Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Phobia of Failure

I wasn't a top achiever when I was in school. At best, I was just an average student. Well, OK, maybe just a little above average. I did realise the importance of education quite early in my life, of course, and how the number of "A"s I get in the exams would make my parents happy. I was basically a lazy bum for the most part of the primary school years, before I somehow developed a sense of wanting to do well in school in my early teens. Suddenly, failure became a dreadful thing.

But then different people had different definitions for that word "failure". For me, a score of anything below 50% is a failure. I reckon, perhaps the Malaysian education system considers that anything above 30% is a pass and anything below that is a fail. However, for some of my friends in school many years ago, even a "B" fell within the definition of "failure"!

I come from an era when the education system in Malaysia wasn't as ridiculous as it is today. Back then, only the cream of the cream got to score straight-"A"s. Today, an average student can fairly easily score straight-"A"s, or at least very near to it. If I were to randomly throw a stone to a group of students today, there is a high chance that I'd hit one who's a straight-"A"s achiever.

I can still remember when I was sitting for my SPM exams all those years ago. In the weeks and days leading up to the exams, I was overwhelmed by the fear of failure. Thankfully, however, as I said above, my definition of "failure" was a score of anything below 50%. So although I was quite confident of passing the exams, I had to make sure that things won't go the wrong way! I studied late into the night. In fact, I studied well past midnight for the physics papers. As fate would have it, my alarm failed to go off the next morning, and by the time I woke up from my beauty sleep, the physics exam was long over! A bit of an adrenaline surge; and then panic ensued. It felt like one horrible dream; except that it wasn't a dream at all! In the end, I was the only joker in my class that failed the subject!

Whenever I set my mind to achieve something, I practically put my heart and soul into it. Meaning that I'm willing to invest my time and efforts, perhaps making big sacrifices. I make proper plans to account for all the ingredients required to achieve my goal. In many, many instances, I'm bound to achieve what I set out to achieve sooner or later. But unfortunately there will be times when I can't control everything; and some things are bound to go wrong at the last minute. It is then that I will have to rise to the occasion; perhaps come up with a Plan B—a bit of a modification of the original plan; or maybe an improvisation. Damage control is a skill in itself. 

But not everybody is a born crisis manager; not everybody can think of an alternative plan on an ad hoc basis. For some people, they plan for things so perfectly all the time, and have all the factors well covered. In fact, so well-planned that there is no room for things to go wrong. But when things do go wrong somehow, they will crumble.

I read with interest about the kid who committed suicide when he felt that he didn't do too well in his math exam. When things didn't go as planned, he gave up just like that. Now I have said before that failure is not an option whenever I race marathons; but my requirement for a "pass" is quite lenient. Apparently, this kid's requirement is much higher—maybe even a "B" is a failure to him.

I think in a strange way, sometimes failure can be a good thing too. Most, if not all, great successful people in the world have had their shares of failures on the way to become successful. Very few, if any, would get it absolutely right on the first try; and keep getting it right all the time. Dealing with failures and then coming out of them stronger and wiser is an important skill to be learned, because nobody's perfect; it's impossible to escape from making mistakes once in a while. All we can do is to learn from those mistakes, and then try not to repeat them in the future. Hopefully we can become stronger and wiser from the experience. There is always hope as long as we keep trying!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ignorance Of The Law

A young Murut man had recently ventured out from his village in the interior part of Tenom to seek job opportunities in the hope of improving his family's life. He had very little education—as a boy he went to school irregularly in his village, but he dropped out when he was in primary 4. Education did not seem to be that important for people who lived in the interior.

Now in Tenom, he has found a job as a manual labourer, i.e. every day he's occupied in loading and unloading stuff from delivery trucks at a supermarket. After a few months, he found a girlfriend, and to make the long story short, he ended up having sex with her. Little did he know that that girl was just 15 years old, and he has landed in hot soup and charged for the crime of statutory rape. It came as a shock to him because he did not even realise that consensual sex was a crime on account of age. As far as he was concerned he had committed no crime whatsoever.

Imagine what would happen if people could be let off the hook on grounds of ignorance of the law. Anyone of us can then commit a crime, and then pleads ignorance of the law. We can just kill someone we dislike because he has an ugly hairstyle, and then use the excuse that we're not even aware that murder is a crime in Malaysia.

