1) Give your brain the information it needs to guide you through the race
Your brain knows everything that you do. It may seem like a silly statement but many people will ignore what they spontaneously think in favor of something they consciously think. Don’t look at rocks and think “there is a rock”, scan along the trail ignoring what you see. Come back to the rocks only if your eyes come back to them, but it is most likely that your brain will determine a better line and look at something other than the rocks. To do prime your brain with sensory input, deliberately move your eye fixations back and forth along the upcoming trail allowing the sensory input to flood into your brain. Doing this will give your brain the best chance of creating an accurate mental image of the trail that it will then work with to determine the best line and effort level.
Doing this requires a lot of focus and it is pretty draining. The good news is that you’ll only need it when you are going very quickly or riding on pretty technical terrain.
2) Do not pay attention to things that you cannot impact
When you are riding fairly quickly, there is little point in looking at what you are about to ride over because there is very little you can do about it – if you cannot react to what you see, you are not looking far enough ahead and you shouldn’t be aware of it.The same applies to other riders. Do not count on them to make a mistake or call you round because that takes the out come of the race out of your control. Your goal is to get to the finish line injury free and as fast as you possibly can. Anything that takes away from that goal should be eliminated from your race behavior. Flawless riding will get you to your goal and that will only come to be if you focus on the riding.
3) Start your nutritional recovery as soon as you cross the finish line
You should consider consuming dextrose / maltodextrin during the ride. This will allow you to take advantage of the window of opportunity for increased cellular transport.If you have no idea what dextrose and maltodextrin are you should read my post on Post Workout Nutrition. It represents the most up to date science available for body building nutrition and deals with getting the most amount of recovery sugar and protein to the muscles to promote the fastest recovery. Studies have shown that there is a finite absorption rate for each macro nutrient and my recommendations are based on these values – bring in ONLY what your body can use per unit of time. If you bring in more than your body can use you are increasing the likelihood of fat storage. While still unlikely after intense racing, it is possible when you are dealing with high GI carbs like dextrose.
4) Follow an adequate training tapper before your races
If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, just make sure you are well enough rested on race day to perform will as much intensity as you need. Athletes and their coaches tend to come up with complete ways of describing their simple behavior and for they’ve come up with the term tapper to mean a reduction in training before a competition to ensure complete recovery.
Depending upon the event you are participating in, you will need to vary the amount of rest you get. Cross country racers will need to about 2-4 days of dramatically reduced work load before a race because this event does not rely heavily on coordinated muscular strength or power; you are basically holding your top maintainable pace for the duration of the ride. Downhill racers may need to reduce work volume in the week leading up to the event to make sure the nervous system is completely recovered allowing for improved muscle coordination and synchronous firing that can be needed for aggressive down hill racing.At the very least an athlete should not ride with full intensity in the 3 days leading up to an event and they should focus on nutritional recovery after any training or pre-lap rides they take.
You are going to need to experiment with the volume and duration of your tapper for find the perfect balance between rest, recovery and performance. When you find that sweet spot, I’ve found that most of the nervousness about racing goes away because you know you are as well prepared as you can be.
5) Train all year round
This will have more impact on your racing results than anything else you can do. While less important for younger riders, the over 27 crowd doesn’t have a choice in the matter. If you are close to your 30’s, you are going to lose cardiovascular functioning during the off season UNLESS you train with high intensity for 30 minutes 3 times a week. Note, this is just the maintenance level. Improvements are very unlikely with 90 minutes of training per week – think about the gains you make during the season, they are based on riding almost every day. The rule of thumb is the more you train the more you will improve, both in skill and in your body’s ability to adapt to the work.The training needs to be varied and you will benefit from cycling through different phases – strength building, cardio building, maintenance phases, and race tappers.
During the race season you should continue to perform some resistance training to maintain muscle and connective tissue strength. This will help you stay strong throughout the season and avoid injury. It has the added benefit of helping to burn up any extra calories that you may consume after your rides. 4 or 6 sets per body part per week should be sufficient to allow you to hold on to your strength and size.