Upping my Fitness Game!

For a long time now my fitness program has been at full-throttle or no-throttle, with very little in-between. I could keep up a good average of running 3-6 times/week for several months, but inevitably I’d then have several weeks (or a month) of barely any training, putting a big dent in any fitness gains I’d made.

I’m once again closer to full throttle than off, and this post is to add additional accountability and motivation to keep the throttle on, as well putting my plan down in writing.  Another reason for the post is that I’ve recently become an official member of the Axle Sports sim racing team, and as part of the driver contract they have a clause stipulating a minimum fitness training requirement – got to keep the training going!

The past:

I’ve run a few marathons, half-marathons, and 10k races. For a few of them my training was pretty good, and for others it was far from adequate. My gym-work has been much less frequent compared to my cardio.

In 2020 I averaged about 35km of running each week, and a small amount of cycling/gym/swimming on top of that. In 2019 the average was only about 12km/week, so the trend is upwards!

I often get motivated to train hard for various reasons, but then that motivation would wane, and I’d find excuses to skip a week, or two, and the downward spiral begins.

I draw motivation from a lot of factors, such as:

  • I feel I should be fit enough that I don’t look/sound like a hypocrite when I tell drivers I coach that they should focus on their fitness levels.
  • Improved health – much benefits, many wow.
  • Faster when I hop in a kart (keeping weight down), and faster/more consistent in all racing because of improved focus from better fitness levels.
  • Beating personal bests in running/cycling.
  • Better sleep. Moving more helps me sleep better… and sleeping better makes me feel better, which means I move more. It’s a glorious positive cycle.

My past 12 months in minutes/month of training:

The graph above from my garmin connect account gives a glimpse into my inconsistency. A few very quiet months in there, for no real reason other than being lazy. The last time I missed an entire month without going for a run/ride was March of 2019 – not quite as bad as I thought, but there has been a fair few very quiet months over the years in addition to that completely zero month.

 

The Present & Future:

I’ve recently replaced a lot of my running miles with bike miles!

As can be seen in the graph above, I’m currently in an on-throttle phase of fitness in May and June. I aim to keep it that way! To maintain it in a sustainable way requires some planning in the form of creating habits, avoiding injury, settings goals, and having the structure in place to schedule the time required.

I’ve recently started replacing a lot of my running with road cycling in addition to the occasional mountain bike ride.  A friend has been super generous and given me his road bike to get a hang of things, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a nice change from running with its own set of challenges and aspects to enjoy. It has a few more similarities to car racing as well with some braking, cornering, and vision skills involved.

 

Creating Habits:

“Motivation gets you started, habits keep you going,” a quote from Jim Ryun – the first high school runner to run a mile under 4 minutes. It’s quite easy for most to get motivated to workout for a day, a week, or even a month or two, but beyond that motivation is rarely enough. Life-long fitness is best created through habits.

I’ve read/and or listened to a few books on habits. The power of habit by Charles Duhigg is an enjoyable read. Atomic Habits by James Clear is similar and has a bit more actionable advice.

The Atomic Habits method of creating habits is summarized with the below points: 

  • Make it obvious.
    • Be specific with what it is that you will do. “I will go for a run at 7:20am every weekday” instead of “I will exercise more often”
    • Tie-it to an existing activity/habit. “After I brush my teeth, I’ll put on my running gear.”
  • Make it attractive.
    • Make the habit engage your dopamine (feel-good) response. While I enjoy running/exercise to a certain extent, I’ve made it even more attractive by tying my habit of listening to podcasts/books to it. I now enjoy running/working out more, and am more likely to do it because I get to listen to a good book or podcast while doing it.
  • Make it easy.
    • Reduce the friction to get started as much as possible. Put your running gear next to your bed the night before, and make a rule to simply head out of the door (easy) rather than to run 10km (not always easy).
  • Make it satisfying. “What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”
    • I reward myself after a bike ride or run by relaxing in the swimming pool immediately after. I always have that to look forward to even when it gets tough. If there’s no pool, it’s relaxing with a nice glass of sparkling water while browsing my Strava achievements.

There’s more to it than that of course, but that’s the crux of it. You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”

 

Avoiding Injury:

Avoiding injury is obviously important. I’m writing this while dealing with some annoying tendinitis behind my knee that has disrupted my sleep and effectively forced me to stop running.  My friend loaning me his amazing Giant Propel bicycle came at a great time because cycling is considerably easier on the joints, and the bicycle allows me to take longer breaks from running without dropping my fitness levels.

I do want to get my running mileage back up to the 25km/week range or more, but I won’t rush it. To really let my leg heal, I’ll initially try about 4 weeks without a single run.

The same goes for other possible injuries or over-training. If something’s not right, I slow it down or replace it with something that doesn’t strain the injury. Slow it down rather than stop completely is key to keep the habit going. Keeping a habit going by going for a walk instead of a hard exercise will do it.

