"The Talent Distraction"

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew A. 8 years, 9 months ago.

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  • #11925

    Andrew A.
    Member

    Interesting column by Bryan Green:
    http://www.runnerstribe.com/article/post/show/id/703-The-Talent-Distraction
    For years I have seen people confuse raw ability (e.g. 200m or 400m speed) with talent.  But what of the talent, the ability, the effort to do something with that talent, to make the most of it?  How can anyone be certain at all that they did, indeed, fulfill their talent completely?  This is something I often consider when weighing the merits of various training systems.  Did an athlete really achieve to the best of his ability with one system or could he have reached even higher under another system?  How can anyone know with a decent level of certainty that there is not a better way for them out there than the one they have chosen?  I tend to take it on faith that, of any of us, the best of the best (medalists, record holders, etc.) have, to the highest proportion, found a path to the top of their personal mountain of potential.  Their level of drive fairly dictates it.  Their way may not necessarily hold all of the answers, yet looking at the traits common to their paths is likely the best possible strategy for finding and establishing a baseline from which to build.

  • #29463

    ed
    Participant

    I haven't finished reading the articel yet – gotta work.  I really like what I have read so far.

  • #29464

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    The two reasons for getting caught up in the talent distraction are good ones but I'd like to propose a third. People don't want to admit that their effort is lacking. I've seen a lot of people blame their lack of performances on lack of talent when I look at their training and see a lack of effort. There's nothing wrong with that lack of effort if that's what you choose to put into the sport but these people aren't being honest with themselves and I think, to some extent, are attempting to downplay the greater efforts of those who are faster than themselves to feel better about themselves. It feels better to say you're more talented than me than it does to say you worked harder than me.

    There are a lot of interesting thoughts in there, though. I often talk about talent as the innate ability to run fast or the ability to run fast on inferior training but why should I discount the mental and physical toughness to push through hard training? Or why should I discount the body's ability to absorb the training and get stronger? Partly, I do so because I think part of those factors is training the right way. So many people get mentally or physically burned out not because they can't handle hard training but because they go about that hard training in a reckless way. However, not everyone can train hard and get the same benefit of it even if they do it in a more careful and thoughtful way.

    Interesting thoughts. I'm going to have to reflect on this some more.

    Oh, by the way, also great thoughts Andrew on training philosophy. Those who are the fastest in the world are the most likely to have figured out what works best. Sure, talent is also helping them but, if they weren't doing the best training, another talented individual who was doing better training would be beating them.

  • #29465

    r-at-work
    Member

    Those who are the fastest in the world are the most likely to have figured out what works best. Sure, talent is also helping them but, if they weren't doing the best training, another talented individual who was doing better training would be beating them.

    this works until 'someone' comes along with something 'better'… a 'Lydiard' method, altitude training, genetic pool… whatever…then there is that fourth aspect (from the article) “luck”… it seems to get blamed a lot, but sometimes it really exiests, like the snow in Vacouver getting 'softer' afte many ski runs and therefore just beinging 'slower', those in the second half of the draw are just unlucky.

  • #29466

    Andrew A.
    Member

    I estimate that the ability to appropriately focus (i.e. somewhere between extreme obsession and occasional distraction) on the task at hand and follow through is also a necessary talent for success.  The right environment (support system, such as coach, friends, family) can help reinforce that, but even the right environment cannot pull it out of one who does not have that within to a great enough degree in the first place.  

    Fair point regarding effort and perception.  However, those who claim to lack talent could be viewed as being right, just unwittingly.  Regardless of whether they possess the physical talent, the likely lack the non-physical (mental, emotional) talent to want to make the most of whatever physical talent they do have.  Those with the appropriate levels of hunger and humility are not quick to accept an easy way, they want to do more to get more out of themselves than most others do.  Oh the other hand, I sometimes wonder why people involve themselves in a sport if they truly do lack talent to do well in it.  I do not mean running as a fitness activity, but running for performance.  

    Anyway, I just saw something else relating to mental and physiological issues as they relate to champions and the rest of us that I will start a separate thread for.

