I was listening to the golf show over the weekend — don’t ask why. Never played golf but I love sports-talk radio for some reason. Anyway, the hosts are discussing a story about this guy, Dan, in Portland: He’s thirty and a relatively inexperienced golfer. So he reads the book, Outliers — it asserts that it takes 10,000 hours to perfect a skill — and decides to quit his job and spend the next five or so years (10,000 hours) practicing to become a pro golfer. Whether he makes it or not, he says, the experiment will be a success because it will prove or disprove the idea that if you work hard for something, you can have it.
He will also likely become a pretty good golfer; even if he doesn’t go pro, he will be able to kick all of his friends assess, and that will be satisfying.
So I started wondering if this could ever apply to running. For lack of a better subject, I’ll use myself for example. I am a moderately above-average female runner (based on standings in race results in a wide variety of distances and races) who has been running for about four years. If I quit my job and worked with a trainer eight hours a day five days a week for the next five years, could I become an elite runner?
Hmm. Now, this hypothetical will require a complete suspension of disbelief, but say someone paid me about $50,000 a year to do this (so I could quit working), and I got complimentary one-on-one coaching from the best around, could someone like me become, say, a sub-3:00 marathoner in five years? (Bear in mind, I will be a masters-category female in five years; sub 3:15 is good for an elite entry in many marathons and under three is often good for a masters win).
Running is much different than golf or piano playing, so the first thing to consider would be injury prevention. Dan, the golf guy’s approach went something like this: he had to perfect a 3-foot putt before he could move on to a 5-foot putt and so on. In the first year, all he has practiced is little putts.
I think if you applied this to running, you’d need to start with the extreme fundamentals, namely retraining yourself to run in a way that will reduce the potential for injury. I believe that if one learns to run the proper way — Christopher McDougall style, perhaps — and in footwear that encourages good form, much injury can be avoided. That would be the first phase. Re-learning to run.
Then, I would take the McMillian calculator and go backward from a 2:59 marathon. Based on that, my first goal would be to run 800 meters in 2 minutes 23 seconds. If I ever attained that, I would move on to attempt the 5:18 mile, the 18:22 5k, 1:24 half marathon and so on (just imagining that makes me want to stop writing now, but I’ll finish my thoughts)…
My awesome coach and I would also need to determine how those 8 hours each day would be spent. Obviously no one is going to run 40 hours a week for five years—at least I don’t think so. I would imagine that the 10,000 practice hours would comprise various exercise to improve form, weight or strength training, stretching or yoga, meditation and research (?) … and of course a lot of running too, I guess – hell, I’m not the coach.
The real interesting thing about Dan is the reasons why he says he’s doing the 10,000-hour golf experiment.
“Basically,” he told the people at a recent conference, “what I’m trying to do with this project is demonstrate how far you’re able to go if you’re willing to put in the time.
“I’m testing human potential.”
And it’s such an intriguing thought. I like the idea of testing potential. I could never run a 5:18 mile, my mind and experience tells me, but what if I worked hard and did? After I run the 5:18 mile, I start to believe I can do a little more … and then a little more … and then what?
Of course I could go off in another direction — I could dedicate my 10,000 hours, should I ever become independently wealthy, to medicine or music or some form of life-enhancing art — but I guess if you are going to spend 10,000 hours at something, it helps if you are sort of obsessed with it already.
Anyway, for now, my short-term goal is walking without a limp and getting through another 4-6 weeks of no running.