Saturday, June 13, 2015

Get Cracking

My buddy John McInroy is clearly rather hard core. He and Robert Le Brun walked/ran just short of 60km a day over the course of the month of May to the start of the Comrades Marathon (c. 1700km). Then ran the 89km race from Durban to Pietermartizburg. The point of their efforts was not to be hard core. They are passionate about helping people to help themselves, and are raising money for that cause. About 5 years ago, John started the Unogwaja Challenge to kick start this effort. Every year since then a group from around the world have cycled from Cape Town. This year, John and Robert wanted to get off their bikes so they could walk alongside South Africans who lived along the route.

John & Robert

I am not a runner or a cyclist. I used to ride my bike to school many moons ago. The farthest I have run is 14km. But then I stopped working and started writing a blog about learning and happiness. One of my ideas on learning is that we define too quickly who we are. In part we define ourselves by what we can't do. But this isn't really that close to the truth. We define ourselves by what we can't do immediately. Often the skills needed to learn a skill right in the beginning are very different from the skills needed at a later stage.

My favourite example is a musical instrument. In the beginning it is a case of learning to co-ordinate your fingers. Building the muscles. Learning to read the music. Learning how the instrument works. Training your ear. Doing drills. It is dry, humbling, academic, and in the beginning not even very musical. It is hard work. I tried to learn the piano when I was 18 and kept it up for a bit until my university studies started getting a little overwhelming. Piano didn't feel like a break, so it got put to the side.

At a later stage however, playing a musical instrument becomes much more about an emotional connection with the music and the audience. The creative side. If someone who has great rapport with an audience and a wealth of emotional experiences to convey hasn't got through the first bit, how will they know? Being good at something isn't the same at being good at starting to learn something.

I think there are a lot of things where we simply haven't got through the first bit. You struggled with converting illogical number words into logical numbers in our head, and decided you weren't good at math. You didn't have a granny or grandpa showing you how to cook, and so decided you weren't a cook. You made a few clumsy mistakes on a home improvement task which someone did quickly, and decided you weren't handy. Whatever it is, I think we often think we can't do something when the truth is we haven't tried. Properly.

I have always wanted to run the Comrades, but have never been an uber athlete. John convinced me to give the 2016 Unogwaja Challenge a go. It is less than a year to go now so I need to get cracking. 

I returned the challenge. Despite all his heroics (he even played hockey for the national team), he claims he can't swim. I claim he hasn't tried. Sometimes you have to go back to basics. You have to learn from first principles. Even things we think should come naturally. A friend of mine says his Mom laughed at him when he said he was getting running coaching, as he needed to learn to run properly. She said this was like learning to breathe.

Exactly! Most of us don't breathe properly. Take the very deepest breath possible. Did you just you your chest? Well then you weren't breathing properly. You need to learn to use your belly. Another friend of mine is relearning to swim using the 'Total Immersion' technique despite being an above average swimmer already. Sometimes to get to the next step, you first have to step back. But if you are starting, learning to do it properly to begin with is the way forward.

I reckon getting John to do the Midmar Mile is a fair counter challenge to the epic adventure he has got me started on over the next year. He likes to emphasize that the long walk was just the start. He dreams of getting everyone passionate about moving forward, together.  Time for us to get cracking.

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