Thursday, July 28, 2011

Paging Doctor Google and Coach Runnersworld

I play on the internet as much as the next person.  Maybe a bit more.

OK, a lot more.

I love message boards, fora, blogs, etc and have played on them since the days of Mosaic.  But I'm not alone here.  There's a wide community of runners who spend significant amounts of time on letsrun, runnersworld, etc, where we geek out all day about training, injury management, which race to run, ad nauseum.  And it is truly nauseous -- in the company of those with similar obsessions, we can ramble on about blisters and impromptu bathroom breaks with the openness traditionally reserved for the elderly and incontinent.

We interact on those forums because of the friendships we build, and I've made some darn good ones.  But there's another reason as well.


When I started running, I quickly figured out that I had no idea what I was doing.  So I reached out to the runnersworld forums for training advice and learned a lot.  Then I branched out and also started posting on letsrun -- having not broken 17 for a 5K, I'm arguably not fast enough to be posting there, but I have the requisite thick virtual skin honed from years of gothic-industrial music scene fora.

[trust me, letsrun is nowhere near the environment of, or the peak days of the alchemy-dc or gymrats livejournal communities].

It made sense for me to be reaching out for training advice - I had no coach.  I'd also discuss injuries both nascent and ongoing, and this made less sense, for I had plentiful access to both doctors and physical therapists.  And I noted that others with both coaches and physical therapists did the same.  So why reach out to anonymous strangers on the internet, when one has already retained professionals, with knowledge of our own characteristics and back stories, to advise on the very same issues?


Confirmation bias is the tendency to focus on information that confirms your own pre-existing beliefs.  You search for information, then filter out the information that doesn't support your pre-existing view.

It's not a human flaw as much as a human characteristic, like greed.  It's universal.  We read newspaper articles, and our assessment of whether they are "fair and balanced" or "biased" hinges on our underlying perspective.    And the more certain you are that you LACK this trait, the more likely it is that you have it.

[I'm pretty certain that I engage in a great deal of confirmation bias -- I'm not sure whether this means that I actually do, or not.  I do know that my head hurts thinking about it]

And that's the key.  When you pay a professional for his or her assessment and advice, many times what you hear is NOT what you want to hear, or what makes sense to you.  I'm continually reminding myself that the whole reason I retained a coach was to be told the things I didn't want to hear (but needed to) so that I would do the things that I didn't want to do (but really should).  Even with that mantra as my mental background noise, I often find advice that I disagree with a bitter pill to swallow.  I always get it down, but it goes down better if I chase it with a fine whine.

In contrast, when you post a question to a forum or facebook or your blog, you'll (hopefully) receive multiple answers from which to shop. It's pretty easy to disregard certain comments, even when they comprise the majority of the response you get.  After all, those people probably don't totally understand the situation, or are lacking in basic knowledge.  It's the other comments, the ones that make sense (i.e. match what you were expecting or hoped to hear) that you hone in on.

If you start researching achilles tendonitis, and see the split between those advising total rest and those advising that you should run through it, the responses that will stick out to you are the ones that best match what you hoped to read.  But when you speak to a doctor or a coach, you get one opinion, based on personal observation, with no escape.

And so we keep going back to fora, to shop for the answers we want to hear.  It's the antithesis of the Rolling Stones...

you won't always get what you need, 
but if you try sometimes, you might find 
you get what you want.


  1. So I guess the point is that you're NOT supposed to get medical advice from Google and the Injuries forum?! Rats.

  2. Nope. Nor coaching advice. Sorry.

    I've actually weaned myself from training discussions online all together, since I've got someone now to ask all that stuff, someone who sees me run on a regular basis. It's been difficult, because I love to geek about that stuff. But I think it's ultimately the best practice.

    I'd rather be a good runner than someone who spends all day chit chatting about how to be a good runner.