Tuesday, March 9, 2010

5 Freshman Lessons (And some bonus rambling)

A quick post to crystallize some thoughts I had upon waking up this morning.

(This is a terrible tattoo. But I didn't find any other images that worked.)

  1. You're a triathlete 24/7... sometimes.
    The idea comes from the Training Bible, the phrasing comes from Hajime No Ippo. The bigger the race, the more it will demand from you. People intuitively understand this much. I mean, everyone understands that running a marathon is significantly more taxing than jogging around your block. But most people will not realize until later, and some people never realize, that competing means you have to eat, sleep, read weather reports, plan vacations, plan families, plan work schedules a certain way. If I stay up to watch my favorite youtube videos until midnight, I'm not going to get to the gym in time for my early morning swim. If I do, I'll be depleted and unable to give my best effort. If I'm not giving my best effort, can we call this competition?

    However, it works the other way around. The smaller the race or the lighter the competition, the less you have to be a triathlete to finish. I think some people have enough raw physical talent to just get up and start a sprint triathlon and finish one day. Maybe, maybe, there are some who can do that for an Olympic. I cannot for the life of me imagine them doing that for a Half-Ironman. The 56 mile bike and the 13.1 mile run make that seem absurd. But then again, it might be the perspective of someone who finished an Olympic and hasn't finished a half-iron. Yet, as I look back on 2009 and the way I trained, I can say with complete honesty and integrity that I trained more than I ever did and more wisely than I ever did. And upon completing the NYC Triathlon last year, I wonder how little I could have done and still gotten away with it. Olympic-distance may sound impressive, but what if we used the equally true "second shortest" instead? Would I be as proud of myself? My poor effort, poor planning gave me predictably poor results. Near the bottom in swimming, 3rd from last in the bike but... above the middle of the pack in the run? An apropos time to go to my next point.
  2. Your everyday efforts are also what define your weaknesses.
    Another Hajime No Ippo line that works well in thinking about this past year. Last year, I focused on swimming and running figuring that my impressive leg strength would simply carry me through the bike. And I already told you the results of that method.

    But in case you haven't heard from facebook or in person, it also led to some critical injuries. The IT-band issue was so severe that 3 hours of playing football left me unable to walk up a flight of stairs. I had to inch myself up and sit after every step. My everyday efforts didn't include stretching or isolation work for supporting muscles. I only wanted to use my time to develop the prime-movers: hips, knees, a decent amount of core. Everything else would just move through a matter of willpower. If I had to cross the finish line with all my limbs dangling in a grotesque pile, I would.
  3. What you do today should be in direct relation to your goal.
    Goals, goals, goals, goals... goals I do ad-ore. Most people I've met don't have well-defined goals. Even if they have a well-defined 6-pack they probably don't have well-defined goals. This is about much more than just triathlons, but I'll talk about triathlons specifically.

    What did I want to do last year? Actually, this was pretty good. I wanted to finish an Olympic distance triathlon and I wanted to finish a marathon. Done and done. Now it gets worse.

    What do I want to do in my lifetime as a triathlete? Finish THE Ironman. Really? Is that REALLY my goal? Then what was that immature garbage about crossing the finish line with my limbs dangling? Upon reflection, I blush with shame at how many times and how many ways I chose to look cool and hard instead of working towards my ultimate goal.

    And more importantly, I never asked myself this question: How do you know if you are successful in your career? Last year, I would've answered "If I finish THE Ironman." Really? How might have I answered the corollary? "If that's all you did, would you really be content?" And in all honesty, no. Looking deeper, I want to compete my whole life. I never want to not be training, not be looking at my weaknesses and working to overcome them. I never want to be sedentary. I never want to lose the camaraderie and fellowship of my competitor peers. I would be immensely sorrowful without that part of my life. Weighing a lifetime of the sport versus one moment at the top, I would rather have this be a constant part of my life. The glory is nice, but the experience is better. So if that's my truest goal, then I have to work in a way that gets me closer. I can no longer do dumb things to look brave. Foolish pride has to be discarded.
  4. Start small. Grow big.
    It's important to set goals that will push you beyond your limits, but it's no use if you don't get there. The best way of getting there is consistent daily effort. Without a doubt, it's consistency over a longer period of time that will be more effective. For triathletes, the rule is "When in doubt, leave it out." If you're a triathlete, you don't lack motivation. In fact, you've probably left a lot of friends behind, a lot of T.V. shows, a lot of drinking and all the smoking, as well as late-night comedies, to train hard. You don't lack motivation. What triathletes need is for someone to tell them to stop and go back to those things every now and then. My injuries, and many of those who've taught me  a lot have come from trying to take too big a step too soon.
  5. No rest, no progress.
    Working out does not make you strong. It makes you weak. When I have a hard swim or run in the morning, the only thing I can think about the whole day is eating or sleeping. Images of delicious foods dance in my mind, dosas, dumplings, duck, durian... Send me to Singapore already! Strength doesn't come when you work out. Greater strength is the result of your body recovering. So let it recover.

