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.


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