Brain Freeze – When the hamster falls off the wheel.

Posted by on March 23, 2009 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

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The pre-race announcements at sporting events never cease to surprise me.  “Attention Ladies and Gentlemen.  Does anyone have a spare bike for an athlete?  He left his at home.”  Yep, this was recently heard at a triathlon!

This is a somewhat extreme example, but it is the absolute truth – and at virtually every event there are guys running around looking for anything from swimming caps, to spare tubes, to Heart Rate Monitor belts.  Where do these things go?  Do elves hide them overnight?  Or is this a totally avoidable phenomenon?

I’ve done some “research” on myself and the athletes I work with to find out how closely our perceptions match the reality of preparing for an event the morning of the race.  I asked them to tell me how long they believe it takes them to get ready before leaving home for a multi-sport race.  The results were staggering.  Guys were underestimating their time to wake-up, groom (some do!), eat, get their gear together, pack the car, mix their drinks and leave by as much as 25%.  That translates into the mad rush claiming as victims not only themselves, but also the rest of the family and whichever pet gets caught under the feet.  Naturally the star’s healthy and positive frame of mind never actually leaves home with them!

There has been plenty of “real” research done about brain activation and how this relates to performance.  It has been found that for every activity there is a strong correlation between brain activation and performance.  Giving your brain too much work to do will result in distress and increased anxiety.  The dichotomy for endurance athletes lies in the fact that high levels of brain activation enhance performance in endurance sport, especially those involving the large muscle groups.  High activation however impacts negatively on activities requiring careful thought and fine detail – like packing your bags!  Such a high level of activation before you’ve even started the event will not only cause worry in the car (“Did I remember my timing chip / my paddle?) it will also drain energy from you.

The fact that your mind can only hold one thought at a time also works against you in this mad early morning rush.  While reading this, grab a pen and a piece of paper.  Now draw a large number 6 on the page.  Easy, isn’t it.  Now pick up the foot of your dominant hand (right foot = right handed) and make a clockwise circle with your foot.  Keep going.  Now, without stopping your foot rotation, draw a number 6 again.  See, I told you can only do one thing at a time!

How do you get to the start of a race fresh, full of energy and with the knowledge that you’ve packed everything you need?  The fact is your mother was right.  Firstly you need to create some habits and routines.  For example, all my timing chips live in my helmet pod, they never get put anywhere else.  This means I always know where they are.

Secondly, get a check-list.  On this list, write down everything you’re likely to need for the event.  Now divide the list into two sections, one for The Night Before and one for The Morning Of.  Do as much as you can the night before – shave your legs, load your bike, pack your bag, pin your race numbers etc.  This leaves only the essentials to be done the morning of the race like eating, brushing your teeth, taking your pre-mixed drinks out of the fridge and driving to the event.  As you work through your list, physically mark everything off as you pack it.

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