Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Conventional Wisdom vs.... the World

In Steven Levitt's book Freakonomics, he cites Kenneth Galbraith's definition of Conventional Wisdom as - a set of unproven facts, hypotheses we like to believe true because they make us feel comfortable and give us some sense of control over what happens around us. Experts have their own agenda and their own interest in mind; and expertise is nothing more than a clever but often ruthless way to make money or to gain power from the monopoly of information.

As much as I wanted to read this book, I ended up listening to it on tape during one of my recent road trips. It is one of the best non-fiction read/listen to's I have ever read.

When I heard the chapter on Conventional Wisdom, I immediately made the link to my life as a runner AND.... get this..... my former years as a classically trained tuba player.

Yes..... I had aspirations to be a professional tuba player. One of the things I found interesting back then was, how much one practiced (time) did not necessarily correlate to how well they performed in auditions and recitals. I remember early on focusing on practicing smart and working harder than anybody else on core fundamentals. I spent more time than any of my peers playing "long tones", 5-10 minutes at a time playing one note. I would see how great of a sound I could make.

I never mastered some of the technical aspects or range I was supposed to, but I competed well during the years I focused on it.

I stepped away from it for almost 15 years. Came back to playing just for fun, and played one of the solos I struggled with the best I ever had during a father's day church service.

After that performance I remember thinking "why couldn't I have played it like that in college?"

Conventional Wisdom would say I should have been at my peak with all of the time, focus, and intensity I had. I was even studying under one of the best tuba players in the world, Rex Martin. (I still keep in touch with him, now that my oldest son decided to be a tuba player)

What I had traded all of the hard work, grinding, and high expectations for was a pure love and joy of creating beautiful music. Nobody in that audience would know if it was good or bad, they had never heard a tuba solo. I actually had the choir director in tears. She was expecting Tubby the Tuba.


After qualifying for Boston at the 1992 Chicago Marathon, I figured I had proved to my friends I was a good runner.

I did not run Chicago that year and the year before for myself. I ran it for other people. I can't explain why.


After not running for races for 10 years, I had a mild mid life physical crisis. I was out of shape, and wanted to be a "marathoner" again. I went full throttle on training and racing. I returned to Chicago to miss my time by about 40 seconds.

I spent the next 4-5 years trying to improve on that, all the while pounding my body into submission. I continued on a gradual slope of slower and slower.

I had this goal of breaking 3 hours. It became more and more out of reach.


Somewhere in there I ran the Superior 50K, and fell in love with trail running. In a strange way, the pressures of having to run fast were gone. And the race was like no other. I drove my wife nuts talking about the race for weeks on end.

I ran Ice Age 50M the next year, and had just as much fun (and I didn't even know the Lapham Gang yet.....).

A few weeks after that I pulled a muscle in my back building a patio. Ouch.

I did not run for 2 months.

August 1st of that year, I was a National Night Out in our neighborhood. Just about everybody came to me asking "what crazy race are you doing next?". The next day I ran 8 miles.

5 weeks later, I ran the Superior 50 Mile.

Conventional Wisdom would say 3 weeks training with a 2 week taper would not translate into success. I pulled off a 10:42? (may have been :52). LOVED IT.

I knew I had found my new home. Ultra/trail. Either.

I did fall off the wagon the following month and run Whistlestop Marathon. Just a momentary lapse of reason.


I first heard of Phillip Maffetone in 1992 when reading a book. I was so intrigued by this theory, I went out and tried to buy a book he wrote. He had not written one yet. 18 years later I buy his book "The Maffetone Method", advocating a low intensity approach to peak performance.

Conventional Wisdom would say you can't run fast, or at a high level with almost all of your running at a slow pace.

Mark Allen proved that wrong.

I used that method to run injury free in 2008, and set new pr's in 2009.


I am tired of running "LSD's" 50-80 mile weeks (or more here and there).

I travel 3 out of 5 weeks for work.

I have 4 kids.

I have a beautiful, wonderful, understanding wife.

I love the sport of Ultra/trail running.

These don't all work in a pretty harmonic way.


Conventional Wisdom would say Crossfit and/or Crossfit endurance are foolish attempts at becoming better at, or maintaining my current level in this sport.

I can cite 3 people, who I don't know and have never met, emailed, or have had any contact with.

Brian MacKenzie - Subject Matter Expert on Crossfit Endurance
-completed WS100 and Angeles Crest 100 using this program
Mark Matyazic - 2nd place at Javelina Jundred last year (I can't verify if he followed this to a "T")
Kim Battipaglia - Winner of the Dances With Dirt Green Swamp 50 mile this year. She went from 100 mile training weeks down to 15 I believe.


Crossfit and Crossfit endurance are not "cross training". Cross training is riding your bike as a workout, or swimming instead of running.

CF and CFE are very specific programs, designed to do and achieve multiple things to your body. They are... training.

I have felt more beat up after these lower body workouts than after a 30 mile run.

