Wednesday, April 25, 2012

shifting paradigms

I’m not a professional runner, so I won’t pretend to be one. But I’m going to tell you a story about one that, admittedly, comes second hand, so if you are a runner and I get the details wrong, please try to see the forest for the trees.

Back in the day (i.e., the 80’s) there was a guy named Cliff Young. He was a farmer in Australia and had a big farm with lots of sheep. To keep everything on the farm running smoothly, he ran from one part of the farm to another, running, running, running every day.

His friends noticed that he ran so much, they suggested to him that he run in a road race – the most grueling one they could think of, that spanned 543.7miles (875-kilometers) from Sydney to Melbourne. The race is a beast, the kind of race that usually takes fit, young athletes at the top of their form five days to complete.

Did I mention that Cliff was 61? Well, he was.

So Cliff showed up at the race in his farmer clothes – overalls and work boots – while everyone else was there in their Nikes and spandex and what have you. (Remember, it’s the 80’s.) People thought he was a joke. They thought he was there for entertainment, and not to run the race. But when the gun went off, off went Cliff, too.

The thing is, people also thought that the best way to get through this race was to run 18 hours and sleep 6. Run 18, sleep 6. Run 18, sleep 6. For five days. (Trust me, I’m exhausted just typing this.) Cliff, however, didn’t know what he was supposed to do, so he didn’t follow that paradigm. He ran 22 hours, and slept 2. Run 22, sleep 2. Run 22, sleep 2. And get there before anyone else does.

This is but one example of why “the way it’s always been done” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to do it. If Cliff had known what he was “supposed” to do before joining the race, he probably wouldn’t have won. And he probably would have shown up in Nikes and fancy 80’s spandex like everyone else and run differently than he did (apparently he had something of a shuffle) and possibly even have hurt himself.

So the moral of the story is twofold: just because everyone else thinks you can’t do something doesn’t mean you can’t, and second, just because that’s the way everyone else does it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it.

And you know what? The next year everyone ran 22, slept 2.

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