“Wait a second,’ I said to myself last Wednesday while fumbling out of my run gear and into my swim gear, ‘that’s the fastest mile I’ve ever run.”
On a mid-Fall morning some Saturday long ago, I lead the first mile of my Frosh/Soph heat at the Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational. The Mt. SAC Invitational was one of the largest, most popular, and prestigious races of the whole season, so the fact that I was actually out in front on such a large stage was a very distinct experience. I positioned myself at the front of the crowded field on the starting line, and burst off the line like I was in a 100m dash when the gun went off, a decision which was probably not then brightest move because the distance was slightly longer at 3.2 miles. It was worth it; the feeling of having my competitors on my periphery was intoxicating. However, the first mile of the 3.2 mile course was flat, “Yay!”, but once we hit the dreaded switchbacks, I faded into the fellow pimple-faced crowd of teenagers, and watched the tiny speed goat’s blow by me. Still, I clocked a 6:34min. mile over that initial part of the race, which was awesome, and obviously a life highlight because I remember it so clearly over twenty years later. Furthermore, that was my fastest mile up until that point, AND remained my fastest mile up until I ran a 6:21min. mile during a training session at the not-so feeble age of thirty-four. That mind-blowing biological feat solidified my belief that strength and quickness is not restricted to our youth.
However, I rarely run that distance. When I run intervals those distances are usually between 200m – 800m, or if I am asked to run a mile, it is at a specific pace, never all out. I have not run a mile all out in years, yet I ran my fastest one ever last Wednesday, 6:13min. The real kicker is that I wasn’t conscience of beating my mile PR or running as fast as I could for that mile, I was only focused on running faster than my previous mile in the workout, (a progressive four mile run). That’s it. I was not over thinking it, but was simply in the moment attempting to achieve the task my coach assigned me to complete.
I love to read. I appreciate good writing in all forms, fiction, non-fiction, stories found in magazine articles, or on cereal boxes, whatever… My favorite kind of books to read are non-fiction topics on human endurance, (shocking), and books from writers writing about their writing, (again, not surprising). In essence, I enjoy learning how experts in my chosen field of interest learn, so I can learn to be better myself.
In November 2008, Malcolm Gladwell’s blockbuster book Outliers was published, and I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough. I was twenty-nine years old, already had drunk gallons of triathlon Kool-Aid, and was convinced after reading Gladwell’s mesmerizing stories supporting the 10,000 hour rule that at my current training pace I would achieve mastery in triathlon by the time I turned thirty-five.
Thirty-five came and went and I am certain that I still have A LOT to learn about the bewitching sport of triathlon. That said, many of those hours of practice were just completing workouts that I found in a book, magazine, or invented myself, they were not deliberate practice hours.
Moreover, Gladwell did not invent the 10,000 hour rule, rather he popularized the acclaimed Scientist, Anders Ericsson’s rule to achieve mastery one needs accrue a gargantuan, yet unique amount of hours of deliberate practice at a skill they are already familiar with. He describes the many steps of deliberate practice in his book, Peak: Secrets from The New Science of Expertise, but it boils down to, “Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.” I recommend reading both books, Gladwell’s is by far a more entertaining read, but if you want to learn the nitty-gritty of how he came up with his dazzling content, I suggest read Ericcson’s book, too.
Another key component of deliberate practice is receiving feedback, so enlisting a coach is a meaningful part of the process. However, I don’t think I was truly ready to submit complete control in my coach until this second time around. I think I was too young and narrowly focused on achieving a blanket of success in triathlon when I first signed up with Hillary in 2010 to truly embrace the deliberate practice involved to become an exceptional triathlete. I was impatient, naïve, and too self-conscience about the process to really appreciate it. I needed to step away to stumble and flourish on my own to finally realize that I cared more about developing my potential as a triathlete than achieving any tangible goal in the sport, and in order to do it right, I needed help.
We all do.
I realized over the weekend that I need a writing coach, too. I love to write, but I know I need guidance to improve and develop my potential.
When I first started long-distance running at age thirteen I did not know what I was doing, but loved it, and when I ran my first marathon seven years later at twenty-one, I did not know much more, but still loved it. In fact I don’t think I really clicked over into achieving deliberate practice in running until I was thirty-two, after running my twenty-fourth marathon. At that point in my life, nearly two decades into my running career, I can confidently say that I knew where I was going and how to get there.
I have set lofty goals for myself over the years in running, writing, and triathlon, and am admittedly addicted to the thrill of chasing them. But what I love most is the seemingly mundane, yet truly meaningful everyday deliberate practice that sets up breakthroughs like the one I had last week running that fast mile.
I can’t wait to see what happens when I try to run one as fast as I can, and when I write a slew of sentences that leap into reader’s hearts and minds and leaves an impression that lasts a lifetime.
Parental Advisement: This song possesses some mature language, so listen accordingly. - Tipper Gore