Evolutionary Racing: beyond the reptilian brain

Our passion for Sports (and I’m not referring to the type consumed from the couch, in our living room) and Competition is exquisitely primal.

Direct competition, adrenaline rush, tension and relief before and after a race, all emulate the environment our brains evolved into, over several million years.

From a Darwinian perspective, sports may be seen as one of the cultural activities invented to promote the acquisition of status. And acquiring status is — on average, in the long run, and in the ancestral environment to which our species is adapted — beneficial to an individual’s reproductive success.That is not to say that gaining status is our (only) conscious or unconscious motive for participating in a game. Many players and observers are primarily interested in the fun of the game.The claim that sports result from sexual selection means only that sports (like many other games and cultural practices) establish a reliable prestige hierarchy loosely based on (Darwinian) fitness, and that this function is the ultimate cause of the cultural invention of sports (Mayr 1993).

~ Andreas De Block and Siegfried Dewitte

Quadzilla in their natural environment — Photo Credit Jeff Vander Stucken Photography

Moving this from the context of pure sport to racing, the competition aspect immediately emerges.

I often ask athletes (and myself) the key question:

“Why do you race?”

We can think of our competition as ‘the enemy’, the guys/gals to beat. That can go very deep, in terms of emotional response: it’s our reptilian brain, reacting with a fight or flight response. And it can lean toward the fight side (feeling that we have a good chance of success) or flight (I think I’m gonna get chewed).

Our mindset before a competition is affected by the concern about the outcome, and how it will affect our ‘status’ (especially on Facebook, in these modern days)

If we move a couple layers above this (the limbic and neocortex brain), there’s a different and more “mammal” perspective, the social aspect and advancing the species. Our competition becomes our ally, those guys/gals next to me on the start line are there to help me push myself beyond my own limits, they’re offering me their draft and sharing the pain with me. I wouldn’t be able to push myself so hard if it wasn’t for them

The goal is the achieve full potential, and leave it all on the track, as we say.

I like this approach much better than the cold competitive reptilian one, and especially for us non-pro athletes, our top priority is to achieve full potential and not necessarly win races (although that feels freaking awesome)

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