Next weekend will be my first race of the season, Echo Red to Red XC over in Echo, OR. It will mark the 2nd year for this event and first time for me. It's a 1-loop course over 28 miles with lots of singletrack. It should be good to gauge my fitness against the local racing scene. Not much emphasis will be placed on this race. The goal will be to use this race as a hard training day. There is no better way to simulate racing than racing itself.
Early season races are the best time to work on several areas such as; travel logistics, pre-race warm up, proper nutrition, and race strategies. You don't want to be wasting energy on these areas during your "A" priority races. It's a lot like figuring out what fuel works best for your body. You want to know which foods (bars, gels, rice cakes, etc) your body performs best with and can digest easily. What might work for your endurance rides might not work for an above-threshold-level-effort for 2-3 hours.
There can be a lot gained from doing several "training races", so put a few on your calendar and don't be too concerned with the result. Make notes of what worked and what didn't so that you don't make the same mistake/s again.
Good luck on YOUR season.