Actions follow….ideas!

I began this blog by writing ‘actions follow desires’ because this tenet represents the key to understanding the importance of placing a cultural context around an analysis of any topic – including running. If we want to understand ‘what we are doing’, we naturally look back to the root cause of those behaviours – the belief or desire generating those actions.

At a biomechanical level, we need to adjust our terminology ever so slightly. Traditionally our motor actions and the muscle activity generating these actions were perceived as controlled by some ‘Overseeing Will’. Today, we understand this not to be the case. Rather we have found that our muscle activity is triggered, almost entirely subconsciously, by the expression of an idea or a thought – usually shaped as a desire or an intent to accomplish something. For example, your subconscious may register a rock flying towards you triggering the ‘idea’ or ‘intent’ to ‘move out of the way’. Likewise children’s insatiable appetite for exploration triggers many thoughts and intents activating the wide variety of movements upon which adult motor skills are developed.

The Darkness That Comes Before

Just as we are blind to many of the beliefs that control our daily actions, so we are largely unaware of the constant stream of ideas that generates muscle activity and then motor action (or simply ‘movement’). This causes many challenges in the teaching of and correcting of movements including the skill of running. You see: your brain has a very strong ‘idea’ of what the label ‘running’ means. It has similarly strong notions about getting up from a chair, walking or standing. The moment I, or any other coach or trainer, tells you to ‘stand up’ or ‘run’, then this idea is spontaneously generated in your subconscious in parallel with all the muscle firing patterns your brain has come to associate with this idea. So if I tell you to ‘run without tensing your calves so much’ or ‘run with your neck more relaxed’, I am fighting a losing battle because your brain has a firm idea of the activation pattern it needs for the ‘idea’ of running.

In one of my favourite non-fiction book series, author R. Scott Bakker presents the reader with a sect of monastic monks who study what they call ‘The Darkness That Comes Before’  where the darkness represents the causes of our actions and ‘comes before’ refers to the fact that our actions are dictated by what automatic behaviours our past has inculcated in us. Because we are essentially blind to this darkness we cannot recognise what ideas are triggered to match what movements nor are we generally conscious or aware of how we deviate from the optimal movement in each situation. The second part of this ignorance – of our own flaws – comes not just from being unaware of what ideas our subconscious holds but also because we lack a standard to compare with. In addition, even if we understood the ideal standard movement – such as the ideal running technique for a particular situation – we generally lack to observational skills to recognise the deviations.

The environment provided by Mother Nature in traditional hunter-gatherer society would have circumvented this limitation because failure to meet the standard would have been constantly punished – move incorrectly and harm or discomfort would follow. As an additional advantage everyone around you would display near-optimal movement patterns because they grew up in a similarly optimal environment for motor skill learning. The human brain is flooded with so-called ‘mirror neurons’ which allow us to very effectively replicate the behaviours of others (even animals). This advantage turns against us in a society where the majority of the population display dysfunctional movement patterns – your mirror neurons are being fed junk on a daily basis. We also no longer have a perfect environment for learning without external feedback from others – chairs and cushioned shoes are often our main interaction points with the world around us.

The wreckage of modern culture- us

While technology has wrecked this disaster upon us, some of our modern inventions can help alleviate the damage: the camera lens, preferably coupled with an observer who understands what deviations he is looking for and how to address them (a coach). ‘The camera never lies’ is an old adage holding very true for the observation of athletic movement. Because we are blind to the ‘darkness’ (the causes of our poor movement) that ‘come before’ and we do not know what standard to aspire to nor how to recognise how we deviate, we need help. The ‘shock treatment’ method is to remove the filters of modernity – no more chairs, no more cushioned shoes, no more sedentary living. This approach has some merits but is not totally practical for most people and also violates the most important rule in coaching (to my mind) – ‘stochastic tinkering’, a primary directive that all changes we make to athletes should be small and incremental. You cannot simply release a domesticated animal back into Nature full hog – and man is today the ultimate domesticated Beast.

