The 10,000 Hour Rule

Most runners probably don’t think they have much in common with the likes of Mozart, or The Beatles, or Bill Gates. However, according to Malcolm Gladwell, we have more in common than we ever realized.

Gladwell is the author of Outliers: The Story of Success, currently sitting atop bestseller lists nationwide. In the book, he analyzes countless factors – many of them unknown to the people they most impact – that determine why some people enjoy abundant success in life, while others toil in frustration and obscurity.

One of his revelations is the “10,000 Hour Rule”: in order to maximize any given talent, you need to spend approximately 10,000 hours practicing it. This rule partially dispels the myths of the child prodigy or the naturally gifted artist that many of us accept at face value.

For example, Bill Gates is widely considered a genius – but he also happened to have extraordinary access to cutting-edge technologies as far back as junior high school, and he spent nearly every night and weekend of his youth experimenting with computer programming. Mozart wrote symphonies at age 4, but the body of work he’s recognized for was composed after he had spent another 10 years perfecting his craft. And by the time The Beatles broke on the American scene, they had developed their songwriting and polished their musical chops in thousands of shows in various foreign nightclubs.

The 10,000 Hour Rule has implications for runners as well - in fact, veteran runners have used a variation of it for a long time, known in running circles as the 10-Year Rule. Basically, it says that runners will get gradually faster during their first 10 years, before their performances plateau for another 10 years, then decline precipitously over the next 10 years.

It doesn’t matter what distance you run, or what age you start at: whether you’re 15 or 55, your best race times in any event will improve for up to 10 years if you train consistently. If you could somehow manage to run 1000 hours per year, you’d develop abilities on par with some of the greatest achievers of our age. Yes, natural talent also plays a role – but not nearly as much as most people attribute to it.

(Sure, at first glance, training for 1000 hours per year – 3 hours per day, every day - seems shocking. However, if you ask just about any Olympic athlete, they’d tell you this is consistent with their typical regimens. There’s a reason why it’s so hard to make the Olympics.)

Perhaps the most well-known novel about running is Once a Runner by John Parker. In one famous passage, the author ponders how somebody becomes a great runner: “What was the secret, they wanted to know … and not one of them was prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes."

In other words, there’s no secret, and no trick. Do you want to be a better runner? Go for a run. Wake up the next day and do it again. Keep doing it until you wear out the bottoms of your shoes, then buy some new ones and start again. Repeat that process over and over until you’ve done it for 1000 hours, then 2000, then 10,000.

It’s really quite a simple process. Sometimes we just need to be reminded.


Running With The Raven

On January 1, 1975, 23-year-old Robert “the Raven” Kraft, ran 8 miles in the sand on Miami’s South Beach. He started running because he felt frustrated that his songwriting career was at low ebb; one of his songs had been stolen and made into a fairly large country hit and he received no credit.

A funny thing happened that day; something that happens to a lot of new runners. Kraft was invigorated yet calm. His anger had mellowed, and he felt great satisfaction from those 8 miles. Running often grabs you when you most need it.

He made running a habit. Many would call it an obsession. Amazingly, the Raven just completed his 34th year of running on South Beach without missing a day. That’s over 12,400 days of running in a row.

Along the way, he’s become a bit of a celebrity. He’s an icon on Miami Beach, and his fan base extends around the world. People travel from far and wide to run with the Raven. He maintains a list of them - one that now approaches 800 runners, from every state and 54 foreign countries. To date, the Raven has run 99,300 miles, and should pass 100,000 on March 29. When he does, ESPN will be there to cover it.

In a sport where injuries are the norm, the Raven never misses a day to sickness or muscle pain. He runs through all kinds of weather: hurricanes, hail storms, heat and humidity. He’s as reliable as the US Postal Service.

He came close to missing a run once, when he was hospitalized for a concussion and needed 17 stitches to close a nasty wound. Luckily, some lifeguard friends smuggled him out of the hospital for his daily run, then returned him after the eight miles were finished.

As you can imagine, Kraft is a creature of habit. He’s called the Raven because he always wears Black spandex shorts, black socks, black headband, and one black wristband. He has long black hair, mustache, and beard. He always runs shirtless and has a dark tan.

The Raven’s also a bit of a philosopher. He chose 8 miles for his run because “7 seemed too short, and 9 seemed too long.” He runs the same 8 miles each day, in loops starting from the 6th Street lifeguard pier. Sometimes he loops in one direction, sometimes the other. He never travels out of Miami; in fact, he doesn’t even own a car.

The Raven never does races. He runs for the simple pleasure of how it makes him feel, although he admits that his streak has become an obsession.

Nicknames are a big part of his persona, as Mike and his family found out while running with the Raven on a vacation to South Beach a few weeks ago. During the run, the Raven questions you on your life, and annoints you with a nickname after you have completed the run. Then he inscribes you on “the list”.

The day Mike ran there were a dozen runners who earned the nicknames Burke’s Law, Chapter 11, The Reverend, Seaside Sparrow, Interrogator, Cooker, Tax Man, Wine Taster, and Unruly Julie. Mike is now known as Just Run, his wife is the Fiction Reader, his son Bryan is Pedicab Man, and Bryan’s fiance Melanie is Zot.

It is a pleasure and an honor to run with the Raven. Next time you don’t feel like running think about the Raven. May he and you run evermore.


You Can't Be Perfect

Wait! Don’t tell us – you are reading this with bleary eyes and a pounding head from last night’s festivities. Or maybe you made a resolution to lose weight and get healthy this year, and you’re already questioning your motivation.

Everybody sabotages their fitness plans from time to time – even your local running columnists. So we’re not going to beat you over the head today about all the reasons you should be running.

Runners certainly aren’t perfect. Many of us will overindulge at New Year’s Eve parties, throwing back drinks and eating dozens of little sausages on toothpicks, finally crashing into the sack in the wee hours of the morning. So if you chastise yourself for not beginning your training program today, don’t take it too hard.

Just start in small doses, a little bit at a time. Even walking a mile is an accomplishment if you haven’t done it for a while. Start with small changes, and they’ll eventually become larger ones. You don’t have to be perfect every day.

Most health experts say that you need sixty minutes of daily activity, but that’s tough for anyone to do. On the inevitable days when you fall short, your long-term success and self-esteem depend entirely on your outlook. Don’t feel bad if you only have time to walk for a twenty minutes instead of an hour, or if you run only two miles when your training plan called for three. Just keep plugging along and don’t quit or lose your focus.

The key to any training program is to simply do something more than you used to. Or – in the case of eating – do something less than usual. Switch from walking one mile to jogging two, or from eating double cheeseburgers to frequenting Subway. Remember, progress happens in little steps on a regular basis.

Bad habits don’t become perfect ones overnight and fitness doesn’t happen immediately. Don’t get discouraged if changes are small at first – just dedicate yourself to achieving them, you’ll gradually make big improvements over the course of the year.

Perhaps by next January 1st, you can join the hundreds of runners who, by the time you are reading this, have already finished the Rio Resolution run and are eating a great post-race breakfast. Even though many of them were up late, they all made the decision to make fitness a priority for the New Year’s holiday.

On a personal note - many of us at this year’s race are wearing shirts in honor of Mickey, a local running club member who had run every one of the 17 previous Rio Resolution Runs prior to today, and always brought champagne to celebrate with everyone after the run. This year Mickey is recuperating from a very tough operation due to his recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and was unable to attend the race.

Running makes our lives better, but it doesn’t make us invincible. We hope that your 2009 is filled with fitness and health, and many more good days than bad ones. And please join us in thinking good thoughts for Mickey.


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