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Tuesday
Nov192013

Simon Cowell is killing running

I get quite a few emails asking whether I’d like to test kit. On the face of it this sounds great. Free stuff, awesome. However I am keen to avoid becoming a cog in a marketing machine.

The latest things I got sent yesterday were a new type of shoe, released in spring that have a bent up toe and will guarantee to increase my speed. The second was some sort of electrode that I attach to my leg after a run that is supposed to increase the speed of my recovery. Both promise instant results for no work.

These sound less ridiculous than some of the other things I have received in the past. I got an offer to test some necklace that emits ions that is supposed to align my energy chakras or something. Disturbingly I got sent a link for some sort of torture device that is supposed to increase ones height. It looked exactly like a medieval rack.

I know running and runners and have read and learned a lot about how to run. I have discovered a truth that I have yet to see disproven and I would love for someone to try and discredit it. Here it is.

Once comfort is taken care of; never in the history of running has a bit of kit made anyone faster. Ever.

Sure wearing a pair of shorts made of sand paper will probably slow me down and you could say that some fancy new pair of shorts will make me faster. However once I find a pair of shorts that feel nice, a comfortable pair of shoes, a jacket than keeps off the rain and a bag that fits well and carries flapjack there is nowhere else  to go in terms of buying kit.

Comfort includes some “function” aspects. For example a rain jacket that keeps you dry or some gloves that keep your hands warm. I know a lot of work goes into making products that allow us to run in the elements better. Making rain jackets lighter or sleeping bags smaller and such open up opportunities for me to run in places that maybe were inaccessible before. These are great and any genuine innovations should be commended.

Just don’t bullshit me that your compression guards are going to shave minutes off my marathon time. Or that your potions containing hornets honey will eliminate any discomfort with any run I ever do. Or that you have developed a new shoe in a lab that allows you to spring from the ground with more energy that what you hit it with. Give me evidence that it works in practice with actual athletes using it in actual races or piss off.

Here is a pie chart regarding what “matters” in an item of kit.

Why does this happen and why do we fall for it?

I love this quote here from Dave Grohl about the state of music. He said that the way he got good was by practicing with a load of friends for years and years. He said that for years and years he sucked and so did all his mates. However it was only after years of practice that they got any good.

 

But there is more to it than that. He actually enjoyed sucking. The simple pleasure of being with other people playing terrible music was satisfaction in itself. Had he never made it big as he has done he would still look back at that time he spent in that garage as time well spent. He enjoyed what he was doing for the sake of it, not because of the results of it. This is what is known as intrinsic motivation.

Take running then. What do you want from a piece of kit? Do you want something that will increase your intrinsic pleasure of running? Such as a water carrier that allows you to go further, or a GPS device that allows you to explore more adventurously or a coat that keeps you warm in cold weather? These are the things that I think are valuable. The things that allow me to increase my pleasure from running are the things I am likely to buy.

If someone said that a pair of shoes or a drink will guarantee me a 5% improvement on my time why would I take it? If someone just waved a magic wand over me that made me faster and then I got some great times would I be able to claim that victory as mine? Would it feel as good? I doubt it and I will never know anyway because none of this shit works.

So back to “why do we fall for it”? Running attracts a lot of people who like running but also a lot of people who don’t like running but like the results of running. There are 1000s of races now each which are sub divided into categories allowing us to claim “First Male 35-39” and such things. There are websites that list your speeds against the hypothetical fastest you can run allowing people to degrade themselves against each other.

This is not a bad thing and this is where most of the elites would be, however this extrinsic motivation is clear in many new comers to the sport who want the results without the work. They have been watching X Factor for too long and think the way to become a good musician is to get lucky in front of Simon Cowell rather than just work at it.

You can be results driven AND work hard, you can say you want to be the best and then strive to put in the effort but most of these products are aimed at people who want to claim they are better than others without putting in anything. There is so much crap you can buy now it is confusing to know what might help.

If you were concerned only with results and glory and someone said they could improve your speed with a shoe insert or a magic cream would you take it? Probably. And that’s how these companies gain traction. Simon Cowell and his ilk are destroying music and companies pedaling this shite are doing the same to running. However I don't think most people are motivated by unearned improvements.

So to bring this to conclusion I think we should warn people more about the charlatans who are out there promising great things to those who might not know better.

I would suggest you ask yourself before buying something "is this promsing to improve me independently of my own effort?" If the answer is yes then I would not buy it as I would get no satisfaction from the results it claims.

And it probably does not work anyway.

I suggest avoiding any product that sells itself using any of these key words;

Optimise, Eliminate, Scientifically proven, % increase, % decrease, % improvement, advanced, engineered, revolution, harnessing, synergise, harmonise.

If you want to sell me something, tell me your shorts are comfy and don't rip my balls off, or that you head lamps fit snuggly on my head and light the way, or that your bag allows me run run and carry stuff without shredding my back or that your watch will allow me to tell the time and I may buy.

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Reader Comments (9)

Or that your zip pockets are large enough for an oyster card, a phone and a set of keys.

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

Great post. Couldn't agree more!

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScott Leach

So true.

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVera

Fair point - there's no way to cheat to improvement. It's the 10,000 hour argument (that you need that many hours of practice to master anything in life). Cool new gear is great, but if it claims to magically improve your running it's offering a non-existent short-cut. That doesn't mean that all the gear out there is the best it could ever be and things like shoes and backpacks have become so much more comfortable and light in the last few years - those are definitely helpful improvements.

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIan Sharman

Risking being the only voice of decent here, but I think if the 'wants results for nothing' person trys running they wouldn't be there after 2 days because they'd find how hard the start is and give up. (They want it for nothing, right). Therefore they're not there to be a consideration when buying stuff as a long term runner. I for one would try anything to make a run better within reason but don't think adding a cream to your recovery routine is so detrimental to the enjoyment of a run. If it was then surely its a commercial failure anyway.

November 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjack mcneil

Brilliant article :) It's related to "The Secret" that everyone wants to know. I just read 'Once A Runner' and I can't stop quoting it, lol. But...

"What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared, to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most un-profound and sometimes heart rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottom of his training shoes. The trial of miles, miles of trials, how could they be expected to understand that?"

Basically, if you want to get better at running, go out and do some running. You can't buy the secret in a bit of kit.

November 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavieC

dave grohl loved sucking? didn't know that was his thing. fair enough tho.

November 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarc

I like the idea of separating races into age groups, but I certainly have no goal to finish first in 'women 25-29'. I use those more as more of a curiosity. If 18,000 run a half marathon, how many of them were similar to me?

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRae

Erm do you mean products like this http://www.edandphil.co.uk/prod_desc_ELETE25ML.html?sno=298 pot/kettle?

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLouis Walsh

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