Friday, July 19, 2013

Some Myths That May Be Killing Your Running: Part 3

I began this back in November, 2012. This is the third installment but deals with Myth #5...

Myth Number 5: Online logging sites/social media offer a new opportunity for measuring ourselves against our peers and keeping us on our (competitive) toes, and offer opportunities for free training advice and that's always a good thing.

Now, as I see it there are two problems here: 1) Competing and comparing oneself may or may not be beneficial, and 2) While there's lots more advice to be had out there than in the dark ages (pre-interwebs), advice can be good or bad.
“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” ~ Aristotle
I'm going to start with #2:

Let me begin with some Philosophy that seems to make a lot of sense, and ideas that weave through so many theories about how we learn and how we achieve personal excellence.

Aristotle argues that there are three necessary elements in mastering anything:  Practice, desire, and a teacher. Today I want to focus on that last element. By "teacher" what Aristotle is really trying to get at is someone who sets an example of what it is to do X well. If we are surrounded by those who know what they're doing, then we are more likely to learn well.

So let's say you want to master the game of basketball. If you are surrounded by Michael Jordans then you are likely to learn good technique and develop good habits with regard to playing basketball. But if the only basketball players you know do not know how to play basketball (they run down to court holding the ball, can't get the ball near the basket, etc) then you are unlikely to learn well. Why is this? Well, when we don't know much about something (and we all start here for everything we do) then how do we judge good from poor skill??

So if I know nothing, it's hard for me to judge good advice from bad advice. In this regard, Aristotle concedes, we are very much subject to the whims of fickle luck.

But wait just one second! We do each also have the ability to reason and sort through what does and does not make sense. Perhaps all is not in the hands of the fates after all. But reasoning, as well, is developed like all other skills - we learn how to reason well and value reasoning well IF we are surrounded by those who live that value and exercise that virtue.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~ Aristotle 
There are many people out there, well intentioned people, who offer heart-felt advice to those seeking answers. BUT that advice, even when it is very well-meaning, does not make it good advice. It is up to each of us to sort the wheat from the chaff.

And if I hear "Go hard or go home" one more time I will scream!

Now moving on to #1 above:

We live in a hyper competition obsessed culture (even though this doesn't seem to be getting us much of anywhere). In Facebookland we are all shiny happy people living lives of brilliant perfection - for runners this means: stronger...faster...farther... On Dailymile, or Strava (or any of the other social-logging sites) we run hard. We compare our times, our distances, our training plans, our goals. We sometimes allow what others are doing to direct our own goals (or we beat ourselves up for not being as awesome as runner-x).

All of these issues can also hit those in running groups (face-to-face rather than online). Groups can easily slip into 'group think' where everyone is expected to do the same races and train the same way, and if they don't fall into step then they are left out, criticized...sometimes ostracized.

Running groups, whether virtual or real, and logging sites are ONLY helpful when they further our own aims. But when the aims of the the group cloud our own minds and confuse our own internal navigation, then I believe its nefarious influence undermines our own learning, our own journey and even our own lives.

Examples Offered: 
* I've had runners confess to me that they stopped a run early and/or turned off their GPS because their pace dropped and they didn't want to have to post a slower overall pace logged onto Strava.
* I've had runners confess to "stalking" my training for their own purposes - usually to measure their own training or to try to copy mine.
* I've read posts where someone comments that they are going to copy another runner's training (usually an elite).
* I've seen comments indicating that a runner decided to run a race, usually a marathon, because that would make them a "real" runner.
* I've seen people get upset and indignant when other runners don't post their paces for runs (on Dailymile, et al).

Does any of this help your running?? Not really. Can it hurt? Yes! Others can inspire us to reach higher and farther, but it has to come from within first. We must use the running community for encouragement and examples of what might be possible, but not as examples of 'oughts' - I ought to do X. It is so easy to confuse 'wants' with 'oughts'. It is so easy to look at what others do and judge oneself as not good enough, not tough enough...

