Formula 1 and health journeys – What we can learn from racing to help us achieve our health goals!

A health journey and Formula 1?

Not many of you would be aware that I am a fan of car racing! Specifically, I really enjoy watching the Supercars and Formula 1 races. Although, I’m not really a car enthusiast. For me, it’s more about the strategy, the battles between drivers and the competition.

I was watching the Formula 1 race from Sochi, Russia on Sunday night, and it was an eventful race! There were crashes, there were great battles between drivers, and there were penalties that ultimately impacted the outcome of the race. But while watching the race unfold, looking at the strategies of the different teams and drivers, I couldn’t help but make a comparison between the race and an individual’s health journey. A journey that many of us go on and one that, as an Exercise Physiologist, I go on with many people. And even though everyone’s personal journey and desired outcomes are different, at the end of the day we all want to achieve our goals. We all want to win our own race. 

Maybe you do think I’m crazy for comparing a Formula 1 race to an individual’s health journey. I can honestly say I never thought I would be making this comparison. And yet, here we are! Let me explain this concept, and hopefully by the end you’ll understand where I’m coming from with this idea. To help examine the concept, I’ll share one of my own personal health journeys. I first mentioned this journey in an earlier post The first step is always the hardest – tips on starting a successful behaviour change journey! Just in case you missed it, my goal was to reduce my soft drink consumption.

It all starts at practice

Practice time varies between all of the different competitions. In Formula 1, the drivers have 3 practice sessions – a total of 4 hours! In this time, they get out on track to test the car and to establish a driving rhythm. It involves a lot of trial and error, including tweaking car set ups, changing braking distances or how you attack each corner. It is all done in an attempt to set themselves up to be as fast as possible come race day.

And that’s the key take away: this is the time to set yourself up for success! Any successful health journey depends on this. We can’t just decide that we want to achieve a certain health goal and go for it, oh how we wish it was that simple! That strategy ultimately results in us ‘crashing’. It’s important to take the time to set up, plan our journey and think about:

      • What is my goal?
      • What do I need to do to achieve this?
      • How am I going to achieve this?
      • Are there any short-term goals that’ll help me stay on track?
      • What barriers might I come across?
      • How can I overcome these barriers?

Let's look at my soft drink example

In my situation, my goal was to reduce my soft drink consumption. What I needed to do was reduce my intake until I was having 2 cans (710mL) each week. I was going to gradually reduce my intake by a can per week until I hit that goal; this tactic would also be my short term goals. I was aware that I could potentially be tempted by any left over soft drink that is around the house – this was my primary barrier. So, to overcome this I needed to make sure that I only buy enough to hit my limit for that week and not be tempted to go over.

This is all part of the set up – our practice time. Take the time to think things through and develop a detailed plan. Maybe you could even get out on the track yourself to try out a strategy that might work. If it doesn’t work? Come back into the pits and make some adjustments. Just don’t rush this process – allow it to unfold over time and you will find the best action plan for your circumstances, because sometimes you can not foresee all the barriers you will encounter.

Qualifying to set up our race

Now, the next stage of a race weekend is qualifying. During qualifying all the drivers compete to set the fastest lap time. Whoever sets the fastest time starts at the front of the grid for the race, which as you can imagine holds a massive advantage! At the end of the day, you win by coming first, so starting there is ideal.

Qualifying shares similarities with practice in the sense that we are setting ourselves up to have success. However, here we are implementing our plans (or preparing ourselves) instead of answering the questions and developing a plan. We have already decided on our race strategy and we know what we want our journey to look like, so it’s time to put it into action! We need to take the answers to the questions and prepare for our journey. 

Let’s look at my situation. My goal was to reduce my soft drink intake by one can each week. During practice I decided that the best strategy for me was to remove the temptation of going over this limit. In qualifying, I now complete the set up to implement this plan. I did this by reducing the soft drink available to me and eliminating the possibility of being tempted to go over my limit. I had decided on my plan, and then I made the necessary preparations to maximise my chance of success!

It's Race Day!

Now it’s time to race! We’ve done everything we can during practice and qualifying to set ourselves up for success. Now it’s time to go and get the win!

The Start

The start of the race is very important. Once the lights go out, we need to get off the start line as quickly as possible. Our foot is down and we are accelerating away!

A strong start is important for our health journey too! We want to start our journey by implementing our plan and achieving our first goal. We are focussed, energised and motivated to get the job done. Yes, the first step can be the hardest one to take, but we have done all of the hard work beforehand. We have prepared and we are ready. So what are we waiting for? Trust your preparation and start racing!

Settling into a rhythm

The first lap is finished. Now we need to settle into a rhythm for the rest of the race. This is important to maintain our pace and avoid errors to make sure we are able to finish.

Here, we’ve gotten off to our strong start. We’ve implemented our plan and have successfully hit our first goal. In my situation, I had successfully reduced my intake by one can during the first week. But, we can’t let temptation settle in and throw us off course. So we now need to shift our focus onto our second goal, which for me is reducing my soft drink intake by another can. This repeated success allows us to get into a rhythm and start to develop a habit. Once our action plan is set into our routine, it will be much easier for us to achieve our future short-term goals.

