Performance on the racecourse comes from many different areas. We put so much focus on sails, bottom, appendages, and every detail of preparation but what about our own preparation. We can look across any sport and see that what we do is actually athletic and while some of us (myself included at present) don’t necessarily represent the elite athlete, there are simple things that we can do to stay sharp.
Practice like you race
This is a big one. By treating every day as race day no one day feels different, be it practicing or racing. There are obvious subtleties to a training day, but practicing as if you’re racing or practicing with purpose raises everybody’s game. This type of focus also pays dividends when people’s time is limited. Twice as much can be achieved when you put in a concentrated three hours of training versus five hours of casual sailing.
Manage your energy level
This follows a little bit in line with the above. But in longer programs where there is a lot to do occasionally you can get into situations where the adage of “smarter not harder” needs to apply. As a fan of “I just enjoy sailing,” this is a hard one to apply as I really enjoy being on the water. Understanding the energy level of the helmsman and team is important. Remembering that consistent energy onboard and avoiding the “lows” of team and individual energy level is the goal.
How do you manage the energy levels? Start with the food program, be it on a J/70 or a Maxi 72. Simple foods that can be processed easily, don’t slow you down, and are moderate in sugar are best. As a fan of a soft-baked cookie, we work really hard to minimize high sugar content food on the boat. The best source of quick energy that we use comes from the cycling world; energy shots and the energy chews that supply you with a quick hit without creating a big spike and then crash. Also important here is a two-race day versus a three-race day. Knowing the probability is critical, as a three-race day will always entail an energy boost before the third race. As I write this I can’t help but think of the Snickers commercial!
Hydration is critically important
Yet again, it’s worth avoiding the big sugar drinks. Gatorade G2 was developed with this in mind and proves to be quite effective. Good old fashion water, with added energy tablets that maintain hydration, is also useful, as well as plain water. At every windward mark I will grab the water bottle of the helmsman and hand it to him. Top off and really have a quick hit to get some liquid in and maintain concentration.
Don’t let the sun drain you
Sun protection comes in many forms, be it sunscreen and clothing. As the guy that has had more stuff scraped, burned, and cut out of my face the continual reminder to lube up is important. You can also protect yourself quite easily with long sleeve shirts and running tights for the legs. I’m even seeing more and more use of facial gators that protect your neck and entire face. All of it contributes to concentration and stamina on the water.
Consistency throughout events comes in many different forms. Treating yourself in the same manner you treat your sails and gear will reap equal performance gains. Take the time to understand the differences and regardless of the size of the team assign ownership to the food and drink program. It’s an easy guaranteed gain.