So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Staying Out Of The Echo Chamber

Visualize a bell curve for a few seconds.

If a person were to honestly measure an attribute of a large population, or a large (truly) random sample, the largest percentage of the population they measure will be close to the center of the range of possible measures.  Height, weight, calorie intake, intelligence quotient...all of these and lots more can be graphed on a curve. Some curves will skew toward the higher end of the measurement range, such as school grades, because measures below a certain point are the cut-off point, and grounds for removal from the population.  Persons can contend that running performances, if measured, would not evenly align to bell curve, but be skewed toward a faster performance.  Lower limits on measurement, like course cut-off times, constrain a statistician from measuring the entire population.  Every person pulled off course because they failed to make an intermediate cut-off is not different than the kid who bombed their ninth-grade language course and didn't get to move on to the tenth grade course.  Smaller population based on selectivity; another good example would be average grades between undergraduates and graduates...graduates are higher on the average because the population is smaller.  In the case of distance running, the un-measured population members would include those who say, "I don't run (blank distance) races; I lack the endurance."

Still with me?

It might not be a direct correlation, but think about our social media contacts.  We start off with a small number of contacts, which increase to either the limit of our account, or to the point where either our contacts decide to no longer keep in contact with us...or we decide to no longer read what they have to say.  Over time we, if not careful, might end up in contact on a regular basis with people who think, act and do pretty much the same way we do.  That echo chamber can be comforting for a time, but left alone with everyone who ABSOLUTELY AGREES WITHOUT YOU WITHOUT RESERVATION is a fantastic recipe for intellectual stagnation.

What's wrong with not working to maintain ones' contacts as closely to the mode (for those who forgot mathematics-or statistics-the highest point of the bell curve)?  I noticed this while home visiting with my father; while we don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on politics or social issues, I try to see his point of view or at least ask his rationale...and explain to him what supports my stand.  Face it, the ability to disagree agreeably has gone by the boards.  In this day in age where everything is posted on the internet rather than printed in a handbill the classical use of source references like news articles, statistical information and scientific research (preferably from independent sources) have been sadly replaced by snappy retort and nasty name-calling.  The first person to describe everyone who fails to agree with them a vulgar or perjorative term "wins."

So what do we have for our "winner," Johnny Olson?  After so many "victories," the only applause left is that Zen koan-like single-handed stuff...and regrettably it's ones' own.

When it comes to running and fitness, there are "conventional wisdoms" and "strongly-held truths" which have been questioned by far too few coaches and few athletes.  My advice to friends who look for running counsel and athletes who train with me?

First, take the time to read any run training manual onto which they can get their hands.  If the book is older (I have several which were written in the early 1980s) the goal is to pick out the eternal training truths.  Even if the training specifics are something to which you may disagree, at least you've taken the time to know the author's underlying philosophy.  A former Olympian's training plan used to be my piƱata, until I took the time to read one of their earliest books.  After the read I learned I disagreed more with the author's disciples than the author.  The ability to tell an athlete why you disagree, and more specifically what you believe, can keep the coach-athlete relationship harmonious.

Second, be prepared to adapt the training truths and "good stuff" to the specifics of your own life. The difference between writing a "C" research paper and one that would be graded an "A" is the ability to take those notecard ideas borrowed from all the authors we read and converting to ones' own life. Not every person has a forty-hour, office-based 9-to-5 job; lives in a nuclear "spouse-and-2.5-children" household, and resides in a town with access to high-tech modalities - or running trails, hills, running tracks, and so forth.  Since the specifics for every runner are different it's a silly idea to quote directly chapter-and-verse.  This makes the difference between a coach and a person who's slapping workouts on paper...and in the case of a self-coached athlete the difference between potential success and failure.

Third, don't hesitate to chat and trade notes, especially with runners who perform consistently well.  Coaches are also a good resource; I love to hear what they're doing with really good runners, or what mistakes they made over the years in the profession...then I go back and adapt or look closer at what I assign, and the why behind it.

While it's nice to be at the mode when it comes to friends, we would much rather be closer to the front end of the bell curve when it comes to our performance.

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