Why you should take up an endurance sport

I’m a sprinter. I’ve probably referenced this before. When I play volleyball, the only thing that matters is how fast I can get to a place on the floor within the gym. 

When I do things in life, I want similar results. I want immediate feedback. As a scientist, I like to perform controlled experiments that usually have predictable outcomes. 

But that’s not life. That’s not reality. Reality is so full of confounding variables that it’s very often difficult to tease out the things that most impact our success. 

Thus endurance sports are important to experience and understand. Nevermind the evolutionary argument that our bodies were primed over thousands of years to do endurance things. (It was a method of hunting for millennia; look it up.) Start running, swimming, cycling, or something that takes hours to accomplish so you can better understand the things you experience in life. (I suggest cycling. You go fast and see lots of things.)

Life is a multi-stage cycling race. Some people like to say marathons, but marathons are too short. Life is far more comparable to the Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, or the Tour de France. 

Everyday we get on our bikes and ride to reach and accomplish goals. Every trial is a stage or series of stages. We have battles we fight every day and they drag on and on and on. A marathon is over in five hours. One cycling stage might be, but then the cyclists have to recover and prepare to to the same thing again the next day. 

So take up and endurance sport. Do something you enjoy, but do something that requires a significant time commitment. And take time as you run, hike, swim (boring), cycle, whatever to ponder how the things you do and are learning affect your life and your future. 

Ode to cycling

Our world is really beautiful. Yeah, inversion during the winter isn’t great (and it’s actually called pollution, btw), but the world is beautiful. 

In 2011, I spent most of the summer cycling 20+ hours per week. I’d start where I lived in Provo and go. One day I ended up in the podunk town of Kamas, about 40 miles away. Another day I ended up at the summit of the Nebo Loop. 

I saw more of Utah on my bike than I ever saw in a car. 

You contradict that and say, “Lee J, you’ve driven 30,000+ miles in utah in your car, and rode only 1,000 miles on your bike!”

That’s true, but on my bike I could see. I saw the places I was going. I saw the things around me as I passed them. I saw more of the state on my bike than I’ve seen in my car. 

I miss that a lot. It was tough training that often. Twenty hours each week is equivalent to a job, and eating enough food to maintain my mass was really hard. But I gained a ton of perspective from viewing God’s creations and landscapes on my bike. 

I grew because I took time for myself. Time in quantities I haven’t taken since. Perhaps time that I might need to return to doing. 

Cycling is great. Wave at me when I pass you on the road. 

Season of thanks: Football

This is about the real kind, not American.

Football is probably the best metaphor for life that exists in the sports world.  Or, at least, it’s the one I’ve thought most about.  For 90 minutes, players run, defend, find holes, and attempt to score.  Compared to other sports, scoring is rare, but is generally well deserved and highly celebrated (check out this awesome celebration from Icelandic football).

The point is life is full of struggles.  Often those struggles can go on without any sight of success.  You may be making great runs into open space, but the passes aren’t finding you.  You could be under an onslaught from FC Barcelona and barely keep your head above water defending.

Sometimes the struggles pay off; sometimes you can knick the ball into the back of the net and celebrate three lucky points away.  Other times, you knock the ball into the back of your own net and give up three points at home in the 95th minute.

Football encompasses the ups and downs of life.  It takes struggles we face over months, years, or a lifetime and puts them on a pitch, in a way we can understand, for 90 minutes.  Learning life lessons from each game I watch is what I’m grateful for.  Sometime I win, sometimes I lose; sometimes I’m promoted, sometimes I’me relegated; but there’s always another game to play.

The choice we make is how we play it.

I’m a sprinter

It’s simple, really.  I do things in sprints.  It’s part of who I am.  Distance running never held any draw for me (it’s strange cycling does, actually).  A lot of it draws from my hyperactive mentality.

I love new things.  I love to have new experiences and new challenges.  But if I don’t get through them quickly, the passion flames out.  For a while.  Then something triggers my interest again and I’ll do more on it for a while.

Sometimes this happens in a matter of hours.  Sometimes the sprint is a little longer.  But, dang, I’ll beat anybody in the sprint.  (Maybe this is why I don’t have a desire to be a computer programmer–barrier to entry and marathon mentality.)  I like things I can start and finish in the same week, preferably in the same hour.

