Monday, August 4, 2008

Quantity over Quality

We usually think about a statement like the title of this blog in a different way. We always want less of a superior product than more of a crappy product. However, a friend pointed me to a post today that said the following.

In his post Quantity Always Trumps Quality, Jeff Atwood made a very interesting reference to an arts-related book:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Arguments can be made for just about everything (I went to law school, believe me, I know), but this argument REALLY seems to make sense. Especially when you compare it to running long-distance running or long-distance racing. With the marathon, there is so much to learn from each race, so many nuances to be tweaked that running just one or two actual races a year seems to be counter-intuitive to learning how to race it properly. sure you can learn how to "run" a race better by repetition and coaching but only when you are IN the race, actually racing, will you learn what your body and mind do in a race situation.

Who knows if the pottery example from above is true? The fact of the matter is that I truly believe that it lends itself well to running. With 79 marathons under my belt, and 29 Boston qualifiers, I think I know a great deal about how to race.

I have raced in single digits, raced in 90 degree heat, raced at 13,000 feet above sea level, raced on trails, raced on roads, raced in multiple different types of shoes, sunglasses, singlets and shirts. I have raced in a handful of countries, raced against 25 other people and against 37,000 people. I have raced to a 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 10th overall place (No 8th or 9th. Hmm. Interesting).

I have also raced to be in the BOTTOM 38% of finishers and raced to finish 3068th overall.
I have raced a 3:19 marathon and have raced a 5:17 marathon, both times being 50th overall. I have raced sub-3 on 9 different occasions and once I was 3rd overall and the other I was 114th.

I may not be the best runner out there. But I bet there are few who know more about how to race a marathon, regardless of their situation, position, climate etc, than I. Is it because I am a better runner, smarter person or more intuitive? Nope. It is because I went out and raced. Often. I experienced the race.

Of course, I put in my time "running" first. I learned what I could in running, got in shape and then raced. To not do the running before the racing will lead one to a potential career that is short-lived and far from enjoyable. I did not want that. I started with smaller races and worked my way up.

And now, through the quantity I have done, and the quality which has come from doing them, I can say I enjoy both running AND racing as much as anyone else out there.

Speaking of which, it is time for me to go enjoy.


Annie C said...

People like me are lucky to have people like you! You're a real champ.

cyberpenguin said...

This is an excellent post. It's a testament to the fact that we need to actively participate & strive in order to learn, & not just stand on the sidelines theorizing about what "could happen." Learning by doing & being unafraid to try are some of the simple but profound lessons of running.