–by Mark Higginbottom
(not to be confused with The Pace by Nick Ienatsch found here: LINK)
Excellent Physical Conditioning is only 50% of what is required to have an Excellent track day. The other 50% comes from developing a proper headspace not only on the track day, but for the whole week going into a track day, and the days that follow the track day. A track day is a big experience, whether it’s your first or you hundredth track day, getting into the proper head space is critical to having an enjoyable, positive, healthy experience on track.
A few years ago I was thinking about track days, and how I could enjoy them more, and in speaking with friends of mine, I had an epiphany: focus on the creation of dopamine rather than adrenaline. That Simple. So I thought I would write a small collection of mindsets, tasks, timelines, and general guidelines that help me to focus on creating dopamine and enjoying everything about motorcycle track days. Hopefully this fun little piece I call The Flow also helps other people to enjoy their track days.
First things first: don’t get me wrong. Nobody ever confused me for a doctor. I’m as much a Doctor of health as Valentino Rossi, “The Doctor” himself. But satisfy yourself with some quick online searches about the “effects of Dopamine and Adrenaline production on the brain”, and then match those results with your personal experience with these two chemicals. What I hope you’ll find is that the general online information supports, and helps make sense of, how the different effects of dopamine and adrenaline production will impact you as a track day rider, but also the how and the why to focus on dopamine production as an important Goal.
Nearly all pleasurable experiences — from eating a good meal to having sex — involve the release of dopamine. Dopamine is the feel good chemical you get while riding around the track on your motorcycle when focussed on enjoyment and fun (i.e. not racing or riding competitively). But more importantly in the context here, a successful track day expands on this to say that you should strive to associate ALL the things associated with track days with feeling good: laying out your gear in anticipation of the big day, loading the truck, hydrating and doing your stretching the day before, sipping on the mug of good coffee during the drive up to the track, etc. Focussing on enjoyment of the Flow of all things “surrounding and including” the track day is Key to getting into the right headspace for a positive, successful, and enjoyable track day. Your positivity will in turn boost the spirits of everyone else at the track too.
Adrenaline production can also make you Feel Good in a very pumped-up sort of way, and while this is indeed and absolutely a source of FUN, there are some downsides associated with focussing on getting an adrenaline fix: first and foremost in the context of motorcycle track days, when adrenaline is flowing your mind is generally not functioning normally. In fact, adrenaline is often associated with, or blamed for, bad (or at least, neither rational or balanced) decisions made in the “heat of battle” and “fight or flight” quick decisions. Adrenaline is when you think, “I need to catch and pass my buddy”. Do you really need to urgently pass your slightly slower buddy this lap, or can you ease off for a few corners and just wait for some free space? Adrenaline will typically push you to try and make a pass and even possibly be a bit aggressive. That may work in race situations, but Track Days are Not a race. We all want and need to go home to our family at night, and to get to work in the morning. A rider pumped on adrenaline is going to push hard to make a pass, and in the process, run a much higher risk of crashing and or injuring themself; whereas a rider focussed on dopamine will be working on their Flowand circulating the track being focussed on their technique, grip levels, tire and chassis feedback, etc.
So my Dopamine Guidelines for fun and successful motorcycle track days would look a little something like this.
- A Few Days Before Track Day
- Start laying out your all your gear. Take your time, look over your gear, consider any damage or wear on the gear. If it’s the first track ride of the year after a long winter, definitely try on the gear and make sure the fit is still good. Don’t wait until the morning of the track day to realize it no longer fits as you would like. This is a major reducing of Track Day morning stress so don’t skip this preparation.
- Check over your bike. Could you ride it right now as it stands? Put in the work Now and get the bike Turn Key ready at least a day before the track day.
- Start putting together your pile of stuff to bring with you.
- Is your van/pickup truck gassed up and ready for the return trip to the track?
- T’was The Night Before Track Day
- LOAD THE BIKES. If at all possible, don’t leave this until 5AM before heading out.
- Load up your gear.
- Load up your snacks and drinks for the day.
- Review the Track Day Checklist. Start ticking boxes.
- Get everything loaded the night before so in the morning you just grab your van keys, your coffee, and get driving to the track.
- Avoid drinking the night before a track day; hydrate with water.
- Set Your Alarm!
- Lay out what you are going to wear in the morning so that you wake up and have the clothes all ready to go. You’d be surprised what you can forget to wear for a track day at 5:30AM.
- If everything is in place and basically ready to go without much thinking in the morning, you are five steps closer to having yourself an all-important good, restful sleep.
- Track Day
- Get up early with your alarm. Don’t Rush out the door. Relax. The bogey is arriving at the track gates for 7AM.
- Start Hydrating
- We really mean it, Relax. Take 3-5 minutes this morning to sit still, breathe, sip some coffee, and enjoy your healthy breakfast.
- RELAX on the drive up. Listen to some music, get in your groove, breathe, relax, breathe, relax and create a vision of what a fun and successful track day looks like to You.