We must reintroduce him gently into the optimal natural environment for his learning – such is the scale of his dysfunction. Coaches can observe how we move on camera and show us the truth allowing making us aware of the deviations of our actions from the optimal action we should be making. The knowledgeable coach can further explain the full chain of events (‘The Darkness’ turned to light) causing the deviations you see. It is tempting to look simply at the ‘deviations’ and attack them head on. But the deviations often have root causes that are part of a causal chain going back many steps. When trying to fix movements, we are better off going as close to the root as we can. A coach may notice, for instance, that entire upper body is not ideally placed for mechanical advantage when you run – shoulders are rounded, chest constricted and head slopes forward and down. We could attack the muscles and joints involved directly and try to move them back what we consider the ideal position but this approach falls short of tracing the problem back to the root. We arrive there by asking ‘why do we see this shape’? One answer may be ‘the shoulders are rounded and the chest constricted because of the forward head position’. This prompts another question (familiar to Six Sigma practitioners as the ‘5 whys technique’): ‘why is the head in this position?’. Knowing that this athlete is an office-worker and having observed them sit, the coach may deduce ‘because the runner spends most of his day with his head in this position and the brain thus considers this the default position’.

Wrong ideas? no way out!

Now we have a working hypothesis that seems to trace the problem back to a habitual pattern strong enough to make itself known in a variety of movements including running. The hard work begins here: breaking the pattern. A few simple exercises can raise the awareness of the athlete (enlightening the darkness) allowing them to correct ‘on the fly’ when they feel a deviation. But again this approach has limits because your brain’s ‘idea’ of posture is wrong (it includes a non-optimal default head position). Over-riding the idea is forcing a tug of war between the conscious and the subconscious brain meaning we have merely built a compensation on top of a wrong idea. You are actively trying to override the subconscious program instead of changing the subconscious program at its source. Because the subconscious programming – your ideas about what things should be – are created by habit they can also only be broken at that level. This means we need to establish a new normal but removing the habitual sitting pattern and replacing it with another. But the habit itself is a product of the environmental signals. If I sit in front of a computer all day that is in a certain position then I will continue to revert to the incorrect position. Conscious awareness will merely allow me to constantly fight this urge but it does not change the default. To change the default we must instead change the environmental stimuli that creates the idea in the first place. Subconscious routines are believed to have evolved as the primary driver of our daily activities because they take less energy (thus are more efficient) than higher level brain functions. This makes sense as you would otherwise need to bring your attention to every little movement you make (such as taking a cup out of the cupboard).

As you will quickly notice constantly bringing your attention to the execution of this task is onerous. Rather if you suspect you pick up the spoon incorrectly, why not place the spoons in a cupboard and in a precise position in that cupboard that forces you to pick it up correctly? This is the corrective strategy most likely to result in sustainable long-term changes when it comes to deviations in running technique and movement in general such as a sub-optimal default head position. This could mean changing the position of the computer, adapting a dynamic desk to a place that encourages the optimal position to emerge or to

Today, we see a lot of effort going into ‘changing your brain’s perception of centre’. This is very laudable and as general movement practice probably not a bad practice. But we cannot be certain of the transfer from general training to the specific movement because your brain has an ingrained idea of that particular skill. So by doing head position drills you may be able to educate your brain correctly of the central position of the head and attain perfect range of motion. But you have no guarantee that your brain will recognise this position as the correct one of the already ingrained skill of running. If you cannot attain the head position then you must obviously work on that first and then setup an environment in which you will naturally chose to adopt the desired position.

How action really ‘acts’

The real title of this post should be ‘ideas and action follow stimuli simultaneously’. A much less satisfying name but closer to how we actually act – in life or sport. We can simplify the steps like this:

  1. Our body receives a STIMULI (‘alarm clock rings’)
  2. A subconscious REACTION (‘jump out of bed’) is triggered in absolute parallel with the formation of an IDEA (‘I must get out of bed’)
  3. The IDEA reaches our conscious mind after the fact but we have the illusion that the IDEA triggered the ACTION (which was in reality a REACTION)

This means that the ACT of running is not an ACTION as much as a REACTION to whatever stimuli trigger us to engage in this physical activity. John Dewey defined these REACTIONS as HABITS in a broader sense than we normally interpret the word, a key definition for trainers and coaches to understand: ‘an acquired predisposition to ways or modes of response.’ 

