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Some Myths That May Be Killing Your Running: Part 3

Posted Jul 19 2013 4:01pm
I began this back in November, 2012. This is the third installment but deals with Myth #5...

Myth Number 5: Online logging sites/social media offer a new opportunity for measuring ourselves against our peers and keeping us on our (competitive) toes, and offer opportunities for free training advice and that's always a good thing.

Now, as I see it there are two problems here: 1) Competing and comparing oneself may or may not be beneficial, and 2) While there's lots more advice to be had out there than in the dark ages (pre-interwebs), advice can be good or bad.
“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” ~ Aristotle
I'm going to start with #2
Let me begin with some Philosophy that seems to make a lot of sense, and ideas that weave through so many theories about how we learn and how we achieve personal excellence.

Aristotle argues that there are three necessary elements in mastering anything:  Practice, desire, and a teacher. Today I want to focus on that last element. By "teacher" what Aristotle is really trying to get at is someone who sets an example of what it is to do X well. If we are surrounded by those who know what they're doing, then we are more likely to learn well.

So let's say you want to master the game of basketball. If you are surrounded by Michael Jordans then you are likely to learn good technique and develop good habits with regard to playing basketball. But if the only basketball players you know do not know how to play basketball (they run down to court holding the ball, can't get the ball near the basket, etc) then you are unlikely to learn well. Why is this? Well, when we don't know much about something (and we all start here for everything we do) then how do we judge good from poor skill?

So if I know nothing, it's hard for me to judge good advice from bad advice. In this regard, Aristotle concedes, we are very much subject to the whims of fickle luck.

But wait just one second! We do each also have the ability to reason and sort through what does and does not make sense. Perhaps all is not in the hands of the fates after all. But reasoning, as well, is developed like all other skills - we learn how to reason well and value reasoning well IF we are surrounded by those who live that value and exercise that virtue.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~ Aristotle 
There are many people out there, good intentioned people, who offer heart-felt advice to those seeking answers. BUT that advice, even when it is very well-meaning, does not make it good advice. It is up to each of us to sort the wheat from the chaff.

And if I hear "Go hard or go home" one more time I will scream!

*********************************************** Now moving on to #1 above
We live in a hyper competition obsessed culture (even though this doesn't seem to be getting us much of anywhere). In Facebookland we are all shiny happy people living lives of brilliant perfection - for runners this means: stronger...faster...farther... On Dailymile (or any of the other social-logging sites) we run hard. We compare our times, our distances, our training plans, our goals. We sometimes allow what others are doing to direct our own goals (or we beat ourselves up for not being as awesome as runner-x).

All of these issues can also hit those in running groups (face-to-face rather than online).

Running groups, whether virtual or real, and logging sites are ONLY helpful when they further our own aims. But when the aims of the the group cloud our own minds and confuse our our internal navigation, then I believe its nefarious influence undermines our own learning, our own journey and even our own lives.

Examples Offered: 
* I've had runners confess to me that they stopped a run early and/or turned off their GPS because their pace dropped and they didn't want to have to post a slower overall pace.
* I've had runners confess to "stalking" my training for their own purposes.
* I've read posts where someone comments that they are going to copy another runner's training.
* I've seen comments indicating that a runner decided to run a race, usually a marathon, because that would make them a "real" runner.
* I've seen people get upset and indignant when other runners don't post their paces for runs (on Dailymile, et al).

Does any of this help your running? Not really. Can it hurt? Yes! Others can inspire us to reach higher and farther, but it has to come from within first. We must use the running community for encouragement and examples of what might be possible, but not as examples of 'oughts' - I ought to do X. It is so easy to confuse 'wants' with 'oughts'. It is so easy to look at what others do and judge oneself as not good enough, not tough enough...

Each one of us 'out there' is a role model for someone else. Whether you want to recognize this or not it's true. What you may think is no big deal another may admire beyond belief. Be careful with that power and be aware that others may influence you - and that can be good or not so good for you.

As Jean-Paul Sartre convincingly argues, when we act we are making a statement about how best to live - we are all role models - and with our freedom comes responsibility "I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him be. In fashioning myself, I fashion man" ~ Jean-Paul Sartre
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