Endurance rally racing is a tough sport. Maintaining your mental focus is key to finishing the Dakar Rally, not to mention winning it. Even more, just imagine if you were on the starting line with 30 other racers, and your mental focus isn’t optimal, you’re probably going to be at the back of the pack, or even worse reacting in such a way that you crash or cause a crash. So for me, it’s really important to have a good mental focus going into an event.
Time on the bike or in the car
There are some things that you can do to improve your mental focus during rally racing. First and foremost is time on the bike or in the car. Practicing hours and hours in the desert is fairly obvious. This is how you find out how your mind works after hours of riding or driving in the desert.
An often overlooked part of any mental focus regimen, but what you put in your mouth can have huge effects on your brain. Just try eating a bunch of pizza or pasta before you ride and count the number of mistakes you make. There are ways to manipulate the diet to optimize focus. I find that most do better with a higher protein and fat meal like steak and eggs or a light oatmeal and eggs breakfast. Part of the reason is how the food affects your insulin and sugar levels. Also, I find that the better a person’s sugar metabolism (insulin sensitivity) is, the better mental focus is in general. When we are young, insulin sensitivity is usually pretty good, but as we age, it naturally gets worse unless we are taking measures to improve it. By eating the standard American diet, I can tell you that you are not helping insulin sensitivity. Just look at the average rate of obesity and diabetes in this country and other westernized cultures, and it’s not hard to see. For more information, just look at websites like www.vespapower.com or Peter Attia website or my article on how carbohydrates work.
Optimizing your vitamins can be very important. The reason is that the energy power houses called mitochondria are working very hard, and depend greatly on adequate vitamin stores. Vitamins such as the B vitamins, Co enzyme Q10, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium all play a role in mitochondrial functions. Many people are deficient in these vitamins, especially those who are not prudent about their diets.
Nothing can mess with your focus than having to take a pee, especially during a timed special. This is why I invented the system for the US Red Bull KTM rally team that allowed them to urinate while competing in the Dakar Rally. Basically it’s a condom catheter setup with tubing that exits behind the boot. I remember the first time Chris Blais had the system on. Marc Coma freaked out because he thought that there was actually a catheter in Chris’ penis! I think we just let him keep thinking that for a practical joke. In any case, make sure that you have a system that you can depend on during the longer timed specials. And think about it, even if the pee system saves you 15 to 30 minutes a day, that’s 5 hours of not having to stop after 10 days.
Not many people know about Chinese Adaptogenic herbs and how they can optimize mental focus. They really do work to heighten mental focus and they are easy to use. The best option that I have found is a package called Tianchi. Basically there are about 25 different herbs in each pack, and it is a great way to start the day. I will also have racers take them right before an event and the effects last for hours. While giving a heightened sense of focus, it is not overbearing like some other brain stimulants like caffeine. Tianchi also has B vitamins. Even more, the herbs can help adapting to higher altitudes.
I consider things like caffeine and some herbs as stimulants. As with anything, the poison is in the dose. For those of us who consume caffeine habitually, we become used to its effects. This is why I advise most of my racers to taper off of caffeine some weeks before the race. This way, when they start drinking caffeine again, a smaller dose does more for the brain. People often ask me how much they should take, and my answer is that it depends on the person. Everyone of us metabolizes caffeine differently, and whatever dose works for you may not for the next person. So find out what works for you and stick with it.