During an Anniversary Event this past weekend at the Eckheart Gallery in Decorah, Iowa where I show my paintings, I grew tired from talking to people and retreated to the studio where my former teacher and now friend Douglas Eckheart does his work.
Before me sat a 36″ X 50″ unfinished oil painting of the Mississippi Valley. Paints tubes were neatly arranged to the right. A pallette and brushes were perched to the left. The painting sat bold and still wet from the work he’d done earlier in the day.
And I thought: “Here I am. In the driver’s seat. I could finish this painting for him.”
Of course the notion is absurd. No painter can step into the shoes of another and hope to continue the creative process with the same outcome.
Someone else’s shoes?
It occurred to me the same thing holds true in running and riding. We cannot do the workout for someone else, or run their race for them. In instances where the person is faster or more talented, that is definitely true. But it is just as true if we were to propose standing in for someone much slower than us, or apparently ‘less talented.’
It’s all a matter of perspective. But the specifics of running or riding in someone’s else’s shoes are exactly why we’re fascinated with other people who do what we do.
The sad lesson of golf
Billions of articles have been written about how to become a better golfer, yet 9.5 out of 10 really, truly still suck at the game. And they will never get much better than they are right now. Golf technology is helping some golfers hit the ball straighter and farther.
Despite the equipment revolution, do we suddenly see scores of golfer across America shooting scratch (even par) golf? We do not. That’s because the mental process of playing the game is what really needs to be altered, not the equipment. A golfer with a bad swing and good clubs will always still be a bad golfer.
It has been said that an 18-handicap golfer is far away from a scratch golfer as a scratch golfer is away from becoming a pro. That is the scale of reality in golf. You’ve got to work pretty hard to be a pro. It’s not good enough to just be good.
In a nutshell that is why golf is such a huge spectator sport. Millions of (bad) golfers live vicariously by watching the pros, hoping to learn something about how to play like them. Golfers imagine themselves in the shoes of the pros, asking the question: What would we do differently, if anything?
Which makes it all the more painful when a pro actually folds or fails. You figure, if that guy (or gal) is that good, how hopeless would I be on the same course. We know the answer to that question, yet we live in a fantasy world of denial. So how can we be more constructive about learning from the pros?
If you want to improve your running or riding, it really breaks down to 3 simple principles:
- Technique (form and application)
- Strategy (training and racing plans)
- Inspiration (motivation)
The trick to getting better at seeing these categories and applying them to ourselves is to step outside yourself and look back in. Pretend you’re someone else looking at your challenges. In other words–put yourself in your own shoes.
To do this: you might have to put yourself in the shoes of others, first.
That sounds funny to say or counterintuitive, but really it is not. Like the artist who draws influence in his or her painting or music, it helps sometimes to force go outside your own mind to explore other influence, then come back to your own game. You can do this by putting yourself in someone’s else’s shoes for a minute. Or go smoke some pot. Whatever works.
Be a child again and pretend you’re a hero
In my more impressionable days, I used to pretend I was a runner like Steve Prefontaine or Frank Shorter or Bill Rodgers. I put myself in their shoes in order to imagine what it must be like to have that kind of talent and speed. That hero objectification was an instrument to learning about my own psychology.
Epiphanies can occur by doing these mental exercises. You might realize that your speed training has been neglected when you try to sprint home at the end of your “imaginary marathon.” Or you jump up on the pedals of your bike to climb like Alberto Contador and you realize that unless you go do a bunch of hill training, the responsiveness just won’t be there like your hero, whoever that may be.
So allow yourself some imaginative liberties. Go ahead and put yourself in someone’s else’s shoes, figuratively at least. You may well find that your imaginings are the key to understand how those heroes do what they do.