6. Sprinting

Jen introduces Pete to her running practice which leads to a conversation about sprinting and how it acts as a metaphor for work.

Jen: Hello listeners.

Peter: Hey, amazing humans.

Jen: If you're in the New York City area on December fourth, stay tuned after the show to hear about a workshop that Pete and I are running together. We'd love to see you there. And for now, enjoy the show.

Hey Peter.

Peter: Hey Jen.

Jen: I think you know this, but I'm going to remind you that back in May I took up a running practice, and I've been running to an app that has taught me about different paces, and I've been looking to apply some of these learnings to things other than running and hear your thoughts about it.

Peter: You know I love when you start bringing in metaphors for our work.

Jen: You mean like the title of this podcast? This is The Long and The Short Of It.

Okay. I run with an app because I have no technique, never been taught how to run, and I know that I will basically destroy my body if I don't have technique - this is what you learn being an artist without technique: what is there? There is no sustainability without technique. So I bought this app, and this running coach basically talks me through my form while I'm running, and I am a truly terrible runner, but I'm trying to get better and making myself uncomfortable. You take cold showers, I go for runs. Okay. So as I'm listening to the app, she keeps changing the way she's talking about how to view the speed of the run. So she talks about easy pace as being something that is sustainable - it's such an easy pace that you should be able to have a full out conversation while running at that pace. So it's not taxing -sort of breezy, like, you're not walking, but you're not like full-out running. It's an easy pace. Then there is the tempo run, which is - okay, so you runners out there, like please forgive me in advance for butchering your lingo - but essentially the tempo run is like, run faster than that.

Peter: You can't quite have a conversation.

Jen: You can't quite have a conversation and the idea is to up your cadence, like the number of steps you're taking per minute.

Peter: Okay, more steps per minute, okay, gotcha.

Jen: Okay. So then, you know, because I'm a beginning runner, a lot of the training is: move from your easy pace, to your threshold pace, to your easy pace, to your threshold pace. So it's like, you jack it up for a little while until you feel like your chest is going to explode, and then you bring it back. Why are you laughing?

Peter: I'm just laughing at the "jack it up" phrase. The accent got to me today.

Jen: So you learn how to run at a certain tempo, and then after that she starts talking about threshold pace, which is like, you don't think you can keep going. Like this is the threshold for what is possible, like you are at the edge of your possibility right now, and it's going to feel like you're about to crash into a wall - "Instead of stopping, go through the wall." This is what she always talks about, this sort of like image of, "I know you see the brick wall in front of you, and you're like, I just can't do it. And I'm telling you - do it, because once you get to the other side, you're going to feel like you can keep going," and of course she's right, but I hate every second of it. Alright. And then, there is a totally different style of running which is the sprint.

Peter: Right.

Jen: And this is when you run as fast as you possibly can. I've never sprinted in running, but I realize that I do a lot of sprinting in life, and my periods of least growth have been when I have essentially been at my easy pace. I'm running, but like, it's kind of easy. And then the tempo run, it's like, well I've jacked it up, so I must be making a lot of progress, but it turns out I'm not at my threshold, I'm not like, at the edge. And then the sprint is when inspiration strikes, or you're like, "I gotta crank this out right now," and you run as fast as you can. It's not sustainable over a long period of time, but once in a while, man does a kick you into gear.

Peter: Yeah. I love sprinting, both, actually both in a running context, and also in the context of getting some work done, and I think my attraction to it is the efficiency of it is - like if I'm running, for example, I know that I could do ten one-hundred meter sprints with rest in between, and that will be better for me than going for a 1k jog, or a 1k at an easy pace or tempo pace. And I also think that this, the same rule applies in the work that we do, right? It's like if you said to me, "Hey Pete, let's work on a particular project for the next three hours and see what we can get done," versus, "Let's spend the next three weeks planning this out, and really go deep on every single detail," and I'd be like, "Hey Jen, can we just sprint on it for three hours?" However, it's interesting that you say it's not sustainable because you're - I mean, you're totally right. So it's like, how do you strike that balance between when to sprint, and when to back off?

Jen: Well, you just said that you rest in between sprints, so there is a necessary recovery period.

Peter: Yeah, true. Yeah.