The CFE aspect has "programming" behind it (which I am working on getting dialed into). You follow an Interval/Tempo/Interval sequence MATCHED with anaerobic strength and conditioning workouts. You can choose the latter from the CF or the CFE site.

This is not a necessarily a "low mileage" program as it is an elimination of "LSD's". And if you think that is easy, try running a "tabata" workout and 3 hours later do any of the workouts.


Many of you have made the connection to Adam saying "I didn't work for him". Well, Adam did not follow the programming. At all. (Adam.. feel free to chime in). I suggest people be cautious disproving a theory by only looking at the failures. Adam beat me to the 100k point in that race by a wide margin, and I dropped as well.

Training was not my downfall there, it was a combination of a few other things.

The people who put on CFE ADVOCATE HEAVILY that programming is the key to success.

I just got an email from a guy who has been following CFE, and was surprised during his 10 Mile time trial to pull off a 56:50. Yes, he was fast before, but that is smoking with any type of training program. Way to go Redbarron. Nice work.


Bottom line is, Conventional Wisdom has led me astray many times in my life. I don't look at everything obvious and think "Conventional Wisdom?", but I do get cautious when people start speaking in terms of absolutes.

I can't do 70-80 mile weeks right now. My absent posts from November, December, and part of January were reflective of my state of mind and motivation.

I love being a part of the Ultra/trail community. This blogging thing started when I took a leave of absence from work a few years ago, and turned into this.

I can take the criticism, and any crap anybody wishes to deal my way. At the end of the day, the race clock tells all.

If I can finish 1 hour behind people like Dehart, I am happy. If I pull off a good race now and then, even better.

Nothing beats running with the ultra gang, telling stories, drinking home brew, and sharing a common bond that only they seem to understand. And none of us seem to be able to explain.

Thanks for reading.

I am now getting fired up again and having fun.

Sorry for the typos and grammatical errors. No proofread tonyte


Anonymous said...

Good response. There is no doubt I follow absolutes. However, I am always tweaking, rarely follow the same exact running pattern year after year. Recently I had to take 5.5 weeks off due to a hammie issue. Back to the log books to see what might work. My new theory is the "Buck-and-a-half" theory. To me it is profoundly simple.

Mon = OFF
Tue = 1.5 hours
Wed = 1.5 hours
Thu = 1.5 hours
Fri = 1.5 hours
Sat = 2.0 hours
Sun = 2.0 hours

I will gently raise the weekend runs by 10-15 minutes as I go along, and yes, I will do a few single long runs on the trails.

The principle is this. My regular run is a buck-and-a-half. Hopefully I can round to 7:30 shape. The race should play like this and remember I try and keep the same pace.

1st 1.5 = Not an issue, we are all amped up and tapered.

2nd 1.5 = Should feel like a regular 1.5 run

3rd 1.5 = Should feel like a 1.5 hour run later in the week when tired.

4th 1.5 = Should feel like the second 2.0+ run on Sunday.

5th 1.5 = Not sure what it will feel like, but I'm heading home and motivated.

Conventional wisdom says I should have been able to crush Ice Age in the day, but never did. Never came close, though I was consistently in the 2:40s for marathons. The years I laid back, did less speedwork, and just ran the darn thing by feel worked well. Sure, not quite as fast, but only 20 seconds slower per mile? Plus I wasn't beat up. I'm 180+ pounds and running 9 minute miles on the road with the dog this day and age. That's what I got, but that works for me.

Paint King

nwgdc said...

What a great post! I still have "time goals" to a point (still chasing that sub 3) but at the same time I have found myself running less and less when I don't feel like it. For themost part, if I can run on trails for an hour or two, I will. Other than that...no thanks.

By the way...I was 100% joking in that previous comment.

Anyway, I'm excited to follow along! I've done some of the AH workouts--he sent me a file with them--and they are an entirely different level of hurt. I've done P90X and that stuff doesn't do much for me. But some of the CF 20 mintues blasters? Yikes!

Anonymous said...

Good post, a lot to think about. Again I maintain that one should train in the way that makes them hungry to continue every day. I grew bored of running long distances every day, and moved to other things. That's not right or wrong, just the way it is.

However, I will give a little bit of opinion here and say that for anybody to speak in absolutes about how YOU should train is completely assinine. Expecially for somebody to speak in absolutes about how YOU should train when they haven't done any of the training that YOU are doing.

You are correct that I did not and do not follow the Crossfit methodology. I take a lot of what they do, create a lot of my own, and simply do what I enjoy. I can't speak to what a strict CF or CFE program will do for an ultrarunner, and will never know because I'll never strictly follow either program and will probably never run another ultra event.

You make a great point about Superior though. Yes, I dropped out at 100k with a low mileage training program as preparation. Every year 50% of the field drops out and almost every one of them trains as conventional wisdom says you need to. Every year many of the highest mileage runners drop. To predict doom for you based on my DNF is unfair at best.