    I could talk about the physiology of it, protein synthesis and all that but instead I want you to think for a moment of the trials you face in your life. Hardship breaks us down, disassembles our souls and leaves us feeling naked, vulnerable. We become stronger after we learn those lessons, not when we're being battered on every side by the stones and slings of life. So, rest.
And the final most important lesson, the one that encapsulates everything above is... less talking, more doing. Last year, I wanted to let everyone know that I had arrived. It was vain, certainly. I won't deny what can't be denied. But it had one redeeming reason: I wanted to leave myself no room for backing out. I've been a coward most of my life. If I didn't win, I'd have an excuse. I wasn't trying. I wasn't ready. I was just playing around.

I talked big so that I would be utterly devastated if I failed in my goals. 

That no longer serves me. No one's listening. That's good. Now, I can start to really push. I believe it was Moody who was quoted as saying "Character is who you are in the dark." That's true, isn't it? It was Ali who said "The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights."

For me, this is a huge moment of growing up. A friend was sharing her training philosophy with me. She's a gunner. She never quits. She'll work out 'til she falls apart because DAMNIT, THAT'S JUST THE KIND OF PERSON SHE IS. As I listened, I asked myself "Was that really me?" "God, was I like that not too long ago?" Big talk. Big dreams. No plan. But I'm moving past that now. And the more I train, the more I realize that there's much more time in my day than I thought. The more disciplined I become, the richer my life gets. The more garbage I remove from my life, the more quality remains. If I don't spend time on facebook, I have a ton of time to write. If I don't watch Youtube, I have a lot of time to be with my church people, my girlfriend or make new friends. If I don't start a new manga series... How much joy do the small things of life give me compared to the big things? If I stack up three minor distractions, does it equal the happiness I derive from one major enterprise? 

More and more, I realize that my great struggle is against the element of the middle in my life. Refining my life. Achieving a higher level of integrity and purity. Living in full consciousness and awareness of my time. This is my aim. 

Refining is to remove the dross activities. Checking my e-mail and facebook, doesn't do anything for me. I do it because I have nothing else to do. Given the dreams and goals I have, can it ever be said that I lack for something to do? 

This is what I mean by integrity -- if I say it, it's because I mean it. And if I say it, then I will live it. Compare this to the girl who orders the double cheeseburger with fries, a diet coke and goes to Coldstone afterwards and yet complains about how fat she thinks she is. The words and the actions are in two different worlds. Where is the integrity in that specific part of her? I want to achieve integrity in every area of my life. I want to be that strange person who says something, believes in it fully and acts on it immediately. I'm not there, but I'm getting there.

And to do that, I need to live consciously. I need to be in the present moment. I've given up completely on multi-tasking. It's a distraction and a waste of time. It takes me longer and the quality suffers. Where is the benefit in it? One thing, and one thing only at a time. Give it my full attention and best effort. Be aware in whatever I'm doing. The moment I have in my hands, I'll never have again. So let's make it count.


  1. I can proudly say I got up one day and did a half-iron. It was a completion event for me, not much of a competition. I came in last place in my age group finishing in 7:06:35 and I had the time of my life! I was actually surprised at how many others were at the same race who were first timers in the world of triathlon. All of us sporting the motto "Go big or go home!"
    This proved to be a challenging event, but has since then inspired me to venture into the realms of ultramarathon and sparked my interest in full ironman. Those I'll train for: I can't imagine a full iron or an ultra on no training!


  2. Hey Mattzab,

    I just finished my first half-iron September 26th. 7:57! It was also the time of my life.