An event like Whaka100 involves a pretty huge commitment. Weeks, if not months, of training; entry fee; travel and accommodation; the good will of friends and families who support you in your goals… So you get to race weekend, or even part way through the race, and suddenly you’re compiling a list of questions in your head because you realise there might have been a few things you could have done to make your day go better and easier.
Here are some frequently asked and overheard questions that related to Whaka100 to help you prepare in the lead up to race day.
Should I use the bag drop? If I do, what should I put in it?
Yes. Even if you can carry everything you need for 5-8 hours of riding, if you don’t have to carry a couple of kilos of food and drink for a good portion of the race you’ll be saving yourself from carrying those extra kilos up a good portion of 4000m of climbing. And if you do still want to carry it all, it’s worth stashing some spares and extras in case things don’t go to plan or conditions change significantly.
Bottles with fluids – a couple of size options so you’re covered for different conditions. It’s not uncommon for bottles to shake loose from bottle holders, or you might discover you have a leaking bottle. It’s also an opportunity to get a new flavour. If you’re a super-hydrater you might even want to stash an extra bladder to swap out.
Food – pop in a couple of different type and flavour bars and/or gels, and if it’s something that works for you, a couple of treats to keep you pushing towards the bag drop and lift the spirits as you head off again.
Spare spares, to replace if any have been used – it’s all about the worst case scenario. Even if there are manned tech stations on course there will only be so much product and so many mechanics available at any one time. Be prepared to be self-sufficient, or at least provide less common parts for a mechanic to work with so you can finish your race. It’s also useful to have some chain lube and a rag in case you need it.
Clothing – conditions can and do change. If it’s not wet at the start and you’re not going to carry it with you, stash a jacket in your drop bag. There’s always a chance the day might cool off, especially if it does start to rain, and you’ll be a lot more comfortable if you’ve got something to help keep you warm even if you don’t have it on you to wear straight away.
What are some options for carrying the things I need to have on me, especially food/gels/bars so they are easy to get to and I don’t have to stop to get them out of my bag?
Even if you’re carrying the minimum, you’re still going to have a fair few items to carry and not a lot of places to put them. If you’re not using a bag you’ll be relying mostly on your jersey pockets and might be comfortably carrying a couple of gels or bars up your shorts if you’re wearing lycra, or just your shorts pockets if you’re in baggies. Even if you’re using a bag these are good options for getting to those items. It’s ideal if your bag has waist strap pockets. Other options include top tube bags or taping items to the top tube, small bum-bags or even hydration bum bags which are becoming popular, your bottle cage with either a cut-down or specially made bottle for tools or food.
To help with getting your nutrition in to you, and to reduce the risk of dropping things, pre-open packets, or wrap using tinfoil that separates easier than gladwrap. It’s also an option to maximise the nutrition from your bottles or hydration pack to limit the amount of extra food required.
Whatever you chose to go with, make sure you test it out before race day and know it works for you. For example, if you’re going to put things up your shorts legs, make sure they won’t fall out (ie, the bands are tight enough to hold), or that you have the flexibility to reach in to your jersey or side pockets while riding (if not, you can always work on your flexibility).
What should I eat and drink, and when?
There are some key tricks to getting your nutrition and hydration right on the big day, and it’s not just about what goes in between the start and finish.
For the most part, in the days leading up to the race just eat as you normally do. If you change anything, limiting the fibre content on that last day can be useful as it takes some digesting and we want your system to be focusing on turning as much as possible in to usable fuel for the race.
On the morning of the race you’ll want to have a good breakfast so all of your glycogen stores are high. While it’s primarily liver glycogen that is depleted overnight, it is still critical to restore this as muscle glycogen only serves the muscles and not the central nervous system. Breakfast should be 2-3 hours before race start and at least the amount you would have on an ordinary training day. Exactly how much will vary from person to person but aim for at least 400 calories and no more than 800 calories 3 hours out. Exactly what you eat is up to you but a high proportion of slow burn carbs such as oatmeal, whole grain breads, pancakes is recommended. Banana is a great breakfast fruit. Eggs, peanut butter and yoghurt offer some protein and fat options to round the meal out.
It’s also important to start the race in a hydrated condition. This includes topping up your electrolyte stores. The best way to do this is by sipping on sports drink from breakfast through to warm up. If you choose a sports drink with calories just ensure you don’t end up consuming too many calories – offset it with slightly less food. Alternatively, there are several calorie free electrolyte drinks you can choose from. Consume around 4-500ml from breakfast through to beginning your warm up.