I am very interested to see how well you perform with this training regimen. My current belief is that your fastest running times at any distance will come with dedicated distance running. However, I also believe you will perform nearly as well under this regimen while becoming an exponentially better overall athlete. It's all a trade off...what is most important to you?


Helen said...

I'm a bit worried about this trend... first Adam, now you, if I spend this year running all the miles I can should I also be preparing to convert my basement next year? I can't build stuff though. But there are a few potentially useful fixtures (plumbing?) already in place - does crossfit do pole dancing? In Vegas 4hrs and it's already too long...

Joe said...

The CFE aspect has "programming" behind it (which I am working on getting dialed into). You follow an Interval/Tempo/Interval sequence MATCHED with anaerobic strength and conditioning workouts

If you say "dailed into" you are definitely part of the CF culture. Any tattoos yet? Doing your running in Chuck Taylors and cargo pants? ... All in fun; I know the workouts are the real thing.

So have you figured out the clear-as-mud programming?

How matched are the running workouts with the CF main site? Certainly the strength WODs now put on the CFE site can be considered to be matched. But the CFE strength WODs are quite different than the main site WODs.

And my big question, how often can you participate in long distance events before you are no longer properly following the CFE programming?

You are a good runner with a history of significant mileage switching to CFE. From CFE's success stories I think it will work well for you.

My background is different: low, irregular mileage; never been fast; stubborn enough to have finished a few ultras. I don't know of any success stories of guys like me taking up CFE. We'll see what happens.

SteveQ said...

Those I've seen that did well in ultras using Crossfit used it in addition, rather than instead of "regular" training, though I haven't looked into those you mentioned as examples. One of the things it has going for it is that in 100s, if you're not losing it mentally or having trouble digesting, then it's muscles that are the limiting factor - they just give out; and usually it's the smaller balance and postural ones that go if the quads hold - Crossfit does well in training those muscles to hold out.

See? I can say nice things about Crossfit! Now go take off your shirt and call everyone Dude.

Matthew Patten said...


I changed to just following the CFE programming by following a few days behind.

Today, reset as if it were Sunday the 21st. I did the Anaerobic Strength and Conditioning workout and rested on the running.

Tomorrow I will do the Feb 22nd Strength and cond. Wod with Mondays 2x By Time running workout. This lines up days, off days and the Anaerobic workouts by the same programming. Just 4 days behind.

The main site Wods were killing me, and making me unable to run. The CFE Anaerobic Strength and Conditioning workouts compliment running without killing me. Although the Hollow Rocks were evil.

Matthew Patten said...

Oh yeah, Steve.... I have noticed you have been uncharacteristically nice... if not, encouraging.

New Years resolution?

I am afraid I will miss the old Steve.

For the record, I rarely run without a shirt, so don't worry about that. You can still call me douchbag. And the beer.. I put Nestle unsweetened Cocoa (1 lb for 11.5 gallons), 2 lbs of lactose, and will steep in secondary with 1/2 lb of Diedrich Coffee Black Tiger.

Steve said...

I'm with Adam on this in that I feel the most important aspect to any training regimen is to find something that you enjoy. It is so true that if you do what you love, you will find success. There is no "right" way to train and each of us responds differently to different types of training. If crossfit is floating your boat, keep doing it and have fun. I wish you success and look forward to seeing how this works out at Zumbro.

BTW, I'm glad you picked up Adam's torch (so to speak) on this type of training since his blog became defunct. I used some of his "primal" workouts as crosstraining for Zumbro last year and I felt it helped me out quite a bit. I plan to add it back to my regimen once I get my running base where I want it to be. Oh, and I'm a fellow brass player. I played trumpet (still have it), French horn, and baritone in high school. Eek! Band geek!! This one time, at band camp.............

Londell said...

Nice and well thought out post. As with some of the comments above, I agree in part. I have always found people succeed more when they use enjoyment and spontaneity approach to what ever they are trying to achieve. I know when I have structured training and certain race or results deadlines things become a burden. But when I just keep it general and enter events a few weeks before, I keep interest. Otherwise, is it running, cross-fit, biking, or any other sport, it is becomes so structured on results and structure, it becomes a job and all people are better at hobbies.

Psyche said...

Sorry for being so late to comment.I actually came back and read your post a couple of times because it was so good and there was so much info to digest.

Where to start? Well, if you liked Freakonomics, you'll surely be a fan of SUPER Freakonomics! Check out the epilogue about...wait for it...Monkey prostitution;)!

Conventional wisdom is ever changing, which should be a clue huh? It's what exists until some brave soul does the work to disprove it. Lactic acid causing fatigue comes to mind. Totally disproved in the 70's, yet you still barely hear the truth- that lactate is re-shuttled and used as a fuel source ( &the brain causes fatigue). Ah! Another one- you can get rid of quad pain by running fast downhill. Anyways:)

I love that you are attuned to the fact that you need to enjoy training to stay with it, and that you're an experiment of one!

I for one will be following your journey. Keep up the great training and blogging!