What happens to your body when fatigued?
I spent the last weekend at Kari Motor Speedway riding the Suzuki Gixxer Cup bike for an extended period of time. By which I mean I rode about 30-35 laps in under 2 hours. That story will feature in the October 2018 issue of Motoring World, so pick that up when it comes out on stands. Now that’s a lot of riding, and my level of physical fitness is nowhere it should be for a healthy life, let alone riding on a track for such a long session. So naturally, I spent the next 2 days in bed, with muscles that I didn’t even know existed throbbing and burning with every movement.
But what is this, and why does it happen?
Now I come from a family of doctors, so let me get the science of muscle movement and fatigue out of the way as quickly and simply as possible. Muscles contract. That takes energy, which is provided by something called ATP (forget what it stands for, unless you’re studying for Class 10 biology exams), and chemical reactions between muscle fibres. All this in collaboration with nerves sending signals to and from your brain. And voila! Muscle movement. Like everything that uses energy though, waste is produced, and this is in the form of Lactic Acid. That burning sensation after a good pump (at the gym)? That’s lactic acid building up in your muscles. Of course, it gets flushed out thanks to your blood, but it takes a while, and the more it builds up, the more fatigued you feel. This, mind you, is an oversimplification of the entire process, so don’t expect to get full marks if you put this in a biology exam answer, but it should suffice for now.
Combine this with riding on a track for an extended period of time, and the effect builds up exponentially, and quite sneakily. Unlike working out at a gym, you don’t focus on contracting specific muscles while riding. Ok hold on, put down your guns, let me explain. You do focus on what muscles you need to deploy, but a lot of your mental capacity is dedicated to going faster, determining race lines, looking far ahead, listening to engine noise and focussing on braking points. The brain, being an incredibly complex, yet efficiency driven organ, tends to subdue inputs that it doesn’t deem essential, and direct energy to the planning part. What this results in, is you don’t notice that acid build up in your body, until it gets to a much higher level, and by then it really starts affecting performance. It starts to slow your reflexes — as your muscles can’t respond quickly enough to nerve inputs. You suddenly realise you can’t grip the tank as well as earlier, and hanging off the side is more difficult. And in your competitive high, you still force yourself to ignore this, and try to maintain performance. It doesn’t work, as I found out when I low-sided the bike through a long corner as I hung off, and got lazy with my grip.
So what can you do about this?
Besides the obvious, of going to a gym and working out to stay on top of your physical fitness, I think the past weekend was a reminder of something far more important. You need to anticipate fatigue, and prepare for it. Normally, we wait for the physical cues and signals our body sends us, such as the soreness and burning sensation. Those signals, I’ve come to understand, are far too late. Riding a motorcycle, whether on the track or on the road, takes up a significant amount of mental resource, and that tends to dull our sensitivity to purely muscular inputs. You need to see how far you can go, and make a mental note of not crossing that point before your body starts sending you signals. Me personally? I can’t ride for more than 2 hours at a stretch on the road, and anything more than 7-8 hours a day is where I draw the line. I don’t wait anymore till I feel tired, I just trust the clock, and the past weekend was a rude reminder of what happens when you don’t. Perhaps you should too. Stay mentally vigilant in this aspect, have no shame about acknowledging and adhering to those limits, and it should contribute to your physical safety in more ways than you can imagine.
Ride safe, ride hard, and may you always land feet-first on the tarmac.