How can five adults endure the following afflictions and call it their best week of the year? Sunburn, inflamed rotator cuff, flimsy meniscus or weakened ACL (take your pick), the odd scalp wound, epidemic muscle soreness, rope burn on one finger, bruises across several legs and arms, a few lacerations, and did I mention a mild hangover or two?Yes sir, it’s called “race week,” and whether you’re in Antigua, Long Beach, Whidbey Island, Put-In-Bay, Key West, or, as in our case, Bermuda, there are lots of good reasons to take your vacation days and spend a whole week going around the buoys (although sometimes you get to play with a bit of pain).First of all, a race week is usually a chance to get away from where you live and work. Usually to someplace picturesque or even beautiful…and with a good water view, of course. Second, and this is what’s coolest, I think, is that you get to work together with other adults in a sports setting, despite being in less than perfect athletic trim (in fact, last week, several of us would’ve been on the injured reserve list for most sports). You can even get better at what you’re doing, improving your execution through repetition in a way you wouldn’t with once-a-week racing-for example, we mastered the tack set last week on the third try and it saved us a close second in that race. You can also improve your boatspeed, tactics, and strategy over several conditions-there’s a reason college sailors develop a real mastery of the fundamentals…it’s called practice (something many adult sailors won’t normally do, but a week of racing has a similar effect).In the process of getting better, you can develop a real crew chemistry, something that’s a little hard to describe in a sound bite, but this has to do with how crewmembers support each other, and pick each other up by always being ready to volunteer for the next chore or just to work a little harder-all the while maintaining an intentional upbeat attitude. These habits become contagious and are worth encouraging (even the week after when you’re back in your office).It all adds up over five or six days to an intense experience spent with people you might not normally get close to; on our 33-foot International One-Design we had men and women ranging from 35 to 62 in a wide range of professions.Usually there’s some kind of surprise during a race week, and for me, last week, it was that I got to be somebody a little bit different. For the first time I can remember after a fleet-race series, I was described as “aggressive”-maybe the guys in Valencia were rubbing off on me. If you want to learn more about living and dying by the sword on the racecourse, have a look at my blog reports from last week. But here’s my favorite theme to come out of a week of racing, and it’s common with racing any day or weekend, except it lasts a lot longer: You get to spend time focusing on a single thing. There’s multi-tasking, but it’s all related-trying to decide whether to go right or left while minimizing rudder movement to go fast, deciding to trim the mainsheet to point a little higher while sneaking a glance to weather to see if a shift might be on the way that would affect whether you’re going right or left, etc. It’s refreshing to leave behind the job, the house, the hundreds of things you could be doing for family, friends. Instead, you’re just doing this for yourself and those sailing with you. And when it’s over and you return home, your mind will be clear, your body, tired, and you might even catch a glimpse of what you could do differently in the weeks and months ahead. In a sense, the four people I sailed with in Bermuda last week all helped me write this story, but I give special credit to jib/spin trimmer Beth Scholle for direct assistance during our layover at the airport in Philly. She even thinks that after a week of racing we’ll all be more efficient in handling life’s challenges. I don’t know if that applies to me, but even if I’ve lost a step for a few days, the rest of the above will be working for me very nicely.If you haven’t done so recently, put a race week on your schedule. The benefits will make it well worth your investment. Just remember to get some sleep and do your physical therapy ahead of time, because you might have a few new aches and pains to deal with once the racing begins.
For results and photos from 2007 Bermuda International Invitational Race Week, click here.To read event coverage by The Royal Gazette, including a feature story about John Burnham, click here.