It’s important to start your nutrition and hydration early in the race, and to continue right through. You have 1.5 to 2 hours of energy stored in your body so there’s no way you’re going to get away with a bottle of water to get through this one safely and at your best. If you need to, set an alarm on your heart rate monitor, phone, gps or other unit you will have with you on the bike to remind yourself to stay on top of your nutrition. And as with the pre-race hydration, if you have calories in your bottle or hydration pack don’t forget to factor this in to your total intake.
If you use sports nutrition products it’s easy to work out the total amounts you need because each packet or bottle is clearly defined. If you’re using real food it’s a good idea to work out the energy content and prepare it in pieces so it’s just as easy to know how much you’re consuming.
As with breakfast, carbs are your primary energy source and exactly what you eat is up to you. Maybe you prefer to stick to one food option and your bottle, maybe you need to mix it up a lot more. The important thing is that you know what you’re having and have enough with you (or in your drop bag) in case you take longer than expected. Now all you need to do is aim for 200-250 (50-60 grams of carbs) calories per hour. Some people might tolerate as much as 300 calories per hour (~80 grams of carbs) but any more than this can lead to gastric distress. It’s important to test out your nutrition and hydration plan during training – and don’t try anything new on race day!
As tempting as it might be to knock back the beer your buddy hands you at the finish, if you want to get back to 100% as quickly as you can it’s not the first thing you should consume. Ideally, within 15-20 minutes of finishing you should consume a combination of protein and carbohydrate to promote muscle repair and recovery and replenishment of muscle glycogen. No matter how much you’ve consumed during the race, you’ll be in calorie deficit. The simplest option in this 15-20 minute window is 4-500ml of milk (chocolate is always popular) or a formulated recovery drink. These can be handy as it might not be possible to keep the milk suitably chilled.
Within 2-3 hours you should have a full meal, again high carb content to keep replenishing from the energy expended during the race.
It’s also important to continue hydrating in the hours following the race. Continuing to take electrolytes on board is optimal, but the main thing is to rehydrate until your pee is a healthy colour again.
Which bike??? Full-suspension or hardtail? 27.5 or 29? 100 or 120mm?
If you’re fortunate enough to have a fleet of bikes to choose from for the big day, or if you’re trying to decide on a new bike, the biggest determining factor is personal preference, but there are some key things to consider when deciding which rig you’re going to roll.
What are your strengths and weaknesses? If you’re a strong climber but need help with technical riding the weight penalty of a fully could pay off, especially as fatigue sets in. A fully gives you greater margin for error on more technical terrain whether climbing or descending, and because it’s literally a softer ride, it’s less harsh on your body. A dropper post will extend that margin for error on the descents even more.
If you’re a strong technical rider you can save a bit of weight and get up the hills a bit faster on a hardtail. If you want a bit of assistance on the descents a dropper post will allow you to get that saddle out of the way to maintain a bit more speed through the corners and on steep sections.
If you need a smoother ride, for example due to injuries, a fully is the obvious answer, but you can add to that by riding a larger wheel size. This will also help to prolong the onset and slow the worsening of fatigue. But Whaka100 doesn’t have the roughest terrain, so if you prefer the feel of a smaller wheel there’s no real penalty to going for that.
If you’ve got options for travel, this probably isn’t the race to break out your bounciest bike. With both the distance and total vertical gain to conquer, unless you’re prepared to take the weight and possible pedalling efficiency penalties of more travel (especially if you don’t have lockout) for the limited amount of really gnarly descending on offer, this is really a race for more traditional XC travel of up to 100mm.
What equipment should I carry?
There are a few different schools of thought on this one, and what you end up carrying will depend on a few things, including how long you’re likely to be out there, what type of riding and racing you usually do, whether you’ve been caught out in the past, and whether you’re a minimalist or kitchen sink type of person when it comes to what you carry. For an event like Whaka 100, regardless of your goal time or position, there is a minimum equipment list that you should carry simply because it could save your race by enabling you to spend a few minutes fixing something trailside rather than waiting for someone to come along and loan you something they are carrying, or limping to the bag drop or tech station to get a fix. The cell phone is listed in the minimum list because even in a well organised event like Whaka100, that is run in a relatively contained area, there is always a chance that you will need to contact the organiser or medics to alert them to a significant injury or problem.
Small amount of chain lube
Second spare tube
If you’re worrying about carrying all of this as well as your nutrition and hydration remember you have options. Shorts pockets (or legs if in lycra), jersey pockets, saddle or other bags attached to your bike, hydration pack with room for the gear you need, bottle cage for either tools or fluids to keep that weight off your back. There are plenty of ways to distribute all your need without being uncomfortable or putting it all in one place. A bit of insulation tape can be useful to carry something like a light-weight jacket under your stem or top tube – you can get creative with this!