So habits are responses acquired throughout our life as means to perform certain intentions that we label ideas – i.e. ‘I must perform a jump (HABIT/ACTION) to cross this stream (INTENTION/IDEA)’. We wish to believe that simply by applying our DESIRE or changing the PURPOSE of our action we can improve the quality of that jump. The problem is that the moment we think of our ACTION as jumping we have already recruited the faulty habit that is already in place around your brain’s IDEA of what a jump is.

What solution have we then when most traditional methods of movement intervention and coaching are not fully able to over-ride the HABITS (again ‘the Darkness’) the comes before our ACTIONS? A new field of practice has emerged called Neurodynamics a – a new approach to the study of movement – pioneered by professor Theodore Dimon – who summarises the whole problem I hope you are coming to realise in this post:

 

The natural response to dealing with these problems (ed: our bodies not functioning as well anymore as they used to ) is to perform movements in order to strengthen muscles that are weak or to stretch and release muscles that are tight. Yet anyone who tries these methods is ultimately disappointed for the simple reason that the body works as a natural or atuomatic system , and methods focused on correcting it cannot restore the naural workings of the total system or help us to understand why it isn’t working naturally. Because we have not yet understood what the problem is, we blindly pursue methods that promise various benefits and provide temporary relief. But no amount of exercise, bodywork, or stretching is going to put the body right if we don’t first understand how it’s designed to work and how to move in ways that are consistent with our natural funcitoning.’ – Neurodynamics, 2015

He goes on to tease us with the solution

The key to natural movement, as I will show in this book, is not to strengthen or relax muscles, train the body, or correct movement patterns, but to understand how the body is designed to function naturally, how to restore it when it is interfered with and, ultimately, how to use it at a more conscious level in everyday living.’

Neurodynamics and Neo-humans

While it goes beyond the scope of this already long article to go through the practical fixes of neurodynamics (I recommend purchasing the book), you can identify the key aspects to over-riding the HABIT/IDEAS that your motor actions are now slaves to. First of all note ‘interfered with’. We are a natural system in an increasingly man-made world. Our bodies are thrust out of their evolutionary context and into narrow shoes and the low-gravity environment of chairs. We are bombarded by alien signals in excessive amounts – EMF, work stress, manufactured food stuff, toxins and more. All of these signals trigger HABITS/IDEAS that are not correct – ‘interfering with the natural function’ of your body.This has happened to such a point that the majority of our ideas about how we should be moving are simply incorrect at a cultural and social level. Because our ideas are incorrect our treatment modalities are also misguided and misdirected. Many of our doctors, coaches and therapists have lost knowledge of what a natural human being should look, move and act like because they deal only with ‘neo-humans’ (products of unnatural modern processes).

We have a conception that the current ‘normal’ is ‘natural’ when in fact current ‘normal’ is ‘unnatural’. A prime example is our understanding of the human foot as pointed out by the BTR coaching system, Lee Saxby and Dr Dan Liebermann in recent years and Dr Dudley Morton before them: we believe a foot with a big toe pointing inwards is ‘normal’ and thus do not act on the assumption that this represents an unnatural state – the big toe is in fact out of position because it was ‘interfered’ with. The modern fix is to manage this ‘normal state’ instead of ‘understanding how the foot is designed to function naturally’ to rephrase Dimon’s words. This ties into the prevailing cultural belief among too many medical practitioners that we are ‘born broken’ rather than ‘born largely perfect’ (the latter being the case – of course with the amendment that we are born ‘nearly perfectly adapted to our ancestral rather than our current environment’).