- Plan to arrive at the track gates for 7AM. The time between 7AM and the track going Hot at 9AM is short and there’s a lot to do. If you’re stressed and rushing things and fixing bikes and solving deferred bike issues during this critical time, you are setting yourself up for an unenjoyable day on track. Guaranteed.
- Find your parking space and unload your bike and get it ready for Tech Inspection.
- Walk over to the Main Reception in VIMC and sign the Track Day Waiver (mandatory), and hopefully have a quick chat with a few of your friends who you often see at the track.
- Head back to your vehicle and make sure you get Tech Inspected. Consider getting dressed in your riding gear at this time, or at least laying things out so you’re ready to change after the Rider’s Meeting.
- Rider’s Meeting usually starts around 8:15AM. The Rider’s Meeting is Critical and Mandatory.
- Bring a coffee or a hydrating drink to the Rider’s Meeting. Relax and enjoy the morning briefing. Consider doing some light stretching, especially if there’s an area that’s tight and especially if this is your second day in a row at the track. Check in with your body and your breathing. You’re here for Fun, and fun is all upstairs in your mind. What do you need to do to focus on enjoying this moment? Try to go there, and pleasantly stay there.
- Getting out on track (Two Parts):
- Ease into the morning, Please. The track is cold and won’t nearly have the grip you enjoyed, say, the sunny afternoon before. Ride your own ride. Remember you are here because you love the sport and the good feelings that it gives you, not because you need to assert dominance and be a Track Day Winner / Hero.
- Have A Plan. This is so important to releasing that dopamine. Every single time you go out on track, Go Out With A Plan. Be Deliberate. Be Specific. For the next 20 minutes “I’m going to focus on my breathing” or “I’m going to relax my upper body more”. Stay focussed. When your session is over, Evaluate yourself. How did I do? Did I stay focussed? Did it help my riding? Did I do well? Dopamine. Satisfaction in your efforts? Dopamine.
- Relax throughout the day. Enjoy your time on track, doing what you love. Focus on the enjoyment. Don’t bother with ever-increasing difficulty goals like setting a PB lap time, or being the fastest on track, or getting your elbow down in corners. Those are completely unnecessary goals and take away from the enjoyment of the day. Why set yourself up for failure?
- Hydrate. Fuel your body. Relax in your chair. Have a few laughs with some friends over your shared experiences on track. Never will stories from a friend’s mouth be further from the truth than between sessions at a track day, so have some fun and enjoy the unbelievable skills of the Rossi protégé before you.
- Don’t go for broke in the last session. In skiing, it’s always the “last run of the day” when things go badly wrong. It’s not worth it. The last few laps of the day are for cooling down a little bit, not working on skills, and just enjoying the pure enjoyment of being on track with your friends. Focus here especially on the Fun and the Fulfillment of another great day at the track.
- End of Track Day
- You’ve worked hard to make everything come together for a Track Day. Give yourself a pat on the back. You’re Awesome!
- You are also tired. Use caution when loading bikes, consuming alcohol, or driving home. If you have another track day the next day, be extra mindful of your alcohol consumption. If you are bloated, tired, dehydrated, or in any other way run down, you will not be focused on the day and you will put yourself and your fellow riders and the team at Higgy’s and the Facility at risk. Stay Sharp. Eat Well. Sleep Well. We strongly recommend more stretching this evening. On track activities use different muscles under different stresses than daily riding.
- On the drive home, and for the next couple days, focus on the good feelings you probably feel inside. This wonderful feeling we also get when not riding the bike is the longer-lasting benefit of motorcycle track days, and for me personally, the biggest reason why I enjoy track days so much: it’s Fun and Feels Great to be both on and off the track. Adrenaline is the heat of the moment, but dopamine is the gift that keeps on giving, from a few days before the track day, to the riding on the track, to the hours and days that follow the track day.
The main Satisfaction you feel when the Track Day is done and you’ve had a great time is Dopamine. That rush of good feelings is the reward for the work you’ve put in to making the day Awesome. You’ve had a day full of some great exercise, caught up with some friends and maybe made some new ones, you were doing what you love and practicing at the art of self-enjoyment and fulfillment and positive development. These are good things.
The Flow is not a collection of any new or revolutionary ideas. Organizing your life in general in a manner similar to The Flow is a great way to view and approach many things we do in Life, as we know already: Enjoying the smaller things; taking your time; being present; focusing on what matters, breathing and relaxing your mind when possible. These are all goals we know and understand.
The guidelines presented as they are here, however, in the unique form of The Flow can help you create some fundamental building blocks in making motorcycle track days a positive, rewarding and key Long Term piece of your Life Path.
Done properly, track days can help you Physically (exercise, fitness, stretching), Mentally (happiness, feeling good, feeling positive, thinking clearly, thinking fast, thinking responsibly), and Socially (making new friends, spending special time with existing friends while actively doing fun activities). These are all wonderful and admirable qualities and goals that we can and should seek throughout our Life.
I hope this helps You as much as it has helped me.
December 1, 2020