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May 8, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell and Plinko

For various reasons, I didn’t post nearly as much as I thought I would last week.

I had this general fatigue, which shouldn’t be surprising in the week following a marathon. Work was busier than usual, and it just seemed like one of those weeks where a lot of things were going on.

The primary reason, though, was that I hadn’t been running. At all. Not one mile.

The one-week layoff was by design, allowing my body to recover from the marathon. I also welcome the downtime as a much deserved mental break – it’s refreshing to have a brief respite from planning workouts or worrying about getting to bed on time or obsessing about weekly mileage.

But the creative drought was something I didn’t quite foresee. I’ve heard about this phenomenon from several writers who utilize their daily run to facilitate the process. The well-known running philosopher George Sheehan was often photographed hunched over his typewriter wearing his running tights and sweatshirt, with beads of perspiration still visible from his morning run. He wanted to put the ideas on paper as quickly as he could after stimulating the creative juices.

In fact, an article by Kristin Elde in this month’s Runner’s World discusses the power that running has to tap into a reservoir of otherwise underutilized cognitive power. She quotes Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Blink), who says he runs three to four times per week, and uses that time explicitly to work out his writing problems.

Now, I just happen to have this thing about Malcolm Gladwell. He’s a brilliant writer with razor sharp insight, and has a way of writing about all manner of esoteric subjects in a way that reads like an espionage thriller. He can tell you about a syphilis epidemic in Baltimore, or an Ivy League admissions policy, or a retrospective analysis of the “Pepsi Challenge” taste tests in a style that’s not merely interesting – he actually makes you wonder why you didn’t realize these topics were so darn compelling a long time ago.

Over the past two years he has become my favorite author. I’ve also learned that he’s a passionate, knowlegdeable sports fan, and – to top it all off – he even has a blog. It’s probably a good thing I don’t actually know him, or else I’d be in danger of developing some kind of man-crush on him. (Wait...was that out loud? Let's move on...)

So Gladwell is a writer who runs a bit. I’m a runner who writes a bit. And it turns out we have this one small thing in common: the act of running facilitates our writing.

Running is like the Plinko game on The Price is Right: I have all of these ideas for posts floating around inside my head that are the chips resting at the top of the board. They're more or less worthless up there. It’s only when I’m out on the trail or road that those chips bounce around my brain and eventually make their way to the bottom of the board, where they become something tangible.

Sometimes I’ll get an idea that’s the equivalent of a $5,000 chip. More often, my notions are like the chips that land in the $0 slot. But regardless of their future value, they all have to go through the same process before they are revealed.

So today I went running again, fired up the big Plinko game in my head, and all sorts of things came bouncing down. Here’s a brief preview: spelling bees, strawberry fields, sexy guitar players, and oh, yeah – maybe a bit about running, since I'm actually doing it again. (I also came up with the whole Plinko analogy during today’s run – but you probably guessed that already).

Obviously, no one will ever mistake my talent for Malcolm Gladwell’s. My writings probably won’t even justify the money your boss is paying you to read this blog. But I’ll at least try to keep things interesting enough over the next couple of weeks to keep you checking your Bloglines list.

That’s right: I’m promising randomness and mediocrity. And believe me, I’m capable of delivering.

(And if Malcolm ever happens to read this...if you’re ever in Carmel Valley, drop me an e-mail. We'll go running some day.)


backofpack 5/8/06, 10:04 PM  

This post made me laugh out loud! Man-crush?!? Plinko game? I can totally see that plinko game in your mind. You are hilarious!

matt 5/8/06, 10:24 PM  

you just keep coming up with the killer analogies. you have a knack for them! i do enjoy your randomness, but i never find it mediocre on any level.

what is a typical week like for you after a hard marathon like Big Sur? do you have to ramp up right away for your Tri schedule?

Scott Dunlap 5/9/06, 11:51 AM  

Plinko! I love it. The pic says it all!

I hope your recovery is coming along nicely.

- SD

Susan 5/9/06, 12:45 PM  

just keep the randomness and mediocrity coming!

robtherunner 5/9/06, 1:14 PM  

At least you are not setting our hopes to high. I'll still come back for your so called mediocre posts. They are always well written and entertaining, at the very least, often they are better though.

susie 5/9/06, 3:11 PM  

"your boss is paying you to read this blog" GREAT!!! I listened to Tipping Point on a long run or two last summer. Loved it. Thanks for the link.

stronger 5/10/06, 10:58 AM  

Plinko was always my favorite game on the show- your analogy makes perfect sense.

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