Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Psychology of the Great Texas by Mike Rohrer

The Psychology of the Great Texas 300
By Mike Rohrer 6/2012
The Great Texas 300 is a huge event and takes tremendous preparation to sail/race 300 miles on the open ocean in a small open craft.  Teams are often working out details months in advance and preparing for months prior.   Have you ever wondered what the competitors are thinking and feeling about this race?  If you have ever raced, you may have experienced the adrenaline that happens during the starts at regattas and a little of the angst while setting up on the beach especially if the conditions are extreme.  This is just a small sense of the feelings and thoughts that you experience prior to and during the Great Texas.  There is an interesting psychology about this race that I have come familiar with after having done this so many times.  What motivates a person to spend 4 days on an 18 foot catamaran on the open ocean?  How do you stay focused and complete all the preparations?  How do you deal with the fear and butterflies?  What is it like to blast through the surf knowing you will not be returning to that beach?  How do your feelings and thoughts change throughout the race?  What is it like to finish the 300 miles?  I will explore these questions and more.

What motivates individuals to give up a week of vacation and family time to place themselves in potentially dangerous situations on the open ocean in an 18 foot catamaran?  Any extreme sportsman will likely give you a similar answer.  Overall, it’s the adventure.  Each year it’s the same beach, but a different adventure.  Yes we all love sailing and going fast downwind and the beach scene, but there is a real sense of adventure whenever you place yourself in remote locations with only your skill and preparation to carry you to your destination.  Men need adventure.  The bigger the adventure, the bigger the sense of accomplishment you can experience.  The GT300 is a great way to have an adventure doing something that is so fun and that we love to do.      

How do you stay focused and complete all the preparations over months of anticipation?  I think this comes with the experience of failure.  If you don’t prepare, you often times suffer the consequences.  This can come in many forms including, boat breakdowns, subpar equipment, poor performance, physical ailments, an unhappy boat, and further difficulty.  All these things can make the experience less fun and more laborious.  If you want to do your best and enjoy the adventure to the fullest, preparation is the biggest thing you can do to place yourself in position to succeed.  Also, when you are prepared you often are more able to relax knowing you have done everything you know to do.    

Weeks prior to the event our bodies are already undergoing physical changes.  Part of this is driven by fear or worry which can also be categorized as stress.  We know what can happen.  We hope for great weather, but we could be in situations none of us would otherwise willingly place ourselves in.  How do we deal with it?  I often feel the stress building as I worry that I will not finish all my preparations.  If I complete my task lists, this subsides.  Unfortunately, the list has a way of growing faster than I can sometimes cope with especially since we are racing hard in the spring.  If you can be finished with boat stuff a couple of weeks out, then it makes a huge difference.  A day or two before the race, the real butterflies start.  It’s the feeling in your stomach that reminds you that your about to do something difficult.  You start finding it hard to eat.  The doubts and fears begin to attack.  You must remind yourself you can do it, you have done it before, it’s going to be fine.  You have to eat more frequently and just eat smaller meals or snacks.  Most of us have learned the foods and the methods to combat this.  If you don’t eat properly, you can run out of steam and it will affect your performance.  We even take special foods along with us to be sure we maintain proper energy levels.  It’s really important to stay ahead of this.  Once the race starts this generally gets much easier.  I have found sailing the day before the race really helps to help manage the butterflies and the next morning you already feel like you are in a routine.  I can also tell you if you are not rushing to the start, it’s better also.  This year we made sure the boat was completely ready the practice day and packed for the race leaving much less for us to deal with.  We also started earlier each morning to leave time for Murphy and we found ourselves with plenty of time and consequently much less stress.

What is it like to Lemans start and blast through the surf knowing you will not be returning to that beach?  It’s a huge adrenaline rush.  Minutes before the gun goes off, your heart rate has already increases and so does your breathing.  You keep looking at the waves convincing yourself, you will get out without mishap.  Of course the amount of convincing is proportional to the size of the waves and wind condition.  Your body is responding to get you ready for the push and sprint through the surf.  If often times take significant energy and skill to get through the surf.  The skipper usually has both hands busy with the rudder and the mainsheet.  So you have to hang on with your feet and legs each time a wave hits.  The crew is calling waves, getting boards down, and adjusting the settings.  If you don’t keep your wits, it can get ugly.  We all know the consequences of screwing up can mean a broken boat parts and the potential end of the race.  There is a huge feeling of elation when you exit the surf cleanly and turn north especially if you look back and see other boats still struggling to get out of the surf.  Often you can ride the adrenaline for hours after the start.

The thought process
How do your feelings and thoughts change throughout the race?  The first two legs are long and can be punishing.  You must move around to prevent cramping and limbs going numb and your neck locking on you.   It can be a great sail, but it can also be physically punishing.  Often, the last two hours you just want to be done.  You often question your sanity and why you are out there.  I have a saying on the first day “It’s not fun until it’s done.”  For me the fun really starts when I hit the beach the first day.  By then you have erased the doubts and settled the butterflies.  Now you are really in the groove and can enjoy having just completed the longest and many times toughest leg.  The second day is long, but usually a reach and fast.  Then you know it just gets easier and more fun normally.  You start to relax and think more about your strategies and the details of the race.  Difficulties of the race begin to be overshadowed by the adventure and the fun.  By the last leg you are wishing there was more.  

The Finish Line
Each day it is so cool to run up on the beach and finish.  There is usually plenty of cheering and congratulations.  Then you can enjoy the accomplishment, eat, and drink without the salt water spraying in your face.  It can be just as challenging to beach the boat as to launch it.  It takes good judgment to pick the right gybe angle and approach.  Even so you have to make corrections to line up the finish line.  You have to pay careful attention to the braking waves to not get caught sideways or driven straight in.  All the while your crew gives you instructions on where the flags are while rapidly getting the boards up and secured many times while flying the kite.  Done right you generally hit the beach with a good head of steam and the boat well under control and the boat does a nice little pivot on the beach.  Done wrong, well you can feel pretty stupid and spend time swimming or dragging the boat back to the line.  On the final day, it is usually really cool because you may have family there and you certainly have a larger crowd cheering.  The final day is usually short, but it’s the culmination of 4 days of racing.  When you hit the beach you realize the accomplishment of completing another Great Texas 300.  Many times you check and monitor the time because minutes and even seconds can count even on the final day in your overall placement.  I personally have won and lost this event by seconds in the past when there has been over 20 hours of elapsed sailing time.  It’s hard to do anything but celebrate and congratulate each of the teams finishing.  It’s a great feeling.  It’s the Great Texas 300.

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