Stamina and Strength
When I was racing 2-strokes in Australia I noticed a few things about strength, stamina and concentration that directly apply to anyone riding at a track day.
Riding on a track is significantly more strenuous than riding on the street - even an early morning track session warming up slowly is more strenuous than a 'spirited' canyon ride. The biggest effort comes from the riders thigh muscles - the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis for anyone interested in anatomy.
Think about what happens when you approach a corner: you lift your bodyweight off the seat and move a cheek to the side of the bike in a move reminiscent of doing squats at the gym. If you have 20 corners on a track, a 2-3 minute lap time will mean you do up to 160 squats in 20 minutes.
Thats no mean feat, but we have the added joy of doing more than 6 sessions a day. Thats almost 1000 squats in a day!
That sounds like a lot, and is a lot. But its managable. A rider who does a lot of track days builds up stamina over time to the point where they might be sore after a weekend of riding but wont risk suffering muscle failure.
The danger here is for a rider who perhaps hasn't done a track day in a long time, or ever, and their legs aren't strong enough for this much effort. This is common among new track riders. They often don't realise how much effort is involved in riding at the accelerated pace we see on the track and their fatigue is visible by lunch time.
This fatigue can cause serious problems.
Keep in mind that the human brain burns calories just like our muscles. Some sources say that it consumes about 20% of the calories being consumed by the human body. If a new rider has arrived at the track without a decent meal, and is too busy or distracted to eat lunch, they will find that they've burnt up all the glucose in their blood and their body is literally out of fuel. When this happens its common to experience intense sweating, muscle tremors and nausea.
And this is in moderate temperatures. Throw in a 100+ degree ambient temperature and things get bad even faster.
If your muscles are struggling for energy, think about whats happening inside your helmet!
Without energy your brain starts misfiring. Your judgement is no longer what it was. You make simple mistakes, like applying the brakes too late, or tipping into a corner too early. Small errors in judgement at 100mph have a way of causing big, expensive problems.
How can we avoid this?
The best cure is stamina.
If a rider needs to do 1000 squats in a day, the best way to prepare and stay safe is to develop the thigh muscles. You don't need a gym or a stair master - just a flight of stairs will do.
I know a racer who would spend her lunch hour at work running up and down the stairs in the fire escape. She said this helped her stamina more than running as it was a more intense workout and built strength.
As we know, building stamina is one thing but building strength is also important to a rider. With more strength, a rider can lift their bodyweight more easily. With more stamina, the rider can repeat this motion more often without suffering from excess fatigue.
Having increased strength and stamina will allow a rider to focus on the task at hand. This rider wont make simple mistakes as a result of fatigue, and this is especially important when a rider needs to react quickly in emergency situations. Having enough strength and stamina to react quickly when another rider falls right in front of us can make the difference between ending the day on a high or in the crash trailer.
So when should we prepare for the next riding season?
The best path to building enough strength and stamina for a full weekend of riding is to start slow.
A 15 minute walk builds into a 30 minute walk, which could then build into a 15 minute run, then a 30 minute run.
For those of us who've done too much damage to knees and other joints and can't run, swimming is an excellent substitue. I start at 15 minutes and wont be happy until I can swim at 80% effort for 30 minutes. This builds up strength.
Once I can do this I swim at 50% effort for 50-60 minutes. This builds stamina.
When I reach this level of fitness I know I can ride all weekend and never suffer fatigue. I can even do demonstration squats at the end of the weekend just to show off for certain CMRA riders...
Jogging or swimming isnt always possible for everyone but a membership at the local YMCA can give you access to a stair master or treadmill.
With a good exercise plan and not too much junk food, preparing for track season can even help you lose weight, feel better and be safer on the track.
Take a look at all the statistics on the effect of lowering your resting heart rate. Once mine dips below 60 I know I'm doing well.
Then, the next time someone tells me I'm a daredevil for doing what I do, I remind them that being fit means I'll likely live longer as a result!