Nationals 2014 – The preperation has begun

It has been a while since I have posted on my blog. However, the Nationals are on in 2 months, so it is time to resurrect the blog and start writing about my progress.

The Nationals is going to be in Canowindra again (same location as the last 3 Nationals). The event is being run in late April, starting on Easter Monday. This year’s event is looking like it will be an amazing competition. They have got some of the top pilots from USA, Japan and Russia coming out. All up, there should be about 25 balloons competing.

Canowindra Challenge Website - http://www.canowindrachallenge.org.au/

Canowindra Challenge Website – http://www.canowindrachallenge.org.au/

I have been putting a lot of work into preparing for these Nationals. Unfortunately, being Summer in Australia, I have not been able to do any flying for a couple of months. So my preparation has had to be more mental and physical, rather than actual flying time.

About 6 months ago, after reflecting on my not so good performance at the last Nationals (6th place), I realized that I really need to work on my psychology leading up to the event. I have proven over the years that I have the ability to fly to targets. The thing that really lets me down during the competitions has been my mental state. Looking back at recent competitions (and analyzing a lot of inflight video) I have found that there are a number of things that really hinder my ability to win an event. I won’t go into the details, but they range from being distracted, taking safe options, not focusing enough or getting frustrated. I rarely get into the “zone”. I also put a lot of pressure on myself and get disappointed when I don’t win.

So to counter these short comings, I have put a lot of time into studying sports psychology and analyzing what I do right and wrong. I have also adopted visualization techniques (used by a lot of sporting greats), where you focus on the end goal and visualize the goal and how to get there. There are 2 books that I have been using for information about “how to win”.

The first, which is the main book I have been using, is called Above All Else: A World Champion Skydiver’s Story of Survival and What It Taught Him About Fear, Adversity, and Success by Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld. This book really surprised me. It was just a random book I downloaded from Amazon because I needed something to read. The first half of book focuses on how Dan started parachuting and then his journey to winning the World Championships for 4s formation skydiving. However, the more interesting part is the second half which focuses on the science behind winning.

Above All Else

Above All Else

The second book, which reminds me I need to read it again, is called the Mind Gym by Gary Mack. Gary is a sports psychologist who has spent years working with US baseball and football teams and players. It is incredible how many little things you pick up in this book that you realize you have been doing wrong mentally for so many years. They seem so obvious but without stopping and thinking about them, you would never realize.

Mind Gym

Mind Gym

I have also been working hard on my fitness. Whilst ballooning isn’t an athletic sport as such, being fit allows you to have more endurance throughout the event and helps keep you focused. A week of competition involves a lot of flying, inflating and packing up balloons. Not sleeping a lot and eating meals at random times. Every bit of fitness helps get you through the week. My fitness training regime has no real pattern to it, because I have been doing a lot of international travel lately, which tends to kill any concept of a routine. However, I am generally getting to the gym 4-5 times a week and doing an hour a week with my personal trainer (James).

James has been fantastic in getting me into shape. I have joined numerous gyms over the years, but this is the first time that I have lasted more than a couple of months. Not only is he a motivating force, he also mixes up my routines to make it more interesting.
I took James flying in the Hunter Valley late last year, which gave him a feel for the things that I do while flying. So he has worked a few ballooning related exercises into my routines (basically lots of holding my hands above my head).

Flying with James and James last year

Flying with James and James last year

Over the next 2 months, I plan to get to the gym 6 times a week. A lot of the time I am simply spending an hour on the cross-trainer, listening to music and working on my endurance. The cross trainer is one of the most boring things to spend time on, so I figure if I can stay on it for an hour, it is great training for my endurance and concentration. I have also got to the point where I can just completely zone out and spend a solid hour thinking about my flying (visualization again).

One of the biggest issues I have been dealing with over the last 2 months is that I tore a part of a tendon of the bone in my left elbow. I don’t know how it happened, but it was just before Christmas. Last week, after 2 months of resting and physio (with no effect), I finally went to get an ultra-sound and they found the issue. They injected cortisone into the problem area, and over the last few days I have started feeling a lot better. I can now actually straighten my arm without being in pain. Hopefully this will continue to improve over the next 2 months; otherwise I will need to get another shot a week before the event, just to allow me to endure the week of flying.

The final part of my preparation for the Nationals will be to get a lot of flying in. My plan is to start getting up to the Hunter Valley every week and get some practice flights in. One of the great perks of my job at the moment is that I work from home and essentially can work from anywhere (when I am not traveling). So Matt and Nicola Scaife have kindly offered for me to use the vacant house next to their office whenever I like. This means I can pop up to the Hunter mid-week, get some flying in and still be at my desk working before 9am. I am hoping that I will be able to start this flying training next week (assuming the weather is ok).

So I plan to start posting more on the blog over the next couple of months. I don’t expect anyone to read it, but it is more a device for me to help track and think about my preparation.

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