How to beat MTB race nerves

by Juliane Wisata, co-founder of Rocky Trail Entertainment

So here’s the thing, just because I own and run a mountain bike events business, people tend to think that I am an elite athlete. Can I confess: I am not. I love riding my bike, I love the sun and breeze in my face and I have, over the past 15 years, become very familiar with race preparations and race nerves – having experienced it myself and seeing our racers trying to put on a brave face at the start line.

So here I’d like to share a few tips on how to beat those race nerves, because in the lead up to our Diamonds in the Dirt Women’s Only Event I get a lot of inquiries and messages about nervousness and hesitation about signing up.

Here are five of the most common things I hear and what I’d like to suggest to see past them:

“I like riding, but I’m scared to race!”

Well, it all depends on what you want to get out of racing, I’d say to that. One of the reasons why I decided to have ‘my’ Diamonds event timed is that I still believe in a good challenge and that little carrot in front of our handlebars that pushes us forward. But like me, most of the girls are there to have fun and be out on our bikes together. To be part of an event means to immerse yourself into the pool of positive energy that condenses among like-minded people who are all there to achieve the same thing. And to have that common bond is what makes it so special.

At the Diamonds event, know that we will have roaming marshals out on track – they will be from the local club and girls from the Momentum Is Your Friend crew, a local MTB Skills Coaching business. They will encourage you and they can help with mechanicals.

The race course at the Diamonds event will be 6km long – the yellow loop at Awaba MTB Park – and have phone reception all the way – the race plates will have our Race Director’s number on it, so you can call him at any time! The race track will be marked, so you won’t get lost, promised! Plus, there will be a lot of people on track all the time, so it won’t feel like you’re by yourself.

>> Read more about the Diamonds event

“I don’t know the track.”

For the Diamonds in the Dirt as we do for our other events we publish a lot of photos and videos ahead of the race, so you can visit the event website to get a good idea of what awaits you. At Rocky Trail Entertainment we encourage a positive event environment and we are so proud that we have created an engaged community of mountain bikers who participate in our races above all to have fun.

Especially in the Diamonds in the Dirt – and our categories reflect that – we get a very wide variety of riders: from podium chasers to first-time racers. And believe me, they all cross the finish line with the same big smile!

A note on track marking:
The race track at all our races – as well as the Diamonds race – is marked with Rocky Trail arrows and tape. Critical sections will be marked with two arrows down to alert you of any major or unexpected (major) obstacles.

Another idea would be to grab a friend or a more experienced rider or racer to go out for a social ride with you on the event track, so you get an idea of what to expect. We have been working with MTB coaches regularly who put on classes ahead of our event days – including Ride Technics or Dynamic Motivation at Stromlo Forest Park and I just recently joined in a skills clinic by Momentum Is Your Friend out of Newcastle at Awaba MTB Park! What fun it was – see for yourself, we rode the Diamonds course:

“I don’t know what to eat before, during or after the race”

Again, have a chat to fellow riders that have done an event before and it will take some time to find out what works best for you. I haven’t done any mega-endurance events myself, but know from my husband’s stage races that he does that food and nutrition preferences vary greatly among athletes and that most have their favourite brands of energy bars or gels or electrolytes, but what has worked for me is:

  • Start hydrating the day before an event, keep a drink bottle next to you and sip on water regularly throughout the day. For the 6km circuit of the Diamonds event, I’ll have one large drinking bottle with me and I’ll drink probably 200-250ml per lap.
  • Breakfast: very important – you’ll probably drive to the event centre in the morning, registration starts at 8am. I’ll have a coffee and breakfast at home at around 6:30am, most likely porridge with blueberry, nuts and yoghurt and honey and I’ll take some more fresh fruit (banana, mandarins, oranges) with me. I’ll have another coffee at rego and a banana at about 9am and have a GU energy gel (you can buy some from us at rego if you need to) about 15 min before race start.
  • During the race: keep drinking and have an energy gel or energy/muesli bar of your choice with you and generally try to eat every hour. If you are interested in some more facts, this Fact Sheet by the Sports Dietitions of Australia is a good start.
  • A note on electrolytes: I’m one of those people who struggles to drink enough every day, so when I race or do longer riders, I pop an electrolyte tablet into my bottle.
  • After the race: hit our catering van. Hard! 🙂 We will have our caterers on-site and they serve up a great selection of sweet and savoury snacks, pasta, milk shakes and hot or cold drinks!

Don’t forget about your bike – check in with your local bike shop to get it race-ready!

“I’m worried that I’m too slow and will hold someone up on track”

Please let me tell you: you have the same right to be on that race track as any other event participant! We will hold a rider briefing ahead of every race, including the Diamonds in the Dirt event and remind everyone about the fun factor of Rocky Trail events and to be courteous to each other. We expect all our racers to be respectful to each other and to look out for one another.

If you are overtaking:

  • Please let the rider ahead know that you are there – “Hey, when you get a chance, can I get past?”
  • If there are more of you, like a whole “train of pain”, tell the rider ahead how many riders will be overtaking.
  • Make sure that the rider in front has a safe spot to let you past, communication is key!
  • Ideally call out where you’ll pass: “I’ll go on your left/right!” – Make sure that the rider in front is on the safe side of the track.
  • If you can, say thanks – “Cheers, mate, have a good ride, you’re doing really well!”

If you are being overtaken:

  • Remember to stay calm. You don’t have to stop, again communication is key. You could say, “There’s a spot ahead, go on my left/right!” or “Just a second, it’s a bit tight here, I’ll get to the side in a sec.”
  • Be mindful that the overtaking rider might be more experienced than you and see a gap where you don’t. We will have asked everyone to overtake in a courteous and respectful manner, so trust in their abilities.
  • Especially in the Diamonds event this will be a chance to say G’day to each other and cheer each other on, embrace this racing situation. You are putting yourself out there and you should be so proud of yourself!
  • If you still feel unsure, do stop, take a breath and continue your race when you are ready. It takes as much of a skill set to be overtaken as it does to overtake.
  • If you are worried at all, do talk to Juliane or any of her crew.

“I won’t know anyone”

Well, then see a race as your chance to make MTB riding friends! We will have our Women’s Ambassador Gwynn McLeod at the Diamonds event and she’ll have a race talk ahead of the event from 8:30 to 9:30am at Awaba MTB Park. Go grab a coffee and join in the fun that is getting to know each other and talking about riding bikes!

We would love to get to know you – in fact, the most fun I actually have after the event, when everyone arrives back at the event centre on a high from their rides! The best time of day for me seeing all those excited people – racers and supporters alike – with their faces glowing with mountain bike happiness!

Are you ready to tackle a race?