In Via et In Patria

Today is exactly 20 days before my first triathlon race.

I have absolutely no doubt that I will complete my 30km bike ride given all the mileage I’ve covered doing 60km practice rides on weekends plus the fact that I’ve been riding bikes since my childhood days. All the more with regard to the 5k run segment  given that I’ve completed 2 marathons, several 21ks, 10ks and 5ks over the years. It is the 900m swim that I worry about.  Which is why this is where I find myself investing the most time and focus at this stage of my training.

To be sure, I’ve achieved quite a number of modest learner milestones over the past couple of months of my swim training. I used to rest a lot in between my 25m laps even while wearing a center snorkel. I don’t do this anymore.  My legs used to sink even while wearing a snorkel which was why I was advised to wear fins. I no longer am as dependent on fins as I was months back.  I used to struggle with my breathing and my hip rotation. These past few weeks I seem to have hit pay dirt as I surprised even myself that I could actually already turn my head without lifting it even as I learned how to rotate from the hips. Subsequently, my rest interval in between my 25m laps is now down to 1 min 30 seconds from 3 mins. Equally noteworthy today is the fact that I actually pulled off swimming 1,000 meters with no snorkel and no fins.

And yet, I feel I’m not there yet.  The actual pool which will be used for my sprint triathlon is 50m long. This means I need to figure out how to get used to resting only after 50m. Which in turn all the more firms up my resolve to move heaven and earth to practice swimming 900 meters daily.

There is a very vivid phrase that I chanced upon in my college years that perfectly describes where I am now as June 18 nears. In via et in patria. On the way and at home.  Meaning, I’m not there yet, but I am already there.  Stating the thing broadly, pay the price and enjoy the ride no matter how far your destination point might appear  to be. If you program your mind enough  to achieve it, you will eventually get there. But first you need lots and lots of pool time as my coach would put it.

Consider Malcolm Gladwell’s now famous 10,000 hours. In his book entitled The Outliers, Gladwell deftly shows how the Beatles and Tiger Woods kept honing their craft for 10,000 hours before hitting pay dirt.

Alas, that is not all that there is to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours.  The path to perfection is not linear. Along the way you will come across hurdles and detours. How you handle these is as important as putting in the time to practice your craft.  This is by no means easy especially for someone who has never been that comfortable in the water.  I have lost count of the number of hurdles and stumbling blocks that have accompanied my journey as a swimming student.

And so it is in this precise context that  I rediscovered a poem in an entirely different sense what  I used to read to myself when I was struggling  in high school.

“When things go wrong as they sometimes will

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,tirE

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile but you have to sigh

When care is pressing you down a bit

Rest if you must but don’t you quit

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns

And many a fellow turns about

When he might have won, had he stuck it out

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow

You may succeed with another blow. 

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man;

Often the struggler has given up

When he might have captured the victor’s cup

And he learned too late when the night came down

How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out

The silver tint in the clouds of doubt

And you never can tell how close you are

It might be near when it seems afar

So stick to the fight  when you’re hardest hit

It’s when things go wrong that you must not quit.”

 

Enough said. Just keep swimming.   

 

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Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Back in the day when I was struggling against the odds on various fronts, I stumbled onto a piece of poetry that surprisingly  resonated with me.  Indeed, I found the core of the poem  “Don’t Quit”  spot-on  so much so that  I literally committed it to memory. For years, I kept a copy of the poem on  my study table.  I would later learn from some of  my childhood friends who went on to become cadets at the Philippine Military Academy that it was one poem that all plebes took to heart  to survive the grueling life of a first-year cadet.

The positivity and energy of “Don’t Quit” came flooding back to me as I was reeling from my first-hand experience of  the power and the glory of a movie entitled  Interstellar (2014) Directed by the critically-acclaimed  Christopher Nolan, Interstellar, it will be recalled, was celebrated on the cover of Time Magazine. Having seen the movie, I now understand why. It deftly tugs at your heart even as it steadily challenges your mind. More importantly, the farther it takes you beyond what we know about the universe, the closer it takes you to what is at the core of being truly human.  Quite appropriately, Interstellar is about humanity’s struggle to rage against its impending doom by exploring alternative planets in the universe.

interstellar blog 1

Science fiction movies rarely leave  a mark in my heart and in my mind. This movie is one exception.  Thanks, in part, to yet another poem that figured prominently in the most pivotal moments of the movie. “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night” is  a poem penned by Dylan Thomas in 1947 for his dying father. Some of his admirers, however,  point out that it may also be better  understood and  appreciated in the context of the difficult life that Thomas experienced as a struggling writer trying to make both ends meet for his family.

In the movie Interstellar, the moviegoer is effortlessly introduced to the various nuances of the themes  of faith, hope and love which ground Dylan Thomas’ poem. Through each of the vantage points of its lead characters, we are able to vicariously experience how grit and tenacity, once fueled by faith, hope and love,  could sustain the human spirit even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

There is the perspective of the  father (i.e., Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut named Cooper) who turned his back on his loved ones ironically to save his family.

There is the vantage point of the  daughter (i.e., Jessica Chastain as Murph) who chose to contribute her gifts as a scientist for the same cause that his father gave his life to despite the despair that forced her to disown the father she so loved.

There is the worldview of the fiancée (i.e., Anne Hathaway as Dr. Amelia Brand) who bowed down to the collective wisdom of her fellow astronauts in the name of their mission to save  humanity even if it meant sacrificing the love of her life.

There is the paradigm of yet another   scientist (i.e., Michael Caine as Professor John Brand) who wove a fictitious sense of hope to preserve sobriety thereby allowing  his team to forge ahead with  their quixotic  attempt to save humanity.

interstellar blog 2

Taken together, these various takes on “raging against the dying of the light” remind me of the answer volunteered by my favorite columnist Conrad De Quiros when he was asked why he tirelessly writes about what ails society instead of celebrating the so-called positive  things that promote hope and faith in humanity. De Quiros replied, thus: he writes precisely because he believes that there is hope. And his hope is premised on his faith in  his fellow human beings that given enough opportunities for reflection and sufficient challenges to take action,  they can and they will eventually  summon the  fortitude to fight the good fight and   “rage, rage  against the dying of the light.”

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”