Pit Stop!

The term “Pit Stop” always makes me think of Guido from the movie Cars, expertly conducting each tyre change for McQueen to keep racing. 

But let’s get back on track (pun not intended!). Everyone needs to make a pit stop at some stage during their race. This is important to re-fuel, get a fresh set of tyres and to have a quick breather.

What does this mean for us and our health journey? This is where we have started to fatigue, either physically and/or mentally. There is also the potential to get tempted by old habits or to give up on the journey completely. Hence, the important to step away for a day or two to re-energise and re-focus on the end goal. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste during this time, but just give yourself a moment. Consider this your ‘quiet time’ where you don’t need to think about your journey. As long as we settle back into our rhythm once we are back on the track, the pit stop will give us the boost we need to get to the end.

Finishing Strong

Now we are getting close to the chequered flag – the finish line is in sight! You can picture yourself standing on the top step of the podium holding up the trophy. But we can’t afford a mistake now. We need to maintain our pace and our focus to secure the win!

This is the final hurdle in our journey. We could be low on energy, but we must stay focussed and stay motivated – you are so close to the end! So close to achieving your goal. In my situation, I was two weeks away from hitting my ultimate goal. But my motivation was low, I lost my focus and I relapsed. I almost let all the hard work slip away. Thankfully, I was able re-focussed and make sure I finished the job and got the win! 

Although the finish line is in sight, stay focussed on your short-term goals and make sure you avoid any obstacles in your way. Keep pushing until you have achieved the goal you set yourself right back at the beginning! Finish the job and win your race!

Sometimes things don't go to plan.

Unfortunately, it’s not always smooth sailing and, just like in a race, many things can go wrong.

Maybe you had a crash (hit a barrier) – like in the Russian Grand Prix, where one driver hit a wall and another had their race ended by a collision with another car. Maybe you had a slow start (failed your first goal). Or maybe you made a mistake at some stage of the race (had a relapse – like I did!)

All of these issues can set you back a bit, but all of them can be recovered from.

Hit a barrier? Let’s find a solution and work our way around it.

Failed your first goal? Figure out why you failed and try again. Maybe the goal was too ambitious, or were there outside influences that you didn’t anticipate?

Had a relapse? Re-focus and aim for your next short-term goal. 

Just because something has gone wrong doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the road. We all hit speed bumps and challenges along the way, it’s about finding solutions to these problems and bouncing back stronger than ever.

Key things to remember!

Run your own race

The biggest take home message I want you to remember is to run your own race. There may be other people around you who are on the same or similar journey as you with the same goal, and that’s okay – it can be great to journey with someone. However, it can often be unhelpful to compare your progress to theirs. Everyone has their own race to run, their own journey. You’ll each face different obstacles, you’ll have different strategies and you’ll most likely achieve your goal at different times. So, run your own race and remember that the goal is to finish, not to beat others on the same journey (this is the one big difference between a race and a health journey).

It's a marathon, not a sprint

Most health journey’s that we go on are long-term. The goals that we set and the changes that we want to make take time to achieve. It can take weeks, months or even years to achieve your goal. Most health goals, especially those related to weight loss, dietary changes or improving fitness all take time to achieve. Take my soft drink change for example – it would be easy to make a change for one week and then go back to my old habits. But to make the permanent change, I needed to gradually build towards my goal and then sustain that for a few months. It took a while for my change to turn into a habit! 

It’s important to make sure that we remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint. A Formula 1 race is a minimum of 305km and will often take more than 90 minutes of non-stop racing to complete! This is a long time for a driver to stay focussed and maintain their incredible speed. Like the drivers, we need to stay patient and keep in mind that our ultimate goal is one that takes time. Take action that is sustainable for a long period of time and find your rhythm.

Have a strong support network around you

Every driver has a great team around them. At the track they have their race engineers, strategists and mechanics all working behind the scenes to help them win. Back at the factory there is all the staff that work to design and build the car, as well as making upgrades to improve performance. They also have a teammate, someone that is going through the same journey as them that provides support along the way. As you run your race, make sure to surround yourself with a great team and a great teammate. When the times get tough, they’ll be the ones that’ll help you keep going.

Maybe we could be your race engineer?

At Simply Stronger, we have expert Exercise Physiologists that will be able to help you from the start of practice all the way through to the chequered flag! No matter what your health journey involves, and no matter what your goal is, we will be able to utilise exercise to help you become the person that you want to be! Take your first step by contacting us to organise an appointment to see one of our Exercise Physiologists.

Check out some of our other posts!

Keep your eyes open for more posts coming in the near future – there will be a new post every Wednesday!

Here are some related posts that may interest you:

Keep your eyes open for more posts coming in the near future – there will be a new post every Wednesday! In particular, we are working on a brand new series “How I live strong and prosper”. In this series, we’ll be chatting with Simply Stronger clients and finding out what they do to live strong and prosper!

Please leave a comment below if you have any topic ideas that you would like us to discuss!

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Thank you for the photos!

Photos provided by Hanson Lu, José Pablo Domínguez, Kévin et Laurianne Langlais, Macau Photo Agency, Shaohao Yang and Sven Brandsma via

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