How to be better than you are.
So you’ve been training for awhile now. You’ve run some races, conquered some tough training schedules and feel like a decent runner. It seems like no matter what you do, you aren’t improving. That you have reached your running potential. But have you ever wondered, can I get better?
While listening to Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, he introduces the idea of the OK plateau. The theory goes that maybe you are just as good as you allow yourself to be. Quick synopsis on the book, he is a journalist who is tasked to cover the World Memory Championships and becomes so interested that he starts training for it. At one time on his journey, he gets stuck at a certain time for memorizing a deck of cards. No matter how much he trains, he never beats that time. He does a little digging and talks to other memory champs and they bring up the OK plateau theory. It’s a pretty interesting concept for us to consider in our running too so let me describe it.
The OK plateau is the point you reach, where it seems you cannot get any better. Think of something like typing on the keyboard. How often do you do this? Think of how much time you spend typing everyday. Shouldn’t we all be amazing typists by now, emails and blog posts finished in moments flat? And yet we are not amazing typists, most of us are just average. Why is this? The theory is after we first learn to type better than finger pecking, we get to a place where we are just good enough and we stop getting any better. We have become OK and there is no reason to spend more brain power on getting any better. We reached the OK plateau.
Mr Foer. brings up an example that made me think of myself as a runner—expert ice skaters. The amateurs go out on the ice and practice the jumps they can land successfully. The experts go out and practice the jumps they cannot land, and the do it over and over, until they can. It is the failing part that teaches our human brains how to improve. The fail makes us see where we are going wrong so our brains can then learn how to get over that barrier.
How can we improve then and get off the OK plateau? A few ways that experts do it:
Avoid autonomous runs. How often do you go out and run the same run, same pace because it feels comfortable? One way to change this is to try running trail. There isn’t anyway you can zone out and fall into your easy run while you are out on trail. You will be too busy watching your footing, changing your pace as you run up or down hill, and must stay present in the moment.
- Stay engaged in your activity. Again WOOT! Out on trail, you are challenging every part of your run from mind to toes.
Do the thing you dislike to do. For me, sprints. I have written speed work into every run I do now. There are no simple running days. Every workout has a goal, not just for miles or time.
If you are finding yourself on the OK plateau like I was, try the above tips. You may find yourself running at the next level, beyond what you ever believed you could do before.
p.s. Mr Foer went on to win the US Memory Championships that year.