10,000 hours: The Saga of Hayden Smith
I want to do a final post on the idea that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice can make anyone world class at anything. This follows the recent posts on the general topic of talent and some of the nuances or even urban legends about the so-called 10,000 hour rule. To do this I want to tell you the story of Hayden Smith who is the cross country coach at Albion College.
Hayden Smith 1.0
The first version of Hayden happened in the late 1960s when he competed for Albion. He was a 5’8”, 145 pound sprinter/jumper who could run the 100 yard dash in 10.2, long jump 23 feet and high jump 6’5”. In an e-mail he told me his best time for the 220 yard dash was:
“23.1……always faded because it was too far!”
Hayden graduated from Albion in 1970.
Hayden Smith 2.0
The second version of Hayden emerged in the early 1970s when he began to teach and coach at Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, Arizona. For some reason he decided to start running long distances. In 1974 Hayden ran his first marathon. Here is the progression of his personal bests along with some notes about his body weight over that time.
Date PR Weight (lbs) Site
12-01-74 3:14:30 142 Culver City
02-15-75 3:01:54 142 Tucson
06-14-75 2:56:13 140 Palos Verdes
12-20-75 2:49:43 138 Fiesta Bowl
06-20-76 2:47:05 138 Toledo
12-11-76 2:40:26 138 Fiesta Bowl
12-10-77 2:38:20 136 Fiesta Bowl
02-18-78 2:32:30 135 Tucson
12-02-78 2:31:44 135 Fiesta Bowl
04-16-79 2:30:37 135 Boston
09-09-79 2:26:28 133 Eugene
12-01-79 2:26:10 134 Fiesta Bowl
While Hayden was getting better and better over the years he was part of an informal group of about 10 people in Tucson who all had personal bests for the marathon under 2:30. The group lasted until the early 1980s when people either started running less, moved away or got into other sports. From time to time true elites with times near 2:10 like Ed Mendoza, Thom Hunt and Don Janicki would train with us. More frequently Blair Johnson and Nick Martin, who both had personal bests of around 2:15, ran with us.
Most members of the group had a history in endurance sports and broke 3 hours the first time they ran a marathon, frequently off minimal training. They then got better quickly and in a year or two were running near 2:30 or faster. By contrast Hayden showed a slower start and a five year progression to a sub 2:30 time. During those years he was averaging between 80-100 miles per week of running or more, doing hard core interval training, and long runs in the mountain trails around Tucson on Sundays. In other words Hayden was training the way elite runners were at the time and still do! He was also regularly running shorter road races. Hayden continued to train at this level through most of the 1980s and ultimately he broke 3 hours 55 times. However, his personal best is from 1979.
If there is anyone in the world who has spent 10,000 hours of deliberate practice at anything it is Hayden Smith.
Hayden vs. 10,000 hours?
Hayden is a great example of both the power and limitations of the 10,000 hour concept. First, he became a truly accomplished distance runner in spite of the fact that he started out in what might be called “fast twitch” sports where he was also way above average but not great. So, Hayden got good at distance running even though it was probably not exactly where his “natural talent” lied. Second, no matter how much he trained his upper limit was still a long way away from world class. That was true for all of the other members in the group as well. Everyone found a talent barrier somewhere in the 2:20 to 2:30 range no matter how hard any of us trained.
So, when anyone tells you that talent doesn’t matter don’t believe them. And, when anyone tells you the practice doesn’t matter don’t believe them.
Tags: 000 hours
This entry was posted on Monday, January 20th, 2014 at 8:24 am and is filed under Current Events, Elite Sports Performance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.