Previous post from this series
So I have just finished one of the most unusual weeks of my life. I averaged 3 hours sleep a night, drove well over 3,000 miles through 12 states of the USA, in 45+ degree heat. Why? Read previous post
When the human system is put in unusual and extreme conditions, fascinating things emerge about how it works…
So firstly lets highlight some of the more testing challenges the team faced that were outside the 'business of usual' of racing teams of cyclists across the USA.
Excessive heat. Arizona is always hot in the summer, but we hit an unusual 45+ degree. Tyre tubes were blowing, the AC in the support vehicles broke down, and there was a ‘furnace like’ headwind for the cyclists.
One rider collapsed from heat stroke meaning he wasn't able to race for 24 hours, placing a greater burden on the other three members of the team
Mechanicals - one bike fell off the back of a car and broke the carbon frame. Another bike suffered mechanical failure that needed specialist repair.
At midnight on day 4, one rider came off his bike and snapped his collar bone in two places.
All of these things might sound manageable, but while you are solving and recovering from these issues, the race does not stop. It carries on 24-7, with your crew and riders getting increasingly tired as they deal with these extra time and resource consuming problems. Which means they can’t do their main job of rider support, navigation, or getting their own sleep etc.
Did it get in our way or stop us? No. We still broke the Australian record and got one team on the podium and both in the top six.
What did I learn?
(see previous posts for what I learnt in the preparation) . This might sound obvious but under the conditions of tiredness, physical and mental stress the human system works the way it always does, but it can appear that features of the system are amplified. So resilience, creativity, clarity, stress, anxiety, fear, despair, overwhelm - seem exaggerated.
1. Equipping the crew with an understanding.....a little can go a long way
Initially it was agreed that I would work with the 8 riders on their state of mind in preparation for the event. A few weeks before the event I decided that if possible the 30 crew members might also benefit from some understanding of the principles behind Quality of Mind to help them through the event.
Actually the importance of crew QoM was far more influential than I had predicted. In this event the riders hugely rely on their crew not just their food, bike, directions, and physical needs but also as an emotional support. Which means they need to be positive, clear, organised, and be able to spot and support a rider’s flagging mental state.
Before the race I had very little chance to work with the crew - a single webinar video. And, as is the case with that kind of approach, you have no idea whether people watch it, and if so, what they understand from it. Also prior the event I had received very little feedback from people on the videos, so I assumed it had been of little impact. Well it is surprising that a little can go long way. Here are two examples.
When we lost one of the riders with heat stroke (he collapsed after almost being hit by a truck in the 45 degree heat in Arizona) the follow car quickly picked him up. The crew member in charge had a delirious rider in a highly overwhelmed state, emotionally rambling about not wanting let people down. When I spoke to the crew member afterwards as to how he coped, he said he said he had remembered something I had said in the video about letting things pass and not adding meaning to them with extra thoughts and that helped him deal with both his own state and that of the rider.
The second example was where the chief of one of the teams asked me to sit in on their crew briefing half way through the race (these are infrequent and rapid due to perpetual nature of the race). As I listened to him asking how they were coping with stress and fatigue a couple of the crew members recounted what they had heard in the video and how it was making the difference in not letting things 'u' and keeping them 'v' (an illustration of the shape of our resilience if we recognize the principles )
I was pleasantly surprised by how a simple video had helped them.
2. What the body is capable of
There were so many examples of resilience but one stood out: One of our riders came off his bike whilst doing 25 mph through some roadworks with changing surfaces at night. He went to hospital and the diagnosis was multiple fractures of his collar bone. We thought that meant the remainder of the race would be have to be done with one man down. After 4 hours in hospital, the rider managed to persuade the Dr to discharge him, and he was on the bike 6 hours later….one can argue that medically it wasn't the best option, but for him the importance of finishing the race and supporting his team trumped any possible further medical damage and pain. I asked the rider (this was someone who I had worked with previously to the race to give him an understanding of the principles behind state of mind) what was going on for him ‘thought wise’ when he decided to ride on, and whether he had felt he needed to use willpower i.e. thoughts to block the pain
“There was no need to rely on will power to block the pain, it was rather a case of having that inherent certainty that I could do this, and what’s more a sense of joy and relief that I would complete the race and help out my team mates”
There are many cases, if you look for them, that show the human body doing amazing things. Can anyone do that? From what I see it is universally available (of course physical conditioning helps at one level) but the key variable is the degree to which you recognise any limitations or suffering as merely thought created, and whereas of course they will feel real, they are only one of a possible infinite number of experiences you can create in the same situation. This is due to our innate nature - we are inherently resourceful, once we realise (non-intellectually) how the human system works.
3. Creating our own realities
On talking to the riders after the first 30 hours, which involved cycling through 45 degree heat into a furnace-like head wind across the desert, half said they had serious moments of ‘I can't do this’, one of the lead riders was even starting to think ‘how do I get the crew of 40 home from the middle of Arizona ……?’
Two questions – why didn't all the riders think that, and why didn't they actually stop. The answer. Thought is arbitrary (random) and transient (it moves). Our experience and therefore how we feel is created moment to moment dependent on what we give attention (consciousness) to. As soon as the thought changed, regardless to the change in environment, they would feel differently. One rider fascinated me, given the same conditions as the others, he said he was having fun and enjoying himself. Really? I needed to check that! I said seriously, are you? Yes, I really am.
Fascinating. Why was he different? He just didn't seem to give weight to any thoughts that the environment could get in the way of his fun.
4. Making meaning & having purpose
Through much of my life and coaching career, I have advocated that having a purpose and goal increases motivation and focus. So if someone was committed and had preference for one thing to happen in the outside world as opposed to another one, it created a better state of resourcefulness. Now, given my understanding of the principles, I have seen that the oppositive is true. By focusing on specific goals people are reducing their access to inspiration the moment . As soon as goal becomes static, you have reduced your innate ability to generate fresh perpestive and resourcfeulness. Setting goals would be crucial if we didnt have an inbuilt capacity for inspiration, resilience and energy. But we do, just look at little kids. So does that mean we shouldn't ever set ourselves an intent and purpose? I was intrigused to see what my experience of RAAM would show here.
The team did have specific goals, to get the Australian record, and finish on the podium. Also they individual had personal motivation for self actualisation and their families. What was interesting to notice, that it was not the articulation of these goals that made the difference, but 'where they came from' and the individuals relationship to them i.e. how much meaning, attachment, and heavy thinking where they making out of the outomce (their QoM). As actually the variable that made the difference, was not did they have goals, but their thinking around their goals. Interesting over time another intention emerged in the team to 'end up better friends than we started' this one seemed to really help the quality of mind of the teams, why? because it bought them back out of 'self' and into looking at the bigger picture. So in summary, having a goal or not having one doesnt directly make a difference to someone's performance, instead being open to understand that desire can arise in any moment that gives somehting purpose and clarity unloc a state of flow and resourecefulness
Video: RAAM Team Australia Video - the Day Before The Race