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“Your brain screams: you will die!”

Alex Thomson on how to reach the finish in a single world and not go crazy

World-famous British yachtsman Alex Thomson since 1999 excites the public of their records, bright victories and incredible stunts. Four times he participated in the circumnavigation of the Vendee Globe, has twice climbed the podium and it intends to win next time. How he manages to stay sane in such a long single voyage? In his interview for Inc. magazine the project Peak Performance he spoke about the difficulties of participation in regattas singles and psychological techniques that he uses in preparation for such races.

Everything you read below will direct it to Alex. At the end of the article, you will find a link to his video interview.

More than 4,000 people have climbed Everest, more than 600 — have been in space, but less than 100 people ever made a single non-stop circumnavigation.

My name’s Alex Thompson, I’m the skipper of the Hugo Boss racing boat for round-the-world regattas, and my specialty is single sailing, when a person is alone and nonstop around the globe. Race I try to win the last 15 years — a regatta called the Vendee Globe.

Her route is simple: you get out of France, wander up and down Africa, round Antarctica, then along America and back in France. It is about 26,000 miles. The journey takes three months. The record of this route is 74 days. This is a real test. Here we need not only physical stamina, but also mental, which is of course more important.

Judge: I — itself, no one else to to do something. No support ships, no planes or helicopters that can get to me and help me. And the truth is that I have to do everything himself.

It is usually difficult to determine what day it is, because the day never ends.

Sleep is one of the most difficult things on the boat. There is no difference between day and night. I’m trying to sleep evenly throughout the day and night and it is ongoing work. At the beginning of the regatta I sleep for 5, 10, 15 minutes at a time. Since the second half of the way from 20 to 40 minutes at a time, but the longest my dream for all of 74 days last race lasted only one hour.

This, of course, brutally and mercilessly, and people think we are crazy for doing this. But I have been doing with a sports psychologist. I tell him what problems you encounter, and then he develops a technique that helps me to cope with them.

For example, when suddenly comes the understanding that I’m rushing through the waves at speeds of 40 miles per hour. When I say waves, I mean waves with a height of 50 feet. We call them the “runway”.

When you’re outside in the cockpit and go at a speed of 40 miles per hour on the “runway” is very exciting and cool. But when you go inside the boat and realize that it is made completely of carbon fiber and the thickest part is only 2.6 mm…When you go in there is like being in a coffin, which is racing across the waves at 40 miles per hour, operated by the autopilot.

Protective mechanisms of the body come into play, your brain screams “You will die, you will die!”

And everything you can think of is icebergs, containers, whales and sharks to which you can descend.

One of the methods for such cases, we call it the “view from helicopter” is the technique of visualization. With his help, I am leaving the outside of the boat, imagining that I was floating in the clouds. I look down, see the boats go fast but not too fast, and the waves not so big. I don’t see the containers. I see no icebergs. And it allows me to reduce the level of adrenaline in my body, reduce the heart rate and get some sleep.

I an emotional person. If things are going well — I’m happy if it’s bad, I am unhappy. As a result, when I am unhappy, I work harder. Refuse to sleep, less eat, so make every effort to catch as many miles.

Much worse for me, considering my character — when I’m up and all are doing well.

At this stage, the difficulty lies in the fact that I can relax. To cope with this problem, my sports psychologist came up with this technique: we have recreated that feeling — “feeling of invincibility” and associated it with the feelings that you experience before the accident. Now it’s just happening in my mind. It took months to learn this method.

What is happening now? When I have a “sense of invincibility” when all is going well — I was going on adrenaline, as would happen to you if you were very close to the accident. So whenever I feel I can relax, I get a shot of adrenaline and that feeling disappears.

When you are in the ocean, when something goes wrong, it is very difficult to see the end goal, the light at the end of the tunnel. For example, when I broke my hydrofoil, I left thinking that can win the Vendee Globe and started to think that might not even finish this regatta. What taught me my sports psychologist is to break the huge tasks into smaller ones. So I went from the desire “to win the Vendee Globe” to “on the podium Vendee Globe” and then just “finish the race”. But even this was too big a task at that time…

In the end, I did as taught me by my psychologist. I continued to simplify my goals until then, until they came to the smallest of tasks — eat a bag of nasty freeze-dried food, and then to change sails.

After completing the task set before me, I felt better.

You will also feel better if you set a goal and reach it. Chemical reactions in the brain make us feel better. But if we feel better if we are happy, we work better.

My ultimate goal is to win the Vendee Globe in 2020.

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