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Editor’s note: The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is honored to host a new series on our blog about adaptive cycling, written by local cyclist Patrick Sweeney. As a differently-abled person, Sweeney has found freedom in his bicycle and has used that freedom to become an athlete. See Sweeney’s previous posts here, here and here.

Racing Part Two: Race day (to read part 1, click here)

Race day is a huge rush. Racing shows me what I can accomplish, and gives me a sense of pride I can carry anywhere. Here are my tips for a successful race day.

Some races are just cycling events, others are Triathalons. I do my triathlons with partners who do the swimming and running legs, so I can focus on biking. I prefer to do bigger races. Bigger races have more volunteers to help guide you so you don’t have to think as much, and can really focus on the ride.

I try to make sure I know the route by reading maps ahead of time, but it’s nice to know that there are spotters if you need it. I like to do the same races, so I really get to know a route. Being able to focus on the ride instead of directions helps you stay as fluid as possible. While you’re racing in the pack, pay attention to other racers and try not to get boxed in. Keep your feet up in order to keep your cadence and power up.

It’s important to hydrate before, during, and after racing. Consider an electrolyte drink like Scratch to make sure you get enough salts. I also like to ride with a cliff bar in my pocket just in case I need an extra boost while I’m riding. On race day, I like to use a CamelBak because they carry a lot of fluid, attach easily to your bike, and are easily accessible for people with different physical capabilities. You can attach the tube over your shoulder to drink out of it hands-free access. I try not to drink too much liquids though, and I avoid caffeine on race day. No one wants to stop to pee during a race — but for a person with a disability, it might not even be possible. There may not be an accessible portapotty close by, and you may not be able to get out of your bike without assistance. I was so hydrated and nervous my first race that I had to use the bathroom every 15 minutes which severely cuts into your race time. Adaptive bikes can be hard to get in and out of so it can take about 15 minutes to take a bathroom break.

I always go into a race with a strategy for my pacing to meet the cut offs. When I’m doing a Half Ironman, I aim to do 38 miles in 3.5 hours, because if I reach that initial cut off, I have a whole hour left to do 15 miles. Most races have repeating loops. It can be difficult to count your own laps while you’re racing, so sometimes I use a bike computer with a “lap button” to keep track for me. I like to set speed and power zones for myself along the lap, so I know when to adjust my speeds, to maintain a steady pace that I can keep. It’s important not to exert yourself too much or too early because it’ll make the later laps harder. When laps are hard I visualize how much of the race is left and picture myself crossing the finish line to help keep myself motivated.

Having a mental strategy for tough races can be just as important as your racing strategy. I like to set small goals throughout the race to help set me up for success. Racing can be like a game of cat and mouse, once you accomplish one time cut-off, you set another until you get to the finish line. Chipping away at your goal throughout the race can help keep you motivated to keep pushing through.

The racing world builds a sense of community that’s like a huge family that competes in order to push each other to do their best. Racing allows me to forget about my disability and reminds me of what my abilities are not just racing but in life.

Read the whole series here: 

Part 1: Meet Patrick Sweeney 

Part 2: Training 

Part 3: Safety 

Part 4: Racing 

Part 5: Race Day

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