Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chubby Chook

There were also impromptu lessons after their meals, like the time when Cerutty
lectured them on warming up. A cat was sitting on a ledge outside one of the
huts when their coach snuck over and emptied a bucket of water over it. The cat
leapt away and disappeared in a flash. Cerutty then expounded: "There. Did the
cat do stretches? Did the cat jog around? Did the cat do knee bends? Did the cat
have a track suit on before racing? No, the cat just got up and went. No more
warming up. Forget it!" (Excerpt from Neil Bascomb's The Perfect Mile)

Don't believe him? Get a bucket, find a cat and see for yourself!

Cerutty was an unofficial coach for the Australian olympic team for the 1952 Helsinki olympics. He trained John Landy ... one of the contenders at that time, along with Roger Bannister, for being the first to break the 4 minute mile barrier. Cerutty was big on training mental fortitude by putting athletes through grueling bootcamp style regimens. Daily long runs up and down hills and over sand dunes, through rivers etc were standard fare. The idea was to basically train people to push themselves to their limits. It certainly worked to build endurance and mentally strong athletes but, unfortunately, he neglected speed training and Landy failed to break the mile barrier that year.

Too bad because Cerutty would probably like some newer ideas about training like the 30 second workout where you sprint as hard as you can for 30 seconds, rest then do it again 6 or 7 times. This is supposed to have a better training effect than running for an hour at a steady, easy pace. I haven't tried it yet but I like the idea of being able to get that same benefit in about 5 minutes! But here's the catch: to do that workout you need some fairly serious mental fortitude to push yourself as hard as you can for 30 seconds, several times over ... until you taste blood and/or bile in the back of your throat in other words. Most of us, I think, would rather do an easy hour than a painful 5 minutes. Physical and mental discomfort is ...well... discomforting to us.

For we have become a nation of softies looking for the easy way out. Look at me ... the lazy trail runner. A perfect example. I want to do the least amount possible to get a decent result (or at least beat monsewer Craik). But to do that I have had to become less lazy, eat less chips and push myself. And doing that has yielded some decent results.

Mental fortitude is necessary to improving at, I would say, just about anything in life. If we want to get better at something we have to put in the effort and sometimes do things that we don't like or that aren't pleasant or don't make us feel good. It reminds me of something I read in Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" where a direct correlation was made between student successes in math and the willingness of students to persevere and not give up on math problems. Students who didn't give up or tried for a long time before asking for help were generally more successful than students who gave up quickly and easily.

I'm a teacher, and the empirical evidence is right there in the classroom for me. A lot of our youth lack mental stamina. "Why do we have to run? It's hard! I'm just going to walk and talk" "It's raining, we'll get wet!" "I can't do this work .. it's too hard. Help me!" ... and so on. The slacker culture. How did we get here? Whose fault is it? How the hell do I know. Are kids inherently lazy? Do we have low expectations of them? I dunno .. those are hard questions. I think I'll give up. Ok ... anyway ... a lot of "pushing" these days seems to be external (parents). That's fine .. there's certainly some place for it. But what of the internal drive to overcome problems... to test one's own limits (be they mental, physical or both) for the purpose of self discovery, self esteem and the feeling of accomplishment you get from not giving up? Do I have what it takes to finish that second bag of chips..etc? Have we overcompensated on the external whips at the expense of the internal ones?

I'm not talking very young kids. They haven't developed that yet. But certainly by the time they're 12/13 some interest in pushing one's limits/abilities should be present at least some of the time. And it certainly is .. mostly in girls which may support the premise of an article in Atlantic monthly magazine called "The End of Men" which talks about how women are now far more successful in school, university and work than men and how they are beginning to take up more of the workforce than men, especially in so called information age industries. It's pretty interesting and a bit of a wake up but I think the title is a little sensational. There's no doubt women are really kicking our collective male behind these days but, speaking from my experience in a female dominated profession, I can say that there is a point of diminishing return when a work force is either all or mostly women. It has its issues. So I'm not quite ready to write off men just yet ... but let's not be complacent! Anyway ... I digress... that's a discussion for another time..

Get out there and drive yourself into the ground sometimes folks. It'll do you good! Look at Gary Robbins. He's uglier than a mule! Hell if I looked like him I'd wanna lay down and die too! (..wait a minute... I...) .. Never mind. The point is he's out there whippin' himself and doing some mental fortituding and whatnot and he's had some pretty stellar successes for it all! So don't be a chubby chook. Get out there and give life a good rootin'!

That's two postings in as many days. What the hell is wrong with me?! Ok ... i'm tired and no one's helping me with this so i'm going to bed. Lazy's working for me right now. Night. ... (did someone say chips ..? .. )


Tom Craik said...

The Lazy Trail Runner has to be one of the greatest misnomers of all time. If there is anyone with a strong work ethic and "mental fortitudeness" it's you Coo.

Somewhere in your life you learned to be the guy with the will to work for what he wants. PARENTS! That's the answer. The entire Coo Clan drives with the same passion, determination, and will.

I am a teacher too and the correlation between parents' and their children's attitudes is shocking. The apple never falls far from the tree or the chip off the old block, whatever you want to say.

The real issue, is that parents, associations, unions, universities, etc. have all watered down the world and freed it of competition. Perhaps without recognizing it, they've created the monster called mediocrity. Students can't fail anymore, and they know it. Some universities are moving toward pass/fail systems, unions protect the underachievers from being fired, and school competitions see everyone being rewarded. What happened to the top three kids getting medals in contests?

Kids aren't stupid. They know when they won and achieved their best. A ribbon labeled "participant" is a kick in the teeth. They don't really want it. Power to them for being part of the experience, but I truly believe that is their reward. Not a flimsy ribbon that ends up in a junk drawer and ultimately the trash.

You're spot on, Mr. Coo. Perseverance and mental fortitude needs to be taught, but I think it starts a lot earlier than 12 or 13. These are learned behaviors. I usually hate them, but I'll give credit to video games in this respect. They allow you to keep trying until you get to the next level. There is a fine balance between too hard and to easy. Finding that balance is what teachers have to do. If it's too easy or to hard they quit. Kids, like most people, need to be successful, but feel as though it was a bit challenging on the way.

On another note, I think Gary is a decent looking guy. He has modeled his hair style after you afterall.

Coo: your best post to date. Awesome! Thanks for the read.

Tom Craik said...

A brilliant post, Mr. Coo.

You and I have had many a trail rant on this subject and I think it always comes down to the realization that the promotion of mediocrity is a systemic issue. Nobody fails. Poor work ethic is protected by union agreements, violence is dealt with a smack on the hand and three months in a Minimum security goes on.

Enough mediocrity. Don't settle for it. Work hard and expect more of yourself and everyone you associate with. It's okay to have high expectations for those around you. They should have them of themselves.

Well said, Coo. I'd love to borrow that book.

mrC said...

Got a lot of respect for your prof abilities mr Craik so glad you liked it! You've got a heap of mental fortituding too. Which is why there won't be any slacking at trans rockies or other races we're in .. we keep each other honest. Crap ... I better put that bag of chips back on the shelf. I was gonna hide them in my sleeping bag..

I'll lend you the book. You can read it in the waiting room at the hospital while you await parentdom.. ;)