Thursday, February 28, 2013

Don't believe everything you think

The opening segment of the recently-released documentary Makers: Women Who Make America tells the story of Kathrine Switzer, the gutsy young woman who entered the 1967 Boston Marathon when it was still an all-male event. She finished the race (a physical attack from the race director notwithstanding), and literally changed the game. If you missed it, it’s just a few minutes long and it’s well worth a watch, so please click here, and be inspired by #261.

In her opening comments, she cites some examples of things people used to believe about women and running: that going the long distances would make women grow mustaches, or cause their uteruses to fall out. Obviously, it’s laughable today, but I think it’s important to look at old beliefs in their proper historical context. There was so much we didn’t know. And you know what? There’s so much that we still don’t know.

Consider the conventional wisdom of running today, and how different it was only a short generation ago. When I started running, we believed in static stretching before a run; now we warm up our muscles and fascia before we stretch. We used to carbo-load; now we rely upon complex carbohydrates and a balanced diet. We used to think runners should drink all the water they could get down; now we know about the risks of hyponatremia. None of those old ideas seem totally ridiculous to me. They reflected what the scientific and athletic communities knew about the human body. Growing a mustache because you run 26.2 miles? Okay, it’s a little harder to understand. But considering how limited our knowledge of the endocrine system had to have been back then, I’m going to go ahead and give those guys a break.

Looking ahead into the not-too-distant future, what else that we “know” today will seem outdated or ridiculous? Lots of things, to be sure. This is the beauty of human innovation: we’re always proving ourselves wrong. And this doesn’t just hold true for the scientists. Somewhere, on some level, each of us is telling ourselves something that is holding us back. Probably lots of things. Today I challenge myself to think about what some of those truths might be, and consider the possibility that I’m wrong. Being a messy person who prefers to live and work with my stuff in heaps and piles instead of pretty little labeled baskets means I’m disorganized and scatterbrained. I’ll never run a 7-minute mile. Social workers are undervalued, and can’t make a good living. I can’t run without my morning coffee. (Just kidding. That one is definitely true.)

What are you telling yourself that might not be true?


  1. So, you mean being messy and having my work in heaps doesn't mean I'm scatterbrained and disorganized? Good to know! (You should see my desk right now).

    And it is it okay that I still carbo load, like every day?

    Great post. We've definitely come a long way but there is still so much we don't know and so much that I'm sure we have wrong. I watched the Katherine Switzer portion of the documentary but I can't wait to watch the entire film!

    1. Heck yeah, OUR kind of carbo loading is going to be backed by the science eventually, I'm just sure of it. Someone needs to fund a study of the physiological benefits of a half-box of lemon "Savannah Smiles" Girl Scout Cookies on the long run.

  2. Great post. I didn't even know about Katherine Switzer. What a great video.

    WEll, if you believe the Born To Run book (I'm not a barefoot runner), we didn't argue with Nike when they introduced those types of shoes. And now they say it's what has caused our feet problems and running injuries. My ankles are shot anyways from years of basketball. But it's a different perspective.

    If you look at people's arguments against gay marriage...well, they had similar arguements for interacial marriages back 50+ years ago. Now, it's no big deal for a black man to marry a white woman. In 50 years, it won't be a big deal for a man to a marry another man. But what will be the new bad then?

    1. EXACTLY! I look at photos taken during the Civil Rights Movement, of those hateful people spitting on children on their way to school, etc., and often think to myself that someday (soon, I hope) denying the right to marriage to same-sex couples is going to look just as ugly and hateful. We're never going to be perfect, but let's hope we keep getting less imperfect all the time ...