Words by Darren ‘Conehead’ Roberts. Photo by Sven Martin.
0.5 of a second…what is that? To the naked eye a reaction time of 0.1 seconds is almost instantaneous, it’s in fact the limit of what’s deemed possible in a human reaction…
In a 100m sprint race if you leave the blocks less than 0.1 secs after the gun you’re deemed to have false started because it’s just simply impossible to react faster than that.
0.5 secs is similar to my attention span in a sports science heavy presentation. My missus would say it’s the amount of time it takes me to forget what she’s told me. I would say it’s the amount of time one of our athlete remembers what I’ve told them, or the time it takes them to do the opposite of what I’ve just said.
In the film ‘Any Given Sunday’ about an NFL team, Al Pacino delivers a genuinely inspiring speech to his players before playing in a deciding game. In it he talks about seconds and inches, half a second too late or half a yard too short and you lose the game – the fight to claw those seconds and inches back to win the game. We’re surrounded by these fractions of seconds, they’re everywhere – just sat there waiting to be lost or gained by whoever they’re important to.
If you’re traveling at 40kph, 0.5 secs is about a DH bike length – just a single bike length. Think about that over a World Cup DH run, where would that bike length be found? Every rock, turn, root, pedal stroke, slight slip on the front or back, the slightest hesitation, just thinking about dabbing your foot but not actually doing it. Or is it even wider than that? A half turn on the suspension set–up, tyre choice, pressures? Or wider still…a couple of days missed practice, testing, training, hours of missed sleep, not quite the right food. The more you look at it 5/10ths of a second it seems to be lying around in abundance, waiting to be grabbed.
Half a second was the difference between being 2012 UCI Elite Men World Champion and not. Of course there are events outside of your control, like a brake lever snapping. But still, it seems to me there are seconds and inches everywhere I look, add them together and it’s more than 0.5 secs. Add them together and that bike length is closed, the rainbow stripes taken. British Cycling seem to have coined the phrase ‘aggregation of marginal gains’. However some of us in performance have known for a long time that by doing the ordinary extraordinarily well, you’ll scoop up these errant fractions of seconds that no one else wants. Your consistency and attention to detail will hoover them up, leaving none for anyone else. With races and championships now being decided within these fractions, can any elite afford to just leave them lying around anymore?
The wife has just told me something significant and important regarding tonight’s dinner, which I’ve been left in charge of before she went out. This was over 0.5 secs ago. I’m now texting her to ask what she said…
Darren Roberts is the High Performance Manager at Harris & Ross in Manchester and was Head of High Performance at Red Bull UK working with the likes of the Atherton family, Danny MacAskill, MX enduro star David Knight and many, many others. He’s also worked with premiership rugby and football teams and individuals, and presents conferences on performance management of extreme sports athletes right through to more traditional sports. He’s a man with fingers in lots of pies!