Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On genes and endurance and writing

When I wrote my post on the study showing that 20% of the population will not increase their endurance by training, I knew I would get some wonderful comments, and I did. I am lucky to have some very wise people check in on my blog.

It is so true, genes or no genes, talent or no talent, what matters is that we do: run, write, practice. Whatever tendencies our make-up predispose us to don't have the last say on what we choose to do. If our passion and our talents mesh: great. If we have the passion but no talent*: who is to say we can't pursue those passions and derive as much meaning and richness from them?

*Besides how do we know if a person has talent?

Lance Armstrong supposedly has a huge heart--I am talking about the physical muscle here, not the seat of emotions/ spirit--and an extraordinary capacity to use oxygen. He also loves cycling long distances. Perfect combo. Throw in determination and hard work and training and there you have it: a super star.

If it doesn't quite work out that way, if we have a regular size heart and our muscles don't process lactic acid easily and we still want to cycle: throw in the determination and hard work and still do it. Maybe the yellow jersey won't be ours, but the feelings of accomplishment, the pride in persevering, the enjoyment of the process: if these things could be quantified, they could very well match Lance's.

I am particularly interested in endurance because all my life I've felt trapped in a no-stamina body. I've allowed the disappointment and shortcoming to steer me away from anything that requires stamina. Oh, I was an active child, running on the playground, playing the game dujour of the week with my friends, but I didn't compete in anything that involved running, except for the one race where competitors had to do some math problems on a small chalkboard in the halfway point of the race (I know, some teacher was trying to be creative and help us nerds during Sports Day).

But now I have a new goal, I want to earn my black belt in TKD. So far my physical limitations haven't deterred my progress much, but at my next belt testing, I have to do all the forms I've learned so far, including the one I am working on right now, seven forms, with a total of I don't know how many steps. My biggest obstacle is not memorizing the forms but being able to do them all back to back without passing out.

In other words, my stamina is being called for, big time.

So I have been training, trying to include more running in my walk/run routines, practicing going through all the forms at half speed and half strength, hoping to increase in stages.

And not seeing as much progress as I'd like.

Very discouraging.

Then this article came out and I didn't know if I was more relieved (I am not a freak of nature!) or discouraged (I'll never go beyond what I am capable right now!)

Ice cream got involved, but so did some very stubborn practicing: "Not only am I not going to pass out after the seventh form, I am going to go through the whole series twice! So there!"

I don't have a success story to tell you (yet?) I still feel I can't possibly jog for more than a few minutes at a time, and one day very soon, I WILL pass out on the floor while sparring. But my sneakers are on, I am still doing what I can.

To quote some wise people:

Never underestimate the power of hard work.

maybe they won't be able to run 5 miles, but they'll definitely be stronger than before.

I'm certainly not ready to take a seat in the bleachers and give up yet.

Even if I learned I would never will be a marathon runner, I could still enjoy being outside. I say keep the sneakers and jog around the park.


tanita davis said...

Oh, I'm with you. I really felt like most of my life I was just a pudding of a girl, and I wanted to be a ...at least a hard fudge, if not a well-tempered chocolate bar. I'm trying to both run/walk and swim right now... and I'm sooo tired. I have had heart issues, but this is ridiculous -- at some point, it's supposed to strengthen!!!

I look forward to hearing how your belt test goes. I totally have confidence you can kick (punch, headbutt, whatever you guys do) this.

Davin Malasarn said...

I thought I sensed a personal connection with the subject when you posted on this originally, Yat-Yee! Well, I am feeling quite confident that you do have what it takes to do all seven of those forms consecutively! There is no doubt in my mind.

As for what you are saying about Lance Armstrong, my feeling is that, yes, genetics can play a large role, but I think someone who works hard and has no natural ability can still get quite far. I think there is enough room, in publishing for example, for hard workers to break in. That keeps me going anyway!

Yat-Yee said...

Tanita, your descriptions made me giggle. I want to be a well-tempered chocolate bar too, dark, preferably!

The forms are just a series of choreographed movements, no contact. Sparring, on the other hand, does allow me to kick. And thanks to my height, I get to TAKE that a lot to my head! But my goal is a lot simpler than to kick someone in the head or win a match but to be able to stand up at the end of a match and not hyperventilate (too much.) I think my instructor may find my role as the student on the verge of passing out a little old.

Davin: definitely personal. I still remember the humiliation of always being among the last five students to return to school for the annual mandatory cross-country race in junior high and high school.

And yes, I am very firmly in the school of hard-work-can-get-us-further-than-we-think school. Go! All of us!

Thanks for the encouragement, guys

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Wow! What an awesome goal. Good for you. Can't wait to read your success story. You've got the right attitude so I know you'll get that black belt. :)

Nandini said...

My son does martial arts and I'm convinced that it's great for you. Good on you for doing it, Yat-Yee. Maybe you'll always be winded at the end of physical exertion, but even if you don't build endurance, I'm SURE it's beneficial.

If my dog wasn't so stubborn I'd never get my sneakers on at all. But it's physically impossible to be in the same house as him and miss our morning walk. He never, ever, forgets!

I should try running. Maybe in spring ...

Louisa Chan said...

Way to go!

Bish Denham said...

I once worked with a girl who had cerebral palsy, teaching her how to swim. She was a huge inspiration to me because she wouldn't give up. Every time a new challenge was presented she'd mutter under her breath, "I can do this, I can do this." By the end of the summer she was able to swim the whole length of the Olympic sized pool and swim across its width under water. Granted she would never be graceful in the water, she didn't win any races. But I made sure she got an award for effort, for determination, for NEVER giving up and for succeeding in spite of real physical limitations.

Yat-Yee said...

Karen: it's mo skydiving, but it's a good goal for me!

Nandini: We had a dog once and yes, he was the reason I kept active those years.

Sis: never thought your bookworm of a little sister would go for a black belt, eh!

Bish: that is an inspiring story. I'll bet that attitude has given her lots os successes in other areas of her life.

Irene Latham said...

Rooting for you!! I love watching kata -- so intricate, and requires not just physical stamina but mental... impressive. Keep going!

Cheryl Reif said...

Thank you for such an inspiring post. Maybe it's a geeky kid thing: I grew up uncoordinated and nonathletic, and thought it was just the way I was made. That "truth" kept me from trying anything physical for years, until, as an adult, I discovered that there were actually physical activities I enjoyed--ones that didn't involve classmates throwing balls at me or yelling at me when I missed a catch. Lo and behold, when we start to question those childhood labels, it's kinda fun to discover that we can run--or go for a blackbelt--or climb a 14-er.

Keep striving for your black belt and sharing the process, and we'll keep cheering you on :).

Yat-Yee said...

Irene: is Kata a type of martial arts? I am a shao lin kung fu fan, but the closest thing available right now is tae kwon do, which both my kids and I are learning.

Cheryl: it most definitely is a label thing. Gotta tell ya, being the fat geeky kid with the thick glasses who can't run did nothing for my self esteem. The good thing is I wasn't ostracized; just made fun of a lot.

Sheryl Gwyther said...

The curse of being a writer is sitting at the computer for hours on end - which translates to 'lack of exercise'.
Oh no, that's right, I didn't like exercising before I became a writer - there goes my excuse.
But you've inspired me to put on my walking shoes and to get out on the walking path near my home, TODAY!

Yat-Yee said...

Excellent, Sheryl!