What training is required to become a world champion? Al went to an actual gym with James Toseland and Danny Kent to find out...
WORDS: ALASTAIR ‘HORSE-BURGER’ FAGAN
PIC: JOHNNY ‘LITTLE BIT TALLER’ GAWLER
While some rot in morbid obesity, professional athletes dedicate their lives to training, fitness and a rabbit’s diet. For modern racers, riding their bikes is just a small percentage of their occupation. Sure, there are quite a few hobby racers who just enjoy the lifestyle – topping up tans, cruising in the motorhome, and choosing which flip-flops and sunglasses to wear – but the majority train their bottys off.
They say riding a bike fast is 80 per cent mental. That’s all dandy if you’re grossly talented but us mere mortals have to work hard. Do you get tired at the end of a trackday, or even on a road ride? Of course you do. Contrary to haters’ perceptions, thrashing motorcycles is bloody hard work, with physical exertion also draining your mental concentration. If your body is knackered, your brain wafts away and mistakes occur – 150mph is hardly a good time for fingers to go numb and to lose grip on both reality; or the brake lever...
As a tyre starts to go ‘off’ and grip levels start decreasing, the bike becomes more physical. This also coincides with energy levels dropping, arm-pump and whisky throttle rearing its ugly head. Although there’s no physical cure for arm-pump (without surgery), there’s no doubt that fitness helps a great deal.
While being bike fit is sometimes sufficient, having another level of über fitness and mental edge over your rivals might equate to a win, instead of a second or third place finish. Many racers train like buggery just so when they line up on the grid, mentally they’re at the top of their game, and they know they can’t do anymore themselves.
I’m the first to admit my racing has suffered because I like a good time. You know, smoke, drink, lose a few brain cells and party hard. Nori Haga has got more racing talent in his little finger than most of us will ever have. No amount of money or practice will change that. But is it a coincidence that Haga never won a world championship when it came down to the nitty-gritty? He loved a smoke or two. And you can’t ignore the more vocal anti-gym riders, like Colin Edwards, whose race pace drops off towards the end of a race.
Danny Kent, Moto3 Grand Prix winner and now Tech3 Moto2 rider, has been getting some help from James Toseland for his class promotion in 2013. In between tinkling the ovaries, I mean ivories, and preparing for the world land speed record, the double world superbike champion has been getting Danny fit. We thought we’d tag along to one of their training sessions and share some sweat.
“It’s certainly a massive step up from the training I did last year,” says Danny. “I certainly appreciate sleep and relaxation more, now I’ve done a few sessions with JT!”
I felt like sleeping after the boys’ initial foray into the gym. A supposed warm-up consists of running flat-out on a treadmill, set at level 16, for half an hour. If you’re into gyms and know your cross-trainer from your rowing machine, then you’ll understand how ridiculous the pace is. The aim for Danny is to stick in 45 minutes to replicate race distance among the bar-banging nutters in Moto2. JT, in his prime, could do an hour. Yes. An hour. This sort of speed is a sprint for most of us, and I managed just two minutes before my legs fell off and a virtual cardiac arrest occurred. It was at this point I knew I was in trouble. I’m not exactly unfit, but already I wanted to crawl back inside my mother’s womb. It was going to be a long day.
I’m amazed at the complete lack of warm-up or stretches, going straight into a punishing workout. Surely this ain’t good for the body? “This is designed to mimic a race distance and simulation,” James explains. “You don’t get time to warm-up for a race. You go straight into 25 laps.”
We finished off in the main gym with the rowing machine and bike. Although less time was spent on the pair, they’re just as gruelling. I felt like puking up and had sweat pouring from every pore – but Danny looked brand-new in his usual poster-boy manner. You get a chance to rest your arms on the treadmill and bike, whereas the rowing machine requires all limbs to take a battering – exactly what’s needed on a bike.
Next up is the beast – circuit training. As I casually chat to Danny, JT sets up a man-made course using various bits of gym equipment. Having never had the pleasure of a circuit training class, it looks harmless on the eye – but then James gives us a demo...
We start off a lap attacking each section ten times, gradually decreasing until there’s one of every section. I can barely manage one complete press-up, let alone ten in a row and while still on my first circuit making farmyard animal noises, the boys lap me twice. I’m not massively unfit, but the chasm between public and honed athletes becomes apparent.
Group training has huge benefits, as does training with someone much fitter than you. If it wasn’t for JT shouting at me, I would have given up back on the treadmill. Having that innate focus and drive on the job is essential. Being mentally tough is more important than peak physical condition itself, pushing your mind and will power beyond the boundaries your brain erects.
I have a newfound respect and admiration for these boys. The behind-the-scenes work is barely recognised, but chatting to James, it’s just lifestyle choice more than anything. “My uncle ran a gym, so at an early age I showed an interest in fitness. By the age of 15, when I turned professional, I was running 10 miles a day.” When I was 15, I was playing spin the bottle in the park, smoking 10 L&B and drinking White Lightning...
Having to cut short a successful career due to a surgically-locked wrist that can’t open a throttle must have been heartbreaking for someone so fit and talented. But passing on know-how to Junior #52 should be some sort of redemption. Forza Danny!