Hard topics have easy answers

I’m a member of an ultrarunning email listserv, although I don’t post very often myself. Recently I got involved in a short back & forth which extended beyond running, and to which I devoted some thought, so it seems appropriate to ‘leverage’ that time and record it here. Plus one of the other members, a high school teacher, said he liked what I wrote so much he was going to read it to his class today!

The relevant bit starts when one contributor wrote:

Let me come to the defense of Chris’s point for a minute. As in high school, people sometimes sound as if they are saying “I may have only gotten a B on that test, but I didn’t really study at all.” There comes a point at which you think “there is no prize for getting the best grade with the least studying. Either you get a good grade or you don’t.”

This is a leisure activity for almost all of us. Nearly all of us could train more if we chose to. But we get whatever we get, and there is no added honor in saying, “but I hardly trained,” as if that makes your time more meritorious.

And I replied:

Well let me argue against Chris’s point (or at least a stylized version of it), just to play devil’s advocate.

I agree that boasting (or whining) “but I hardly trained” is not worth much at all. Answering the question “how well can I do at this race / distance / whatever with as much training as feasible?” is an interesting and worthy pursuit. But I would argue that it is also interesting and worthy (at least for some of us) to answer the question “how well can I do on (e.g.) 20-25 mi/wk?”  Not because it makes us cooler, or because we have more going on in our lives than anyone else, but because it’s simply a non-obvious question and I like challenges.

Training has to be efficient and highly optimized. Do you sacrifice long runs or speedwork or something else? Do you push hard every time? Do you run shorter 5-6 times per week, or longer (on average) 3-4 times per week? Do you strategize differently on race day, and if so exactly how?

When someone asks how to do better, the easy answer is “train more” – because that is almost certainly the correct answer. But if for whatever reason that isn’t going to happen, what is the answer? This requires more thought, and I like thinking about it. I may not run faster, but I enjoy the thinking as well as the running, and it is hard work in its own way.

Responding to my claim that training more is the easy answer, someone else wrote:

That’s the easy answer? Quick, if only there were a way you could sell it!

I knew he wasn’t being serious, but I was still thinking about the topic and decided it was worth a slightly more complete exposition:

I know you’re being facetious, but you’re exactly right. As with dieting (also discussed here ad infinitum) and careers and most things in life, the basic answer is fairly obvious and it is easy to come up with (not to do). Train More. For weight: Eat Less (and more veggies). For work: Learn to Fish (i.e. take the effort to learn the underlying method not just the outcome; try to get it right the first time). For relationships: Be Generous.

None of these are easy to do, and none of them are easy/possible to sell because they’re

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Category: Philosophy, Psychology, Running

My affiliates (take 5)

Continuing from last time, my latest business cards:

  • Founder, Employee Loan Solutions
  • CEO, Sunrise Banks
  • President – Financial Services, H&R Block
  • Revenue Manager, Hilton Curaçao
  • Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Consumer Policy, US Dept of the Treasury
  • Monitor, California Attorney General’s Office
  • Vice President – Customer Lifecycle Management, American Express
  • Lead Health and Education Specialist, Human Development Network, The World Bank
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Category: Miscellaneous

Snow in March

DC had three separate nontrivial snowfalls in the month of march, which is highly unusual. Or at least I feel certain that it must be highly unusual, which is almost the same right? I don’t expect sympathy from northern climes, but it was strange here. Anyway we got a snow day on monday the 17th, and I decided to try taking a few shots with my camera:…

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Category: Miscellaneous

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Julian C. Jamison

I'm an economist, researcher, traveler, runner, and astronaut-in-waiting. I enjoy pondering human behavior, including both what we do and what we ought to do - either to maximize our well-being or in pursuit of some other goal.


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