Pre-Race Preparation for Body & Mind

By: Lee Unwin, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

Much has been written about the importance pre-race preparation. These articles touch on topics such as warm-up duration, intervals, and then some. However, very little is discussed about the importance of properly preparing the mind as well as the body. In this article I will briefly explain some of the basic pre-race warm-ups I use with my athletes that incorporate both mental and physical components.

First, grab your indoor bike trainer or rollers and find a quiet place where you won't be interrupted. Take out your ear buds and allow yourself to really concentrate. Begin with some warm-up intervals. Doing these without distraction will let you hear any strange noises coming from your bike that you may need to address before race start, as well as the noise emanating from your mouth while you're working.

Why? Because during the race when you hear yourself breathing heavily you may mistakenly believe that you are over-working. Even if you have a power meter and heart rate monitor, that sound can make you think you need to back off, so take the time to get used to hearing your own motor.

Next, start with a very easy five-minute spin and hold your power steady at Zone 2. Once you are settled in at a consistent power, hold your heart rate steady. Now visualize the entire start of the race in order of events such as: the call-ups, the tension you feel holding at the line, 30 seconds 'till go, the sound of the gun, the mass start, the first couple turns or that looming hill. Think about how hard you are going to go to get off the front, and lastly think about how much it's going to hurt. After you conclude the visualization, look at your heart rate! Assuming that you are still holding power at Zone 2 you will probably notice an increase in your heart rate.

(I say assuming you are still holding at Zone 2 because this mental exercise often prompts athletes to instinctively begin pedaling faster.)

Now that you've completed this visualization exercise once, do it two or three more times during your five-minute warm-up. As you work through the scenario, concentrate on taking long, slow, deep breaths from the belly. Mentally focus on relaxing the nerves so to get your heart rate back down. Performing this warm-up will help desensitize yourself to the anxiousness that is felt at the start of the race.

Pre-race preparation on a CycleOps trainer

Just like training rides prepare your body, the goal of this warm-up routine is to prepare your mind for the race ahead. A calm mind is a focused mind and body. And if you need proof that this exercise is worth your while, notice how the hot heads at the race always seem to crash or simply fall off the back, conversely the winners always seem to be the quietest, calmest guys in the field. This is no coincidence.

Now that you're warmed-up and have practiced your visualizations, take the next 10 to 15 minutes to perform the same types of intervals that will come at you during your race. If racing crit or cross, do a few 20 seconds – 1 minute intervals at anaerobic threshold.Mountain or road? Two or three minute wind outs, (i.e. go a little harder every 30 seconds till anaerobic threshold is reached in the final 30 seconds).

Again, put those visualization skills to work and picture the context of the intervals you are doing. Just before starting an interval, see yourself performing it in the race. Visualize yourself trying to bridge the gap or successfully break away. I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to visualize yourself being successful at the attempt. Concentrate on how hard it feels and tell yourself that you are ok with the pain. It may sound silly, but during the race you will now be primed to be successful and excepting of the discomfort.

So at your next event get on your bicycle trainer and put yourself in the race before the gun goes off. Being calm and focused will have you racing much more smoothly, and remember smooth is fast and fast is smooth.



Lee Unwin received BA Exercise Science at St. Ambrose University. He is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist as well as a Board Certified Massage Therapist.

Alongside his wife, Lee owns and operates Unwin Chiropractic & Wellness Center and the Verona Fitness Studio, in Verona, Wisconsin. He has over 20 years of experience working athletes. Lee also competes in marathon mountain biking and cyclocross, both locally and nationally.