Early Season Racing: Should You Do it?

Here in Texas, and elsewhere across the country like Southern California, the racing season starts early. Like mid-January early. While it’s great to have races for so much of the year, there’s also some thought that should go into the decision of whether to race from January all the way through May and beyond. After the first weekend in February, Texans will have had the option of competing in at least 4 races. There are many great reasons to race in the early season, including that racing is fun. Other considerations include how the races fit into training and each athlete’s schedule, as well as how much time an individual has throughout the year.

Early season racing: How experienced are you?

For newer athletes or athletes for whom tactics and racing experience in general are significant weaknesses, more racing is almost always better. For these individuals, the benefits of early racing are big. Typically, the racing is somewhat less intense and reasonably less attended than later and larger events. This allows for comfort in racing and tactical knowledge to grow and develop during a period with less important races. On the other hand, those without the need to learn the more tactical and experiential side of racing will get a lot less out of early season races. Experience and tactical practice are an important side of deciding what races to do. Speak with your coach about the pros and cons of doing these races to decide if participating will be a significant boon for you.

Early season racing: when are you peaking?

Another important consideration is the target event timeline. If your ‘cross season ends in January and you run straight into road racing, there’s a good chance you’re not going to make it into a big May goal with a fresh mental perspective and physical sharpness. It’s a long season, so consider your ultimate goals before diving headlong into early racing. While mid-season breaks are often useful for most athletes regardless of when they start the season, it may be better to do a larger block of racing leading up to target events instead of trying to race straight through. Longevity is paramount in bike racing, so consider the long term goals. Team obligations to race from March through May can make January racing ill-advised. So, consider your greater goals when you plan your racing season.
Early season racing: training takes time.
Training takes time. This is something successful endurance athletes all come to know. There’s a lot of variability in how much time athletes need to train and recover to be at their best, but everyone has a point at which too much training, or not enough, are highly detrimental. Adding intensity too soon, as early racing can do, is something that should be carefully thought over and dialed in with your coach. Starting the racing season during an aerobic or base training period can seriously derail not only your motivation in training, but also your physical development. Going from less intense aerobic efforts or classical base training straight into racing has potential to undermine your confidence. Most have seen an example of the early season strongmen going fantastically at the beginning of the season only to fade into pack fodder by the time key events and bigger races roll around. There’s a reason for that. Proper training and preparation is key to being your best and improving consistently long term.

Early season racing: have FUN!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the early season fun factor. Racing bikes is supposed to be FUN, so don’t take any of it too seriously. If that means you need to get off the trainer and avoid staring at your power meter in the cold by yourself to go out and race, then maybe that’s your answer to the question of whether you should do an early season race or not. Sitting in the field can be oddly motivating! Ultimately, it’s a decision that your coach should be willing to work with you on and guide you to maximize your potential for your goals throughout the season and long term.
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Mitchell Sides recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BSEd in Exercise Science and is currently pursuing his master’s at Midwestern State University. He’s transitioned from a self-proclaimed overweight couch resident into a member of Texas’s first UCI continental professional cycling team, Elevate Pro Cycling. He specializes in coaching road cycling and is inspired by the mentorship aspect of the sport. Learn more about Mitchell.