Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Discipline of Racing Adventurously: An Interview with Wilson Low (Part 2)

[At the time of publishing, it is Wilson's birthday. Happy Birthday, Wilson!]

EV: What do you enjoy about coaching?

WL: I enjoy the process of working with clients to achieve the goals they have set for themselves.  Sometimes they come to me with seemingly insurmountable goals (in their own judgment), but I always do my best to instill confidence in themselves, and confidence in the training plan that we work on together and that I lay out before them. There is immense satisfaction in reaffirming in them – as well as myself - that my role as a coach is someone who does not just dispense programmes and tomes about training, but someone who listens to their needs and takes proactive measures to help them.

EV: What were your personal experiences with a coach?

WL: My first experience was with my junior college kayaking coach, Cher Boon Chiew, who made an impact by going beyond coaching obligations – by being a friend and adult mentor - during my time on the team. The kayaking team faced many teething problems and it was disbanded after our cohort graduated, but during those two years that we were in existence, he supported us and took a stand for us when no other adults within the school system or sporting administration would. I also had the good fortune of being coached by Simon Knowles (who was a former Australian Triathlete of the Year) during my time spent living in Melbourne. He got me serious about my approach to swimming, and was the one who convinced me that dedicated coaching for triathlon (with actual face-time between coach and athlete) delivers results – and that this dynamic could be replicated for other endurance sports as well, including adventure racing.

EV: What is your Bucket List?

WL: To complete the ‘Grand Slam’ of multisport World Championship participation: Ironman, Ironman 70.3, XTERRA, Multisport (the Speights Coast to Coast), and, of course, Adventure Racing (that’s the last one on the list). After that, it may be time to focus on business development (based on that List), or just simply finding more items to add to said List!

EV: You are also a competent pianist. What is your choice of music when you train, or conduct spin-classes?

WL: I’m very particular about leg turnover and maintaining cadence during spin class, and the music selected reflects that. I have software on my computer that determines the beats per minute (bpm) of songs and I use that to create soundtracks for workouts. Generally, songs with beats that are easy to follow, including current Top-40’s pop songs, rap music, and if I have more mature clients who appreciate it, 70’s and 80’s classic hard rock titles.

EV: How do you suggest neophytes to endurance and multi-sports start off?

WL: Firstly, skills development is key: Whether it is a skills-intensive discipline like swimming or something that seems a no-brainer like running, proper practice makes perfect. The pay-off in the long-term is that skills and good habits stay with you for life. Secondly, one must realize that in order to build a ‘total’ athlete, one must aim to have no weaknesses. Favouring one sport over another (usually the weakest sport) is not something that professional and elite multi-sporters do, and neither should novices. It may come as a bit of a shock that I am applying a ‘pro’ mindset to beginners, but the bottom line is at some point down the road, they won’t be beginners anymore and have to adopt the optimal mindset anyway. Last and most important of all, a serious, focused approach does not mean you can’t have fun… enjoy the process, and learn how to revel in the new experiences and fulfillment that sport can give you.

EV: What were the lessons you learnt from racing at the world championships in Kona and Clearwater?

WL: I’ve learnt that preparation for peak performance goes beyond just physical conditioning, but involves mental and emotional conditioning as well. Ironman racing is the ultimate test of whether you have done your homework as an athlete because so many aspects of training and racing are clinically measurable. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the hype of high-profile world championship races, so it pays to keep one’s mental and emotional states in check for the majority of the race’s duration. What seems like a thorough, well thought-out race plan can fall apart very quickly because of attention lapses, poor decisions, or an unexpected problem. Reacting effectively to challenges such as these during the race then becomes a function not of physical capability, but of being able to ‘read’ the race with a balanced mind and emotions.

EV: What other lessons did you glean from racing at the XTERRA world championships?

WL: The XTERRA World Championships at Maui in 2010 taught me the importance of who you pick to ‘support’ you during the race can make or break your race effort. Often, it’s family, friends, or a significant other who makes the effort to come out and give you the support you need on that one special day. However, I made some poor decisions with regard to the selection of one of the supporters I had at the race venue. There was a very negative energy as a result of our interactions in the couple of days leading up to the event and sad to say, it adversely affected my race day performance. Consequently, I’m more cautious, now, of whom I choose to tag along to races, if at all.

EV: Who are your biggest supporters?

WL: My parents. Initially they harboured visions of me getting an occupation somewhere where I turned up for work 9-to-5 at a desk, five days a week. Obviously that has not happened, but I’m grateful that they have supported the path I have chosen in my career anyway, because it is what I am. Attending races while still doing school/university and whilst still not being financially independent must have been exasperating for Mum and Dad, but I hope they realize that the pay-off is in not having to worry about me hating my job.

Full name: Low Weicheng Wilson
Age: 28 (this year)
Profession: Triathlon and adventure racing coach
Country of Residence: Singapore
Hobbies/Pastimes: Reading, playing the piano, movies.
Years in Endurance Sports: 10 years
World Championships Qualified for: Ironman (2008), Ironman 70.3 (2008), Adventure Racing (2011)
Favourite bike: My old titanium Norco Team Ti (circa 2001) hardtail mountain bike. That bike has been on so many kilometres with me over the past nine years, with lots of good memories along the way. I will never sell it.
Favourite race: The Speights Coast to Coast (a one-day, 243km event across the South Island of New Zealand – involving road cycling, mountain running, and whitewater kayaking). It is the World Multisport Championships: it’s longer, more technically demanding, and can be considered logistical nightmare compared to a full Ironman, but participants are given the same time allotment as an Ironman – 17 hours to cut-off - to complete. The course consists of several highly dynamic environments and traverses some stunning landscapes. I commemorated my race by gathering a little bottle of sand from the beach where the race started, and did the same on the beach where the race ended, and display the bottles side-by-side at home to remind me of that day.
Likes: Soothing, easy-listening music; a good movie experience (in a proper cinema, with popcorn as a bonus)
Dislikes: Airports – I seldom travel without a bicycle and/or a mountain of outdoor gear, and I hate it when it comes time simply move from point to point, and of course having to pay excess or oversize baggage charges.

Photo-credit: Wilson Low

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