How I trained for my first bike race
From cycling commuter to hobby racer
At Bikemap, we believe in challenging ourselves and trying new things, and we love when it happens in front of our own eyes. Though our copywriter Julia Rotte was rarely seen in the office without a bike, she surprised us all by signing up for her first bike race.
Find out how she took the leap from cycling commuter to hobby racer, and how Bikemap helped her reach that goal.
This was me 6 months ago.
Six months ago, I was a classic bike commuter.
My bike was a twenty-year-old second-hand city cruiser made of steel. Sleek road bikes in bright colours might have turned my head occasionally but I loved my heavy but indestructible bicycle. Since cycling was a lifestyle choice, not a sport, I didn't feel the need to invest in padded shorts or pink lycra tops. I just needed a reliable bike to get me from A to B.
Most days, I would ride up to 20km for work, shopping and socializing. As a happy bike commuter for 5 years, I was reaping the positive effects: I got fitter by the day, hardly got colds anymore, I saved money on public transport, reduced my carbon footprint and got to experience my city from a new perspective.
This is me today.
I just completed my first bike race, a 68km half marathon known as Medio Fondo Vienna. There were no ambitions going into this: the goal was to get to the finish line before the sweeper car, averaging 25 km/h. But riding among all these bikes gave me such a rush that I just kept going and placed better than I could have hoped.
I never expected to enjoy a competitive sports event - surely there had been some mistake – so I promptly signed up for a second one, this time with hills and even fewer female riders. And guess what: those padded shorts turn out to be truly necessary for continued enjoyment of cycling.
Wanna know how this happened? :)
I wish I could say I lost a dare.
Or that working for Bikemap, I thought it’s about time I tried out some of the many recreational routes around my home city of Vienna.
Nope, I simply had the chance to test ride a friend’s road bike. We figured the frame should fit me, for we were about the same size, except for one crucial detail: at 6 months pregnant, her belly was getting in the way of the top tube and she had no use for the bike.
I was nervous on my first ride. Road bikes are so much lighter – would I wobble all over the place and have to relearn how to hold my balance? The low grips meant I’d be riding in a forward stretch position – would I still see the traffic and feel safe? Not to mention learning to handle gears and breaks, which were in a different place. With all these things challenging me, I wasn’t even thinking of throwing clipless pedals in the mix. But that’s okay. Better take it slow than head out with all the gear and no idea.
It took a few initiation outings under the wing of more experienced riders. But each kilometer made me more comfortable with the road bike, which in turn boosted my confidence.
First we concentrated on getting a few long rides in: 30, 45, 60 km after work. Next, climbing. This is where your body tells you, very clearly, how fast you can go. You learn it is better to crawl steadily than to exhaust yourself early on and that two water bottle holders are always better than one. I puffed and sweated my way to my first summit in the Vienna woods.
But then it was time for the descent, and this is where I got it. After all this strain, the reward: downhill feels like flying, smooth and effortless gliding while the airstream cools your skin.
Though it's not without its challenges, going downhill on a nimble road bike was unlike any experience I'd ever had on two wheels, and I wanted more. I was hooked. To give me a goal, I decided to sign up for a race.
That sounds fun! How can I train for my first race?
If you've always wanted to sign up for a bike race, but never got round to it, this is for you. Here's what I would have liked to know before getting started...
Will I need a road bike?
Yes, ideally. No matter how fast you can go on your fixie/mountainbike/beloved commuter, thin tires and an ultra-light frame will instantly boost your performance. Trust me. I never consciously “trained” a day in my life for this but turns out that pushing my heavy steel frame through headwinds on a regular basis gave me some serious leg power. And you’ll be surprised at what you can do, too, with a bike built for speed!
Where will I ride?
Get out of the city and on to wide, less frequented country roads. Flat and straight is great for getting into the rhythm of road cycling. Bikemap is a great resource for planning your outings. You can draw your own routes, track them using GPS devices or the app, and see route suggestions from other cyclists by simply searching the map.
See all of my training routes in my profile.
When I went on holiday abroad but didn’t want to interrupt my training, I picked out some fine routes in Noord Holland (thank you my Dutch friends!), then navigated these with the offline maps function on the app (you can unlock this super useful feature with a Bikemap Premium membership).
What about a training plan?
I certainly didn’t overdo it. Two bigger rides a week – in the evenings or on the weekend – don’t seem like too much of a commitment, but when you’re still also spending over an hour in the saddle commuting to and from work each day, the kilometers quickly add up.
Because it’s fun to look back on past achievements, I took care to add the routes I’d ridden to my Bikemap training log. You have one too! Simply enter the date and the duration of the ride and it will calculate your average speed and build a cool little graph showing your weekly kilometers.
How do I prepare for the race?
There are many events open to hobby cyclists around the world. Pick a distance and elevation profile you know is realistic if you get some training in, but make sure it scares you just enough to think you made a huge mistake by signing up (fear is the best motivator!).
If there is an entry fee, you can usually expect a sports event organized to a high standard. When you pick up your bib number and transponder, which measures your time, you’ll also get a complementary race kit complete with a t-shirt, water bottle, power bars and gels, depending on the race sponsors.
On race day, get enough sleep and eat a high-energy breakfast. You will feel tempted to ride faster and harder than you ever do in training, so drink lots of water and make sure you stay hydrated during the race. There will usually be one or two refreshment stops on the way so you can stock up on emergency supplies if needed.
What happens during the race?
Once the peloton spreads out after the mass start, it’s best to stick with riders who match your pace, and try to latch on to the next group further ahead, if you can. You can even try to ride in the slipstream of another rider to save energy, but take care to stick to the rules of group cycling! Use hand signals to warn people behind you of obstacles or if you need to slow down, and always stay alert to riders’ movements around you.
Try to take it all in: the scenic route, the unique atmosphere, and the healthy competition. But most of all – have fun! Think of the sense of achievement that will be yours when you cross that finish line and make a new personal best.
It might be enough to get you hooked on your new favorite sport, too.
If I can do it, so can you!
I promise it’s not down to being any smarter, braver or more disciplined than the average person. Tip: Get some experienced cycling buddies to show you the ropes. Join Bikemap or a local club to find cyclists near you. Getting started is safer and more fun together!
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