Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Filling holes

As a semi-competitive runner enthusiast (5 years so far), I have been playing catchup on the science and history of the sport. I have not read enough about running to be called well-read. Missing from my shelf are many of the obscure books and even a few popular ones like Duel in the Sun and The Perfect Mile. It seems every second book I see is one I do not recognize. Once you start looking, there's a lot to catch up on, especially when you're a slow reader. This doesn't bother me so much because no matter how much you've read there's always someone out there better read than you.


 I have read Jack Daniel's Running Formula, Brad Hudson's Run Faster, parts of Lore of Running. I own copies of both Running with the Buffaloes and Born to Run, and I've borrowed a couple minor works like What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Why We Run (a.k.a Running with the Antelopes). I read Once a Runner, but not the sequel. Some of these books I have a love/hate relationship with, mostly regarding the training manuals. I have read Running Formula cover-to-cover, at first loving it, but in the end it left me wanting. JDs book is as scientific as any out there, which was the original draw for me. Putting aside his obsession with VO2 max and precise pacing, overall his top-down style will lead you to believe his advice should be followed to the letter, which in reality is impossible.

I prefer Brad Hudson's approach, which is more loose and adjustable to the individual. Is your race pace is your weakest link? Switch a day of speed for some tempo instead. Not getting enough strength?  Go do more hills. He also gives separate advice for young, mature, and seasoned athletes. The paces are especially geared to someone chasing a sub-40 minute 10k time. Healthy Intelligent Training by Keith Livingstone is a good read, also intended for fast runners. His book is one of the few not to include a training timetable, preferring to describe the relative volumes of workouts. His book includes the pyramid structure that I talked about before. A pseudo rare book I own is Canova's Scientific Approach to the Marathon (it's not actually rare; six months ago I bought it from the iaaf website for 7 dollars). The book is real science, and it blends the practical and the very academic in good balance. It taught me how many fat calories are burned, and what workouts the pros do (they vary a lot).

Of course plenty of books cater to first time-runners, some new to running, others new to sport in general. Running Room supplies plenty authored by Jon Stanton. He's always considered himself a beginner meant to inspire other beginners. Some beginner are written by pros, liks Salazar's Guide to Road Racing. It's a serious low-ball effort given the man's former world-record credentials and his current stint coaching the Nike team. It's like Bobby Fischer teaching you basic chess openings.

Like everything else, there's books for every level. Not to mention all the magazines out there. Plenty of good websites out there for the ever-curious, though it seems most people want to avoid paying money. Blogs are starting to gather some real quality information as well. I enjoy reading Steve Magness and Alex Hutchinson as always.

So I've seen a few things here and there, but there are missing pieces are everywhere. I feel like I've sampled here and there, but I haven't come close eaten the whole pie. I may hone a statistical sampling of the field of 'running books', so to speak. I want to learn more about running, but like a growing sample size: the more I take in from sampling same area the more I encounter a law of diminishing returns. Some knowledge gaps, or holes, can never be filled by spending more time in the same spot.   By moving out more broadly there is a chance of stumbling on something new. Not necessarily new for everyone, but new for your niche sport. You risk nothing, in effect.


I'll end it here for now. Next entry I will make a list of things I learned about running that didn't come from a running book. So I don't forget, here are some ideas in mind:


  • Military history: why all mileage is low milage
  • Other sports: why Kenyans are not genetically superior 
  • Science: fooling people with fancy-sounding terms like MaxLASS 
  • Cooking: why most running books are written like a diet book
  • Finance: how running 10% faster can be 100000+% more profitable
  • Meta-Science: the weaknesses of scientific running studies 
  • Psychology: why mental health is more important than physical
  • Math: Fractals and recursion loops as applied to training
  • Philosophy: Where does my sport fit in with my life?  
  • Literature and film: Does running make for a good story?
  • School: why injuries are like failing a test



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