Jen: his sort of makes me think of my own working style where I use the Pomodoro Technique, which is essentially: when you're doing work, you set yourself up for a sprint, and then a rest, and then a sprint, and a rest. Now, maybe "sprint" is the wrong term to use here, because sometimes the work isn't that fast, but there is something to be said for devoting a specific amount of time to be deep in the work, and then giving yourself a recovery period. I think the recommended time is twenty-five minutes on, five minutes off, but my body is so in-tune with a rehearsal schedule where we do fifty-five minutes on, five minutes off, or eighty minutes on, ten minutes off, that I tend to work closer to forty-five or fifty minutes before I take a break.

Peter: Yeah, I think that's fair enough. Having dug into Pomodoro a bit myself, I remember being a few times at the twenty-five minute mark, and I read, I think I read a book about it, and it was like, "If you're feeling good at the twenty-five minute mark, and you want to go for another twenty minutes, go for another twenty minutes." But it's basically, it's like interval training, it's like, you do the work, you have a rest, you recover, then you do the work again, and then you have a rest and recover - and you do that, you know, five, six, seven, eight, nine, however many times. But it's that balance between sprinting - we're doing work - and then taking time to recover and recuperate.

Jen: So what I'd love to noodle on for a second is like, when is the best time, when you're engaged in a project, to sprint? Like for example, when you and I decided we were going to do this podcast, we did some, well it was like a combination of sprinting and thrashing at the beginning where we just like would jump on these long calls and really work out exactly what we were going to do. But now that we're in a pretty regular rhythm, we tend to record once or twice a week for two hour chunks of time. That feels very sustainable. How do we avoid having this part become just an easy pace run?

Peter: Ooh, that is interesting. So I was going to say, firstly I agree with you, we sprinted at the start, and I was going to suggest maybe when we start a new project - because as we've talked about in so many episodes, when we start a new project or when we're dealing with imposter syndrome - we have this fear of like, "It might not work, I don't want to do it, people might judge me, I'm scared," and so for me the sprint is almost the way that you get as far away from that as possible. It's like, if I just sprint through it at the start of a project, then I can, like, stop, recover, recuperate, look at what we accomplished, and think, "Is it worth trying to find that steady pace? Is it even worth looking for another sprint or looking for," like you said, "that tempo that we have." That was my first thought, but your question was slightly different to that, which was, "How do we make sure that this doesn't become such a steady pace, such a comfortable pace, that we forget to sprint every now and then?" Just thinking out loud, it's deliberately putting ourself in a position every now and then where we have to sprint, and whether it's on the podcast itself or on another collaboration that we work on, it's putting ourself in a situation where we are not just rinsing and repeating and running at the same pace, that we are sprinting towards a different goal or a slightly different objective, and I think that is sort of where I would take this.

Jen: Okay, I'm moving this over to a whole different context because I'm kind of connecting the dots. So one of the things that I've changed about my work over the last couple years is: I no longer see private coaching clients if they don't have an audition coming up. Because what I've found is that training privately in our particular discipline is so much slower one-on-one than it is in a group setting. So I will see of course my private coaching clients when they have call-backs and things like that where we're working toward a very specific finish line - oh, that's interesting, there's that metaphor again when we're working towards this very specific finish line - but if it's like, I just want to sharpen my skills, I just want to hone my craft, that is almost exclusively a no. And I will encourage that person to get into a group class, because what I found is when you're working, first of all, when you watch other people work, you learn so much more than you learn when you try to observe yourself working. Like that's just plain and simple how it goes. But then the other thing is, in a private coaching, someone has an hour to work on their material, but in class they have twenty minutes, and so this idea of having to sprint towards this personal development, and like figuring out all the possibilities, and making a creative mess, and like making mistakes, they're so much more willing because they know it has to be sprint. I don't really know where I'm going with this except to say that's sort of an "Aha!" moment for me.

Peter: No, it's interesting because it's - I think it relates to constraints, right? It's like, what does a sprint look like without constraints? Well, maybe that's what it looks like to run at an easy pace. Sprinting, you need a constraint, and in the running example, the constraint is: usually it's a hundred meters, or it's eighty meters, or it's sixty meters - that's the sprint. Or it's that you have to do it every twenty seconds, or every thirty seconds, ten times, or whatever. So there's this constraint - inherent constraint that comes with a sprint, and the example you just used, I think, describes that. It's like twenty minutes, thirty minutes; there's a time constraint, versus, we have three weeks and we can take as much time as we want to do this thing. That is like a - it's a constraint, but it's a very loose one. So that's where I'm taking your little nugget of wisdom.

