This will be the last installment of the Introduction to downhill racing series, at least for now. If you’ve been following the previous posts, you should be already have a good sense for the things you can do to ensure a successful weekend. There’s only a few things left to mention, and that’s what I will be talking about in this article.
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Practice smart will make your life a lot easier.
The race day practice session should mainly used as a warm up and for fine tuning your lines. The previous day(s) of practice is when you should have gotten 90% of your lines dialed. The exception to this guideline is if the weather changes and along with that so does the course. This does happen quite frequently due to rain eroding various parts of the course, or wind drying out a wet track and opening up new lines.
In general, I find that 3 practice runs is the right amount, sometimes 4 if my 3rd run didn’t go as planned. Anything more and you will start to wear your body out. At high level of racing it’s imperative to stay as fresh as possible for the race. However, If you’re just starting out I wouldn’t worry about this too much. I remember when I first started racing I used to take around 7 practices runs! This was at Mountain Creek (called Diablo a the time) where doing 20 runs a day is not unrealistic.
If nothing else, try to do your last practice run towards the tail end of practice. That way the course more closely resembles what you’ll see during your race run.
Leading up to you race run…
Get to the top early, and relax and warm up. A lot of World Cup racers bring a trainer up to the top and spend 20 minutes and sometimes more warming up. Most privateers, and amateur racers don’t have the luxury of bringing a trainer to the top. In that case I’d recommend finding a flat section where can ride to get your blood flowing. Dynamic stretches and a quick mobility routine will also do wonders to help prepare you before getting in the gate.
There’s no other feeling like hearing the rider in front of you take off for their run. For me, this is when the stomach butterflies really start to intensify. I find this part of the race to be harder than the actual race run. Do anything you need to remain calm and relaxed as you await for the countdown beeps.
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Once out of the gate, it is quite easy to get caught up in the moment and pedal as fast as your legs can turn. Try to avoid doing that. You want to prevent wasting too much energy right at the top of the course. Once you exert a certain amount of energy and become fatigued your cognitive thinking and decision making skills suffer greatly. Impaired judgement is not what you want while navigating treacherous terrain.
A better approach is to be a little conservative at the beginning of your run and instead concentrate on being smooth and hitting your lines. This will reduce the amount of errors and mistakes while also leaving some gas in the tank for the final stretch.
Leave the mistakes right where you made them
Even with pacing yourself, eventually after several races, you are going to make a mistake. If you don’t, you may be riding a bit too conservative. A mistake is as simple as missing a line, or dabbing a foot, but it can have a dramatic effect. What ends up happening is that your brain wants to dwell and analyze the mistake, which impairs your decision making skills. Learning to avoid doing that takes experience. Staying in a calm and relaxed state of mind (aka being in the zone) is how you can avoid those most of these thoughts.
Ride smarter not harder
Another way to reduce the likelihood of mistakes goes all the way back to practice. By choosing your lines wisely you can avoid potential mistakes. For example, the quickest lines through technical sections are usually the most difficult and risky. Rock gardens are a great example of this. Riders will spend considerable amounts time weighing the risk and rewards of the various line choice. But remember, rock gardens are only small part of the course. The time difference between the fastest and riskier line, and the safer lines is often times negligible.
|Photo Credit: Flikr user Blaž Vizjak|
Focus on the slower parts of the course
The reality of racing is that it’s actually the slowest and sometimes least entertaining parts of the course where a most time can be made. Picking relatively safe lines through technical features while focusing on accelerating out of turns will be far more beneficial than only focusing on being the fast through the technical parts. With that said, if there’s a hard pedal in the middle of a course just as I mentioned earlier pacing yourself is crucial. The only time where you want to give a 100% effort pedal is as you approach the finish line.
Everybody has their own plan of attack for race runs. For me this method is what has consistently proven to be successful. By no means am I claiming this is the only right way to approach a race. Experiment and see what works for you. After all, that’s how I came up with the above. Hopefully you found this series informative, and will be able to use these ideas and concepts at your next race. Good luck!