Between the Motos: Seiji Ishii

Between the Motos Seiji Ishii

April 23, 2015 2:05pm

Now more than ever, we’re reminded of how long the supercross/motocross season can be. Monster Energy Supercross is fighting a real war of attrition with a lot of stars out and a lot of remaining ones running on fumes, and yet an entire series of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross—an even harder physical challenge—awaits. 

What’s this grind like? We got the insider perspective from Coach Seiji, who looks after Andrew Short, one of the few men who manage to go the distance every year.

Racer X: Seiji, you and I have talked about this before. We always see all this hype before Anaheim 1, but it doesn’t even seem like the same sport here a few months later.
Coach Seiji: For any sport that races in the spring time, there’s a term for it. We call it the “Christmas Star.” That means an athlete that’s just ripping by Christmas, he’ll be gone by the end of January. I get it. At the beginning of the year everyone is hyped. But a lot of times people will just say, “Hey, that guy got injured” and I’m sure a lot of the guys do just crash, but a lot of the crashes are due to fatigue. If you look at the guys who have been around and tend to finish both the supercross season and the outdoors, they tend to be veterans. And that’s just because they’ve figured it out. 

Well, a lot of people think that’s because the veteran riders just don’t ride as reckless, so they don’t crash.
No, no. Now listen, my frame of reference is basically Andrew. The majority of his work is recovery for the next week, with an extra thought about getting through the rest of the season. It’s not about getting faster for Saturday. I hate when I hear that in interviews guys will say, “We’re going to go home and do my home work for next week.” That’s not true! In reality, you go home and try to get your stuff back together after getting up early Friday, racing Saturday, staying up late at the race, getting up early, and going to the airport on Sunday. If you’re a family guy, you probably want to be there to help on Sunday when you get home. Maybe you can do it for a little while. Monday you’re not all here yet. Tuesday maybe you can do a good day on the track. Maybe by Wednesday you’re feeling good. You can get away with that mentality for a little while, trying to get better and better during the week, but after a little while you’re just trying to hold it together and make it all the way through the season. That’s more important than saying “I’m willing to throw myself into the dirt to gain an extra position on Saturday.”

Yeah, but at some point you will crash and you will have bumps and bruises.
Yes. But if you look at the big picture and look at veterans, they don’t cartwheel across the track. A veteran guy, if he sees he’s a second behind on lap times, he knows he can try to make it up by ripping through the turns. You push harder through a turn and the worst-case scenario is a washout crash. You don’t try to make up that time by going triple-quad because there’s so much more risk in trying to make up your time that way. I don’t know if everyone thinks about that, but we think that. Look at how Andrew qualifies. His finishes are normally half of his qualifying. If he qualifies tenth, he finishes fifth. Now, good starts help, but how the hell does he gain five positions? It’s because he only has so much mental juice for the day, and he’s metering it out. He can only do the high speed on the edge processing to run those crazy lap times so many times in one day. He’s not going to use that in qualifying.

Andrew Short's starts have been on point all season long. 
Andrew Short's starts have been on point all season long.  Photo: Cudby

Ah, you’ve just stumbled on something. So many riders in this sport get beat down with Epstein Barr and things like that, and we tend to blame the trainers and say they don’t know what they’re doing. But is this just a by-product of the fact that motocross is really, really freaking gnarly, mentally and physically, and doing it every day all year just beats you down like no other?
For Andrew it is. I know for other people maybe it’s not that way. Daytona was that way. He had all this crap to deal with as far as travel, and then it was the same pattern. He didn’t qualify that great; then he gets a good start in the main event and he actually rides better in the race. He led for about half the race, and then he went way back to like tenth, so people are thinking, “Oh, he’s not fit.” But it’s not that he got tired, physically. He just couldn’t process at that speed anymore. He gets frustrated with that.

Man, I’ve said this a thousand times. One guy is sprinting all out while the other guy is just jogging. I’m sure at Daytona the pace Andrew was running was all out. While Ryan Dungey was in second, that same pace was probably easy for him. We’ve been saying the same thing about Weston Peick lately.
I try to explain it. It’s like when you’re driving your car in a gnarly rainstorm at night and you can hardly see, you’re hydroplaning. Dude, you do that for ten hours and you’re wasted! But, on a nice day you can road trip ten hours no problem. You’re just processing all of this information and you can’t do it anymore. So, Andrew can do more of that earlier in the season than later—eventually you can’t do it anymore. During the season, people don’t believe me, but I spend more of my time during the season trying to get him to not stress out about things and relax more than I do on the physical training side. You know, if something comes up and he can’t ride that day, I tell him to just not worry about it and go hang out with his family. Or, don’t stay up late at night BS-ing with me about the industry and stressing on it. That all adds up and makes you tired. I know, physically, he’s going to be ready at the start of the year. It’s my job to meter that out so he gets through the whole year. 