What if I get sick just before the race???
There really is only one answer for this. Rest! In the last 10 days or so there is little you can add with training. Trust in the training you have done over the last almost 8/12/or many more weeks and let your body recovery fully so you can use all of the training you have been able to complete to the fullest on the day. Don’t get back on the bike until you are 100%. If possible, give it an extra day. And when you do get back on the bike, unless you are 100% start with an easy spin of 45 minutes. If that goes well, you should be good to re-join your training plan.
Many people refuse to take even a day off the bike, or insist on training again before they are completely healthy. The consequence of doing this is, invariably, an extended recovery time, multiple relapses, and a week or more of lost or poor training. In some cases people will end up training at 80% for weeks or even months before finally coming 100% right.
It is far better to take and extra couple of days, maybe even 3 or 4, and then be back at 100% within a week.
What are the common mistakes to avoid?
There are so many ways a day this big can go wrong, but there are lots of little things you can do to ensure it runs super smooth:
Know the general layout of the course – even with the very best course marking people sometimes miss turns in the heat of battle. Even if you are not familiar with the area and this is your first time in the Redwoods, check out the course on Trailforks, make some mental notes of key points, or even download it to a device.
Know where the feed/tech/dropbag zones are – invariably very hard to miss with tents, tables, people milling around, but I hear people after events mentioning they didn’t see one or more of them. Note the distance they are set to be at (and make sure you start your bike computer at the gun!) and keep and eye on that and your head up when they’re due if you need to use them.
Know the schedule for the day – check for any last minute changes from the organisers on their website and social media the night before the race, or even the morning before if severe weather has been forecast or has arrived.
Carry the right tools – there are a lot of options of both what and how. Don’t skimp on the minimum to save weight unless you have absolute confidence in, and experience with your equipment. Even then, freak things happen. Far better to have what you need and lose a few minutes carrying out a trail-side fix than have your day cut short and a DNF after all the preparation.
Stay on top of your nutrition and hydration – plan ahead so you know what you’ll need and when, and follow through!
Prep your bike properly – you’ve invested so much in this already, equipment failure is always a risk but one that can be minimised. Book your bike in with your LBS a couple of weeks out, ask them to check it out and tell them you’re doing the event. Ultimately it’ll be your call whether you replace any parts they mention are worn but if the cables are at the end of their life, chain is close to borderline, jockey wheels are nothing but sharks teeth and brake discs are worn enough that 100kms in poor conditions would likely do them in, seriously consider investing in replacements. Make sure you have time to ride at least a couple of times after you have your bike back to ensure everything is running smoothly. And in the couple of days before the race check that everything is as it should be, bolts are tight, rotors aren’t rubbing, seat post isn’t dropping (use insulation tape or a permanent marker so you can tell), and make sure you can undo the quick release or thru-axle on both wheels and re-tighten to where they are secure and you can undo them in the race should you need to.
Last time I did a race this long I couldn’t sit or walk properly for a week. Is there anything I can do to speed the return to normal scheduling?
First, train at least adequately if not optimally. The better your body is prepared the better it will hold up and recover. Be sure you’ve tested everything for race day during training. You want to know that your set up won’t create stresses that your body doesn’t cope with. If you’re going to ride with 3L of fluid, plus food and tools in a hydration pack in the race, make sure you’ve done at least a couple of rides of a few hours with that set up. Putting 4-5kg on your back for the first time on race day is asking for trouble.
Second, start early and stay on top of your nutrition and hydration during the race. Again, you want to have tested all of this during training, but come race day it can be easy to forget to eat and drink the right amounts. This can be so costly the further through the race you get and it will absolutely result in a prolonged recovery time.
Finally, post-race. Amidst the excitement of finishing, be careful not to neglect the post-race nutrition recommendations above, and incorporate some off-bike recovery methods. These can include, but aren’t limited to:massage (immediately post-race and/or a couple of days after), stretches (glutes, hamstrings, calves, quads, ITBs and hip flexors at a minumum), foam roller (targeting the same areas as suggested for stretches), and compression clothing – an easy option for passive recovery promotion is to don your stretchy pants for the drive home (also, use cruise control if you’re the driver so you don’t have to hold your leg in on position for extended periods).
That’s all for now! If you have any questions feel free to post them on the Whaka100 or Cowbell Coaching Facebook pages (make sure you tag @cowbellcoaching on the Whaka100 page so I’ll know you’ve posted), and I’ll reply as soon as I can.