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The Unspoken Rules of Being a Badass: A Runner's Guide

Malcolm Gladwell’s Unique Perspectives on Running

Author Malcolm Gladwell has written several best sellers including Blink, Outliers, and The Tipping Point. He was a good 1500m runner in middle/high school beating future Canadian Olympian Dave Reid three times (photo above/video below). He recently got serious about running again after several years of light running and pursuing other sports.

He recently sat down with Jerry Sticker of Runner’s World for a very interesting and detailed interview about his love affair with running.

Here are some excerpts from the interview with Malcolm:

How Other Countries Celebrate Running: There’s another interesting element that I’ve observed in Jamaica. (My mom is Jamaican, so we go there all the time.) I remember a couple of years ago going for a run on these little side roads and all these people shouting out to me, tons of them, just cheering me on, encouraging me. They have no idea who I am or what I’m doing there. The idea of someone out there running is so central right now in Jamaican culture that they’re like, “Good for you!” Cars would slow down and people would wave and honk their horns. And it’s not that I was the only person running, it’s just that running was something you celebrated. It was kind of fantastic, actually.

On the Flaws of Age-Class Racing: Age-class running, as you know, is completely unreliable. It’s based on this artificial thing, which is that people who are the same age have the same level of physical maturity. Which just isn’t true. And I always suspected, when I was an age-class runner, that I was just maturing faster than my peers. At 13 I would go to the line at a race and I would be the tallest guy in the race. Now, I’m not a tall person. I realized I was just maturing faster. And if you’re improving in those years, you’re improving your 1500 time by seven or eight seconds a year. If you have six months of maturity on someone, that’s four seconds! These races, these results, mean nothing at that age. All they tell you is that someone has a reasonable degree of promise. But I knew that I was just maturing faster than Dave Reid and that he would catch up with me and surpass me [laughs]. And that I should really quit while I was ahead.

Why Running is the Smart Choice as a Sport for Life: No, none of that is to say America can’t do a better job of finding running talent. It’s just a matter of the sport making a better competitive case for itself. Saying to kids who are doing something else that running is more rational. I mean, I’m biased, but I think of all the physical activities you can do as a kid. What you want to do is something that establishes a pattern of physical activity that is sustainable over a big chunk of your adult life. To me, that’s the main reason why you should do something. That’s why I think tennis is a really rational choice as a sport. Running is a rational choice. Football’s not. Totally irrational choice. Not a sustainable activity over the course of your life. It’s something that will actually get in the way of you being physically active later in life. In that sense I think we can do a better job in making the case for our sport at an earlier age.

Should PEDS and Drugs be Allowed: That’s the part of doping that I find the hardest to think through, injury recovery. When [retired NFL player] Ray Lewis comes back from torn triceps in six weeks—when for most people it’s a season-ending injury—there was a suspicion that he used some of this stuff. If you’re a professional athlete, I find it really hard to get mad at you if you use available medical technologies to recover quicker. I can understand, sure, it’s a bad thing if you’re competing and one person is taking a lot of drugs to perform better. But for injury recovery—that’s what drugs are for.

I remember when [New York Yankees pitcher] Andy Pettitte was injured, there was some allegation he was taking something during his period of recovery. How can you blame the guy? He’s a professional athlete. If I got carpal tunnel and couldn’t type, would I take a drug so I could get better sooner? Totally. My living is typing. If your living is throwing a baseball—that’s why this problem is so complicated. You can’t say that athletes can’t benefit from medical technology. But I also don’t like the idea that some guy’s winning the Olympics because he’s found a way to take a lot of EPO.

The entire interview is full of great statistical and social analysis of running. It’s a great read.

You can read the interview in it’s entirety HERE at Runner’s World.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 1051 posts on Run It Fast®.

Joshua Holmes has completed 197 marathons/ultramarathons while running 100+ miles 43 including races such as the Badwater 135, Western States 100, The Last Annual Vol State 500K (3x). His favorite races to date are the Vol State 500K, Badwater 135, Barkley Fall Classic, Catalina Eco Marathon, Chimera 100, Across The Years, Savage Gulf Trail Marathon, Strolling Jim 40 Miler, Tunnel Hill 100, RUTS, EC100 and the Flying Monkey Marathon in his home state of Tennessee. Follow @bayou Follow @joshuaholmes on Instagram

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