I’ve never been a particularly fast runner and even after training for and completing a marathon, I’m still pretty slow. So my March Fitness Challenge is a single mile.
A mile is 1609 meters, about 30 feet more than 4 laps around a standard track, which is 400m on the inside lane. I did my test run on March 1st and surprised myself by running it in 6m 50s. My friend Jason Evanish, who ran cross country in high school and ran something like a 4:45 mile, gave me me some tips on training for a fast mile. Maybe not revolutionary stuff, but as someone used to training shorter distances, it was helpful:
Intervals workouts: run 1 laps at the track at your goal pace (mine is 6min, so slightly under 1:30 for the single lap). Repeat 4-8 times, with a few minutes of rest in between. Last one should really hurt. Once or twice a week.
Longer runs: 4-5 mile runs, don’t worry as much about time, just get some endurance in
Fartleks: Swedish for “speed play”, this is something inbetween intervals and long runs, a mix of easy running, with bursts of faster pace interspersed. I’ve read a lot about these and need to actually try doing them
Swinging arms: it’s important to swing your arms straight forward and not cross your arms across your body, which wastes energy. Also, swing your arms back hard enough that your hands meet your hips. This opens up your chest so you can breathe better.
I’ve been trying to follow his advice and also modifying my workout routine a bit: doing heavy lifting only one time a week, down from two (which helped for improving handstand pushups) and doing moderate biking on the days I don’t run or do track workouts.
The month is already over half over so we’ll see how it goes. I’m hoping to crack a 6 minute mile. Let me know if you have any other tips or advice for me in the comments.
Edit – Final Mile Time
So I finished my mile challenge with about a 20 second drop, from 6:50 to 6:30. I was hoping to drop it further, to the low 6 minutes and perhaps even break into 5, but it was not going to happen.
The day was a little cool and I wasn’t feeling my best, but you just gotta make the most of testing day. Was definitely wiped at the end. My friend Jason tells me a 20 second drop is pretty good for a month, probably because when you’re training a ton like he was, you didn’t see drops that big, that quick.
Anyway, here it is!
I am writing a book called Winning Isn't Normal. Check it out.
I’m very interested in excellence and mastery. Part of this is personal – I don’t think I’m the master of anything – and part of it is intellectual – I just find it interesting to understand how the people can learn to perform amazingly difficult tasks with ease. I even wrote a post all about what gymnastics taught me about skill acquisition and mastery.
So this week’s Link Roundup isn’t focused on a piece of breaking news or industry trend – it’s focused more on the best places to learn about deliberate practice – which is the term for the special kind of training that leads to mastery – and the 10,000 hour rule – which is a rough rule of thumb noted by psychology researchers as the point in which expert level performance is typically (if ever) achieved.
We start with the mother of the all – the 44 page paper published in Psychological Review in 1993 that features the phrase “deliberate practice” and cites the decade mark as point where “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”. Article: “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” [PDF].
Geoff Colvin published an article called “Talent is Overrated” in Fortune Magazine which became the basis of a book by the same name. In the article, he really digs deep into the elements that make deliberate practice special, and effective.
If you want to get some perspective on how deliberate practice and excellence can be applied to the working world, check out Tony Schwartz’s post on the “Six Keys to Becoming Excellent in Anything” in the Harvard Business Review blog section.
My favorite book on this subject is actually called the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle as his features more on musicians (I played violin back in the day) and athletes (I was a gymnast for 16 years). His pre-book article is called “How to Grow a Super-Athlete” and while long, I really like this article for it’s emphasis on coaching. Deliberate practice is nearly impossible to implement alone.
If you want to see deliberate practice in action, then you’ll want to watch Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, as he guides a 15 year old boy through an inspired cello lesson in front a crowd of people at the PopTech conference in 2008.
In 1997, a bunch of 7 and 8 year old kids (157 of them to be exact) were starting to learn how to play a musical instrument. Before their first actual lesson, a researcher named Dr Gary Macpherson asked them a simple question:
“How long do you think you’ll play this instrument?”
It turns out most kids, after a little prompting, have some idea of how long they’ll end up playing. Their answers were bucketed into:
Till the end of elementary school (aka low commitment)
Till the end of high school (aka medium commitment) or
For the rest of my life (aka high commitment).
They were asked to track how long they practiced each week. After 9 months, their performance was evaluated. As to be expected, the kids that practiced 20 mins a week (low) scored lower than kids that practiced 45 mins a week (medium). Medium practice kids scored lower than kids that practiced 90 mins a week (high).
Yes – practice makes better. The more interesting thing is that AT EVERY LEVEL, the kids who had higher commitment to their instrument scored higher than those with lower. When you combine high commitment with high practice, the results are astonishing.
At 90 mins of practice, the high commitment group scored 35 vs the low commitment group’s 8.
That’s over a 400% improvement.
Want to learn more? Read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. (Affiliate link). It’s an amazing book.
I remember committing to gymnastics at a pretty young age. I decided when I was probably around 10 that I was going to be doing gymnastics for a looong time. And I was not good at first – I rarely won events and medaled infrequently all through elementary and middle school. But I loved being in the gym and I worked hard.
Then I got to high school and won my first state championship, made the jr national team and ultimately finished 4th in the nation for the under 18 age group my senior year. There were plenty of kids who beat me when I was younger, but I out-committed and out-trained them all.