I’ve now raced in 4 Premier division slaloms since gaining promotion in the summer, with my final race, the British Open, coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m still getting to grips with the challenges of Premier and my results have been between 36th  – 42nd .   Better than last place, but not setting the world on fire!  The courses are harder than Div 1 and without a practice run it’s tough to get it right first time. There has also been the challenge of racing at unfamiliar venues, notably at Cardiff.  The race there took place in the evening under floodlights, and my race run was my first time paddling the course in those conditions. So although there have been elements I’ve been very pleased with, I’ve yet to put down a race run that hasn’t been marred by a costly time loss.  This is the appeal of slalom though – it’s hard to be complacent and there’s always room for improvement.

In aspiring to do the very best you can do (an important aspect of Mastery Motivation, that I’ve written about elsewhere), it’s important to be realistic about what it means to ‘do your best.’  I’ve noticed from my own experience, and also through working as a sport psychologist with top paddlers, that it’s all too easy to get confused about what your ideal best looks like now, and what you want it to be in the future.  When this happens you put unrealistic pressure on yourself, and this is rarely helpful.  The trick is to be clear about what your optimum performance looks like on the day, taking into account your current level of training, fitness, technique and experience.  If you are aiming for an important future goal, like making team selection in 6 months time, you can realistically aspire to being better than you are now, assuming you train hard and smart.  But be careful of getting too caught up in trying to perform at that future level now, instead be realistically patient and aim to deliver to your current level.

Lots of people use a % of the winning time as a performance marker.  This is useful unless you’re the person who always wins the race!  Ross Pearton, a fellow Lee Valley paddler and ex international wildwater racing paddler, recently sent me the results from the 1983 Merano world champs.  We both competed there, Ross in Downriver C2 for the GB team, and me in K1 slalom on the Australian team.  I thought I’d look at the percentages and compare them to this year’s world champs.

In 1983, Richard Fox won with a time of 207.18. That’s more than twice the duration of the 2014 race.  Toni Prijon and Peter Micheler of Germany were in 2nd and 3rd, with times of 211.32 and 212.37.  11th place, in today’s terms that’s just outside the final, was Czech Ivan Hilgert, 216.98. And in 48th was me, 235.87 (including a 5 sec penalty).

In percentage terms it looks like this

Mens K1

1983 Merano

2014 Deep Creek

Winner 207.18 101.61
2nd 101.9% 100.7%
3rd 102.5% 101.3%
11th 104.7% 103.5%
48th 113.9% 106.8%

Interestingly, the differences at the top of the field are less than I expected. The biggest difference is in the depth – there are simply more fast boats now than in 1983 as shown by a comparison of 48th place – in both 1983 and 2014 this was two thirds of the way down the field.  No surprises to anyone who’s racing today, it’s tough and tight especially in Mens K1.  The story is similar in the other classes too – our sport has progressed.

Looking at my Premier results so far, I’ve ranged from 117.7 to 131.81% of the winner, at an average of 122.6%. So in aiming to race well at the British Open, anything better than 117.7% will clearly be my best result so far.  If I consider my ‘ideal’ best at each of the Premier races, by ruling out the time loss from a mistake, then I could aspire to around 114%, intriguingly close to how I performed back in the 1983 Worlds.  Now that’s a nice target to have, so long as I remember to follow my own advice and simply aim to perform to my current level!

If you’ve not done so already, check out my book In the Flow.  You can find out more or order a copy here http://performance.sportscene.tv