You know what else? Andrew will tell you, honestly, what does he struggle with? Speed. He’s honest about it. Well, what is speed? It’s not a physical thing. You can’t do more pushups and gain speed. It’s a mental thing. It’s a brain-processing thing. Whatever affects being able to pick up skills and lock them into your brain is going to affect your speed. And fatigue has a huge impact on that.

Yeah, here’s the difference between other endurance sports like running or cycling compared to motocross…
They’re brainless! 

I’ve only done motocross for half of my career. I’ve spent a lot of time around other sports. Motocross is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever seen. Cycling? Dude, coaching cycling can be done on a computer program these days. You have power meters, you have tools; if you’re educated and know how to use them, you could train anyone from anywhere. But you can’t quantify the effort like that on the motorcycle. Plus, there’s an emotional part, a skill part, a fear part. It’s so difficult to coach someone in this sport. It’s so hard to explain to someone from another sport. 

Unless they’ve ridden or raced themselves, it’s so hard to understand. I don’t even ride well, but I know after a long day of riding, a few hours later you just have this weird relaxed, loose, tired, kind of just “I’m done and I want to sit down and drink a beer” feeling you don’t get from any other kind of workout. And I’m just riding for fun without and pressure at all.
Yeah, and Andrew is the only rider who will actually be totally honest and tell you, I’ll hear him tell [Steve] Matthes, “I’m terrified of that jump.” He admits it. Take the physical part out of the equation totally, just focus on the risk and the consequence of jumping a rutted triple. He’s a fifteen-year pro; he could go double all the jumps all day long no problem. The risk is low, he can do it no problem. The consequence is high, because if he did mess up a double he could still get hurt, but there’s no stress because he knows he can do doubles all day. But, when the risk and consequence goes high, it takes so much more mentally, and you also know you’re going to the hospital if you get it wrong, and you know it’s going to be really hard to get it right.

We all call the start of a race “Get nervous time.” And we all know the feeling the night before a race when you can’t sleep, or in the morning when you know you have motos coming up. That’s a kind of nervous you don’t get from any other sport because you’re not nearly as afraid of getting hurt.
Not at all! In cycling, yeah, you’re nervous because you’re a competitor and you want to do well. But that’s all. You don’t have fear of pain or getting hurt. So that changes everything. So what makes a better athlete? A rider who makes it to all of the races and gets top-five in points, but doesn’t have any amazing races? Or a guy who has some good rides, but finishes tenth in points because he crashed out of some races? We don’t know.

Honestly, I think it’s the second one. We see that all the time.
Well, think about Andrew. This is the first year he’s crashed out of races. He decided to do something different this year. He’s older, he doesn’t know if he’s going to keep getting a good ride. So, instead of worrying about a good ride for next year, let’s just see what happens if he gets out of his comfort zone, goes for it, throws caution to the wind. Basically just say, “Screw it.” And I think you can tell he did that at the beginning of the year. He’s had top-fives when the field was still deep; he’s won heat races, he’s run at the front. He’s also weeded himself and crashed out. That’s not like him. Well, we were trying to be different this year, not just safe in sixth, seventh, eighth. Now we know we can do it either way. It starts in the off-season.

Wait, you can tune that?
Yes. Two months away from this season we took a different approach. We couldn’t take huge risks right before Anaheim 1, but awhile before that, we’d normally do this really consistent two months of riding where everything looks the same. You’re just wiring in twenty laps over and over, no crazy risks, just building a huge base. No triple-quads, no jumping into the whoops. Well, this year, we decided we’d only do twenty laps a few times. Instead, I said, “Okay, we’re going to see how many times you can blitz the whoops today.” Instead of doing laps, we did sections. We’d break the track into thirds, and just do that one twenty-second section over and over at maximum balls-out speed. Again, we’d take the risks in the corners more than the jumps, but eventually we could put together this perfect theoretical lap, where we knew the fastest time he could get in each section. Now, when he started going back to doing whole laps, his time was off of that, like three seconds slower, but after we worked on it enough and got those sections wired into his brain, he was able to get his lap time down there. It was all mental, not physical. 

You were able to get the lap times down there?
Yes. And speed was never Andrew Short’s MO. He had it at times this year, but he’s also crashed out, he’s also gone backwards once his brain couldn’t process that speed any longer. I mean, Daytona was great from my perspective. Dungey told us after the race, “Hey, I couldn’t even get to Andrew to make a pass for awhile.” But, like I said, he went back to tenth. He also crashed out of some races. In my mind, this is his best supercross season ever because he’s run up front, but Andrew doesn’t believe that. He’s still mad that he crashed out of some races and fell back in the points. But no one really knows what people really want, what teams really want. Sometimes, I think only Andrew cares about those points!