The Halftone Paradox

Halftone is a technique that uses dots or other shapes of varying sizes or spacing to create the visual illusion of tone gradation. This technique allows for the paradoxical reproduction of a continuous tone image with a single ink color.

In the example above, the left image is an example of halftone dots while the right illustrates how the human eye might perceive this pattern from afar (or if reduced).

Recently, I stumbled across two similarly paradoxical thoughts on running:

The first was stirred up by Jesse Thomas’ blog Triathlife: The Differences Between Age Groupers And Pros. Thomas observes that one of the biggest differences between the pretty good and the very best how much differentiation there is between “hard” and “easy” training efforts. For the pros, hard efforts are very hard and easy efforts are very easy. In other words, training efforts are typically on or off, black or white; the pros eliminate the grey. I’ve found in my own running that applying this method has significantly improved my performances (at least at the marathon) and conversely frequenting the grey-zone has always led to setbacks due to injury.

Here’s some more support for this philosophy:

  • Check out the two minute fifty second mark of of Flotrack’s most recent Workout Wednesday with US Olympic Trials 10,000m and 5,000m champ, Molly Huddle. Huddle answers the question, “How has your approach to easy days helped to make you faster?”
  • Wejo’s Why I Sucked in College, specifically his second point, “Faster Doesn’t Equal Better” expresses this same sentiment and resonates with me as someone who really, really sucked in college due in part to running my easy days too hard.

The second point is all about the grey-zone. This zone is the “good enough” zone which author and running superfan, Malcom Gladwell, discusses in his interview on the The Tim Ferriss Show podcast. Mario Fraioli pointed this out in his weekly newsletter, The Morning Shakeout. At 1:07:20, Gladwell describes the runner’s challenge of walking the “fine line between adequately preparing for races and overtraining[.]” Gladwell gives the example of recognizing when nine of the ten prescribed half mile repeats is good enough. He asks hypothetically, “Do you know how hard that is, particularly for the kinds of personalities that are attracted to elite running? I mean, it’s insane. That notion of how hard it is to say, ‘It’s good enough,’ and walk away.”

A halftone image appears to have continuous tone, but is actually made up of black and white (or on and off) spaces. Similarly when it comes to managing training effort, both concepts are present and ultimately describe the key concept of restraint. Hard-easy effort differentiation focuses particularly on restraint on easy days while the grey-zone concept refers more generally to the runner’s challenge of restraint. The grey-zone can be applied to nearly every resolution of training – looking at a total season plan, there’s “good enough” weekly mileage, intensity, and more, while at the level of an individual repeat within a workout, there’s a “good enough” effort to trigger the desired stimulus.

Have you had success practicing restraint in running?