  • #29467

    Andrew A.
    Member

    this works until 'someone' comes along with something 'better'… a 'Lydiard' method, altitude training, genetic pool… whatever…then there is that fourth aspect (from the article) “luck”… it seems to get blamed a lot, but sometimes it really exiests, like the snow in Vacouver getting 'softer' afte many ski runs and therefore just beinging 'slower', those in the second half of the draw are just unlucky.

    It works if you look at the training systems of the likes of Nurmi, Zatopek, Clarke, Schul, Viren, Shorter, Virgin, Benoit Samuelson, Salazar, Khannouchi, Radcliffe, and Wanjiru and boil it down to the common elements that cross over, regardless of the era and regardless of the guru behind them, among other details.  One is apt to see >75% commonality in the themes that drive their training.  Details may vary between individuals and may evolve with experimentation, but that will be true of anyone.  To wit, 100 people of similar levels of raw ability following Pfitz or Daniels straight out of the book are not going to see identical levels of performance and improvement.
    To me, luck is where preparation meets opportunity.  You can make your own luck, to a degree.  However, environment plays a significant role there.  Raise Kenyan, Ethiopian, and Somali kids in suburban Denver instead of in their native lands and they are at least as apt to become fat Americans as they are great runners.

  • #29468

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Rita, fair point but I'd agree with Andrew and I'd also raise another point. When these better methods come along, those who follow them do rise to the top. It didn't take long for Lydiard's runners to make a splash. Likewise with those who took advantage of altitude training and those who moved on to the live high/train low philosophy.

    The point I'm trying to make is that people go out searching for the “best” method but, instead of looking to what the elites do to be the best of the best, they look to what authors write and what works to some level for average runners. If these plans in books or magazines were really the best method, we'd be hearing from Daniels and Pfitzinger followers who were winning major races. I'm not saying Daniels and Pfitz are bad, I actually think they are very good and their ideas can be very successfully incorporated into a training plan that might be the “best” plan. However, there are thousands of runners out there following these plans. The fact that none are out winning major races tells me that, if you're looking for the best performance possible, there is apparently a better way.

    If you want a very good and very well tested plan, pick up Pfitz or Daniels and follow it as closely as you can. If you want the best, though, as Andrew suggested, look for those common threads in the training of the best of the best, make them the core of your training, then figure out what the auxiliary pieces are that work best for you.

  • #29469

    Andrew A.
    Member

    Given that anymore the publishing industry is about selling the greatest number of copies per the given genre, as if it were ever about anything else, just about any how-to book that is widely available is likely aimed at a largest common denominator.  It is watered down enough to tell the lowest common denominator what it wants to hear.  Pfitz and Daniels (and McMillan and Higdon and Glover and et alia) put together fine programs for people with no background looking to get into the sport, as a gateway for the uninitiated. 

    To me, the ultimate goal of any coach (or teacher or master) should be to endow the pupil with the tools to enable one to become one's own coach (or teacher or master).  A studied, structured basis for going out and finding out more about their capabilities on their own.  I often see people asking about workouts they do without ever framing what they expect the workout to accomplish other than running faster than normal and getting tired.  This, to me, indicates that people like this never bothered to find out the basic wherefores and whys of the nuts and bolts of training, they can play music by ear yet cannot read musical notes or write their own songs, they can paint-by-numbers yet could not compose a pleasing painting of their own. 

    I recently picked up a copy of Squires and Lehane's Speed With Endurance, and throughout the opening chapters (before getting to all the workouts and training schedules) the authors exhort the reader over and over to resist the temptation to skip to the schedules and workouts and read the chapters that come before that to understand the principles of the training so that they are able to make easy adjustments to the training to make it a custom fit to oneself. 

    Incidentally, of any of the names commonly bandied about in terms of distance running training, Squires is about peerless in terms of what he has accomplished with his runners — the American Lydiard, if you will.  Pfitzinger was one of Squires's athletes (as was Bob Sevene), and while he and Daniels and McMillan and the rest may prove to be Squires's equal in coaching, they have not yet.

  • #29470

    r-at-work
    Member

    I estimate that the ability to appropriately focus (i.e. somewhere between extreme obsession and occasional distraction) on the task at hand and follow through is also a necessary talent for success.  

