“The perfect athlete is a robot, programmed to perform at its limit. But behind every athlete is a human.”
There are lots of good books to learn about sport psychology. What can sometimes feel like it is missing though is the context. You read about a technique you could use but there is a question mark in your head about all the ‘what ifs.’ What if the athlete doesn’t respond? What if in that moment the athlete doesn’t care? What if the athlete in that moment realises that it is too hard? Timmis book gives the context, and so we understand more of the answers.
The Race of Truth is not a sport science or sport psychology book. It is a neatly written, interesting summary of the year he built up to trying to set a new world record for cycling across Europe and the two and a bit week attempt to do it. But woven into the story wonderfully is the science behind the attempt. And most importantly the people who do the science.
The team element
It is the team element that shone through strongest for me. While it is Leigh’s name on the Guinness World Records Certificate, he is telling the story of a team. There was so much support from others it beautifully illustrated that no world record attempt, or success is ever done alone. You could see a real accountability came from this team perspective, summarised by a wonderful quote towards the end… “the project was never about me, it was about us.”
Nothing felt sugar coated: The guardian angel in the form of Steve and his family; the first nutritionist who didn’t live up to expectations and the days when he must have been very difficult for his team members to deal with, all felt very honest and occasionally raw.
The everything element
I loved this quote in the book: “Endurance was a battle of attrition and each piece of the puzzle; sleep, nutrition, psychology, mechanics, logistics and physio, had equal importance in keeping everything on target” and felt it really highlighted that a world record attempt needs every element beautifully aligned for there to be any chance of success.
The psych element
What I loved from a psychological perspective was the discussions Leigh has with his Sport Psych Phil. How often are we able to know about that? Most of these conversations we have as sport psychologists with athletes remain confidential but here Timmis shows what goes on, shares the tools he learnt and the approach used. It shows the importance of learning mental skills for performing in high pressure situations – but also that these skills are not always easy to learn. The book is an amazing resource for both trainee sports psychs and coaches. There were great ideas (that I will be borrowing) and lots on how Phil Clarke (Timmis’s Sport’s Psych) helped him understand the importance of finding his why.
I loved this quote for highlighting the importance of performance psychology in his attempt: “Performance psychology wasn’t about making me a better cyclist, it was about allowing me to deal with any situation in a positive way, which would generate a better performance on the bike. Phil’s analogy that we weren’t reinventing the wheel, that I was the wheel, was perfect. He needed to ensure I was true and wouldn’t buckle, that I could take the hits and keep on rolling, and that I had grip and control in all conditions.”
The final chapter contains a quote I will certainly be using with athletes: “success isn’t a result; it’s a mindset.” The book highlights how Timmis (and his team) worked to create that successful mindset.
Overall, I would suggest that while this is a great read for anyone with an interest in cycling or adventures it is an even better read for those with an interest in sport science, psychology or team dynamics. It offers a brilliant case study of just what it takes, and just how many people need to be involved in order to take on a successful world record attempt.