• Sarah Merrell

Lesson from the Track: Making the Most of Every Second

When progress just isn’t happening, it’s easy to get discouraged and hard on yourself. That’s how I was feeling at the end of the first day of the Sportbike Track Time End of Season Bash at Talladega Gran Prix Raceway. It took me the first half of the day to figure out I had a slipped clutch that was preventing optimal acceleration, and then once that was fixed, I let the mechanical issues get to my head and struggled with confidence in my passing. I just couldn’t seem to find the best lines to get around other riders and wasn’t braking deep or late enough to catch them on the brakes. The result was sub par lap times compared to my previous time on the same track. I felt like I had taken two steps backwards and wondered where my confidence had gone. I was 5 whole seconds off my best lap time from before, which on the track feels like an eternity.

I confided this to my coach (aka husband) who gave me some great advice. Shaving off 5 seconds can seem daunting and overwhelming, so he followed me to see the areas where I was losing speed to hone in on them one at a time. Afterwards, we broke it down and discussed two corners where I was getting on the brakes too soon and turning in too early and losing precious time. We planned out where I need to brake and turn in, and sure enough, after going back out, I dropped a couple seconds. Then we started to dissect another couple corners and I followed him and mimicked his braking points. Boom—another couple seconds shaved. I continued like that, until I put the whole track together and in each moment, focused on where I needed to brake, where I needed to turn in and hit my apexes and where I needed to crank that throttle wide open. I focused on finding my straight lines through the chicanes and every possible point where I had the opportunity to be just a little bit better. The result was more seconds off my time.

What it really came down to, in my mind, was that you literally have to make every second count. I mean, think about it: The best riders on this specific track have sub-one minute lap times. I found that the concept of making the most of every moment required a deep level of focus—and a lot of physical and mental work. I was exhausted after each session. But isn’t that what the best riders in the industry do? Their level of focus and physical ability is insane.

By dropping seconds off my time and feeling like I was really “in it” the result was a huge confidence boost and suddenly I found my passing drastically improved. I no longer hesitated but figured out the best line to take and just went for it.

By the end, I was ecstatic over my improvement and had a personal best lap time on that track. But I also learned a very valuable lesson. Stop focusing on just plain being faster and instead break it down and focus at a granular level—each moment that can lead to a fraction of a second here or there but that add up to a lot of seconds in the long run. This is a concept that was discussed at length at Champ School, and that I need to always remember. And also to not be discouraged. Digging deep and finding my confidence enabled me to overcome my passing apprehension.

I firmly believe in the power of self-efficacy—your belief in your own abilities to deal with various situations, can play a role in not only how you feel about yourself, but whether or not you successfully achieve your goals in life—or in this case as a rider. Researchers have demonstrated self-efficacy can have an impact on everything from psychological states to behavior to motivation. It’s the concept of ”if you believe you can do it, you’ll be more likely to achieve it.”

Personally, I’ve found self-efficacy to be very powerful. But as I found on the track, it’s easy to become discouraged and lose that power. Instead, focus on the little improvements in each moment and use those to build your confidence one second at a time. You may be surprised to find the results are worth celebrating.

It was my last track day of 2019 and all in all was a great way to end the season. I plan to write these lessons down and post them on my bathroom mirror so I see them every day. “Make the most of every second.”

”If you believe it, you can achieve it.”

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