Part of it likely has to do with the fact I have a lot going through my mind.  I’ve no way to measure this, but I conservatively estimate I have at least 50% more things pass through my thought centres than the average person.  So I like to get things done when I think about them, or when they are on my mind for a while.

Take today for instance.  I met with my thesis referee (I still have to ask him to be it), Gil Fellingham, Ph.D and sports science genius (that ESPN dude has nothing on Prof Fellingham!).  He had finished reviewing the second draft of my thesis regarding volleyball attack speeds.  He told me that I should make the edits he suggested and I’d be ready to publish it and defend.  He also said I should pare the paper down to submit an article to Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.

Then I met with Carl McGown, BYU’s volunteer men’s volleyball coach to discuss a study he’d like to do.  He told me to contact both my thesis advisors (Iain Hunter and Prof Fellingham) and get them to ask the BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe for funding for the study.  Went and visited Profs Hunter and Fellingham within the next 30 minutes.  Hey, it was on my mind.

Somewhere in here I went to class and spent most of it editing my 50-page thesis.  Because research (as a general topic) was on my mind, I passed by the Maeser Building–home of the Honors Department–to check in about submitting original research (in information systems) for presentation.  I got the submission sheet and returned 30 minutes later with my abstract and short description written.

Then I had to do homework for my research seminar.  Fun, but boring in light of the day’s focus on volleyball research.

Anyway, it’s just after midnight and I have finished the edits on my thesis and finished the first draft of the article to submit to JQAS.  What!? (Shawn and Gus style, of course. #psych)

Anyway, that’s how the night went (oh, and there was an indoor soccer match, a shower and an hour-long conversation with a girl in there, too).  Like I said, when something’s on my mind, I’ll get it done.

I’ll win the sprint, but balance was never my strong suit. :/

Life and Sport

I have often thought there is a close relationship between life and sports. Each has it’s difficult moments and each, eventually (if you’re good enough), has it’s moments of ecstasy, over which you and your friends reminisce in the years following. A brief example:

When I was in grade twelve, I played volleyball. My team was good for our area and we had worked hard to be good (years of practice and many disappointments in previous seasons). We had experienced defeat, trials of our friendships (on and off the court), and teammates stupid decisions.
But each of those experiences pointed us to where we were right then: the team heavily favoured to win the league championships and advance (for the first time in 8 or 9 years) past the first round of the regional playoffs.
Often the reaction of the teams ‘at the top’ is to assume they already won the title and frequently they are upset by another, admittedly less-talented, team who has a greater desire (drive, motivation) to win. We knew this (and were frequently reminded of it by our coach) and actively guarded against it. We ensured that after each of our plays (whether we won the point or not) we celebrated. Thus giving the impression to the other team we had already won and breaking down their mental game.
In short it worked. Unfortunately as we entered the playoffs, we were so excited about hosting the game in our own gym that we didn’t prepare as well as we should have for our opponent, which came from a very competitive league, where 50% of that league’s schools made it into the playoffs (as opposed to our league which was lucky to have one automatic berth). Our lack of preparation and, perhaps, inability to envision anything beyond that game, led to us being routed in straight sets.
We just hadn’t come to play. We lost our vision of staying on top as soon as the competition became more difficult.
So also sometimes in life we lose our vision, we don’t understand our purpose, or we have no focus. All this leads to a lack of motivation which, by not propelling us forward, propels us backwards, into the ground. Often we underestimate our opponents (whoever or whatever they may be) and we are demolished, left in the playground with a bloody nose, scabbed knees, and a black eye. (Or in the gym, deflated, depressed, and crying–in front of the home crowd.)
The lesson is simple: know what your purpose in life is. Follow it doggedly. Don’t relent. When it tries to juke you, keep your eyes on its waist and tackle the sucker. Wrestle it to the ground and if it tries to get out send it a cross face. If you get knocked down and it’s running for your goalline, don’t just let it, cause like Forrest Gump it won’t stop. It’ll only get farther and farther away. Sprint after it, and make sure you get it.
Don’t give up.