Tis the season for being delinquent, I guess. I’ve been delinquent in posting (it’s been over two weeks since my last one). I’ve been delinquent in reading good running books (several have been queued up on my Kindle for the past three months or more). And I’ve been delinquent in combining the two into useful book reviews. I blame the combination of reaching the peak of marathon training season combined with general summer busyness (and a family getaway).
So let me kill three birds with one stone by reviewing three books at once; all of these are shorter books anyway, with a value to you as a runner ranging from high to nearly nonexistent.
Let’s start with the good news. Jason Fitzgerald, the author behind Strength Running, has published his first book, 101 Simple Ways to be a Better Runner. If you follow Jason’s blog (and you should), a lot of the thoughts will be familiar to you, as he stays consistent to his teachings on injury prevention and training. As with any such book, many of the tips are obvious. But Jason does a nice job of organizing them into categories (he is strongest when discussing workouts or training approaches, as he has done here before, and injury prevention) with a logical flow, making for an easy and quick read and a good reference source.
Jason stays true to the principals he espouses on Strength Running, promoting a simple, but not easy, approach to training. You have to do the work, but you don’t have to sweat the details as much as you think. A good example is his approach to minimalist running, where he advocates mixing running barefoot or in zero-drop shoes as a small part of your routine but doesn’t overhype the potential benefits. His discussion of diet is also straightforward; while I’m not an adherent to the Paleo approach, his views are hard to argue with – less processed is better, you need to burn what you consume to manage weight. Jason supports his general concepts with specific examples – warm-up routines you can add, speed work that fits the needs of less experienced runners, etc.
In a book written in a similar vein, by an author and runner who should have even more to offer than Jason, Scott Douglas tries to lay out his principals for sound running in The Little Red Book of Running. I first heard about this book in a podcast interview that Jay Johnson conducted with Scott, and had high hopes for it. As the co-author of Advanced Marathoning (with Pete Pfitzinger) and a senior editor at Running Times, it would be logical to think that his book would have some valuable tips even for experienced runners. Out of 250 tips, certainly at least 10 or 20 would be novel.
Maybe I’ve just read too many other books and magazines about running, or paid attention to too many other bloggers, but after reading this book, I can’t think of a single change that I felt inclined to make to my approach to running. Yes, the thoughts were interesting, and yes, Scott does a nice job of writing in a language that is approachable by those who don’t consume themselves with the physiology of running. But I guess I was looking for something more technical, something a bit less obvious that I hadn’t already seen in Running Times.
This isn’t to say that The Little Red Book of Running isn’t worth your time. In fact, if you don’t spend multiple hours per week reading running resources, then this is certainly a more compact way to get some good advice ranging from training approaches to the helpful reminder that running isn’t everything. In fact, I may pull out the book again (after clearing up the rest in my queue) as it is, like Jason’s book, a breezy read. It probably is a good resource for a beginner to intermediate runner and I would imagine that, for such a runner, those 10-20 good tips could easily be identified. And based on the positive reviews of Amazon, it certainly appears this book holds appeal for many.
Lastly we have a book that was a struggle to get motivated to read. Ironically, it’s a book designed to motivate runners. If you aren’t familiar with Tim Catalano and Adam Goucher, they are former University of Colorado distance running standouts who found some success before hitting a career wall (largely due to injuries). Adam is the runner who serves as a primary protagonist in Running with the Buffaloes, and if you’ve read that book, you can get a sense of the intensity he brings to Running the Edge.
Running the Edge proposes that distance running (i.e., becoming a “distance maven”) is a key to building desirable character traits. Since I’ve written a series of posts on this topic, the thought obviously intrigued me. Goucher and Catalano focus on six traits, or “mirrors” as they call them – Initiative, Responsibility, Determination, Adaptability, Integrity, and Person-ability. Ironically, there is little overlap with what I’ve written about (though “determination” and “perseverance” are arguably pretty close). Tim and Adam use anecdotes from their own experiences or those of other elite runners (Chris Solinsky, Kara Goucher, etc.) to illustrate their points.
The problem with this book is that it is hard to relate to analogies from the elites (as most of us don’t have the opportunity to get lost in the mountains of Colorado, for example) and the “distance maven” and “mirror” concepts get overstretched and repetitive, especially with the “self-assessment” questionnaires at the end of each section. In fact, this is one of the rare books that I couldn’t finish. It went a little too far over the edge, in fact – as Adam has done in his own career, which was cut short through injuries. Perhaps patience is the one mirror they are missing.
So, to summarize – buy Jason’s 101 Simple Ways to be a Better Runner because it is easy and helpful (and, priced at $2.99 at the time of this writing, it’s also cheap). Consider Scott’s The Little Red Book of Running if you really want a good and broad primer on the how’s and why’s of running without having to invest a ton of time. But avoid Adam and Tim’s Running the Edge – if you want a book about running, buy one of the other two. If you want a book about self-help, look to Stephen Covey (rest in peace) or just keep following along here. And if you want motivation (and haven’t noticed that I reduced the price to $4.99), please check out Running Ahead of the Sun.