Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: 80/20 Running – Matt Fitzgerald

Covers

This book will be released on September 2, 2014 and is available for pre-order on Amazon (Kindle or Paperback), or via Penguin books.

Read it:

  • You’ve gotten injured, perhaps more than once, when you were otherwise fit and still want to keep running (and improving).
  • You have been running 5k’s up to maybe a half marathon and want to train for a marathon (although the book caters to 5k – marathon distances).
  • You enjoy reading literature reviews and find it entertaining (and helpful) to know what current research is suggesting.
  • You’ve read some of Matt Fitzgerald’s other books (I think it’s fair to say he’s a prolific writer at this point) and enjoyed them.
  • You are a solely motivated by how many miles you log per week, and how much faster you logged them than last week.
  • You like reading books that dispel myths.
  • You’re a fan of the McMillan or Daniels training tools and templates (this book is totally compatible with them).

*I’d like to point out, as an aside, that this book goes very well with Fitzgerald’s “RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel”. My opinion is such that if you read both, and have been running for more than 6 months to a year, you can probably then self-coach with reasonable success.

Skip it:

  • You have a training program that works for you and you haven’t experienced; symptoms of over-training, injury, a performance plateau, a sense of malaise or apathy toward training.
  • You’ve been under the tutelage of a well informed coach, you’re injury fee and happy with the progress you’re making.
  • You don’t like hearing about what “science” says. (yes, I know you are real, and it’s ok)
  • You want to just be given a plan and told what to do, not react to how your training goes or have to spend time planning your runs. You aren’t interested in the why’s and how’s, just the do’s and don’ts.
  • You can only/are willing only to train 3 times per week (<4hrs, but still expect to improve. (ok, so the book doesn’t say this, but I formulate that this training philosophy requires increases over time to training volume)

Context:

Several points that might bias me slightly toward liking this book: If you’ve read my rant page on the state of product reviews on the internet, then please allow me a teaspoon of hypocrisy. I did not pay for this book. I asked Matt if I might be sent an advanced copy, and to my surprise he (and his publisher) obliged. Next, as a rather large part of my professional life I spend a lot of time trying to synthesize lots of research results into, basically, getting small or large groups of people to buy-in to some different way of approaching problems and other things, and so I appreciate how difficult this is to do, I appreciate that this is the approach this books embraces. Finally, I like reading about running, and about different training strategies even if I don’t agree with them (in this case I do, however).

That all said, I had a bias to dis-like this book as well. As you may be aware the 80/20 principle (know by several names) is a popular one in business, managing, and with various work/life evangelists. It’s frequently misapplied, misunderstood, or over-generalized (simplified?), and I think more recently has been boiled down to the really annoying “work smarter – not harder” mantra. In order to be able to skillfully select the 20% of any causes that will generate the desired results takes a heck of a lot of hard work…I digress.

My Summative Experience:

Given that I was set-up to love this book, (“Run”, and “Diet Cults” are books I’ve pressured probably 50 people into reading, my interns have all been made to read the latter), I was actually a little disappointed. Of course, I should temper that by saying it’s exactly the same kind of disappointment I felt when I read “Hansons Marathon Method”. Both books are marketed as an approach to marathon training (ahem ,– running) that are “revolutionary”. So of course, you’re expecting some sort of magic bullet. The thought of which, even if you (like me) are in love with the process of training, will still find alluring. But this book is not “revolutionary”, I’d say rather that it addresses a cornerstone of successful training that is a MUST for all runners who want to run better (faster, healthier, happier etc), but one that runner’s typically fall into (the 80/20 formula) as part of their evolution as runners. That is, they get injured, get burnt-out, and so on, and over time settle into this more natural, and happily, more successful ratio.

I am definitely one of these people. I haven’t used a heart-rate monitor while running in years, but in the spirit of the full experience I wore one over the week and a half I was reading this book (it’s actually a quick read – I just had life-ish things getting in the way). Even though I’m still a bit out of shape (week 3 of an 18 week training cycle) I found that once I calculated my training zones I am well within the 80/20 rule. And in fact, when I looked back to my two most successful training cycles in the past, they were too. What’s of great interest to me is that had I followed the plans as set-up at the time, I would not have been. I would have, as defined in this book, been working way too much above the ventilatory threshold, but because I have always been a big proponent of listening to your body, I was “skipping” a lot of the workouts.

