Running and the 10,000 Hour Rule

AJW looks at how Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule might apply to running.

By on March 22, 2013 | Comments

AJWs TaproomMalcolm Gladwell, in his bestselling book Outliers, explores mastery in many forms and considers several examples from recent history to seek an understanding of what it takes to truly achieve excellence and success in work, in play, and in life. The most compelling chapter in the book focuses on, what Gladwell calls the 10,000 Hour Rule. In this chapter, Gladwell specifically cites a few compelling examples of nurture over nature with his assertion that 10,000 hours of practice is what is necessary for true mastery in any given arena.

As a high school student at the prestigious Lakeside School in Seattle, WA, a young Bill Gates, in the mid-’70’s, was given literally unlimited access to a Parents Association computer lab with a direct link to the University of Washington mainframe which allowed him to spend countless hours writing code, exploring programming techniques, and creating the foundation for one of the world’s most successful software companies. Certainly, Gates had an innate knack for his craft. However, when given the time and the space to truly commit thousands of hours to that craft, with virtually no limits, he was able to turn his passion into his profession and ultimately to change the way many of us view the world.

In the early-1960’s in Hamburg, Germany a rebellious rock band from Liverpool, England was given a similar opportunity. In a decidedly different field, the Beatles basically had free reign of a popular nightclub where they routinely played music, day in and day out, for eight hours a day, six days a week (the club was closed on Sunday). Along the way, their legendary sound was refined, their creative genius was nurtured, and the greatest rock band of all time was incubated. It wasn’t always fun and it was occasionally quite monotonous, but it was theirs to be had and they took it. A few years later they took the world by storm and changed the world of popular music forever.

While Gladwell does not deny the fact that Gates and the Beatles had certain innate gifts that allowed them to succeed, he is confident in his assertion that the opportunity they had to practice their craft for hours, with little to no interruption, was what propelled them to go, in Jim Collins’ words, from “good to great.” Additionally, Gladwell notes that it was not the extraordinary work that these 10,000-hour practitioners put in that made them great but rather it was their commitment to the consistent, repetitive, grinding, and sometimes mind-numbing pursuit of their goals that gave them such an undeniable path to mastery.

For me, as a runner, I get this, I really do. And, the cool thing is, when I think about our community of runners I realize that we don’t need a fancy computer lab or a grungy, hip nightclub to provide us our opportunity for mastery. For us runners, the Beatles and Bill Gates represent an ideal we can all emulate. Indeed, it is not the actual opportunity that we need. Rather, what we need, and what many of us have, is the drive, the desire, and the relentless ability to simply keep going, regardless of whatever stands in our way. For I am convinced that anyone, regardless of genetics, class, physical circumstances, and locale, can achieve mastery through hard work, commitment, and the mind-numbing ability to just get out there day after day, month after month, year after year.

What gives me the right to say this, you may ask? Well, I am just one guy living one life one day at a time. But I can say, for me, this 10,000 hour rule has proven true. For the past 20 years I have run roughly 600-700 hours a year (with a few inevitable “breaks” for injuries). So, as of now, that is right around Gladwell’s magic number. And, while I don’t pretend to think that I have mastered this craft like Gates and the Beatles have mastered theirs, I can say that this is one place in my life that I have achieved a level of success and satisfaction with which I am content. And, I dare say, for a middle-aged guy putting one foot in front of the other, contentment is about as good as it gets.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

three brothers breweryThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from a great new brewery in Harrisonburg, Virginia. 3 Brothers Brewery just opened in January and they are already establishing a foothold in the competitive Central Virginia Beer Scene. Their Elementary – Robust Porter is a simple, balanced porter that is reminiscent of some of the original “micro-brewed” porters from Oregon and Vermont from back in the 80’s. A nice blend of hops and flavor, this porter fits just right in this spring that just doesn’t seem to want to arrive.

Call from Comments (from Bryon)

  • Do you think the 10,000 hour rule is valid in general?
  • Have you found it to apply to your or others’ running?
  • Have you seen it at work in other areas of your life?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.