Malcolm Gladwell says I need Shawna


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Malcolm Gladwell has a lot of things to say about a lot of things. Who knew the author/economist was also a runner? This week Malcolm Gladwell was interviewed by Runners World.

Gladwell wrote in Outliers about a concept called the “helping hand”. When asked how the helping hand applies to running he said:

“The weird thing in running is how people keep running faster and faster. Take the great example of the four-minute mile. One guy breaks it, then all of a sudden everyone breaks it. And they break it in such a short period of time that it can’t be because they were training harder. It’s purely that it was a psychological barrier and someone had to show them that they could do it. It’s the same thing if you’re a runner and you’re around older runners, you just get the sense of what’s possible. You have no clue, if you’re by yourself, how fast you can run. You have no sense of what your limits are.”

“If I had a group of people slightly faster than me, who lived within three blocks of me and wanted to go run five days a week, I would be twice the runner I am. Those sorts of peer-group effects are really strong in competitive running. I wonder whether they are more important than the kind of more complex psychological underdog benefits you can get from trying harder, or being more likely to take chances, or being more innovative—all those kinds of things that come from being on the bottom.”

Malcolm Gladwell wants me to run with Shawna. Gladwell calls the Shawnas of the world the “rabbits”. The rabbits are the people who run just a little bit faster than us, and who give us the push we need to work just a little harder. Usain Bolt is not my rabbit. Bruce Jenner is not my rabbit. They can be someone else’s rabbit. I have Shawna, my little 9:30 min/mile rabbit.

Check out Gladwell’s interview in Runners World. It’s fantastic.


About marathonermegan

Training for my first marathon
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