What was wholly not disappointing about this book is that I think I could go back twice and find additional interesting component topics to look into. Fitzgerald just does a plain old great job weaving in heaps of research notes.

Also, let’s just go ahead and acknowledge two things: first, the use of the term “revolutionary” is clearly a publishers’ favorite buzz word, and second, that sense of disappointment I had after reading the Hanson’s book? Well, I then used their training templates for 3 PR races, sooo…kettle, meet black.

Target Audience:

This is actually a little tricky to address. Normally I excel at pairing specific content with specific audiences (again, this is an element of my professional gig), but this book has left me a little stuck in the “der, well, everyone who is running should read this”. Let me explain: I hinted at this above, we all have to learn about what our bodies respond best to, and how they respond in general, to training. There is some trial and error to that. The thing is, we actually DON’T have to do the whole trial-and-error fumbling around in frustration thing because it’s been done for us, by other runners over many decades. If you read the books, and spend some time assessing and strategizing, then you can in large part avoid the misery of trial and error training. Reading about running, and the science of running, is a great component to that. I say reading, rather than talking with other runners, intentionally. Often runners get defensive, rather than grateful, when you start to pick apart their chosen training method.

I’ve learned this the hard way. So now, instead, I (try to) make only references to how I’ve contacted success in training, and then I recommend books. My rate of impassioned debates regarding marathon training has greatly decreased. But my recommendation library has grown. This book is perfect for it.

Key take home points (my favorite bits):

  • It is not as simple as arbitrarily delegating 80% of your training volume to easy running, and the remaining 20% to hard running.
  • There isn’t one most efficient way to run (stride, cadence etc), moreover your most efficient run is different given different workouts and other conditions.
  • There are people researching training loads and components of training, and slowly the populations they draw from are broadening (I’m being optimistic here).
  • To get better results over time in racing, you need to increase your training load/volume over time (i.e. run more).
  • Currently training models aren’t ousting old ones: they are building upon them.
  • Cross-training is supportive training (my words) – and has some positive effects beyond potentially injury prevention (I won’t give away the punch line!)
  • The point of diminishing returns in building fitness and skill is a real thing, so is genetic potential (for running fast).

Warnings and potential mis-use:

Within the book Fitzgerald makes the assumption (he might take exception to my use of this term, but I have a word limit here) that most people are running harder than they need to for optimal returns on fitness, I disagree, just a bit. I think within the running population there are people definitely people who fit that bill: I think these people tend to be beginners, or/and fairly competitive age-grouper types (this is where I fall, for a reference point) who tend to get stuck in a work-horse mentality and don’t realize they’re working in the realm of diminishing returns because the metrics like weekly mileage and individual workout stats are so damn reinforcing. Additionally, I think there is a population of runners (many perhaps falling into the 4:45 – 6:30 marathon finish, training 30-45mi/wk) who underestimate their rate of exertion, and aim too low in how hard they should train. It would be another 3,000 words for me to fairly elaborate this point, but I mention it here because I think there will be people who read this book and actually lose fitness gains by over-correcting.

Next, unlike the plans that typically appeal to beginners, where the whole 16-24 weeks of training is all pre-planned, you need to calibrate your training. This book includes great training plan templates and other key element run templates (tempo runs and the like), but you do need to first establish what your training zones are (i.e. easy, moderate, hard – the book will break them down into sub-sections for you), and then you’ll need to calibrate them over the course of training as your body adapts and becomes more fit. That is, as you improve. Call me a negative Nancy, but I can absolutely see people skipping the assessment work, assuming where their paces fall, and then blaming the system (er – Matt Fitzgerald) when they don’t improve.

Overall, this book is a great addition to your training resource library, and I look forward to digging into some of the finer points even more.

Let me know if you read it!

*AB

Book Review: YOU (only faster) – Greg McMillan 2013

The quick reference review

 Read it:

  • 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.

Skip it:

  • 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.

As you can see I found plenty of things to tag for future reference. No, YOU'RE a nerd.

As you can see I found plenty of things to tag for future reference. No, YOU’RE a nerd.

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.

This app has been worth the $4.99 pricetag for me. I've won many an argument, and recieved several crucial confidence boosts over the year or so I've had it on my phone.

This app has been worth the $4.99 pricetag for me. I’ve won many an argument, and received several crucial confidence boosts over the year or so I’ve had it on my phone.

Target audience:

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”.

*AB