Monday, 26 February 2018

Finding the edge

This post doesn't entirely belong here.

If I were to succumb entirely to OCD I'd create a whole new blog called 'Miscellaneous ramblings of a disgruntled fortysomething'. But like Steve McQueen said, racing is life. So here it sits.

From 2011 to 2013, karting was a major part of my life. I competed all over the UK in the British Rental Kart Championship, took part in five 24-hour races, and racked up a string of strong results in individual and team events at my local circuit - Thruxton. When the competition was world class - as it is in the BRKC and the British 24 Hours - I was respectable. A safe pair of hands.

And even then, at the height of my results, I was holding back. Compared to the most dedicated of my peers, I lacked commitment. Fitness, mental preparation, practice - all could have been improved upon. I often cited my relative lack of seat time as an excuse, but the fact is I could have raced more than I did. I could have been fitter than I was. And when the pressure was on, I could have been sharper mentally. I was simply a little lazy. Because I was (and remain) terrified of committing everything I have and still falling short, I was unconsciously setting myself up to fail.

In karting, as in life.

From 2014-2016, life took a couple of difficult turns which I've blogged about elsewhere. My health suffered and racing slipped a long way down the list of priorities. After a low point in late 2015, the Duff household was well on the way to mending by the time my daughter was born in May 2016. But I was on strong medication, in no state to race, and had no business competing at the British 24 Hours in August 2016. I was a shadow of my normal self and let my team down badly. After a brief (and abysmal) outing in a 2-stroke Daytona DMax kart a month later, I decided to stop racing until I was well.

For old time's sake I joined the BRKC - by now an annual tournament style event - in January 2017. And I did enjoy myself. But that was it. I focused on healing, on being a dad, on losing the weight that a combination of medication and fatherhood had piled on.

It would have been so easy to give up racing. I'm bearing down on my mid forties. My body aches. My daughter, whom I adore to the moon and back, is demanding as only a toddler can be. I hate being away from her and my wife. As a writer of novels that attract glowing feedback but few sales, my disposable income is somewhere below zero.

But I couldn't quite bring myself to miss the BRKC - I've taken part in every season since its inception - so signed myself up to be thrown to the lions. By January 2018 I was fit and well in body and mind for the first time in four years. With minimal racing for 18 months - none at all in the previous year - I finished 78th out of 100 entrants. I was shocked at how far off the pace I had fallen. And I found myself yearning for more.

I'm no driving god. No undiscovered Verstappen-esque genius lurks under the seat of these pants. But I am far more capable than I've shown in recent years. And I'm hungry. It's a long time since I've achieved any sort of success in a kart, and I'm keen to change that.

Over the coming months I plan to show my face at BRKC venue Formula Fast as often as time and funds allow. And having had an absolute blast in the first round of Swindon Karting Arena's open championship, I will return in March. I will be competing in the BRKC 0-plate at South Coast Karting in August, and plan to enter at least one of their championship rounds in preparation.

The holy grail for 2018 is to make it across to the continent for one of the national championships - and above all, to be as competitive as I know I can be. Away from the circuit I'll be working harder than ever on my physical and mental preparation.

Of course, I'll record the inevitable trials, tribulations, ups and downs here. 'That old bloke that writes the blog when he can be arsed' is finally going to put some effort in.

Quake in your boots, Ruben Boutens (Kart World Champion 2017)


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