Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What I Read: Gordo Byrn

Someone who doesn't read gets about the same education as someone who can't. Where you get your information seems of vital importance to how you see the world. We are bombarded with information, and misinformation all day long. I'm fascinated by how people wade through the deluge, when and where they consume, and how they structure their work-life around it. TheAtlanticWire has this wonderful series called Media Diet that I read religiously. They focus on the reading habits of "prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts, and the literary world". I'm going to steal this idea from them, however my focus will be on prominent figures in athletics, nutrition, and health.

This essay is from 
Gordo Byrn. Gordo is the author of "Going Long" and the founder of Endurance Corner LLC. He lives in Boulder, CO with his family and three kids. In addition to his athletic writing, he publishes a personal blog that covers his interests outside of triathlon.  ~ Matt Hart

The toughest part of improving my information flow has been breaking my habit of reading low value sources. It’s been a five-year journey and I’ll start by sharing how that process went.

The first source of information that I cut out was web forums that allow anonymous posting. First, and foremost, anonymous sites promote hate and ignorance. Second, “experts” in these environments are noted for their frequency of posting, negativity and strength of message. Because of the negativity associated with most forums, this was an easy adjustment. I’ve been off these sites for more than five years.

Last January, I experimented with dropping Facebook. Initially for a month, and then permanently. Facebook makes me think that I’m more important than reality and the constant look-at-me postings clutter my thinking.

Most recently, I dropped all web media - sites like the NY Times, Google News, Wall Street Journal and The Economist. This was far tougher because I tell myself that I need to be informed to make good decisions. I looked deeply into that assumption and discovered that there are only a couple of decisions (per year) that matter. The big stories, and trends, that will impact these decisions get through my media filter. As well, most current media targets fear or appeal to sexual desire. I don’t need to enhance those traits.

So what do I read?

I like Twitter, but not so I can see what my friends ate for breakfast. Rather, I use my feed as a media filter. Worldwide trends let me know if any big stories break and I follow Alan Couzens as he retweets anything that’s noteworthy in sports performance. I’ve been experimenting with my number of follows (0-100 in the last year). Right now I’m at ten follows and that seems about right.

The purpose of “not-reading” and limiting flow is to create space for what I want to read. In the fall and winter, I read good books, nearly always non-fiction. Most my reading falls into these themes:

  • History (Running with the Legends)
  • Behavioral Psychology (Influence by Cialdini)
  • Classic Reference Material (Lore of Running, Running the Lydiard Way, Daniels Running Method)

To have the time to read, then consider, important titles means that I have to say “no” to many sources of noise. Writing daily and reading a dozen good books per annum requires constantly pruning the flow. A good example being email. My default action is delete/unsubscribe and I try to reply as if I’ve received a text message.

As a coach, my most valuable information comes directly from the athletes on our team. There is the objective feedback of workout data (I use Training Peaks to track) as well as the subjective feedback of how they are feeling and coping.

I’m at the stage now where I’ve worked with hundreds of different athletes and those case studies form a rich background of experience. For new coaches, I recommend that you improve yourself, then help others that are similar to you, then branch out to athletes that are different from you. You’ll learn far more from the practical application of coaching than reading theory or debating with ill-informed strangers.

In seeking good information remember that the best practitioners, in every area, are working in the field, rather than publishing. You can get around this by asking coaches that you respect for their best books on a subject of interest. As a novice coach, Scott Molina recommended many great books for me. Get the top titles from people you respect and make time to study.

Place the greatest emphasis on “old” sources of information. Advice that remains true after more than 25 years is most likely to be useful. With a young sport, like triathlon, almost everything “new” will fall away over the next three seasons.

Finally, if you are feeling overwhelmed then making time to sit still for 10-15 minutes per day goes a long way towards clearing mental clutter.

When more ceases to work, start to focus on less.

Endurance Corner's founder, Author, & Coach Gordo Byrn: "What I Read" essay @EnduranceCorner

Others from the Media Diet: What I Read Series


Alex Hutchinson
Runner's World Sweat Science, National Magazine Award recipient for Science Journalism

Matt Hart

Endurance Coach, Athlete and Writer

Dr. Ben Lewis

UltraRunner, Doctor and Banjo Player

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