This blog is tailored to the needs of the lay runner who is looking to engage in training and racing with a more knowledgeable and measured touch. Here, I use concepts from Systems Thinking to illustrate and discuss common problems that beginner and amateur athletes have, regarding three main topics: running, athletic training in general, and race performance.
UPDATE (May 30, 2016): Check out this article (titled Strengths and Weaknesses of Analytic and Synthetic Thought, Explained with Tacos) to read more about why I like to use systemic frameworks to describe the body.
When reading this blog, keep the following things in mind:
This blog holds no allegiance to barefoot running, minimalist running, or maximalist running. In this little online world, the one and only commandment is the following statement, by Donella Meadows in Thinking in Systems: A primer:
Any long-term solution must strengthen the ability of the system to shoulder its own burdens.
If any idea whatsoever does not strengthen the ability of our biological system to shoulder the burden of running, I will contest it, no matter where it comes from. That said, most maximalist ideas come from a modern paradigm, which is all about shifting the burden to other systems.
That’s too bad. Get better ideas.
My background is in psycholinguistic research, and I’m currently moving into biomechanics and physiology research. I have a deep respect for the scientific method, and for the peer-review process in particular.
That said, I believe that there’s a vast difference between “that which we all agree upon exists,” and “that which exists.” I am of the belief that all great theories begin as speculation, conjecture, and logical negotiations.
In this blog, I will sometimes build models of particular systems by drawing them as flow charts. When you come across a model that I’ve built about a system you recognize, you will see connections that don’t make sense to you and/or that you don’t recognize.
That’s all right. In fact, you are right. We all see different parts of the system, and so we all build different models of it. As a mentor once said:
All models are wrong, and some are useful.
Together, we can build a more useful model of the world. Mention my mistakes in the comments. Anecdotal evidence is fine. But in order to build better models, don’t just tell me that my model is wrong. Of course it’s wrong. Instead, please do these three things:
- Tell me what piece of the puzzle I’m missing (or which one you think I’m mischaracterizing).
- Tell me why you think it should be there (or be characterized differently).
- Tell me how you would characterize it differently.
I’ll probably challenge you. Challenge me back.
By challenging each other, we enable each other to convey their point of view with the utmost clarity. And it’s only through clarity that we can attempt to gain an understanding of parts of the system that we were previously ignorant of.
We run in biological, physical, psychological and social systems. I’m pretty well versed in the biological and physical systems. There are many, many components of psychological and social systems that I know nothing about.
My goal is that we build a model of the system to your satisfaction, not mine. That said, an important caveat:
Most physical, biological, psychological and social systems are observer-independent. In other words, debate alone will not change what the system is, or what it has actually been doing all along. Sometimes our models reflect what the system is, and sometimes they reflect what we would like it to be.
Some of these systems are transparently related to running, and some aren’t. Remember that I only care about what increases our internal capacity to develop the three kinds of athletic expression: speed, power, and endurance. If I can identify a way in which a system that is not transparently related to running actually affects our running, I will discuss it.
I hereby declare war on any concept, idea, structure, mechanism, or system that overtly or covertly seeks to undermine our development of athletic expression.