Saturday, July 19, 2014

Me and The 10,000 Hour Rule

"At first people will ask why you're doing it, but eventually after the hard work pays off, they will ask how you did it..." - Steve Prefontaine

While looking at some of my awesome adequate pitiful statistics on Strava, I wondered how much of this is really meaningful. Except for those extremely frustrating occasions when my Nike+ Sportswatch doesn't makes friends with my personal running satellite, I download my runs to Strava (I hate the Nike Website). Strava will track all types of numbers that have to do with your run, and probably none of it has helped me become a better runner at all, but sometimes it's fun to look at.

Years ago, I used to be almost obsessed with getting in the miles, so that's what I would look at most. Could I get in my arbitrary weekly/monthly quota? Several years, I ran over 3000 miles, averaging better than 50 miles a week. Holy cow! That's a bunch. My all-time weekly high was 108 miles. Nearly killed me...did it in Alabama...running to and from work from my home to downtown...over two significant mile-long hills each way. Yeah, did that once!

Now, when I download my runs, I still look at miles, but mostly as an interesting curiosity. I only run 4, or occasionally 5, days a week. I average about half of those "glory day" mile totals. These days, I like to look at elevation gain because I run about half my miles on trails over hill and dale and because I have no idea how to measure dales, I keep track of the hills. When I struggle through a Sunday run on roads with my non-trail running friends, I usually mention that I ran trails yesterday - "How far did you go?" - "Well, it was only 12 miles, but it had 2500 ft of elevation". Deaf ears...means nothing...may as well have told them it was 25,000 feet. But, I follow it. I know several thousand feet climbing will knock me on my can the next day! The time that used to get me 20 miles on the road barely gets me 10 miles on the trail now, but I usually don't keep close track of how the hours pile up.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, he repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to success in ANY field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. This nonsense controversial idea has been pretty much disproven, but seeing that he is one of my favorite authors, the premise has stuck in my mind. So, as usual during my solo trail runs, like this morning, I got to thinking. I began to wonder exactly how much time I spend running. Do I really spend that much time preparing for the "events" I choose to do? I know I get up early in the morning for just about all of my runs and I feel like that's pretty doggone dedicated to do that, but how does my training fit into Gladwell's "flat-earth" theory?

So, I consulted Professor Strava. Last year I ran 1370 miles in 303 hours. In 2012, I did 1424 miles in 290 hours (sigh! I know, slower!). So, in 2 full years, that's 2794 miles in 593 hours. I'll save you the's 12:42 min/mi - hey, those hilly trails slow me down!!! Now, looking at elevation gain, in the past 18 months, I've climbed over 119,000 feet...That's over 4 times from sea level to the tip of the summit of Mt Everest! Still, even with the elevation excuse of slowing me down and adding to the "hours" spent running, the 300 hours per year average is not really that much of a dent in the 10,000 hour rule, is it?

I began running obsessively regularly in 1978 and have since run over 80,000 miles. Now, I was faster "back-in-the-day", so why don't we say the 36 years all averages to about 9:30/mi. Let's see, applying my New Jersey education, 9.5 x 80,000 = 760,000 minutes divided by 60 = 12,666 hours!! Obviously, this is well and above Gladwell's threshold for excellence! So, why am I so damn slow and always finish in the buttend of races? Yeah, yeah, age...blah, blah, blah. Ankles from hell...blah, blah, blah.

So, while I plodded around Oak Mt, I realized that the 10,000 Hour Rule doesn't just require lacing up your Hokas and moseying down the trail or road. Learning how to improve any skill requires top-down (brain-feet) focus. We have to strengthen the old brain circuits and build new ones for a skill to become sharpened and improve our outcome. It requires paying attention. When practice occurs while we are looking at the scenery or talking to our friends about that & this, the brain does not rewire the relevant circuitry for that particular routine, in this case, running up the Yellow/White connector. So, what happens is that each time I hit that Y/W connector, I huff and puff, stop and take deep breaths, slowly step over the boulders, and generally don't practice attacking the weak parts of my running. Daydreaming defeats practice. Complacency defeats practice. And yes, things like age and ankles defeats practice. But, paying full attention is what we have to do for everything to sharpen us into that "success" that Gladwell proposes in his 10 Grand Rule, not just simply putting in the time.

So, although I've worn down hundreds of pairs of shoes past the magic 10,000 hours, what Strava doesn't tell me is how many hours were actually spent focusing on those skills in order to get the most out of the vehicle I carry around. Oh, I wish I could run the hills just a little better, but you know, my mind was wondering on the trails this morning because it was warm, it was raining, it was quiet...yeah, that's fine with me. Do I really want to make work out of it? Nah. Maybe in the formative years, that's fun, but not now. Maybe I didn't use all those hours to it's utmost to achieve "success", but I did OK. For now, as Popeye said, "I yam what I yam".

I'll see you all on the roads and trails - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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