With my first racing season coming up, I was wondering if racing both the juniors and regular category races on the same day/ weekend would seem like a smart thing to do. For example, instead of driving 5 hours to go only to a juniors race, should I also race the Cat. 5 if I think I can? I mean the two combined is a little more than 50 miles, so that shouldn't be that big of a deal. Just want your opinions or past experiences with doing so.
I know people that have done this with no problem, but I haven't yet.
I think that doing this depends more on the rider than anything else. IF you think you can ride 50 miles at a race pace then go for it, but I would not suggest riding both for your first race, as it may be much harder than you think.
Just some road races have several categories go with a staggered start so that they can all use the course at once, so it may not work for you to do two races.
I would not recommend trying that in your first entry, but after you know what you are or aren't getting into, then you can make a more qualified decision.
Try it after you race once. I tried to do this as a Junior when I could and I found the following:
1. Junior races, typically open class (i.e. all categories), tend to have a few extremely strong racers. The ones that win all the Junior races tend to be really good. The Juniors that won all my races were kids like George Hincapie and brothers Frank and Mark McCormack, who all turned pro pretty quickly. A couple years ago the Junior that won everything around here turned pro for Jelly Belly (Ben Wolfe) and he won some really big local P12 races as a 20 year old. One somewhat dominant Junior in this area now already has two national titles (Jr Cross, Crit) and placed 3rd at Jr Cross nationals this year. So, these guys can really turn up the pressure, more so than pretty much anyone else out there, including many of the Cat 2s and even some of the Cat 1s. This means Junior races, when they're hard, they're way harder than a Cat 3 race.
Also, not sure of your area but around here Junior races tend to be small, like 10-15 riders tops. There isn't much protection from the wind so you really have to be fit. In a "minimum size group", which to me is about 40-50 riders, you can find significant shelter. A larger group makes the race easier and since Junior races tend to be small that means they tend to be really hard. It's more like doing a time trial than a mass start race.
2. Cat 5s are all over the place but generally new. This include Juniors who are Cat 5. You have no idea who is good, who is not, some riders might be experienced group riders, most are not, and a select few Cat 5s will be a Cat 2 or 1 by the end of the year. Again, the range is everywhere but generally speaking the Cat 5s will be much, much easier than a Junior race. However you have to watch out for poor bike handling (both from yourself as well as others) since all the racers in the Cat 5s are not very experienced at all. Just look at pictures of a given race day - look at the 5s, the 3s, and the pros. The 5s leave 10 feet between each bike, 3-4 feet to the side. THe 3s will be 2-3 feet behind one another, a foot or two to the sides. The pros might be a foot apart drafting and inches to the sides. It's not just whether you can handle a bike or not, it's how well the others handle a bike. For example a pro might feel comfortable drafting inches away from another pro while blasting around a crit course but that same pro might leave a 5' gap in front of him if he were following a brand new racer.
Typically Cat 5 races are easier than a 4 race, and based on feedback from racers and from me watching races, the 4s and 5s are more similar than the 3s and 4s. There are some extremely experienced Cat 3 men (former Olympians, former/current national champions - one of the Cat3s in the area has won something like 30 national titles, and just plain former Cat 1s and 2s). You just don't see those riders in the 4s. 1s and 2s will downgrade to 3 but I haven't seen such a rider downgrade to the 4s.
Therefore doing a Junior race followed by a Cat 5 race shouldn't be too bad. You go hard first then it's much easier in the second race.
3. When I was a Junior I fatigued pretty quickly. My second race was usually pretty bad, even if I was doing the Cat 4s (no Cat 5s back then). In addition I wouldn't recover from a two-race Sunday until Wednesday or so. If I trained while I was tired I got into a bad training cycle where I was super fatigued and if I didn't then I'd lose relative fitness each week I tried to double up on races. Later, like 10 years later, I'd do 2 races on a Saturday and 2 races on a Sunday and be fine, and later I'd even do 4 hard days in a row (race, hard group ride, race, race) and I was fine, but as a Junior I couldn't handle that kind of workload. I think it has to do with the body maturity or something - everyone seems to comment that as they get older they lose some of that snap but they can ride 90-100 miles without much training and still feel okay at the end of the ride.