Archive Page 2
Although this blog’s initial raison d’etre is to chronicle my marathon preparations and issues that seem to touch on an injury-free progress to Apr 22, the wider purpose is to explore how to safely increase workload to a sustainable higher level. This is a major issue in our culture, given arguments about work-life balance, educational achievement, and even income inequality. Why can some succeed and others struggle? What can we do if we are among the also-rans – at least to improve our personal best?
There was a tragic case of a City lawyer reported last week, where the cause of death was attributed to a long-hours culture in so-called “magic-circle” law firms. Unfortunately, it is one of those cases where the reader is left with lots of suggestion but insufficient information to draw any fair conclusions. But that should not prevent us from asking hypothetical questions as to how we should work, and expect others we employ to behave.
An ability to sustain a high work-rate is implicit in much success, and is part of what David Shenk is documenting on his blog, The Genius in All of US. The assumption of what I’ve seen of this literature is that success in more complex careers or elite sport requires an appropriate support structure (family, friends, coaches, colleagues, teachers), and a work methodology that avoids exhaustion, burnout and injury. There are other factors of course, like a facility for understanding and taking risk, and resilience in the face of failure. But not all of us are likely to start out with those support structures, or have thought about how we establish them for ourselves or for others – whether family, friends, colleagues or employees.Donate and help me buy back my Fender ('About' tells you why)
Bath University sports scientist and physicist Ken Bray noted recently in a talk about penalty shootouts that in the 2006 World Cup Owen Hargeaves was notable not just for being the only England player to score from the spot in the quarter- final shootout against Portugal. He also maintains that Hargreaves kick was the only properly taken kick among the England attempts.
Bray attributed this to Hargreaves playing for a German club (Bayern Munich) where such things are practiced. Bray says while penalty shootouts appear to many fans to be a lottery, they should in fact be a pure skill-based exercise. Given their predominance as a means to settling tied international tournaments, only by practice can teams hope to avoid chance outcomes and win.
There has been a widespread belief among many pundits in the UK that a professional footballer should not need to practice penalties. Bray argues, based on time of goalie reaction and various risk factors, it is best to aim for a slightly elevated kick wide to the right or left of the goalkeeper. It should take not much effort to perfect such a kick, but aiming in this zone removes the chance of goalie interception. The Germans, and Hargreaves, practice this. The rest of the England team, and some others don’t, leading to randomness. The Times, in an article today quotes England coach McClaren describing Hargreaves thus:-
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â€œWe need him,â€ McClaren said. â€œI always remember the first time he played in a World Cup warm-up match [in 2002] and Owen wanted me after the game to get the video out and go through it with him. That was very unusual. Most players you have to drag in. I thought, â€˜This is a different breed, a different type of player here, a different mentality.â€™”
There is a great book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb called Fooled by Randomness, which examines the role of luck in all areas of life, particularly business and investing.
Taleb is a professor of mathematics and a derivatives trader. Not much to do with sport. But his business is complexity. There is something in statistics called “survivorship bias”. There is a danger that what we measure excludes those that have fallen by the wayside, distorting our view of the world.
Sport is a bit like that when it comes to injury and overtraining. The winner is the best on the day, and not necessarily the best over time. What we certainly don’t see at all are the no-shows, the non-runners, the might-have-beens. Imagine England’s rugby performance over the past few years if Jonny Wilkinson had not been injured.
Taleb is a fitness fanatic and keen cyclist. He says he is not interested in competitive sports, so he does not offer much to help an athlete understand success, except to offer the proverbial observation that a baseball hitter is normally cursed when he appears on the front of Sports Illustrated as it is normally followed by a reversal in fortune. (Mathematically, the previous winning streak was in fact an unsustainable run of luck).
In competitive sport, luck is not very likely to take an average athlete to a gold medal. But bad luck will certainly remove good prospects from the population of potential winners. Reducing that component of luck is what athletes strive for. In my own more modest marathon ambitions, I’m trying to do the same. Except there is not any pressure to win, just a pressure to turn up. That is not a small pressure, and if you are raising money for a charity, that pressure builds the nearer you get to the day. I ran my first marathon injured and while still recovering from a virus, dangerously toughing it out so as not to let down those who’d sponsored me.Donate and help me buy back my Fender ('About' tells you why)
Colin Jackson’s intervention last week that Britain’s 2012 gold medal prospects were not encouraging touched that ever-raw nerve of the British press, the anticipation of failure. Accompanying Jackson’s comments were reports that British athletes are more prone to injury than overseas competitors. Overtraining leading to exhaustion creates injury. Is there a chronic problem of overtraining [...]
It’s hard to argue with 40 years of non-stop running. But when you’ve had a virus that’s kept you off the tow-path for more than a fortnight, the sterling example of British marathon legend Ron Hill can leave you feeling a little disgruntled.
Lancashire born and bred, 68-year-old Ron has the amazing bullet-proof constitution typical of many brought up with wartime austerity. [I hope that's not just the lazy, soft, southern Generation X-er in me talking!] Ron told me on Monday evening, after a lecture in aid of Bath homeless charity Julian House, that a virus had never stopped him running. He said he’d even raced when ill. Start with a cough and a spit and, so long as you warm up slowly, he said, you’d be fine. The thing was not to do too much while run down. Contrary to popular opinion, he said, it was worth changing into your running gear, even if you only covered a couple of miles.
Ron’s uninterrupted running record is unprecedented. He says he has not missed a single day since 1964. But is Ron an anomaly?
I know that my own virus this past two weeks might easily have led to something worse. Two people I know of – a mother and child – contracted pneumonia on top of it. As all my family have had it, more or less as severely, and normally hardy members of the local community have succumbed, I’m not ashamed to have had to take it easy, focus on rest and the best nutrition.
Ron Hill confessed to having run the day after a car crash which crushed his ribs. And on the same day that he had exploratory surgery for a knee injury. He kept this from his family, of course.
It clearly worked for him. But I suspect that more athletes would do more permanent damage by not resting than would succeed by following what appears to be a compulsion to run, even though that compulsion must be a major component in the will to win.
Dr Tim Noakes, author of Running Lore, contends that Ron Hill’s overzealous training programme cost him the Olympic gold in 1972. What might such a win have done to inspire British marathon running for several generations? Noakes also notes that the chronic chest infections Hill suffered at some points in his career would now be regarded as classic symptoms of overtraining syndrome.
Resting heart rate 53
Weight 73 kg
Sick with virus (16th day)Donate and help me buy back my Fender ('About' tells you why)