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Early Morning MTB Race Starts

Reader Question:

I am not a morning person, never have been. A lot of the long endurance races I have been doing start early in the morning and I feel like I have a hard time getting going. I usually get off the line feeling flat with tired legs and don’t really get going for the first hour or so. How can I get better at these early morning events?

LW Coaching Answer:

Dawn patrol endurance race start times can be difficult for night owls!

In general, the longer the race, the earlier the start time. Riding conservatively and taking an hour to open up in these longer endurance races can be a good tactic, and could lead to a personal best race time. It is all too easy to over-pace the start of an endurance race.

I’ve outlined training and race-day strategies that can help you feel sparklier at race start, and have you firing on all cylinders right from the gun.


In the five days leading up to race day go to bed early and wake up at the same time as race day.  Give yourself enough time to log eight hours of sleep. Start your ride in the morning at the same time as the race start if possible. Like pre-adapting to a new time zone before travel, this will shift your biological clock to be awake at race time.

In the five weeks leading up to the event, once per week, go to bed early, rise early and ride early. This will teach your body to put in the work early and more importantly, provide you the opportunity to experiment with different breakfast and wake up routines.


Two days prior to your race (or in the afternoon the day before), organize your race fuel and equipment. This avoids the need to stay up late the night before organizing. It also allows you to have a mellow morning with time to wake up gradually, rather than a stressful rush getting your stuff together before your brain is fully awake.

Write out your morning plan: what you need to do, and at what time. Then in the morning you can relax and follow your plan without struggling to think before your brain is fully awake.

On race morning, set at least two alarms, take a shower, eat breakfast and drink coffee. If you are a night owl you are almost surely a coffee drinker, too.

Eat a lighter and possibly liquid-based breakfast to avoid the sleepy feeling a full stomach generates. But remember: a lighter and liquid breakfast requires starting your fuel plan from the gun rather than waiting an hour into the race.

At the race–site, plan a longer and more gradual warm up.

This may mean warming up in the dark. Have some lights set up on your bike and warm clothes you can quickly remove pre-race. Or, use a trainer for your warm up. Like the waking up process, start gradually. Finish with some harder efforts to generate some endorphins and bring you online 100% in time for the race start.

Being a night owl myself, I know how much easier it is to push the snooze button on race morning and get another hour sleep, rather than take the time to gradually wake up. Dragging yourself out of bed on time is worth the extra effort to hit the start line ready to rock.

By Lynda Wallenfels Google+

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