Monday, 4 February 2013

Designing The Perfect Runner

You wouldn’t think so but possibly building the perfect runner is like building the perfect house.

One of the things that first attracted me to running was its simplicity.

I loved the idea that in order to run all you needed was three things; a pair of running shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. Wherever I was I could run, on holiday, on my lunch-break at work, anytime, anyplace. I didn’t need a gym, I didn’t need specialist equipment and I didn’t need to rely on other people to form a team.

Recently however, as I get more serious about my running, I feel that simplicity is giving way to complexity. I now run with my GPS phone running app to tell me how fast I am going and my “split times”. I am conscious of my nutrition and have days where I “carb load” and days where I avoid complex carbohydrates. I often run with a drinks belt so I can drink on the go for my longer runs. I have read books about running form and think about how I am engaging my core as I run up a hill or what my glutes are doing as I run down a hill. This is so far from simplicity (shoes, t-shirt and shorts) that it feels like a cruel joke is being played on me. And I am now desperately trying to get that simplicity back.

And so it was with interest that I recently came across the idea of “informed simplicity” in the architectural book; “101 things I Learned In Architecture School” by Matthew Fredrick.

According to Fredrick there are three levels of knowledge, which are demonstrated by the diagrams in at the top of this blog post:

1. “Simplicity” is the world view of the child or uninformed adult, fully engaged in his own experience and happily unaware of what lies beneath the surface of immediate reality.
2. “Complexity” characterizes the ordinary adult world view. It is characterized by an awareness of complex system in nature and society but an inability to discern clarifyng patterns and connection.
3. “Informed Simplicity” is an enlightened view of reality. It is founded upon an ability to dicern or create clarifying patterns within complex mixtures.

In my running I have gone from stage 1 to stage 2 - “simplicity” to “complexity”. What I need to do is get to “informed simplicity”. Instead of seeing each set of muscles working separately that I need to improve I need to see them as one fluid mechanism. Instead of adding a GPS device to my runs on top of all my other running paraphernalia and demands I should integrate it more into my training in the same way a pianist uses a metronome. The metronome doesn’t complicate their playing during practice but is an aid to their performance.

Like the diagrams above I now want to achieve more from my running. To do that I need to work on at least twelve different things but instead of compartmentalising what I need to do into 12 different boxes and increase the complexity I need to find a way to achieve the same result through “complex simplicity”. I still want the same simplicity I had the start (my running shoes, shorts and t-shirt) but I want to achieve more.

After I’ve figured out how to do it with my running I just need to figure out how to do it for the rest of my life. 


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