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Lessons Learned From My First Stage Race (Part 1)

Updated: Aug 27, 2021

In May 2021 I completed my first mountain bike stage race, Trans-Sylvania Epic. This was an incredible race covering some amazing trails and I can't recommend it enough. I did however learn some valuable lessons over the course of those five days...

#1 - Sleep (and recovery) is everything - Throughout the 5 days that we raced, I slept horribly and it really hurt my racing. Recovery is critical when you're trying to race hard for 5 days in a row and its been said before that stage races are about who can recover the best. There's no better way to recover than good quality sleep so anything that can be done to improve sleep should be done. This might mean paying for a hotel, or cabin (we camped in a tent), it might mean not bringing the dogs along for the trip, or maybe just coming prepared to deploy all possible sleeping strategies you have in your toolkit. Be ready to focus on getting the best sleep possible.

#2 - Simple bike maintenance can make or break your race - Its easy over the course of 5 days to get lazy about taking care of your bike especially as you get more and more tired. The problem is that a stage race is hard on your bike as well as being hard on your body so making sure you at least do the essentials to keep your bike running smoothly can make all the difference. For future stage races I'll use a daily checklist to make sure I don't forget to do a few essential tasks. These will likely include washing/cleaning the bike, lubing the chain, checking tires and wheels for damage (Pennsylvania rocks are brutal), and checking tire pressure prior to warm up (if you think I'm missing something post it in the comments). These seem like simple tasks that you wouldn't forget but don't underestimate a tired brain!

#3 - Seconds count - If you have any ambition to do anything other than just finish then be aware that every second counts. You may think that over the course of 5 days and over 10 hours of riding that a second here and there won't matter but it often does. I finished in 7th place in Open Women, only 2 minutes behind Madeline Depman in 6th. Without question I could have been two minutes faster without any sacrifices. Its easy to get a little complacent and forget that your stage times add up and that silly time wasted might be the difference between winning and losing overall.

#4 - Your start matters - #3 and #4 could really be one point but the upshot is that time matters and a really good way to give up time unnecessarily is at the start. I am notorious for seeding myself too far back at the start, being intimidated by other strong riders and starting too slow. There is a time to pace yourself and be mindful about burning matches but getting a strong start can be critical. This is especially true if, like me, you're better on single track than on gravel. The first 3 days I started too conservatively and ended up getting to the single track with folks who were not as confident on the trails. So not only did I start slower than I should have but I was then significantly handicapped getting stuck behind riders who needed to get off and walk the more technical sections that I could have easily ridden if I hadn't been stopped by the folks walking. These were the sections where I expected to make up time but couldn't because I was too far back in the field.

Read Part 2 of this post here.

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