Thursday, July 02, 2015

Don't Rush!

An old Zen story begins with the apprentice swordsman asking the master:

“How long would it take me to become great under you?” he asks. “10 years,” the master swordsman replies. “I don’t have that long,” says the student. “I want to be good soon. What if I worked very hard and dedicated myself completely to the task?”“Ok, 30 years,” he says back. “But that’s even longer,” the student says with some perplexity. “I am telling you I am in a hurry.”And so the master replies, “Precisely, students in a hurry end up taking even longer to learn what is right in front of them.”

 The lesson that the master is trying to impart to the apprentice is an important one. So important that I’m confident in saying if you fail to understand it, you’ll fail to really get anywhere in running or life! I began running semi seriously about the same time my first son was born. The first year of running was a stop, start affair where I’d run for a few days and then have a few off. This process was somewhat analogous to the learning to walk pattern that my son was going through at around the same time. Casey would easily pull himself to his feet, walk around the furniture for a couple of days looking like he was just about ready for his first steps unaided, and then just as suddenly flop down.  For a couple of weeks he’d be on all fours happily going back to the crawl that he had become quite proficient at. I wondered if he would he ever learn to walk but I failed to wonder the same about my running and whether I would ever gain any continuity.

 Casey of course did learn to walk without the help of our sofa and I,  by the time he did, was running a consistent pattern of 5 days a week. The point here is that everything has its time and everything arrives in its good time and rushing it won’t help. In fact, it’ll do more harm than good. Show me an injured or burned-out runner and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t understand much less practice the principal of “less is more.” I can link just about all my running injuries to the times I push things too far by going too fast or running too far in training before I was physically ready to. 

What I’ve learned from the set backs I’ve had is to be hyperaware of the risks you face when trying to hurry your progress. The choice comes down to this: Do you want to be running this time in another ten years having reached your potential or do you want to be sidelined with a string of frustrating injuries and never know just how far or fast you could have gone?  

We, especially those of us raised in the West in the last half of this century find it hard thinking in the long term. While instinctively we know better, the consumer culture has masted this reality. Quick easy payoffs are encouraged by society and the media. Youth culture rules. The impulsiveness, the need for immediate gratification that would have at one time been reigned in by a mature elder is let run amok, even to the point that it is held up as an ideal by those that surreptitiously want to get in the young’s pockets. While businesses in Japan are not adverse to fleecing their youth of money by promoting the quick fix, their practice when it comes to traditional arts and sports that they value, show they more than understand the path to mastery is a long one.

   Many of the elite Japanese female marathoners will start the 1st year of a 4 year build up cycle hiking in the mountains with weighted packs. They do no running of any consequence at all that first year. This long term view of training prepares them for running 200 km weeks in their 4th year. And it is this ability to handle high mileage, without breaking down, that propelled them to the top of the world rankings in the marathon. 

When my boys were still toddlers I used to run every Sunday in the early morning at a local 3Km loop around a pond. There I’d always see this one elite looking woman running loops and lapping me at will. After my morning session I’d go home for a shower and some breakfast and after doing some shopping take my kids back to the pond for some kite flying or whatever. More often than not I’d see this slip of a woman still running loops! You can be sure that she paid her dues and she was not running such high mileage without the proper build up. At one time I thought if I just copied such people I’d get better but instead in the first 5 years this approach had me hobbled by injuries. Trying to rush things was, is and always will be, a fool’s errand. Below is an part of a blog entry from October 2010, a year that I was more injured than not.

 Waiting in the clinic for an echo scan. Since coming back from Oz just haven't been able to run without pain. Actually that's not all together true, I have had a couple of near pain free runs but the fact that these almost make me cry with happiness points to how rare they are. Anyway, put it this way, I've had more comments on my blog recently then good runs. While I'm confident I will be OK sooner rather than later the healing is taking its good time. I should make a confession, lest someone else follows my lead and get injured themselves. I'm pretty sure this all stems from my 5K and 10K races so close to my last full marathon. As much as I'd like to believe I am, I'm not special and can’t get away with going against all common sense. After my next full I'm going to give myself a good long break before building up to racing again. Might even still be PRing in my fifties if I act with a little more prudence. One more piece of unsolicited advice. Basically don't believe what people say, just watch what they do and how they spend their time. As for running if they are injured more than they aren't, then they are usually doing something wrong and that is usually pushing things to get things done before their time.  

 I started running in earnest at around 42, in the Master's age group, I figured I didn’t have much time to improve before I’d start my decline due to aging but that was exactly the wrong approach. Luckily, before doing myself too much damage I read about the likes of John Keston and accepted the reality of a slow but sure progression over time.

 John Keston, the holder of a world record at 70 years old, began running at 55. It was only after running at lesser distances and building his base from 20 miles a week to 60 miles within a 5 year period that he thought he would be ready for the marathon. Contrast this with most older runners who take up the sport later in life for health reasons and 6 months later are running their first marathon. The pattern goes: They injure themselves training on the 2nd or 3rd attempt at the marathon distance and give up running before they really get started. Keston ended up breaking 3 hours for the marathon at age 70 and continued to run multiple successful marathons through his 70s. We should see people like Keston as poster-boys for a life well lived. Anyone who is able to reach their potential with intelligence, patience and good humor has, in my humble option,  “lived well”.


  1. Good information Mr. Brown.

    1. I'm no Kevin Oshea but I do my best (to be no Kevin Oshea). ;0

  2. Interesting.
    So you are posting written blogs now it seems.

  3. That was good Scott. I hadn't heard that Zen swordsman story, but it's so true.

  4. Very good advice, thanks. I _think_ I have learned this lesson.

  5. That's a nice thought provoking post Scott. A message that unfortunately takes some time to sink in. Reminds me of a quote a good friend of mine once said many hundreds of years ago "When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps".

    1. If Confucius was alive today I'm sure he'd have been a regular on Oprah's show! ;)