What I think about when training?

To the consultants out there – here’s a estimation case for you – How many consultants does it take to train for the North Pole? Five. One to actually do the tyre-dragging, and a case-team of four to advise him to upgrade to sled-dogs!

Haruki Murakami has a book titled “What I talk about, when I talk about running”. There, he writes very lyrically about his relationship with running, and the Zen he experiences when racing or training.

In a much more prosaic vein, friends have asked me what I do or think about when I’m dragging tyres around Regent’s Park. The short answer – not very much, other than the fact that I’m tired, I’m hungry and wondering when the next rest break would be.

I recall when I first started training for an endurance event or mountain-climbing, I would just do what I needed to do – whether it was midnight gym sessions or running with a 25kg pack through the trail at night. No entertainment/music required. Even when I was clocking 7 hours on the bike while training for a triathlon, I could just watch my instruments and stay focussed on the three numbers of cadence, heart-rate and speed without listening to any music. And mind you, Singapore being the size it is, 7 hours means you are doing many laps around the same area.

As I got older, I must have gotten weaker/more easily bored or distracted. When training to go to the Himalayas in 2010, I clocked significant mileage climbing stairs at an apartment block near my house. After a while, I could recognise which apartments had kids learning to play the piano (badly), which ones had good cooks (tantalising smells), and which ones enjoyed watching Korean soap operas. It was also during this period that I started playing music to help get by the monotony. (80s pop rules. Sadly, many of these classic songs by groups such as Wham, Bananarama, Roxette etc. are alien to the younger generation.)

Laps around Regent’s Park are pretty much the same. You learn to watch out for dog poop, you figure out the areas where there is more drag, and travelling at such a slow speed, you occasionally have time to take things in – like the transient blooming of the cherry blossoms. But mainly, I focus on form – what my body is telling me – in cycling that would be the equivalent of monitoring the measures of cadence, speed and heart-rate. While you’d like the body to be on auto-pilot, and it can do so for stretches at a time, it is important to realise that even in mundane repetitive tasks, significant focus and attention is required to prevent injury and to aid in optimisation, which pays off in the long run.

Podcasts are amazing as well – not something I would usually have the time to do, but hey – it’s marginally more interesting than watching pavement. LSE Ideas is good, Roy Baumeister has a good talk on Willpower – how it is like a muscle in that it can be

1. Fatigued when resisting temptation

2. Tries to conserve its reserves when depleted, and

3. Can improve with more use.

Sometimes, it is just nice to be able to look at the trees.

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