Jen: Okay. I'm gonna back up for a second and say that a couple of days ago, Peter, you asked me to look at one of the very first assignments we did together, and at that point I was pretty much working one-on-one. Actually, we haven't really entered this one-on-one thing yet, so I was kind of working alone because this was right before we moved into the group coaching pods for the online course where I met you, so I was sort of like working in the vacuum, and we had to set a goal, and my goal was like such a comfortable pace. It was like, I have set a goal for myself, and I'm going to give myself seven months to complete it - I think the timeline was seven months - and then started working in the group and I recognized almost immediately that was ludicrous; I wasn't going to take seven months. And then I got on a call with you and you said something like, "Well, what if you had to do it tomorrow?" And I was like, "Well, I could do it then." And so that's so interesting. That's so interesting because left to my own devices, I had sort of set myself up to take a really long time instead of to sprint toward this thing that I was really capable of achieving. So you are coaching people in a different context than I am: young, working, one-on-one with actors, so that's a whole other set of circumstances, but your clients are much more varied. Can you just talk about this idea of how we let ourselves off the hook by assigning ourself like this pretty easy pace?

Peter: Yeah, it's interesting. As you were talking, I wrote down - I think it's a quote, but it's this idea that we underestimate what we can do in a day, and we overestimate what we can do in a year, like that's a very common thing that happens, and I think you could almost expand that timeline of a day out to be like almost a week. Look, I think if we were to break it down, the reason we often set these safe goals or these safe timelines, these steady paces as opposed to these intense sprints, perhaps it's a way that we think we're protecting ourselves as we know no one's looking if we're doing it on our own so it's okay. We take a little bit longer. We're not accountable necessarily to, like, anyone. If it's a group, you're accountable. If you're not, if there's no group, you're not accountable, and so it's almost like I'll give myself plenty of time because that will mean I'm less likely to fail, and the failure is the bit that I think we're scared of; whereas, in a group context, I think there's less of that because there's a group of you all pushing each other, keeping each other accountable, and making it feel like it's less likely to fail if we try, and it's okay to fail if we just set an audacious goal and then just try and hit it. Does that make sense?

Jen: Yes. I'm very excited because it seems to have a sort of complimentary relationship to this idea of "running towards the bang" when we're talking about imposter syndrome, that when you feel the imposter creep up, you run towards the bang, and this seems like, you know, run towards the failure. It's like, get there faster, because once you've, you know, depending on how you frame failure - for me it's like, "Ooh, a chance to learn something, a chance to iterate with fresh eyes or with new information." So it's like, I want to get to that as quickly as possible so I can reiterate, and then I'm going to run towards the next thing, and then we'll reiterate that. And it seems to me that there is a - perhaps a relationship between those two ideas of running toward the bang and running towards the failure.

Peter: Definitely. I think it reminds me of, you know, when you work in startups or even some corporates now, it's this idea, there's this belief that you fail fast and you fail often, you fail fast and fail often, and then you pick yourself up and you try something else, and if it fails, you pick yourself up and you try something else. And so like all of that firstly speaks to sprinting and running towards the bang, and secondly, like, redefines failure as a good thing, because you know that that is either worth pursuing, or worth not pursuing.

Jen: So now coming at this from a totally different angle with the running metaphor, Gretchen Rubin has this great podcast called Happier. I love listening to it. I love the sound of her voice.

Peter: She's got a great voice.

Jen: She's got such a great voice. Anyway, there was a recent episode where she talked about finding a pace-setter, and apparently, in long-distance running, a pace-setter is someone who the runner uses to run very fast at the beginning of the race, and then their goal is to keep up with that person, because that person is setting the pace for their entire, you know, 26.2 miles or whatever it is in kilometres over there.

Peter: Forty-two kilometres.

Jen: Oh my gosh, that's so intimidating. And so, that's the other thing I think that is worth noting about group work is that when you're working in a group and you're learning in a group, someone can be your pace-setter, and you're able to sort of - it's not about playing the comparison game, it's about looking around you and going, "Wow, that person is going so fast," or, "What a great idea they're moving toward. I want to work harder so that I can keep up with that." So I think there's a lot of value here in looking at when you sprint, who you're sprinting with, and towards what.

Peter: Yeah, I think that the point you just made is who you're sprinting with, which I love, I was going to say, it's not just necessarily about surrounding yourself with any random stranger, but it's about surrounding yourself with like-minded people who are both either ready to sprint like you, or ready to set the pace - in that running example that you used - who are motivated, driven and inspired by a similar cause, a similar thing, which is: I want to sprint and move this project forward, or I want to sprint and come up with ideas, or I want to sprint and finish this race, whatever that particular example is.