    On the other hand, I sometimes wonder why people involve themselves in a sport if they truly do lack talent to do well in it.  

    first point… YES… focus, I have worked with HS kids (through Boy Scouts) and had two of my own to see 'talent' and ability seem to evaporate when there is no focus. It took my older son till he was almost 22 to gain the abitly to 'think ahead' past his next meal…this is across the board not just running.

    second point… I rode horses when I was in HS, competed, never really had any talent (or the money to buy good horses) but I enjoyed to SO much… so I can understand being involved in a sport where  you haven't a chance… now I run, and as I age I find that when I'm able to get the training in (as my life allows) I'm able to do fair in my age group and at smaller events… I lack talent and must make up for that with hard work… I'm really looking forward to retirement so I can train full time! we do what we can with what we have… I have tenacity and focus… just not the time right now…but I still compete, knowing I'm lacking in talent, but I enjoy 'being there'

    and Ryan

    The point I'm trying to make is that people go out searching for the “best” method but, instead of looking to what the elites do to be the best of the best, they look to what authors write and what works to some level for average runners.

    I think that some people even go one step further… they dilute what a coach says and still say they are following that method

  • #29471

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Rita, the question I'm asking myself after reading that article is whether the ability to focus and dedicate yourself to an endeavor is itself a talent. It's not that “innate ability to run fast” kind of talent but is it a talent itself? Is it something that some people are just naturally more capable of doing than others?

    I think that some people even go one step further… they dilute what a coach says and still say they are following that method

    Very true. Or they don't fully learn what a coach means (common with Lydiard) and do it wrong, then say the method doesn't work for them.

  • #29472

    Andrew A.
    Member

    second point… I rode horses when I was in HS, competed, never really had any talent (or the money to buy good horses) but I enjoyed to SO much… so I can understand being involved in a sport where  you haven't a chance… now I run, and as I age I find that when I'm able to get the training in (as my life allows) I'm able to do fair in my age group and at smaller events… I lack talent and must make up for that with hard work… I'm really looking forward to retirement so I can train full time! we do what we can with what we have… I have tenacity and focus… just not the time right now…but I still compete, knowing I'm lacking in talent, but I enjoy 'being there'

    Certainly, though there are much higher barriers to entry (as you note in being able to buy good horses) – like with a lot of the sports in the Winter Olympic program and triathlon and even cycling – that can keep superior talent out and thus waters down the field somewhat.  However, you must have some decent amount of talent to see a good enough rate of improvement to keep you encouraged.  I was not meaning that anyone without the talent to rise to the very top, or close to it, has no business getting involved.  I mean more like people who are built more like linebackers (if not linemen) – i.e. endomorphs and mesomorphs body-type-chart-ectomorph.gif – giving the marathon (or equestrian) a dogged pursuit.  Nothing wrong with it, but there are likely physical pursuits to which their talents (and thus encouragement via rate of improvement) would be more apt, though the barriers to entry may not be as low as that of running.  The environmental factors of accessibility and inclusiveness play a significant role with running.

    and Ryan

    The point I'm trying to make is that people go out searching for the “best” method but, instead of looking to what the elites do to be the best of the best, they look to what authors write and what works to some level for average runners.

    I think that some people even go one step further… they dilute what a coach says and still say they are following that method

    Yes, absolutely, and the authors I cited above also mention that in their book.  When runners do not have a functional grasp of the physiological concepts, they often do things like grab components from four different styles of training and cobble them together in a Frankensteinian fashion without an idea of how those components work together or how they might be counterproductive to each other.

  • #29473

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Andrew, great points throughout. I'd like to especially point out what you finished with, though.

    When runners do not have a functional grasp of the physiological concepts, they often do things like grab components from four different styles of training and cobble them together in a Frankensteinian fashion without an idea of how those components work together or how they might be counterproductive to each other.

    I do think it's important to take ideas from various sources as I'm very sure you also do. I also don't think it takes a degree in exercise physiology to know how to put the pieces of the puzzle together, again I'm sure you would agree. Still, as you point out, I see people all the time piecing together training plans from various sources in a way that leaves huge holes in their plans.

  • #29474

    Andrew A.
    Member

    Right, it is (as my avatar caption states) simple stuff, at least it has seemed that way to me ever since I started reading good sources on the subject and disregarding fonts of nonsense and distraction like RW.

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