 

Goals & Tracking Progress:

My primary measure of success is simply getting off my ass and out the door. If I consistently get out of the house 5 times a week do something, that’s level 1 of success. Even if it’s just a 10 minute walk around the block, it counts (and keeps the habit going).  The more serious goal is 5 cardio sessions each week, and 2 strength training sessions/week.

In the past I haven’t recorded my strength training on my fitness watch (currently a Garmin 645 Music), but have now started to do so in order to have a more complete picture of my progress.

I will track a few more metrics. Weight is simple – I weigh myself most days, and I’m currently at 77kg, and aim to get that down to about 75kg. I’ll be satisfied keeping that anywhere in the 72 to 76kg range. Less weight = more climbing personal bests on the bicycle, and faster running with less impact on my joints!

I’ll also start tracking my Heartrate Variability (HRV) using the Elite HRV app (available for Android and iOS). I’ve heard HRV mentioned often recently in fitness and even racing podcasts.

The basics of heartrate variability is that instead of your heart beats per minute, it tracks the variation in time between each heart beat. More variability is good – the theory being that it enables the heart to respond quickly to different situations.  I’ll have to read up more on it to understand the details.

 

More structure:

As with creating habits, hitting my goals will likely be helped with more structure to my program.

I want to be flexible with my structure as well – if I suddenly get some work which throws my Sunday morning ride out the window, I’ll slot in an effort the day before, the evening of, or another time I can find.  If I don’t wake up as early as planned, it’s going to be a hotter bike/run later in the day (or cooler evening)… if I can’t get it done that day, I do it the next day.

I have set myself a few minimums, including specific (but not rigid) timing for them:

  • 3 Bike rides/week 
  • 2 Strength training sessions (typically less than an hour)
  • 1 Run/Week (replaced with a walk or other activity when recovering or avoiding injury)
  • 1 Swim/Week

The runs/swims/rides have no minimum distance goals, but I do have some goals that I strive towards such as the aforementioned climbing goal.

Ending Notes

I wrote this article largely for myself as a form of additional accountability, but if you’ve come all this way, thanks! I’ll post an update during the first week of every coming month, and maybe some other random updates along the way – to keep the accountability going. 

External links to Further Reading/Things Mentioned:

Hardvard article on Heartrate Variability

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

3 Keys to a Successful Kart Racing Series

Mikko Nassi & Mikko Laine in Singapore
Mikko Nassi (L) Mikko Laine (R)

In my first foray into podcasting for the Full Focus Motorsports Podcast, I sat down with Mikko Laine. He’s a successful kart racer, and the organiser of the IAME Kart Racing Series in Finland. We talked about various motorsports-related topics, including his philosophy in organising the IAME Series.

The IAME Series is a one-make karting series, in which only the IAME-brand of engines are used. The series culminates in the IAME International Final at the end of each year, into which champions from local and regional IAME series’ around the world are invited to race against each-other.

The series in Finland has grown quickly since its inception in 2016, and has since expanded into separate series’ in Sweden, Estonia, the Nordic Cup, and the Baltic Cup. This expansion is largely thanks to the three cornerstones of the series: maximum publicity, affordability, and absolute equality.

We should cooperative more inside the sport rather than have such big rivalries between chassis or engine brands and different series.”

Mikko’s quote above is part of an attitude that has almost definitely helped him focus on growing the series rather than worrying about competing against other organisers. It’s much better to work on increasing the size of the pie available, rather than fighting for a larger piece of a smaller pie. It’s probably no coincidence that the other racing series’ around the world that share this perspective are typically the ones that prosper.

Maximum Publicity

As with any business, promoting a racing series is critical to its success. The IAME series in Finland recognizes this and takes several approaches to increase the visibility of the series and competitors. 

The essentials such as a professional websites and social media accounts are of course taken care of, but other material such as series information packets/brochures, and professional level video & photography are all made available for the drivers. They also produced 30-min recaps of each round for TV, and continue to live-stream events. 

The regulations of the series mandate submitting a driver profile, and pictures are taken of each driver at the beginning of each season for use in promotional material. The driver profiles 

If the drivers are able to use the material to promote themselves and obtain sponsors, they’re much more likely to remain in the sport in the long-term. 

Another part of publicity are on-board cameras. Ever since action cameras became small and affordable enough to be put on karts, their use has exploded. 

A lot of kart racing series’ around the world have banned the use of on-board cameras on karts during competition. This is often because officials don’t want drivers coming to show them the videos – usually complaining about the actions of another driver. 

Not allowing the action cameras is a huge letdown from the perspective of driver development. Reviewing on-board footage is one of the best ways to work on one’s driving.

The IAME Finland series’ simple solution to this was to put in place a regulations which states that competitors are not allowed to go to the stewards or race control with their videos. Stewards are allowed to request to view the footage from competitors if they want to look at something they may not have had a clear view of, but not the other way around. 

Every driver is also a marketing tool for the sport and for the series. If everyone uploads a video after the race to youtube, we have a huge amount of publicity for free, instead of restricting it because of potential problems we might have in race organisation.”

