're less likely to forget pertinent items. **
- Towel (for changing on the fly)
- Skinsuit / Kit
- Gloves (the debate is open as to whether or not to wear full fingered gloves, fingerless gloves, or none at all - I'm all for full fingered gloves for extra grip & protecting all of my hand during falls)
- Snacks for before & after the race
- Change of clothes & shoes for after the race
- Patch kit
- Tire pump (so you can change your tire pressure once you've had a chance to test out course conditions, if needed)
So you have everything you need to start racing, but no idea where to go from there. Not a problem! Thanks to social media events, finding a local race is now easier than ever. Here in Georgia, we have the Georgia CX Series (georigacx.com). All of the races in the series are USACycling (USAC) official, which require an annual license to race in. The bonus is, that license is good for racing anywhere in the states and all of the points you earn in one area, will be applicable anywhere in the country. With that being said, USAC (http://www.usacycling.org/) is also a great place to find out about races in your area. They allow for you to search for races based on state, type, and discipline. It's important to check the event details to make sure you don't miss the registration deadline!
When registering for races and applying for your USAC license, you will need to consider your racing category.When you're first starting out in racing, you will be registering as a Category 5 (or Cat 5) racer.
The different categories are as follows:
Cat 5: Beginner
Cat 4: Intermediate
Cat 3: Advanced
Cat 2: Elite
Cat 1: Pro
Oftentimes, races will be a combined field of different categories. In Georgia, our women's fields are Women's 4/5 and Women's 1/2/3. This is an awesome opportunity to race against people with more race experience and learn from them. As you move your way through the fields and get more and more racers under your belt, you will start accumulating upgrade points. USAC is the general governing body of most cross racers, so resort to their website for more information regarding upgrades.
Race Day Prep:
On race day, you'll want to eat a sustainable breakfast about 3-4 hours beforehand. Everyone has their own pre-race meals that they swear by, but anything high in protein and that will provide sustained energy for your race is a good decision. You'll want to get to your race with at least 2 hours to spare. This will allow for time for checking over your bike, pre-riding the course, and generally allowing for time to chill and get in a good mental space to prepare for racing.
Once at the race, it is important to get in some form of warm-up. Everyone is different, so listen to yourself in regards to what you'll need to get yourself ready for racing. Some racers will do a full, sustained effort, while others only need a quick 10 minute spin. Regardless, of warm up methods, you'll want to be sure to check out the course a handful of times before the start.
When going to pre-ride the course, there will generally be lots of other riders waiting by the start/finish line to pre-ride also. You can check with the officials who will let you know once the course is open and safe for practice laps - you'll never want to be on the course during a race!
Once on the course for pre-ride, scope out potential problem areas. Cross is fun because it's a very nice mixed bag of different skills, and more than likely, there will be at least one area where you'll get tripped up. Better to be tripped up during pre-ride than during the race! Don't be afraid to session sections (this means practicing one area again and again until you get it right). Oftentimes, it will be a section that other riders are caught up on too so there will be handful of folks testing out different lines, gears, speeds, etc. Don't be afraid to ask other racers for their advice, but be sure to verbalize needing assistance before hopping in on someone's session.
Lining Up & Race Time:
Cross is a mass start race, meaning the entire group starts together. For safety, most races will do a "call-up" where the racers with the most points in the series are called to line-up first. Regardless of your call-up status, it is important to get to the start line approximately 10-15 minutes before your race start time. This will allow for adequate time to make sure that the officials recognize that you're there, get your number accounted for, and to hear any important race announcements.
In all cases, getting a solid jump at the start is a great upper hand. But, don't stress yourself out about your racing position, especially if its your first time racing. There can be cases where those who get off the line in front of you get caught up in a bottle neck on the first barrier or unable to sustain the speed at which they went out with. Remember to race at your comfortable skill level. Don't try anything in your race that you didn't do in practice. One of the most important pieces of advice I got pre-race-day is that "slow is smooth and smooth is fast" so stick to what you know and you'll be golden. There's always time to learn new skills during the week! Since cross is time-based and not lap based, be sure to keep an eye on the officials at the start/finish line, where they will make some indication of how many laps you have left to complete. The sound of the bell indicates you're heading out on your last lap!
You did it! 30 minutes have gone by and you've reached the finish line - hopefully smiling and out of breath! The most important thing to remember is to get off the course as soon as you're done racing. There's more than likely still racers finishing up their race and, if not, there's other riders pre-riding who are getting ready for their race.
If it the course was muddy, you're gonna want to track down a hose or some form of Muc-Off to get your drivetrain and bike back in tip-top shape. (If these thing aren't available at the race, make sure you wash your bike as soon as you're home to ensure your bike stays operating smoothly from week to week.)
Now is your chance to relax, have a beer (if you want and are of age ;) ), and go check out the race scene as a whole. My best advice for new racers is to go scope out different parts of the race course as the pro races commence. This will give you an opportunity to watch what the folks with more experience than you do on a course you're not familiar with. Copying their techniques in your upcoming practices will do wonders for you as you move through the season!