Not a book review: The Art of Running Faster

I read the hard copy of this book, The Art of Running Faster, by Julian Goater and Don Melvin (2012). Apparently you can buy the ebook or a PDF version online at the website in the image caption above.

Actually, I didn’t read every chapter, so I feel it would be unethical for me to claim that this is a book review. Let’s call it “My thoughts about the parts I read in this book”.

Audience – not me

This book seems to have been written for runners who specialize in 5k and 10k races on the road, although the author does include comments about trail running / cross country numerous times. I should also add that the author does in fact bring up half marathons and marathons, though only in passing – and at one point the author even refers to marathons as a ‘scene’ (p. 24). Thus, the focus of this book seems to center on runners who stay well below the marathon distance, but run beyond a lap or two around a track (sprinting).

The contents of the book include theoretical and practical information related to physiological and mental issues that might help a runner improve. The book is partially a training manual with some training ideas and some specific drills. Additionally, the book contains many anecdotal examples from famous runners in the 20th century along with notes about skills and training.

Quite frankly, as an ultra distance runner, I am not in the author’s intended audience. Nevertheless, I did gain some valuable insights from this book. I really wish I had been a cross country / track runner in high school and university. Oh well, I’m a late bloomer.

Speedwork – inspiration before we get started

Since this isn’t a formal book review, I will simply list some thoughts that came to me as I was reading. But let’s begin with an inspiring quote in the book’s introduction:

“Sometime people, for reasons they cannot explain, achieve performances far superior to their previous bests – far better, even, than their most optimistic expectations” (p. vii).

I believe the author and I agree that speedwork is absolutely the key to unlocking such performances; and yes, even for people who run 100 mile races in the mountains. However, on the other hand, only doing speedwork and nothing else is a path to failure. Speedwork then, is just one of the skills needed for successful running. This principle helped lead me to a personal best in my recent 100 mile race.

This book also emphasizes something I have long misunderstood but I am trying to adopt in practice. I used to think that runners should build a strong base of slow running before adding in intensive speed work. Perhaps this is still partially true for new runners, but runners with years of practice under their feet need to include speed at nearly all stages of training. In fact, the very first page of this book clearly broadcasts the importance of speed work early on:

“People who believe building a base involves little more than extended plodding will find it difficult to break out of that slow rhythm later on… Speedwork isn’t something to be delayed until after the base has been established. Speedwork is part of the base” (p. 1, emphasis in original).

Random list of thoughts

  1. Similarly to what Jason Koop wrote in – btw, my favorite running book – Training Essentials (my review here), this book discourages runners from “sticking slavishly to a schedule you found in a magazine [or online, because] it wasn’t designed for you” (p. 3). I, Jeremy, think hiring a coach is one of the best ideas a runner could have – I just can’t afford it at the moment. A coach is an independent observer who can scientifically evaluate how your body reacts to dynamic training and thereby provide invaluable guidance to you as an individual.
  2. When running, it’s better to judge your effort based on breathing rather than heart rate (p. 6). But yes, heart rate monitors do still have value.
  3. This book argues in favor of strength training for long distance runners (including arm and upper body), something with which I agree. “For some reason, many people don’t associate strength with distance running… But strength is a vital part of running well” (p. 11). The same page mentions Kelly Homes, who apparently used to do “hundreds of sit-ups in a single session”. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t explain how long or frequent a single session was.
  4. This book looks favorably upon running twice a day (pp. 14-16), something I usually do when training normally and outside of race season. However, this recent article from CTS talks about how to do double days efficiently and what to avoid.
  5. Hill repeats – just do them! Every week for most of the year. They build strength and stamina (p 91). But also do some downhill running training too on a gentle gradient (pp. 100-102). I agree, but take extreme care to avoid injury when running downhills.
  6. Variable paces during the same event. Something I am still learning to embrace mentally during races – it’s important to avoid thinking that I should run a constant pace during any given race. In reality, terrain and other variables cause change in speed, which should be expected and not game ending. “Don’t let one particular rhythm lull you to sleep in a race. Practice breaking out of your rut and running faster when you need to. Fartleks are excellent training for this” (p. 167). I focused on this in my recent Karhunkierros 100 miler (I got a big PB! Report here), during which I actually repeated the mantra in my mind “variable speeds, variable speeds, variable speeds”. This allowed me to recognize that running one pace was not the goal and this thinking helped me avoid the cognitive rut of trying to always keep a certain pace.
  7. The image below shows some pyramid training sessions I want to try soon with my running buddies.
P. 131 – pyramid sessions

That’s it

To conclude, I share my favorite quote from this book about finding the balance between running and life:

“For most people, running is a hobby. It’s not the most important thing in their lives, nor should it be. But if they want to improve, running can’t be the last thing in their lives, either, something to be squeezed in only as an afterthought, after everything else is done” (p. 30).

I’m somewhere in that mix; running is certainly super important to my physical and mental health, but it isn’t everything.

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