A quick to do list

I will end on that note and why I know it may be frustrating for those who prevailed with this long post to not yet have clear answers, I refer to the book and upcoming articles as well as the below quick summary:

  • When something is not working, do not try to change it through force of will but first ask the question ‘how is my body intended to work in this situation’ (i.e. ‘how am I meant to execute running if my body had not been interfered with by modern life’)
  • Ask ‘now that I know the natural state what tools are out there which I can use to return myself to that state’
  • Keep in mind that stimuli from the environment writes the code of our software – the simplest thing to do is to remove as many harmful modern stimuli from your environment as you can safely do in a step by step manner (wear shoes with less interference, stop wearing sun-glasses all the time, sit less, use your technology less, do not expose yourself to unnatural light frequencies, do not eat processed foods and so on).

 

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Are you purposeful when you train?

I first encountered the term ‘purposeful practice’ whilst reading ‘Bounce‘ by former Olympic table-tennis player Matthew Syed. This term originated from the now more generally adopted idea of ‘deliberate practice’ coined by psychologist Anders Ericsson. It has three components each of which are often missing in runners individual workouts and each of which can easily be brought back in.

Under the hood of deliberation

Deliberate has many meanings and as we go through them I believe you will recognise that our physical culture today suffers from a general lack of such ‘deliberation’ and ‘purposefulness’:

  • Deliberate: careful and unhurried, done consciously and intentionally, fully considered.
  • Purposeful: intentional, serving a useful purpose

The precise term ‘deliberate practice’ has been given an even more formal definition:

Duvivier et al. reconstructed the concept of deliberate practice into practical principles to describe the process as it relates to clinical skill acquisition. They defined deliberate practice as: repetitive performance of intended cognitive or psychomotor skills. source: Wikipedia

The components of deliberate practice

When we use the word ‘practice’ instead of purely ‘training’ or ‘workout’ as I do in my professional training plans and when working with clients it denotes a view of running as a skill. This is consistent with recent breakthroughs in the understanding of training such as the work of Frans Bosch (Strength Training and Coordination – an integrative approach) which show that traditional athletic qualities like endurance, strength and power cannot be separated from the motor skills that generate them. In layman’s terms: how your coordinate the movement of the parts of your body individually and in relation to each other has a direct bearing on the endurance you can express, the power you can generate and the strength you can showcase. These qualities do not exist as independent factors that can be trained in isolation.

The four components suggested by Ericsson* for deliberate practice are shown below. As runners we can substitute the word task for ‘workout’ or ‘practice session’.

  • You must be motivated to attend to the task and exert effort to improve your performance.
  • The design of the task should take into account your pre-existing knowledge so that the task can be correctly understood after a brief period of instruction.
  • You should receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results of your performance.
  • You should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.

Let me briefly examine them in turn.

* Ericsson’s work has become known as the 10,000 hour rule leading some to believe ‘simple’ repetition is enough. There are many caveats to the 10,000 hour rule (such as the fact it does not hold for everyone) among them that these hours have to be ‘deliberate practice’ and not merely ‘practice’ or the natural antonym ‘mindless practice’.

You must be motivated

Running has changed from being purely a vocation for a fringe group of fanatics to an obsession for the few, a passion for some and means to an end for the masses whether that means to an end is bragging rights, weight-loss or a feeling of greater well-being. Quite often even for fanatical competitive runners the act of running itself is simply a means to other ends rather than a process to be enjoyed for its own sake – i.e. the enjoyment of the sport rests purely on achievement of certain objective targets such as placement in races and

These motivations often create a culture of disassociate training where the runner attempts to divorce himself or herself from the act of training and the experiences generated from it. The classical example would have been day-dreaming during a workout to try and forget about the discomfort whereas the contemporary strategy tends to be ear-phones (the future may be Pokemon Go).

Before I tell you why you should favour associative training, I want to note that for the majority of people dissociate training harbours powerful benefits in the high-stress existence manufactured by the current neo-capitalist and consumerist culture. Disassociate training can help restore a parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ state and serve as a period of mental relaxation. Associative and thus deliberate practice cannot offer this haven. This may be one of the main reasons full-time athletes hold a deciding edge over even the most mercurial amateurs: the mental resources required to work most jobs take away from the time the same mental and neurological resources we need to invest in deliberate practice.

