Updated: Jun 20, 2020
As a performance coach working in motorsport, I speak to racers every day about the requirements needed to access flow more often at the race track. I have spent the last 3 years studying what conditions and circumstances trigger the flow state, where everything seems to click, you perform at your highest level without any effort. But in the past my own experience of finding flow is the same as it is for most racers, it seems to visit for a race and then vanish again. But through my studies and experience I now know better, exact conditions create flow. In my training courses, I guide any rider or driver who is driven to perform at their best into that state more readily and repeatedly and their performance goes higher and higher.
But back in 2009 on the all-new Cross Plank Yamaha R1 i didn't know those special conditions and I was like most on the grid, i had felt flow in the past for a fleeting time where I rode really well without even trying but then the next weekend it was just as hard to try and be quick again. My first race on the new bike was going to be a 6-hour endurance race at Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours in central France. The other riders in the team had taken part in the Swiss organised event before, and I was pleased to accept an invitation as a new edition to the team. So driving down to Magny-Cours i was pretty confident I had gone well racing an R6 the year before and I fitted out the R1 with Ohlins suspension and full Akrapovic system and so I thought I was the bee's knees, what is the old saying? '"pride comes before a fall".
Practice on the Thursday wasn't going well, the new R1 didn't want to do anything compared to the R6 i was used to, i wouldn't go, stop or turn in my opinion, and the harder I tried the slower and more frustrated I got. In fact, as it was an endurance race that went into the night you were required to qualify in both the daylight and in the dark. To my dismay my teammates Johann and Christian qualified faster in the dark than my best time in the daylight and I was embarrassed and not enjoying any of it. As a new team member, I felt I was letting them down and very self-conscious about what they all must think of me. I was telling myself, I am pretty quick, I have qualified on pole before, finished on the podium and won races in other series on the R6 but it didn't help, i just got more and more frustrated and couldn't work out how everyone so so much faster than me.
Me not looking too happy with my performance.
Come race day or should I say race evening, the race started at 7 pm and ran on until 1 in the morning. We talked as a team on strategy and who would start the race with the infamous Le Mans style start, the riders line up on the opposite side of the track, then as the flag drops, they run across the track to jump on their bike and fire it up and blast off as fast as possible to start the race. Thankfully I didn't draw the short straw to make the start as my confidence was low and didn't want the added pressure of the start. My performance or lack of it had us qualifying in 43rd place out of 49 entries, so the race wasn't going to be easy. But my experienced teammates were still upbeat, saying that in an endurance race anything can happen so with a few incidents and breakdowns we can work our way up through the field. But i was nervous any doubting abilities more worried about not looking bad and not messing thing up than trying to make places up from virtually the back of the grid. We had a strategy of 20-minute stints, to begin with, and see how the race settled down. I was due to go out for the second stint and as Johann's first stint drew to a close, I was nervous but on the bike and ready. We all used our own bikes, so a change over consisted of transferring the transponder for the timing system, taking it off the incoming bike and securely fitted to the next bike going out, an exercise, that with practice can be done in under 60 seconds. We made the change and I entered the race, in the first lap you need to get to full pace as soon as possible, as other teams haven't pitted and are in full race mode. I set my fastest lap of the weekend so far on my opening lap, and I was trying to push hard when at the Adelaide hairpin at the end of the straight on my second lap, I was T-boned by a Frenchman who had out-braked himself and was out of control. I was mid-corner and across his bows so to speak as he hit me smack on the rear wheel. We both went flying, I dislocated my knee, and he broke his shoulder. The bikes were equally a mess with my rear wheel smashed, and his bike's forks bent like pieces of spaghetti. As we waited for assistance from the marshalls, I was thinking to myself we were not planning on the first incident in the race to be all about us. Now the team were flat last with the clock ticking on the transponder tied to my stricken bike. We finally got driven back to the pits with the bikes on the back of the low loader. I hobbled down the pit lane with the transponder in my hand to give to Christian to carry on with a two-man team for the remaining 5 plus hours So that was that 1 1/2 laps into a 6-hour race and I am down on my ear, my bike needs a new rear wheel, no one else is running a new model R1 in the race so no chance of a spare wheel that would fit. Just great. Then the heavens opened, and I mean truly opened, rain like you seldom experience on a bike, thunder and lightning with torrential rain bouncing off the tarmac, this was no shower either, it carried on throwing it down for hours. The race continued, but my team-mates were less than happy about the conditions. So much so that Christian who was due out next for his second stint and he confided in me, that he didn't want to ride in that amount of rain. We were down to two bikes and two fit riders, and now we would be down to a single rider if the rain didn't stop. I said, "I don't mind riding in the rain, I am from the lake district in England, and so if you don't ride in the rain, you just don't ride.” But you don't have a bike Christian said, ”no I don't” I replied, there was then a long silence, and finally Christian suggested, "you can ride mine but don't crash it." Johann came in at the end his stint and out I went on Christian’s 07 R1, the bike was set up for him, we had made no changes apart from fitting a set of Bridgestone wets which the "Tyre Wizard" Mark Wright of Holbeach Tyres recommended.