Jen: Mm. So this then brings up something else. My mind is like ping-ponging; I don't want to go into the ping-pong metaphor because we're like firmly entrenched in running, but -

Peter: There's no turning back from this running now.

Jen: Yeah, we're deep, we're deep down the running rabbit hole - is this idea that, and this might be counter to tall poppy syndrome, which is a whole Australian shenanigan, but in the States, the idea is: be the best. And I think there is something to be said for putting yourself in positions where other people are better than you, to motivate yourself to work harder, move faster, find more agility, improve your technique. And so something I was thinking about is: I had a friend who approached me and was like, "Listen, I want a mentor, and you need a mentor, and I think we should mentor each other; a mentor-mentor relationship as opposed to a mentor-mentee relationship." And I had never thought about that as an option. At that point I was like, "Well I, you know, in my work that I do, I tend to be the mentor." And I was really - I didn't realize until that conversation that I was really craving some sort of mentorship, but I didn't want to see myself as a mentee because I feel like I'm just at a place where I want to be challenged by people and also claim what I know, and that kind of provided the perfect opportunity. And then when I think back to the context in which I met you, the construct of the cohorts and these little coaching pods is that everyone is mentoring everyone, and there is something to be said for claiming ownership of what you know, and allowing other people to point out your blind-spots without having to become someone's mentee. Does that make any sense?

Peter: Yeah it does. I think two things I picked up from that: the first is the importance of an environment where there's no hierarchy, or seemingly no hierarchy, and that people can just show up with their idea or their project or their thing or they want to work on with no fear of or awareness of a totem pole, so to speak. That would be the first thing I would say. The second thing is this idea that - and I've heard so many people talk about this, so many high-performers, elite thinkers, elite athletes, like, take your pick of the best of the best - so many of them say, "Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, and be the dumbest person in the room. Feel like you're the dumbest person in the room." And I have taken that very literally in a lot of parts of my life, and it is so fascinating and so rewarding and so shocking how fast you can grow - how fast you can sprint - when you feel like you're the stupidest person in the room. What I know to be true in a lot of those moments is that every single person in the room has that feeling. That, I think, is where the magic happens - is when everyone feels like an imposter, or everyone feels like the dumbest person in the room, and that, like you said, they can start to help each other see each other's blind-spots because they want to project and try and help other people, but they still feel like they're the stupidest person in the room.

Jen: I - you know this, but I guess saying this out loud will like really hold me accountable to the follow-through - I registered for a writer's retreat in February.

Peter: Yeah, you did.

Jen: Because I'm writing a book

Peter: Boom.

Jen: I want to throw up a little bit saying that out loud. Okay, so I'm going to this writer's retreat, and when I first registered for it, the imposter syndrome was very, very strong, and then it occurred to me that even if I am legitimately an imposter, like even if I have no business writing a book, for six days I will be sprinting with people who know how to write a book, and so by the sixth day I have to be better than when I got there, right? So again, this idea of working with other people who are pace-setters for you in these short bursts of lots and lots of activity, then followed by recovery, and then perhaps another sprint, perhaps a little steady run, but the idea is, I think, sometimes we keep ourself too safe, and when we keep ourselves too safe, we keep ourselves from the progress that we are capable of making.

Peter: And that is The Long and The Short Of It.

Jen: Well hello again. In December the tallest Australian I know is descending upon the island of Manhattan, so we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to put our heads together and create something special just for you. So on December fourth, Pete Shepherd and I will be running a full-day workshop, fittingly called "Sprint." Sprint is for change-makers, entrepreneurs, creatives, freelancers, people who are working toward change and are ready to make progress. We are bringing together a group of like-minded people to sprint toward the change they are seeking to make and the progress that they know that they are capable of. Does this sound like you? Well, if so, you can get more information at thelongandtheshortpodcast.com/sprint, thelongandtheshortpodcast.com/sprint. Now, if you follow the show, you know that Pete and I have very specific philosophies about how we approach our work, and we also use very clear structures in order to get that work done, and this workshop is going to be a combination of those philosophies and those structures so theory and practice just for you so that you can move forward and sprint toward the change that you are seeking to make in the world. We hope to see you there in New York City on December fourth.

Jen WaldmanComment