In the daily training we must remember that our brains priority (or call it central governor if you wish) remains survival and energy conservation both of which are linked. It will therefore prefer to make the least necessary effort. We often call this ‘lazy’ – a quality representing  a virtue in the wild. So in our practice and training design we must first assure that we are motivated both by the goals (truly and honestly)* and by the process itself. Arthur Lydiard said that training ‘starts with enjoyment’ and we can see why here: without enjoyment, trust and belief in a training process it will be impossible to enjoy the daily run. It will also be difficult if every workout is executed against time pressure from work or family.

* I feel the need to emphasize this as my observation is that many people have goals that are not their own. They merely represent goals they believe they have to hold in order to maintain their self-esteem and standing within a peer group or because society is sending the signal that this is ‘something to do’ rather than something the person truly connects with and deeply and passionately wants to do.

 

As a coach my observation is that the majority of people need to understand ‘why’ they are doing ‘what’ they have been told to do and that we often underestimate the instruction needed to master the ‘how’ of each session. Which brings us to the second element of deliberate practice:

The design of the task should take into account your pre-existing knowledge

Doing something poorly or incorrectly is generally worse than not doing anything at all. Coaches and athletes alike need to ensure they do not merely copy the approach of others or rush out to do something taken out of context.

From a coaches perspective this merely means you need to be very aware of the knowledge of your athletes and provide clearer instruction or simpler workouts to less experienced athletes (and children). You do not ask someone to train Olympic ring moves who cannot master basic scapular control and you do not ask someone to perform intervals who barely understands the essentials of pacing at slower paces and so on.

This seemingly trivial observation becomes important because of the third point:

You should receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results of your performance.

When we simply ‘go run’ we often have no way of knowing whether we are improving or not. From a technical perspective injuries, pains and niggles are signals that the way we move or the volume of training we have chosen are unacceptable to the body. Such feedback is generally immediate unless you wear lots of support and use excessive cushioning in your footwear in which case the feedback often comes delayed (and thus after you have a chance to alter your approach).

Running training can be insidious because over-training often leads temporary benefits as the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ system becomes geared up. This creates an illusion of improvement where there is actually regression and health risks involved. In my methodology we try to move around this risk by establishing very realistic starting points from athletes based on a number of tests, previous race performance, heart rate monitored training and a heavy focus on subjective feedback.

Since early in the last century the watch has been the most common feedback tool for runners and with good reason as all our performances are eventually measured against pace. This represents an objective feedback tool. Today we prefer these types of measures. While the watch is essential for high performance it can become a problem if we divorce it from subjective feedback tools – how you feel and what signals your body sends you. The absence of subjective feedback arises as a result of disassociate training methods such as running while listening to  a song or watching the tv while pounding the treadmill. In general our culture pulls our focus away from our bodies and what it tells us and into our mind where we don’t listen or are too distracted.

I try to work around this by providing both foci: objective measures such as heart rate, pace, duration and distance are used to ensure the ‘lazy brain’ does not unduly limit performance and subjective measures are put in place to ensure the athlete has to think about what happens before, during and after the run. We can look at how you feel through a Rate of Perceived Effort Chart or by setting an ‘effort’ for each workout by using systems like Arthur Lydiard’s (1/4 effort, 1/2 effort, 3/4 effort, 7/8 effort and full effort).

The risk with objective measures is that they can limit performance: when you set a number of repetitions (’10’) you may begin to get tired at 8 because your brain expects that 10 is the maximum effort. If you set a pace target that you believe is challenging then running faster in the race and seeing this may stress you out (‘oh no, too fast’). Your experience from training in interpreting subjective measures will be your anti-dote so you can have the best of both worlds (‘ok, 10 reps was called for but I still do not feel the level of tiredness I planned for this type of workout’ or ‘oh, I am 10 seconds ahead of target pace but my body feels very relaxed, so I must be in great shape today’).

