Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bottom-Up or Top-Down View of Performance?

I'm writing this a few hours after I won the Dubuque Duathlon although the idea behind this I had a few weeks ago and I am just getting around to writing it. Nevertheless, take what I say with a grain of salt as I ride this high of wining a race.

When I tell people about my goals, for many I get a response something like, 'that's crazy to think that you are that good to go into a race with the plan of winning it because that's all ego and mean, unfriendly competitive spirit talking.' Perhaps they are right, but I view the world with the attitude of wondering what is possible. Will someone run a sub 2 hour marathon? Yes, unless the world ends first, it will take a few more people to bring the record down and the first time it goes it will likely be in a wind and elevation aided scenario like Boston this year, or something like a track race, or an event where pacesetters do not all start at the beginning, such as two new pacesetters every 5k, something which is not done in running currently. I look at what has been done and I wonder why I can't do that as well. Could I go to the Olympics in the marathon? Perhaps, but it's probably something like a .01% or .001% chance, which in my mind means there is a chance.

Another example is 8000 meter peaks. This year a guy summitted Everest and Lhotse within 24 hours (May 20th entry). This is the first time two 8000 meter peaks have been done in 24 hours, but he slept in the middle and used oxygen. What is possible when it comes to linking up 8000 meter peaks? I mean they are big, but in terms of mileage and even vertical elevation there are a number that are close together like G1 and G2 or Broad Peak and K2. The vertical elevation basecamp to summit on Broad Peak is about 10,600 ft and K2 is about 12,400 ft. I am not familiar enough with Nepal and the Himalaya to talk about more than Everest and Lhotse. For comparison I did 93 miles in less than 32 hours with 22-23,000 feet of elevation unsupported and with a 5.5 hour nap in the middle and 1.5 of walking by iPhone light. With a full support system, what is possible? With a high enough aerobic capacity is oxygen needed? Ed Viesturs did some amazing thing without oxygen, and with all due respect, he's a 3:15 marathoner (at NYC which is not an easy course).

These are top-down views. At the top, there are only a few performances within sight. The challenges are specific and the focus narrow. The top of a pyramid is a point. The pyramid also grows continually because we are searching for the limits. As soon as a new and higher point is placed, some new kid comes along and moves the top higher. While the challenges may sound competitive, it is intensely personal. Each person plays the mental game in his and her own head wether it is possible for him or her to accomplish the task at hand. Of course, at that level it is known the task is possible because the barrier is only a little farther away. The question is, who can do any particular challenge first?

The other view is the bottom-up view. Quite possibly this is a more healthy and balanced view of opportunity and challenges. Using the pyramid example, the goal is to get a little better and move a little higher. When people talk about their results at races in terms of age group standing that is a bottom-up view. The challenge is within a limited range. Unfortunately, this point of view can be limiting. The limits are established by those seemingly out-of-range people.

I say this is a healthy point of view because the goals are more qualitative and less quantitative. The goal is not to run a 3:43.12 mile (.01s faster than current world record), but rather to have a good race and ideally improve the time, but not necessarily. The attitudes in general are qualitative instead of quantitative meaning that how you felt about a performance is more important than the numerical result of the performance. I have actually tried in 2011 to take that attitude into my daily life more. It is easier to say to friends and coworkers that I struggled with the transitions and had a good first multi-event instead of describe the 20.8+mph average on the bike and the 4.2 miles run in approximately 23 minutes as well as the drama surrounding my win. After all, how do I describe to the person that has never run a sub 6 minute mile that except for at altitude I never race that slow?

While I kind of touched on it, the bottom-up view is about feelings and emotions more than physical success. I feel everyone has a a mix of both views but leans toward one or the other. Perhaps it is really goal-orientated versus emotion-orientated that I am trying to describe.

The point of all of this is that I ask myself, 'what is possible?' I have a few ideas of what is possible for me and in all aspects of my life I feel that I am on the path of discovery to find out those possibilities. Some of those possibilities have been done by other people, some have not. Regardless of the outcome there is much learning to be done. There is much doing to be accomplished. Part of the excitement of pursuing the possibilities is learning and experiencing the process.

Would you like to know the hardest physical thing I have ever done? It was the double marathon that I did on my birthday in 2009. I have not done anything that hurt that much. I have had harder mental and emotional experiences and harder combinations of the three, but that was physically the most difficult thus far.

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