Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Tipping Point

I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point recently. Gladwell asserts that trends and behaviours in society can develop just like epidemics, that they hit a “tipping point” when they either skyrocket or plummet. One example is the dramatic drop in the new York crime rate in the mid-‘90’s which may have been a result of the population being a little older, the economic situation being a little better, police being a little more effective and better backed, and all of these things brought the situation to a head. He also cites the case of a few dozen kids in New York starting to wear Hush Puppies at a time when this brand was all but extinct. Suddenly, thanks to a few strategic people noticing and imitating this fashion, sales of Hush Puppies skyrocketed.

Last week a former colleague passed away suddenly, a tragic early death of a great man. Everyone who knew him had the same things to say about him. He was funny, kind, and always took time for anyone. He was enormously popular with his colleagues when I worked with him, and he was enormously popular with the kids in the school at which he most recently taught as is evident on the Facebook page they set up in his memory.

I realized that this guy has been extremely influential in starting an epidemic of positive human interaction. The kids` comments on Facebook mentioned how he would joke around with them, how he always had time for them. Without being preachy or condescending or insulting or belittling, he simply demonstrated how to behave in a positive manner that makes everyone else`s lives happier. And if everyone behaved as he did, there would be no end of volunteers for school activities, no screaming arguments, no sulking bitterness, no angry reproaches.

Once you start seeing things this way, once you start trying to identify epidemics that you would like to see explode, the possibilities are endless. If you are reading this blog, you are likely a runner, swimmer, or cyclist. So you know that your positive approach to exercise and nutrition is mirrored and fed back by those around you to some extent. You surround yourself with people who have the same approach as you do, and you see others around you trying to be just a little more like you in those areas. They can`t help it; your behaviour is uncompromising and the benefits are so obvious that who could resist... The effect that your behaviour and attitude has on the world around you is truly breathtaking.

So let`s see if we can push on toward that tipping point at which all human behaviour improves dramatically. You know we can.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Marathon as Group Effort

Running a marathon is not always an individual effort. I know that my fellow runners have had an impact on the outcome of my twelve (to date) marathons in various ways.
The Waterloo Marathon was a very small field of runners. I think there were about 70 of us, but after some big city marathons I almost felt self conscious at the starting line. I didn’t know any of the other runners before we started, so I anticipated a fairly isolated run, which is exactly how it started out.
After about ten kilometres the sore right heel that I had been nursing for a couple of weeks pretty much gave up on me and I was almost hobbling along. The two women who had been close to two kilometres behind me started to catch up pretty fast. When they caught up to me we started chatting as often happens in these races. We discovered that we had other things in common (motorcycles), so it was a good time. However, I knew that I was going slower than they were capable of (one of them had just run Boston), but they were adamant that they would not desert me unless I wanted them to. And I was glad they stayed with me; it was a cold, dreary day on deserted gravel country roads with possibly one runner in sight at any time other than ourselves. It would have been a pretty dismal run without them. So we completed the course together in something over 4 and a half hours, and have been good friends ever since.
I noticed that a buddy was extremely slow in finishing the Toronto Marathon, and sure enough, it was because he was keeping another runner company because she was having a rough race. He’s one of those guys to whom that happens very often, and might help explain why he’s got the enthusiasm to have just finished his 100th marathon.
In the Niagara Falls Marathon I was rocking along at a PR pace, often with the 4 hour pace bunny and his group. They would go past me sometimes near the end, but were always in sight so I was dragged along by sheer stubborn determination to stay with them. I doubt that I could have done a PR without those guys. We all high fived at the finish line (they were still hanging around the finish area when I finally made it).
There have been instances (countless) where I’ve given an encouraging word to someone near the end who is almost at the end of their rope, and I know it’s helped them. Many times little clusters or individuals cheer each other on, make little jokes, do whatever it takes to help each other out. I’ve seen many instances of bonding, partying, and just general helpfulness at almost every marathon I’ve run.
There was only one marathon I ran that had a distinct lack of camaraderie to it that was incomprehensible to me. Runners were peevish it seemed; I didn’t see anyone with a party attitude. In fact, most runners looked pretty tightly wound up. It wasn’t really a competitive issue; we’re talking the 4 hour plus crowd, so no prize money there. Even the spectators were unenthused and tended to ignore any runners they didn’t know. It was a tad cold, but not even jacket temperature for me. Although the attitude fit the general attitude of that city in my experience, that still didn’t explain it for me because participants are never exclusively local. I don’t know, hopefully nobody else saw it like I did.