This approach happens at all levels of training – the daily practice sessions is the most important but also to look at the development of objective and subjective measures every week and every month. If you do not monitor whether your pace and volume are moving in the right direction and whether your body seems to be getting healthier rather than more broken, then you are not training deliberately and this is a major impediment. Today we have a culture of following training plans blindly and in-spite of clear subjective or objective signals to the contrary. I cannot identify exactly where this notion comes from but suggest it is a mixture of a culture brought up to comply and follow rulesets and a general lack of self-esteem and self-belief among athletes.

You should repeatedly complete the same task

We live in a distraction-rich culture and with new sexy workouts emerging every week on websites and running magazines, we have more athletes than ever ‘program hopping’ or ‘switching horses in the middle of the river’ (a Danish saying) . Many approaches – whether training or rehab – are abandoned long before enough repetition has occurred to showcase any benefit. This is a result of an increasing level of impatience and expectation of instant gratification.

The basic lesson here: once you have chosen a certain way to train or a certain type of practice session, you must repeat it long enough to generate meaningful progress. You cannot simply hop from one type of workout to the next randomly and expect improvement. Running is in this regard an ideal sport because you can repeat each stride 180 or so per minute meaning you can do 10,800 repetitions of a movement in a mere hour!

This recommendation comes with a big disclaimer, however, due to the recent findings in the study of motor learning. In traditional training the ‘overload’ we apply to generate positive training adaptations focuses on increasing forces (a physics-led quantitative approach and has ignored the equally, or maybe more, important sensorimotor overload (a qualitative motor learning approach). Expressed less academically: stress is not simply about doing more or faster (more total forces) but a matter of ‘how different’ the task we execute is to our nervous system. This is dictated by three constraints: the environment in which we run, the movement task being trained (a certain running speed or type) and the runner performing the movement. To explore this idea we would need a separate article but to summarise the implication here: repetition of task does not mean repetition of one exact task as this is impossible to achieve anyway in the real world (an open dynamic system).

Training research suggests that we need (again to steal Arthur Lydiard’s words) ‘consistent variety’. So we need to run but we need a certain amount of variety the three constraints we can modify:

  1. Task constraint: paces, duration, rest periods, coaching cues, distance, repeats
  2. Environmental constraints: terrain, slope, weather conditions, time of day, time of year, training partners, obstacles, shoes, tools
  3. Organismic constraints: fuel intake, hydration intake, level of rest and recovery, motivation etc.

Completely monotonous training is therefore not ‘deliberate practice’ even if you are highly focused. You need to introduce variability – even if small – on a regular basis to reap maximum adaptations. This also passes the test of whether we can make sense of this logic from an evolutionary perspective: the natural world would challenge our bodies in different ways with a lack of uniform surfaces as a primary example and it makes sense we evolved to respond better to variability than monotony.

Summary

To improve your chances of success as a runner you need to engage in more deliberate practice. This requires setting accurate goals which truly motivate you and executing your sessions and your training schedule in a way that provides you regular and immediate feedback on whether you are improving or disimproving. You need to practice consistently and regularly and not abandon training practices long before you have a chance to learn them properly. At the same time you must ensure you keep enough variability in your training to avoid monotony.

The only exception to the recommendation of deliberate practice are highly stressed individuals who should focus on mentally relaxing training where they can let their minds drift.

Further reading

Bounce – The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice

Peak – Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Strength Training and Coordination – An Integrative Approach

Actions follow desires

Aristotle speculated that our actions are formed by our desires and our desires by our thoughts. How we think therefore shapes how we act. Culture merges from the collective thoughts, habits and actions of a group of people who somehow define themselves as ‘us’. Once a certain momentum forms, the culture we are immersed in begins to shape and control our thoughts, then our desires and actions and finally commands what results we get. Nothing could therefore be more important to explore for an athlete or a coach than the state of the ‘Culture of Running’, where our culture is deficient and how we can improve it.

My name is René Borg and since my mid-twenties I have been obsessed with running. Understanding and perfecting the art of running remains my quest and will be a life-long mission.