Each one of us 'out there' is a role model for someone else. Whether you want to recognize this or not it's true. What you may think is no big deal another may admire beyond belief. Be careful with that power and be aware that others may influence you - and that can be good or not so good for you.

As Jean-Paul Sartre convincingly argues, when we act we are making a statement about how best to live - we are all role models - and with our freedom comes responsibility:
"I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him be. In fashioning myself, I fashion man" ~ Jean-Paul Sartre


  1. Great stuff! I've had some interesting times, discovering that some people have been following my paces on Daily Mile. I admit to looking at a few others paces as well (much to my shame). We are a comparison "keep up with Joneses society. I just came back from Bryce Canyon, where I ran my absolute personal worst time in a long time- people were surprised when I came back saying "BEST RACE EVER" It was. Why? I had FUN. I ran a challenging course at altitude, I met some cool people. No PR- No problem. THe one person who understood and loved it was my coach...and people wonder why I'm so glad he chooses to coach me- as it isn't his regular job.

    Best thing about these social media sites has been my ability to connect with other like minded runners. Sometimes they are not my type, but getting to know some folks in my area has really increased my running joy!

    1. I think social media is a HUGE plus IF we use it for our own ends. It's when the aims and concerns of others pollute our desires that it turns sour, I believe. Some of my most favorite races are also my 'slowest' and my most fulfilling because I ran them for someone else or I just ran them for fun! I simply see no reason in being concerned about anyone's times but your own. And I certainly am glad that your coach 'got' that race!

  2. Exactly why I don't do dailymile. I started it and it was too much. I don't even like to see my own pace daily let alone 300 "friends" Plus I felt guilty when I didn't have the time to sit and personally say "Good job!" on everyone's daily workouts. Not worth it for me.

    1. Yes! I'll never do Daily Mile. Too much pressure....and who needs *another* social media site to keep up with?!

    2. I like Dailymile because it's a convenient place to track my stuff, but I've long since let go of any concern about 'measuring up' and in fact post some pretty dang 'slow' runs because I also believe in the value of running slow (that's a different post ;). I just think you need to use these things for YOUR ends, not allow them to determine or dictate your ends.

  3. Good stuff!

    I've liked social media for all the runners I've met--I'm an introvert and it may be the *only* reason I know any other runners at all! But I think posting paces and workouts is a slippery slope. I used to stalk that sort of thing, too, and comparing myself to others sucked the joy out of my running. I'm really careful now about what I read (many many fewer blogs, for one thing)--and the joy has come back.

    As for bad advice, it's key to have a coach or program you trust. It's definitely helped me stop second-guessing myself. If I have a doubt or a question, I have someone to ask who is educated and much less emotional about my running than I am. I read on a blog at one point that the author didn't understand why recreational runners spend money on coaches. I disagreed with everything that person said. Good coaches are worth their weight in gold!

    1. Believe it or not, I'm fairly introverted as well. I try to ignore what others are doing (besides the runners I coach and my actual friends). Life is too short. I love to encourage people because I do believe that running makes for happier people and more happy people make for a happier society, but if they suck energy away, that's the end of that.

      And, even coaches may need coaches (if they still try to run 'hard').

  4. Great Blog as always Caolan.
    I shudder reading some of the advice on running sites, hoping that the individuals asking measure what is given in comment. I am not an expert by any means, just hope that some reasoning is going on before all the advice is put to use.

  5. This is an excellent blog. I'm enjoying this series.

  6. I absolutely love your use of philosophy to talk about some of the running myths out there on the web. The point about social media and our image-obsessed culture really hit home. I have to constantly remind myself, especially if I'm having a not-so-good run, that I'm doing this for ME. Not for what the GPS might say or even what the fellow jogger going the opposite direction thinks about me.

    And as a blogger who often writes about my running journey, it's difficult to include the bad experiences in with the good - but it's imperative, in order to disintegrate the idea that runners are perfect and always run easily.


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