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Gwokang Yang—Proficient Cyclist Tries Stand Up Paddleboarding

July 20, 2013

By Gwokang Yang

I started biking in 2001, when I was 29. My brother and coworkers and I signed up for DC AIDSRide: 330 miles in four days from Raleigh, N.C., to Washington, D.C. I decided to do it because of the challenge. I’ve studied martial arts since I was 12, so I was used to mental and physical challenges.

Prior to registering for the ride, I hadn’t ridden a bike in 10 years. We trained every weekend for six months; I went from barely being able to ride 10 miles on my first ride, to being able to ride 100 miles two days in a row. After successfully completing the AIDSRide, I immediately registered for the next one and completed it the following year. After the AIDSRides, my friends and I turned our attention to the Dewey Beach Sprint Triathlon in Delaware. Note that I wasn’t a runner or a swimmer, so I joined a running club, ran 10ks, and took swimming lessons to prepare for the race. After completing the triathlon, I decided I liked biking best, so I focused on that. I’ve been doing the biking leg of a relay race in the Nation’s Triathlon for the past six years.Gwokang Paddle1

In 2010, I started competing in amateur bike races in Greenbelt Park, Md. They have races every Wednesday night during the spring and summer. I’ve also raced in longer weekend races, such as the 120-mile Vail GranFondo last year in Colorado. That was tough because of the altitude and low oxygen.

In terms of cycling race divisions, I’m a CAT 5 racer, but hope to upgrade eventually. I typically ride three to four days a week; during the week I’ll do 21-mile rides, and on weekends I’ll do 44- to 60-mile rides. I train with friends on weekends and with a local bike shop during the week. All of my training partners are faster than me, so I improve while trying to catch up with them.

I’m not married, so I have time to train. Unfortunately, age is catching up with me: I’m 41 nowI’m not as fast as I was in my twenties. I have the physical and mental endurance to compete, just not the speed. It’s hard to compete with racers who are in their early twenties; I wish I started bike racing when I was much younger.

My mental fortitude comes from my martial arts instructor, Norris Legerton. Whenever I feel like quitting, I remember Norris saying, “The body can take 10 times more than you think!”—and I keep going. His training has gotten me through many challenges. Last winter, when it was too cold for biking, I did a few long hikes in Shenandoah National Park. The longest hike was 20 miles and included Big Devils Stairs. It’s a pretty steep descent. My friends and I had hiked 12 miles by the time we got to the bottom of the stairs. It was getting cold and we didn’t have much daylight left; I was exhausted and wanted to stop. I was lagging behind my friends. But then I remembered Norris’s words, and sped up my pace. I ascended the stairs 4 minutes ahead of my friends and got to the end of the hike before them. I think about Norris’ training whenever I race, and it gets me through.

I currently ride a Giant Defy Composite 1 Road Bike with an Ultegra DI2 groupset. I also have a Giant Trinity Alliance 1 triathlon bike. I’m constantly finding things to upgrade on the bikes, whether it be the wheels or components. I train with a Garmin bike computer with GPS, heart rate monitor, and cadence sensor. I use MyFitnessPal (for counting calories) and MapMyRide and Strava (for routes and mileage) when I train. I spend at least a $1000 a year on bike equipment and race entry fees (sometimes more if I’m buying a new bike).

“I like pushing my boundaries so that I’ll be prepared to handle life’s challenges.”

Stand Up Paddleboarding is much more recent. I visited a friend in Hawaii a few years ago who introduced me to the sport. I took an SUP lesson on the North Shore and was hooked. I rented a paddle board in St. Croix last March, and paddled up and down the coast for a couple of miles. It was a lot of fun. I recently became a member of Potomac Paddlesports in Maryland. Membership includes four 3-hour lessons, equipment rental, and coached practice sessions on weeknights twice a week. I plan on doing the Watermans Paddle for Humanity race in D.C. at the end of the summer; I just bought an Xterra inflatable paddle board.

In general, I like pushing my boundaries so that I’ll be prepared to handle life’s challenges. It really bothers me when I hear 30- and 40-year-olds say they’re too old for something. If they feel like that now, how are they going to feel when they’re 70 or 80?


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