Off I went out on track again, but this time I dropped straight into Flow. Everyone else just seemed so slow; I made my way past everyone in front of me easily. I was at one with the bike and at one with the track. The bike was moving around a bit but it felt so predictable and controllable it didn't bother me, everything seemed to slow down giving me time to control any slide, lightning lit up the skyline as the rain kept pounding down ( I wish I had a GoPro on the bike ) but I was in absolute bliss, riding smoother and quicker never seemingly finding the limit of the grip. I rode until the fuel light came on, the stint had been around 45 minutes but the whole time on track only seemed like a few short minutes to me, the time had flown by. When i came back in, I learned I was one of the fastest riders on track, although I had never looked for a pit board or the lap timer throughout the entire time out there, I was just enjoying the experience so much.
Does this feeling sound familiar too?
1 am and happy we have finished the race Left to right Johann, Annick, Christian, Me Years later, as I work with racers to reset their mental approach to their racing, to allow greater access to Flow, I know exactly what happened to me that night in France.
1. During Free Practice and Qualifying, I was so far from a Flow state, because my ego was in the way, I was worried about how I looked to other people. I was dealing with my own expectations of thinking i should be as fast as anyone else here. All my thoughts were status-related and i was worried about looking bad to my new team-mates and people around us. The harder I tried the slower I went. I was feeling under pressure and when you are focusing on all the wrong things, all the wrong things happen in reality, what you focus on expands. 2. Part one of the race before the crash I was focused on turning things around in the race, "I'll show you" kind of motivation which works for some of the time, my performance increased chasing a faster lap time but only to a level that the conscious mind can deliver, because it is still status-related, now I look good. I wasn't in flow at that stage as to race at your absolute best you need the subconscious to take over. 3. After the crash, I accepted where I was and was no longer struggling to achieve anything, i had surrendered so to speak. My ego couldn't change anything anymore, this was the first step to getting nearer to Flow when the ego stops trying to control everything and starts to take a back seat. Until this point even changing bikes wouldn't have made me any quicker as i was still looking at everything in the same way. 4. On track in the rain, these conditions conspired to trigger flow; I had a challenge, it wasn't my bike or my settings, don't crash it, the rain, the dark. My senses were all engaged; I wasn't riding on auto-pilot, just ticking off the laps until the chequered flag. Instead, i was fully engaged, the bike was moving around, i was overtaking other riders, I was relaxed and completely focused on the task and immersed in the whole experience. I was at one with the bike and at one with the track and conditions, My inner critic and mind chatter disappeared and I had confidence in my ability to perform in the rain. I was no longer appraising the bike, like before, is this better than the R6, I was simply riding what I had. To ride in Flow and at your best, you have to forget all about the bike.
So it is a fine line that separates your best performances on track when in flow and the ones you want to forget because your brain got in the away trying too hard.
In the training courses, i run with riders today we clear all the mental habits, loops and limited believes that block your performance and create the conditions that trigger Flow. It isn't a light switch it takes time and work to build mental resilience but the benefits are well worth the effort.... Creating a level of performance that makes you hard to beat. If you want to know more
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