Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Surplus of Minimalism

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, 
but not simpler.” - Albert Einstein

Running, like life, just has a tendency to get complicated. For anyone who does not take deliberate measures to simplify life, the "noise" and nonsense of the daily grind can easily drown out all the core elements that make existence beautiful. The same is true for one's fitness pursuits. The "Keep it simple, Stupid"- or K.I.S.S. principle - liberally applied, is paying significant dividends by making my fitness pursuits and my life in general much more manageable and therefore enjoyable. This ideology is often referred to as "minimalism," and I have been reflecting on its meaning and utility for a few weeks now. Its application, apparently, touches many different life pursuits and scientific disciplines.

For anybody who knows anything about automotive history, the name Colin Chapman immediately calls to mind meat-and-potatoes sports cars - cars that have a laser-like focus on performance. Chapman was the founder of and engineer/designer for Lotus, the British racing team and eventual automotive manufacturer. He famously coined the expression, "Simplify, then add lightness." This oxymoronic expression is a clear articulation of the philosophy of minimalism: the idea that less truly equates to more, if you prefer to paraphrase poets rather than race engineers (Andrea del Sarto, 1855, to be exact). Of course, Chapman's ideas have been traditionally applied to the production of extremely successful race and sports cars, but the theme is something that runs powerfully through every competitive enterprise. I also believe many people's lives can be much happier and more successful through liberal application of the "added lightness" principle.

This is a Lotus Exige, a near-supercar with a mere four cylinder engine. The curb weight for the Exige is just north of a ton. To put that in perspective, a 2014 C7 Corvette Stingray weighs over 1200 pounds more.
To clarify terms, my working definition of minimalism is "the further perfection of anything through the deliberate removal of the less necessary." Liberal application of the "less is more" principle can lead to a few discernible benefits that are easily observable and simple to duplicate. I will identify first the benefits I have experienced when applying minimalist principles to my running habits:

1. Less to remember
When your whole warm-weather run kit consists of shorts, a shirt, a water bottle, and a watch, it's hard to leave "essentials" behind. Heck, the watch and shirt are even optional (depending on temp and distance). A simple pre and post-run routine can provide comforting consistency and predictability as well. Developing concise, rote rituals gives way for the mind to devote all its power on performance, which leads to improved...

2. Greater focus
Mr. Miyagi knew a thing or two about accomplishing one's goals. Concentrating on very few things means greater ability get them right. A convoluted approach only leads to lack of determinable progress resulting in confusion and ultimately frustration. I have resolved to apply minimalism in goal setting: one specific, achievable target at a time.

Laser-like intensity dedicated solely to fight preparation... along with several hours of free child labor. 
3. Less weight
From a pure performance perspective the sparser one's gear and lighter one's overall load, the greater the potential for faster and more efficient movement. I love the free feeling of running shoeless and shirtless in light-weight (ie. "short") shorts, much to my wife's embarrassment. The reason I enjoy it so much has a lot to do with the clearly perceptible lack of encumbrance. Feels good, Man.

"Hey, where are the cup holders?"
4. Fewer variables
The minimal approach ideally leaves only a small number possibilities to go wrong. An even greater benefit, though, is the ability for runners to assess situations and their performance - or lack thereof - much more accurately when only one or a small number of factors change at a time.

This leaves us with some legitimate questions: How much can one subtract before the positive effects of simplification diminish? What gear is most dispensable? How much, exactly, do clothing and gear weights matter and/or vary between styles, brands, and sizes?

The reality is that the journey to maximum minimalism is one of personal discovery, and each of us are likely comfortable with very different levels of trimming down the excess. In my next few installments, I plan to cover other facets of living with less including the benefits of living minimally, the benefits of running minimally, and cases where minimalism has run amok. Should be just enough fun to keep your interest and share necessary information. Just enough and not a word more.