Running: The Discipline of Purposeful Practice

purposeful running

I’ve just finished reading a book that I think is a real game-changer. The book is called ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed, a retired table-tennis player, and now a sportswriter.

The book breaks down what separates good sportspeople from champions, and what he concludes is this: practice. He argues that it isn’t natural, raw talent that makes someone the best at what they do, but ‘purposeful practice’. By ‘purposeful’, he means a planned strategy for practice, with a specific goal in mind.

For example, you might simulate specific situations for your chosen sport, (i.e. the final sprint in a 100m race); or practicing posture or a new running style, and so on. He advises working on this repeatedly until it is second nature. Syed quotes from Andre Agassi’s book ‘Open’ (well worth a read by the way), illustrating how this principle worked for him:

“My father says that if I hit 2,500 balls each day, I’ll hit 17,500 balls a week, and at the end of one year I’ll have hit nearly one million balls. He believes in math. Numbers, he says, don’t lie. A child who hits one million balls each year will be unbeatable.”

Now I thought this was an interesting concept, because it effectively opens up a whole world of possibilities to us ‘mere mortals’.

I thought about my own running schedule, and what I consider to be a good result. I wonder if I’m just putting miles in the bank, or purposefully practicing. Am I pushing myself hard enough? Successful people in any walk of life are just that because they are continuously pushing themselves to achieve more.

Most of us settle for far less than our true potential.

I encourage you to do what I did and read Syed’s book, and then examine your training schedule and see if you can modify or change it so that you achieve greater results.

This might not necessarily mean running more miles, but perhaps working on your pace or changing your training environment. Practice hill sprints and doing interval runs even when the race course might be flat. Find someone faster than you and run with them, and surround yourself with better runners and learn from them. Most people will be happy for you to tag along and help you. Monitor your results, and see if you get greater gains from your purposeful practice sessions. If you do this, and make sure you are hydrated, have enough sleep and eat well, then your body should respond.

Experienced runners know this to be true. We’ve seen our bodies adapt from when we first started running. I distinctly remember when I took up running, starting with just 1 mile. I moaned and whinged, and hated every second of it. The beeping sound of my heart-rate monitor was enough to trigger a tantrum on particularly bad days. But then after practice, I was able to do more. My body responded, adapted, and I was able to improve.

Really focus on what you want to achieve and then put a plan in place that pushes you. Don’t settle for less than your best and keep pushing for more.