Speed, Power and Endurance

Friday, September 26, 2008

Athleticism is defined by speed, power and endurance. Of the three, the one quality I have the most is probably endurance. I am not a natural athlete but one thing I possess is a mind that empowers my body to endure repetitive, low-impact physical activities, to transcend the drudgery of repetitive motions, and to plod on when the going gets tough.

More than my physical abilities (which are limited to start with), it is my confidence on seemingly boundless powers of the mind that attracts me to physical challenges like the road races, marathon or the triathlon. They may seem like physical feats, but for me they are achievements of the mind. If the mind wills it, these races can be done, even by an overweight bloke like with me flat feet and no history of athleticism to be proud of.

It was this thinking that made me do and finish my first 5K run. I may not ran fast, but I can endure through it all and finish. I progressed and endured through 10K, 16K and even 25K runs. I even did 2 mini-sprint triathlons. All these times, my goal was simply to finish, and hopefully have fun in the process. It was fun for most of the races I did, but for a few others (e.g. the 25K), I simply endured them. I have accumulated enough finisher shirts - an achievement by itself when I look back to the times that I envy friends who sport these shirts. At this point, I guess I am finished with simply finishing. It is time that I progress to other goals apart from simply enduring and finishing.

This brings me to speed. Can I run faster? Swim or bike faster? I may be mentally fast, but I am physically slow. Speed was something that I never trouble myself with. I run to finish within maximum allowable times; I swim to relax and keeping times for my swim laps seemed inconsistent. I would count laps swam or hours spent swimming, but never how fast I swim a particular distance. I can swim for 2 hours straight in pools without really getting tired. Often, it is simply boredom, wrinkled fingers or running out of things to ponder on while stroking the water that forces me out of the pool. I have become so efficient at swimming that I seldom get dead tired. Neither do I lose a lot of pounds after hours of swimming. What I probably achieved from it is aerobic workout, a week's load of endorphins, a breakthrough in an issue I have been mulling over, or plain mental relaxation.

I had a rude awakening about this desire for speed when a friend casually asked me to race him in a 25m swim. I gave it my best shot but my friend to whom I have been giving swim tips beat me to the finish line. Yes he was taller than me and he was almost dying from shortness of breath but the fact is he beat me. Why is that? I am supposed to be the better swimmer who do not tire easily. Indeed, I was not huffing after the impromptu race. Therein lies the answer - I was simply not trying hard enough. I simply aimed to finish with slightly faster than normal pace, while my friend pulled all the stops to get the best time. I was not mentally geared for speed. I am not hungry for it.

My disappointing time in the bike leg of a recent mini-sprint triathlon I did made me assess how fast I can bike. On a cycling machine in a gym, I tried to check how many RPMs I can do. I was underwhelmed. Even on the lowest resistance level I was having difficulty reaching the 100 RPMs. I was not tired and huffing, but my nervous system and muscles simply do not react fast enough. My body is not used to speed!

I am really thrilled with trying to push my speed limit in swimming, biking and running. I am still trying to achieve and get used to 100++ rpms and slowly building my treadmill pace from leisurely 7km/hr to hopefully at least 10km/hr. Last night I comfortably reached 8.5km/hr and I am pleasantly surprised to discover it is more enjoyable than the 7km/hr I am used to. Slowly I am trying to teach myself to enjoy instead of fear downhill biking - to savor the wind on face instead of constantly putting on brakes out of fear of accidents. I am also excited to beat my test time of 32min for a 1km swim.

I just have one concern in my new found craving for speed. I want these athletic pursuits to be my outlets for relaxation. I do not want to be caught up in the mad drive for speed. Every now and then I will probably benchmark my times against others, but I do not want to compete with others. At best I will compete with myself. For the most part, I will enjoy the moments I am on the road or in the water.

I am exploring the concept of power. With power comes speed too. The last time I focused on power was when I was active in dragonboat rowing. I am now trying to put more power in my swim, bike and run by doing weights and resistance training. If there is one kind of power that I want to be intoxicated, it is this power.

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