The fact is that pleading ignorance of the law is never a good defense. It is an excuse that can't stand in court. In fact, it is not even a good way to try to mitigate one's alleged wrong-doing. That is why I find the statement by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob—that he wasn't aware of the law that prohibits the possession and consumption of turtle eggs in Sabah—rather laughable. One has to wonder why he made that statement at all. If it was meant to soften the blow, then I would say it does nothing of the such. In fact, it gives a negative impression of a minister who's not so well-versed of the law of his own country; a law that is quite common to many ordinary Malaysians.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Road To IMWA—Story Of My Swim

It is now about 3 weeks to the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA), and the excitement is mounting. This coming Saturday and Sunday will be my final monster workouts—about 6 hours cycling on Saturday, and between 3.5 to 4 hours run on Sunday. After that I will begin to taper for the race.

I have said in the past that I don't have the time to train fully according to the standard Ironman training programme, not even the beginner's programme. So I had to prioritize. This time I'm putting a bit more focus on the bike, followed by the run. The swim is my weakest discipline, but I've been neglecting it throughout my preparation for the race. Of course if I had the time and energy, I would have liked to spend the time that swimming deserved, but because of time constraints, I'll have to be satisfied with whatever that I've done for the first leg of the race.

About 5 years ago, some of my regular readers would remember how bad my freestyle was as reported here. Well, I'm still not a great swimmer today. Although I have finished an Ironman race at the Ironman New Zealand, I swam a mixture of freestyle and and breaststrokes for the approximate 4km swim. The swim is the shortest discipline in the Ironman race. But although one can hardly win the race on account of the swim, he can surely lose it!

Throughout the months of training for the IMWA, I've been researching on swim techniques. Unlike the good old days, today the internet is a rich source of information on practically anything, and swimming is no exception. A big hindrance to me is the lack of upper body strength. That problem could be addressed by doing some weight training at the gym, of course. But I just don't have the luxury of time.

I'd like to believe that I've improved quite a lot since 5 years ago when nonstop swimming even 50m in the pool at Likas Sports Complex seemed like an impossible task. But there is still a lot of work to be done to become a fairly good freestyler. I have tried out several different approaches in the freestyle, and I have come to a point where I can safely say that a great deal of time had been wasted because for a long time I tried very hard to swim based on the principles of Total Immersion. It looks very elegant, very smooth, and effortless; but it just doesn't work for me! Check out this youtube clip of a beautifully-executed Total Immersion swim by a famous coach.

A friend tried to convince me to swim the length of the pool with the least number of strokes. He said that the lesser is the number of strokes, the more efficient is the swim. It sounded like a romantic idea of energy-saving way to swim, i.e. less work for more distance. For a while I was taken in; that's why I spent a lot of time trying to swim the Total Immersion (TI) way.

Characteristics of the TI is the long glide in each stroke and the 2-beat kicks, thus the purported "energy-saving". But after a while, I realised something very interesting about the TI; if I can compare it to cycling, it is a lot like pedaling once, and let the momentum move the bike, and then when the bike slows down, pedal once again and let the momentum move the bike forward again. Thus the movements of fast-slow-fast-slow. The cadence or amount of pedaling may be reduced substantially over a given distance, but I don't think that is a more efficient way to ride a bike! Although I can gain a slightly longer distance per stroke with a glide, what I realised was that it takes more energy for the arms to launch the body forward again to build up the momentum in each stroke; and it is that snapping action of the arm that I disfavour so much because of the energy requirement.

In the end, I reverted back to the almost continuous strokes, i.e. with minimal glide so as to prevent losing the forward-moving momentum. In this way, I can use slightly lesser energy in each stroke because I can ride on the momentum. But the downside is that I may eventually have to endure more strokes per given distance. It's a trade-off between number of strokes vs energy requirement that I'm happy to take. I don't mind the few extra strokes for a more consistent (lower) energy requirement in the arms. I'm not saying that the TI is not a good technique. I dare say that it may work wonderfully well for some people. Just not for me.

The only thing that I have maintained about the TI up to now is the 2-beat kicks, i.e. just one kick per arm pull. I'm convinced that that can help a lot in saving my legs for the bike and run legs of the race.

Someone asked me if it's entirely necessary to learn the freestyle for triathlon races. My answer is that it's not. My view is that for shorter races, i.e. Sprint and Olympic Distance triathlon, the breaststrokes is good enough. But what I've realised is that for longer distances such as Half Ironman or Ironman, the freestyle if done properly can have huge benefits in the later stages of the race. That's why I'm forcing myself to learn the freestyle. In the end, even if I finish the swim leg within the same time with a breaststrokes swimmer, I'm quite happy because I'm gonna start the bike leg with much fresher legs.

Those are the theories, of course, but now let's see if I can make it work at IMWA in 3 weeks' time!