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February 17, 2009

The 10,000 Hour Rule

So then … where were we?

The primary downside of doing a long series (I mean, besides boring nearly everyone to death with one long-winded treatise after another – but that should go without saying) is that you get way behind on the “normal schedule” of posts – or at least, whatever passes for normal around here. So now’s the time when I try to play some catch-up.

Since starting the Bannister series last month, I’ve written two Monterey Herald articles, received three products that are now awaiting reviews, and been tagged with
some chain as punishment for not following through on yet another chain that I thought I had successfully neglected. You could say that things are piling up; over the next couple of weeks, I’ll begin to remedy that situation.

I’m starting with the simplest approach today, by reprinting a Monterey Herald column I wrote in January. As a general rule, topics from this blog seldom crossover to the (slightly) more sophisticated realm of legitimate journalism - but in this case, I made a bit of an exception. The column starts with a premise from Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, and extrapolates it to the community of runners. It’s basically a reminder that the path to success isn’t typically convoluted or complicated - rather, it’s very simple, and very long.

It’s also a reminder of one more point that should be obvious by now: clearly, my
man-crush on Malcolm Gladwell knows no bounds.


Running Life 1/29/09 “The 10,000 Hour Rule”

Most runners probably don’t think they have much in common with the likes of Mozart, or The Beatles, or Bill Gates. However, according to Malcolm Gladwell, we have more in common than we ever realized.

Gladwell is the author of Outliers: The Story of Success, currently sitting atop bestseller lists nationwide. In the book, he analyzes countless factors – many of them unknown to the people they most impact – that determine why some people enjoy abundant success in life, while others toil in frustration and obscurity.

One of his revelations is the “10,000 Hour Rule”: in order to maximize any given talent, you need to spend approximately 10,000 hours practicing it. This rule partially dispels the myths of the child prodigy or the naturally gifted artist that many of us accept at face value.

For example, Bill Gates is widely considered a genius – but he also happened to have extraordinary access to cutting-edge technologies as far back as junior high school, and he spent nearly every night and weekend of his youth experimenting with computer programming. Mozart wrote symphonies at age 4, but the body of work he’s recognized for was composed after he had spent another 10 years perfecting his craft. And by the time The Beatles broke on the American scene, they had developed their songwriting and polished their musical chops in thousands of shows in various foreign nightclubs.

The 10,000 Hour Rule has implications for runners as well - in fact, veteran runners have used a variation of it for a long time, known in running circles as the 10-Year Rule. Basically, it says that runners will get gradually faster during their first 10 years, before their performances plateau for another 10 years, then decline precipitously over the next 10 years.

It doesn’t matter what distance you run, or what age you start at: whether you’re 15 or 55, your best race times in any event will improve for up to 10 years if you train consistently. If you could somehow manage to run 1000 hours per year, you’d develop abilities on par with some of the greatest achievers of our age. Yes, natural talent also plays a role – but not nearly as much as most people attribute to it.

(Sure, at first glance, training for 1000 hours per year – 3 hours per day, every day - seems shocking. However, if you ask just about any Olympic athlete, they’d tell you this is consistent with their typical regimens. There’s a reason why it’s so hard to make it to the Olympics.)

Perhaps the most well-known novel about running is Once a Runner by John Parker. In one famous passage, the author ponders how somebody becomes a great runner: “What was the secret, they wanted to know … and not one of them was prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes."

In other words, there’s no secret, and no trick. Do you want to be a better runner? Go for a run. Wake up the next day and do it again. Keep doing it until you wear out the bottoms of your shoes, then buy some new ones and start again. Repeat that process over and over until you’ve done it for 1000 hours, then 2000, then 10,000.

It’s really quite a simple process. Sometimes we just need to be reminded.


Dave 2/17/09, 2:18 PM  

wrapping up "Tipping Point" now. As far as 10000 hrs...I know in Magic...absolutely. I always joke that you need a place to be bad at performing before you can be good....literally 1000's of hours doing a one handed faro shuffle with a strip out...now for that running thing...I'll get back to you...gotta run.

Alisa 2/17/09, 2:29 PM  

So true! Practice does make perfect (or at least closer to perfect).

Gretchen 2/18/09, 9:56 AM  

I’ve been meaning to tell you, based solely on your effusive praise of Gladwell, I bought Outliers for my dad for Christmas. At the same time, I bought The Tipping Point for myself. The pop-psych feel of the book immediately got under my skin, and I knew I’d made a mistake in giving my dad a book like this, which he would undoubtedly eschew as popular garbage for the masses. I warned him, and we agreed that it’s good to read the book anyway, so that when others praise it unendingly, we would have to background with which to spew accurate smack-talk.
So last month when I was visiting my parents, I was surprised to hear some actual praise for Outliers from my father. (If you knew him, you would know that this is saying a lot!) In particular, he was intrigued by the whole “10,000 hours” idea, and seemed to agree with it. He gave me all the stories from the book about the Beatles and Bill Gates, and it all led to some enjoyable and interesting discussions between us during my visit.
I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t do his best to poke some big holes in Gladwell’s theories by the time he finishes the book, but the fact that he’s bothering to discuss it is high praise itself.
Anyway, that’s just my long-winded way of saying that it was a successful gift. As for The Tipping Point…well I got halfway through it in December and sort of stalled out. I liked a lot of the stories, but I guess I’m just not much of a non-fiction reader. Once a Runner, now there’s an awesome book!

Dori 2/18/09, 11:13 PM  

You just echoed a comment that Danielle once left for me advising me to run more if I want to be a faster runner. I've taken that to heart and am trying to run more weekly miles than I have in the past. How many miles do you run when you're not training for a marathon or ultra?

Spokane Al 2/19/09, 8:18 AM  

It is, at its heart and base, simple isn't it? Just do it.

P.S. I was behind on my blog readings and have been dilbertly saving your terrific story on Roger Bannister and your goal to run five minute mile until I had the opportunity to take the time to thoroughly read and enjoy.

Your story was excellent. Thank you for sharing.

21stCenturyMom 2/19/09, 12:04 PM  

tap, tap, tap... I'm still waiting!

In the meantime thanks for this reminder of a really simple truth. If you want something you have to work for it.

Annette 2/19/09, 12:30 PM  

Just 10,000 hours? That's it? Great! No problem! That's a bit overwhelming. :)

Anne 2/19/09, 7:05 PM  

Were were just talking about the nature vs. nurture debate and here you nicely put outline a premise of The Outliers, which was also part of our office discussion.

I'm pretty sure I surpassed the 10,000 Hour mark years ago, which must mean you start to regress and eventually suck at running after that point.

Rainmaker 2/19/09, 8:59 PM  

10,000...wow, I am so hosed. I wonder how that relates to important topics - like say...TV, The Internets and girls. That's the real question.

And, I'd counter that some government employees do not fall under the 10,000 hour rule...just sayin'...

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