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5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Hobby Racing

By Martin Atanasov

Hobby racing is just what you need to spice up your cycling routine. It gives you a purpose, motivation, and clear reasons to just keep getting better. Still, going blindly into one of these events is probably not the best idea. You need to know what to expect. But your experience will be infinitely better if you know these 5 things I wish I had known when I first started hobby racing myself. They will give you that extra push to keep you going.

It’s a race, but not a competition

First and foremost, if you are not a UCI rider and you haven’t been riding specifically to prepare to win such an event, you will most definitely not win. Not because you’re not dedicated enough or not good enough, but simply because if that’s your hobby, there are those who make a living out of it.

So, while this is a race in practice, it’s mostly a race against yourself. It’s not a competition against the other participants. Actually, most will stop and check if you need help, if you have fallen, or if you have a puncture. Many will share their supplies. You’re all in this together, and it’s pretty dumb to start shoving or cutting off people if they are faster. Just ride and let others ride as well.

Most importantly, don’t risk anyone’s life because you want to be 95th and not 96th in the final rankings.

If you are fit enough to race for the first spot, then get your UCI card and enter a proper race. Or at least have the courtesy of starting from the very front and getting away from the masses. Don’t make videos like “I started 1,000 and became first.” Sure, you did, but did anyone else really race, or did they just all have fun while you were dead serious on your fantasy power trip?

You don’t need a backpack

This one is pretty obvious if you are road cycling. However, if you are at any MTB event, most people around you will have a backpack. Getting used to riding without a backpack takes time, but once you do, you will wonder why you have ever put this thing on your back. All you need is a small saddle bag where you can put all your repair kit and spares.

You can put the rest in your jersey pockets. All you need is some water, actually, especially if there are feeding stations along the way. Still, it’s nice to have a jacket in your middle back pocket, along with some documents, a phone, a magnesium stick, and a bar. All of this can easily get into your pockets, and you will get the refreshing feeling of having no backpack to sweat up your back. This will make your entire experience infinitely better.

It’s all about fuelling properly

Now, there will come a time when you actually care about your results. And, of course, there will come a time when you want to push yourself a bit more just to get over that last hill. Whether you can manage it or not depends on how well you’ve fuelled.

There is a myth that bikes don’t use fuel. They do, and it’s called carbs. They come in different forms—some are energy gels, and others are bars—but they have the same goal: to lift you up for that one last push.

Some people think that riding a bike is about losing weight, and fair enough, you can do that. However, if you are in a race, even a hobby one, you have a different goal—to finish with a decent time. So, the two don’t combine well, as you need calories to be able to burn more calories.

Thus, if you don’t want to burn out and become dead tired on your way to the finish line, learn how to fuel yourself properly. Make it your business to learn where the feeding stations are and calculate how many calories you need to intake at each one so you can reach the next without any hesitation.

Hydration is also just as important, and you need to do it properly. Otherwise, cramps will definitely ruin your riding, and once you start cramping, it’s really hard to continue pushing forward.

A proper warm up will bring you a long way

Now, that’s something you must have noticed with professional riders. True, they put out watts that you can only dream of, but still, you’re giving it all just like they are, and effectively, to your body, there is not much difference.

With a proper warmup, more oxygen can flood your muscles, and thus, they will perform much better, especially in less-than-ideal conditions. Furthermore, joint motion will increase, and your body will be much more flexible, giving you an advantage on steep downhill sections.

Of course, this is hobby racing, and you don’t need to bring all the equipment with you. What I personally do is ride my bike to the start from home or the hotel. It usually takes 20-30 minutes, and in general, since most races start in a town or a city, it’s relatively flat. Perfect for a quick warmup, and all you need is to wake up half an hour earlier.

Having an achievable goal is the secret

Having a goal is always the best way to motivate yourself to diet, improve your performance, or just get out and ride. Still, this goal should be achievable. Now, trying to get into the top 30, 50, or 100 is a great motivator, especially if you know your competition. But if these are your first starts, this won’t be the case. I suggest going for something a bit different. Give yourself a timeframe to finish. If you are unfamiliar with the route and you’ve only seen it as a GPS track, be extra conservative. You don’t know the specifics of the terrain.

Also, note that the weather also affects your results. For example, rain and wind will slow you down significantly. As will traffic, if there are narrow parts of the track where you can’t overtake, or to overtake, you need to expand way too much of your power.

So, are you ready to race?

Competing in a hobby race is an outstanding way to enrich your cycling experience. But if you try to disregard the racing part, at least toward others, set your own goals, lose the backpack, learn to fuel yourself properly, and have a nice warmup before the race, your overall experience will be infinitely better.