Mikko noted that the competitors need to work together with the organisers and sanctioning bodies with the camera use. Recognizing the real value of cameras for driver development vs. trying using them only to complain about situations to the officials.

Affordability

Mikko’s karting career has been largely self-funded, so he knew from the start that keeping costs as low as practical greatly increases the availability of the series to attract more participants, and retain them. It’s important to focus on the long-term viability of the series rather than short-term profits.

We use the regulations to try to keep the costs to the competitors as low as possible.”

Tyres are limited to one set each for dry and wet weather tyres, and the wet tyres can be carried over from one round to the next (there is no requirement to purchase a new set of wet tyres at each round). 

The series has an engine-claiming rule in place. This means that any competitor (or the parent/guardian of a competitor in the case of those under 18 years old) has the right to request to purchase the engine of any other competitor at the race event.

The costs for the engine claiming procedure are an administrative fee of 50 euro, and 2500 euro to purchase the engine. If more than one person wants to buy a specific engine, it will go to a raffle. The competitor whose engine was claimed receives a brand-new engine from the importer.

The engine claiming rule goes a long way to limiting the potential of being able to win simply by outspending the competition. In theory the engines are almost identical, but small difference within the tolerances make a difference, and a competitor could for example purchase 20 engines and race with the best one of those. If however his best engine gets claimed each round, it would make the exercise almost pointless, and would also quickly level the playing as other drivers kept grabbing his or her engines. This also limits the emergence of a second-hand market where “fast” engines are sold at several times their retail value.

Mikko also created a nation-wide rental karting competition which awarded 3 drivers with karts, and entries to a full season of racing in the IAME series. This worked as a marketing tool for the series and karting itself, as well as bringing in new drivers into competitive driving.

Equality

The final cornerstone is absolute equality. This is not just equality in racing-terms for the competitors, but also applies to all end customers, teams, and sub-dealers. 

An example where this philosophy was put into practice was that the new importer for the IAME engine brand had to drop his affiliation with a chassis brand, to remove a conflict of interested where the importer would be supplying engines to competitors racing on “their” karts, and also to all other competitors.

When it comes to equality, a large part of it was already covered under affordability. The engine claiming rule is huge in terms of equal competition, and the tyre regulation also helps simply because the money saved in not having to buy more tyres every race can be put towards more laps in practice.

Mikko concedes that it’s impossible to make everything completely equal, but they do their best in the way the regulations are set and the series is organised.

We minimize the damage. It’s something that we can never remove completely as long as we use some kind of equipment.”

The basic premise is that the regulations apply equally to everyone. Nobody should be able to gain an advantage through relationships with officials or suppliers.

Follow Mikko Laine on Instagram: @mkartteam
More about the IAME Finland Series:
https://www.iameseriesfinland.com/
https://www.facebook.com/iamefinland/


If this and other karting or motorsports-related topics interest you, I’d love it if you gave the podcast a listen and subscribe for future episodes.

I recommend following the below link which include the show notes:
http://racedrivercoach.com/podcast/mikko-laine-passion-for-karting/

You can also listen to the podcast on Spotify or Stitcher, or the embedded player below. Apple/iTunes and Google Music availability is coming soon. 

Passion for Karting – Mikko Laine – #01

The Cost of Winning – Documentary

This 24-minute documentary by Potential Pictures and Personal Sport Record dives into how youth sports’ focus on winning vs. losing can be detrimental to the development of the kid in sports & life, and to the sport itself.

Focusing on the result comes at the expense of focus on the process and having fun. If a kid is playing a sport (karting, soccer, anything), and has outside pressure to get a certain result, it can limit their long-term learning simply because they are afraid to experiment, and afraid to fail.

Ironically focusing on the result can have a negative impact on the short-term result. Looking at it from a karting perspective, the pressure can result in more “mechanical” driving, and becoming tense in difficult situations – leading to mistakes that cost positions. When a driver goes on track during a race they’ll almost always perform at their best if they are relaxed and able to drive as subconsciously as possible. It’s tough to be relaxed and get in the zone if there’s immense pressure to bring home a certain result.

I think an important distinction to make is that taking the focus away from the result, doesn’t mean that the focus is taken away from improving at the sport. The focus on personal performance remains. This in turn means that it doesn’t become less work to become good. If you’re enjoying the process, the “work” just doesn’t feel quite like work anymore.

In a sport such as karting where equipment has a huge impact on the result, measuring success and improvement solely based on the time-sheets can also be incredibly misleading. It’s very possible that the very best driver, having driven a perfect race, finishes a race in 10th place. Equally important or perhaps even more so is that “your” driver may have won the race after a mediocre performance but had a significant equipment advantage.

Some amazing resources from the creators of the video are available at the documentary’s home page:
https://docs.potentialpictures.com/the-cost-of-winning/

Scroll down the page for simple pdf resources for parents, athletes, coaches, educators, and sports organizations.

Find Potential Pictures and Personal Sport Record online:
instagram:@potentialpictures
twitter: @potentialpic
website: docs.potentialpictures.com / personalsportrecord.com