I began as a naive novice, became a broken bitter veteran of hundreds of races before stumbling on a way to rebuild my body. This journey of mine is not complete, nor will it ever be, but during the last decade it became clear to me that to change running for the better, we must alter the culture surrounding running.

This begins by changing our beliefs and our thoughts so athletes naturally gravitate toward the correct action for every situation they encounter rather than the wrong one.

On this website I want to examine topics deeply and thoroughly through the format of essay, narrative and discourse. I am not here to provide final answers but to stimulate deep thinking and discussion fuelled towards new answers rather than reinforcing or defending long established dogmas.

The first criteria of a successful running culture – in my opinion – must be a constant re-assessment, and questioning, of theory divorced from personal experience and specific real-time situations you find yourself in. It must be to have a lack of respect for ‘authority’ and courage to stand up to the mainstream and majority opinions. Only this way can our running culture become progressive rather than regressive.

I have chosen culture as the fulcrum of all discussions for this site although I could just as readily have called this site the ‘Philosophy of Running’. Wikipedia defines philosophy as ‘the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.’ In truth, I want to explore exactly the fundamental nature of the knowledge, reality and our existence as it relates to the physical activity and the sporting culture of running. Why? Because the accuracy of our knowledge about the fundamental nature of what governs running – how precise our map of reality and the place of our existence within it – will lead to the creation of a culture more or less matched to the Natural Laws. A culture mismatched to the physical laws that govern reality (and there are no other fundamental laws) will produce sub-optimal results. I want to move our Running Culture to a point as finely matched to the physical laws as possible – a perfect cocoon for hatching perfectly formed running butterflies. A correct philosophy of running therefore becomes an essential antecedent of a successful running culture. Faulty thinking leads to retarded culture and poor results. Accurate thinking requires a systems view of the world but I will not explore this in so much details here as Ivan Rivera has already done so with great flair on his website ‘Running in Systems‘.

Equally, I could have named this site ‘Running Technique’; technique being the ‘skill of doing’ in this context action being the output of ‘doing’. We will touch on technique many times but it will not be the central topic here because technique is a product of culture not the other way around. Kenyan Running Culture creates a higher average level of technique than Irish Running Culture. Here we will explore ‘why’, rather than zoom into technique and miss the wider picture. Geographically, Ireland will be the epicentre of my musings as the culture I am emerged in on a daily basis with Europe and ‘The West’ also at the heart of the topics. The running cultures further from my epicentre hold up a mirror and a contrast to tease out the issues, we experience especially in the case of the wildly successful running cultures of Kenya, Ethiopia and Japan.

In Science today, we understand that the environment, not the gene, holds primacy and controls everything. Epigenetic switches exist in your body and respond to the signals you receive from around you like a piano returns harrowing noise or beautiful music based on the fingers that touch the keys. Culture serves as the social dimension of the environment around us but our human cultures also actively and constantly alter the environment around us (changing the air, the water, everything). Change the culture and we can change the environment and we change the epigenetic settings of each individual. Optimal culture will lead to optimal gene expression and optimum results. This last point is important: if we perceive culture as something vague and not concrete, we will not take it seriously as something we need to worry about. I believe the key to all human happiness comes through improvement of culture. I decide on this blog to focus on how to improve the culture around the sport and activity of running. I hope you will enjoy this journey and the ideas and thoughts – high and low – that will be presented here. This blog will be a harsh and critical exposition of current culture – change does not come from politeness, self-satisfaction or embracing a culture of mediocrity where everyone deserves a pat on the back. I do not want us to settle for ‘good’ when ‘great’ or ‘astounding’ is possible. Our culture, as I hope to show, is not even ‘good’ and a long way from ‘great’, in most respects, and I will begin this story here in my next blog ‘The Predicament of the West’ and then zoom in on one aspect where improvement is needed in ‘The 4-Hour Coach’.

Authors note: After listening to a recent podcast with business-man Dan Pena the second post of the blog covered a topic of his ‘our fear of failure‘.