The quick reference review
- If you want a step-by-step guide that will walk you through the process of building your own custom training plan either by adapting a pre-designed one, or piecing a “custom” one together via training phase modules (provided in the book).
- If you want to know what elements of your training to track and assess in order to build or adapt a marathon training plan.
- If you are a runners who would like to coach other runners. Specifically, if you don’t have a lot of background in the sport beyond perhaps a handful of marathons or half marathons, and you haven’t built your own training or read much of the seminal research papers or books on the sport.
- If you want to know what the seminal concepts of developing a competitive runner are, but don’t have time to read the books and research, or peruse the countless online articles, this book will provide you with a basic understanding of what all those slightly more enmeshed runners are babbling about.
- If you’re looking for a training plan or training style to follow for your first marathon (this book will likely totally overwhelm you, and you won’t know a lot of the crucial things about how your body adapts to training required to use this book as a resource).
- Same as above, except you completed more than one marathon but haven’t kept a detailed training log. (I’ve done 6 marathons, and still couldn’t confidently answer two of the key questions)
- Competitive age-group runners, who have been studying the sport, and designing and adapting (i.e. self-coaching) your own training plans for a while and are making progress, there likely isn’t anything in this book you don’t already know.
- If you have read books and articles written by Daniels, Lydiard, Noakes, Avery, Johnson, Pfitzinger, Fitzgerald (etc.) or any combination of these contemporary leaders, legendary and groundbreaking coach/scholars of the sport, then this book is basically cliff’s notes for what you already know.
The long form review
Context: This is 100% from my point of view, I’m not trying very hard at all to be objective, because I’m not sure that’s necessary considering the product. I am coming at this from the perspective of half marathon and marathon training. I’ve read many, but certainly not all of the books on how to develop as a runner, and I read online content about the science of running and training at least a few times a week, I am currently “self-coaching” myself and seem to be making slow but steady progress. I have the capacity to read anything and everything about running (specifically marathon running), even the most detailed race-report of someone I don’t know whatsoever, and derive utter enjoyment from it, and so, any review of a book about running is likely to have a slight positive leaning bias.
My summative experience: Until I got about a third through this book, I was disappointed, I wasn’t sure what service this book was offering. Mostly, I think I was hoping for something that would revolutionize my training, much in the way the McMillan (yes, same guy) calculator and Daniels’ charts have. I know, that was silly. Then, I thought about what it was I was expecting, accepted that this book differed significantly from that, shifted my perspective, and really enjoyed reading the rest of it.
Another early impression was that McMillan was annoyingly and frequently name-dropping. Mostly referencing his experiences with some of the preeminent scholars of running as legendary coaches. But again, once I was about a third of the way through the book, I appreciated the vignettes as they provided insight into how and why McMillan subscribes to the concepts he’s writing about. Also, one could really put together a reading wish-list from them.
For me, someone who builds their own training plans from scratch and it constantly adapting them for myriad reasons, a lot of the content of this book was a great source of reassurance that I am in fact training intelligently (most of the time). It also very succinctly explained some of the common arguments I have with newer (or less observant) runners.
This book is a good compliment to the McMillan calculator. In fact, based on the marketing for the book, it seems like the book is an advertisement for the calculator and the calculator and advertisement for the book.
I think this book is a useful reference tool for a fairly narrow population of readers (see the quick review up top).
Key take home points (my favorite bits):
- There are more than just the 3 training phases (speed, strength, endurance) typically familiar to the recreational and maybe even more competitive age-group runner. McMillan describe 9 phases of fitness, and I was giddy with agreement reading about them.
- Training for training! This is a concept that I think is crucial for beginning runners to grasp, that in order to reap the maximum benefits from your training, you need to be able to perform the training accurately, which means you may need to build some certain skills before diving into some types of quality work…in a nutshell, anyway. It’s kind of like thinking you can become a maestro by staring at a piano 6 hours a day: PERFECT practice makes perfect.
- Subtle differentiation between things that are dogma and things that are science: for example, McMillan briefly discusses that the “hullabaloo” (his word) surrounding foot plant and running form (that is: the mid-foot strike controversy) is far less indicative of good running economy than overall posture (that is, foot strike pattern is a product (result), not a cause).
- Tapering versus Peaking: personally, taper-banter annoys me, but I could talk and read about the art and science of peaking all day. So this chapter was a blast to read.
- Predictor workouts: several workouts are described that aim to predict various race performances. I plan to use them all, a workout performance is much more comfortable to put your trust into than an iPhone app. (wink)
- There is more than one way to perform a long run. I think that pretty much sums it up.
** these last two points do not differ significantly from other coaches such as Jack Daniels and Jay Johnson.
Warnings and potential mis-use:
PLEASE! As with all running books, DO NOT just piece together your marathon training plan from the modules in the book without first reading the entire book! I guarantee someone has already done this. And they may have a decent training cycle, especially if they’ve previously followed a training plan designed for mass consumption (e.g. pulled one off of a website, out of a magazine, or from a book such as Hal Higdon’s marathon training – all things that are acceptable for a first-timer). Or, they are going to totally crash and burn, or give up, or get injured, and then they’ll blog or post comments on forums that are totally misrepresenting the text.
That’s what I refer to as the “Hanson’s method syndrome”.