Red Wine Runner

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Running Science by John Brewer | Book Review

Running Science – John Brewerrunning science by John Brewer

In the last week I have been enjoying a new book which was sent to me; Running Science: Optimising Training and Performance. Published by Ivy Press, this large, hardback book is a compendium of contributions by 11 sports scientists and researchers, and edited by sports scientist and Running Magazine columnist, Professor John Brewer. The book looks at the scientific facts behind some of the world’s best performances and includes insights and analysis which apply to all runners from amateur to elite.

running science by john brewer

Running is deceptively simple as we all know. At an access level it is one of the easiest sports to break into, but to improve and reach ones’ peak potential requires a careful balance of nutrition, conditioning, and environment; all of which are firmly rooted in science. John Brewer and his team of experts examined hundreds of scientific studies on running and broke down the details and analysis to produce eight chapters of technical information, presented in a colourful and easy to understand format.

running science by john brewer

The findings are collated as a series of questions, many of which the reader will have asked themselves or their friends at some point:

Do you really need to stretch? Why can’t I catch my breath after I stop running? Do I have to load up on carbs to be a good endurance runner? What is DOMS and is it beneficial? Do i really need to warm up?

Anyone who has ever been in a running Facebook group will be familiar with the standard sofa-scientist answers to these questions, delivered with un-sourced references to ‘I once heard…’ or ‘In my experience…’. Of course there is some benefit to hearing about others’ experiences, but it is really refreshing to look up a question in this book and then get a fully referenced, scientific answer with a short, digestible explanation and diagrams where appropriate.

running science by john brewer

Other questions enhance appreciation for the incredible feats of the worlds’ greatest athletes – what would it actually take to run a 2 hour marathon? The Nike project certainly came close recently, but we still haven’t quite got there. Brewers’ answer to this question gives us a technical breakdown of what he thinks is actually required to achieve this, which isn’t too distant from what Nike recently attempted.

running science by john brewer

There are sections for specific events such as marathons and ultras, as well as questions regarding equipment and kit, including an answer to the oft-asked question: “Can running shoes help my running form – are my running shoes right for me?” There’s even an investigation into the science behind the influence of technology on runners’ psychological states, which for those of us who have ever panicked when the Garmin ran out of battery mid-race, makes for an interesting read.

running science by john brewer

I was so impressed with this book and the way it answers the questions that I’ve read it from cover to cover, soaking up all of the information provided in the infographics, and enjoying the full-page action photographs. Equally, it could sit on your shelf as a reference publication for the next time you have a burning question (or, if someone happens to be wrong on the internet…).

I would highly recommend this book as essential reading for any runner, from the curious beginner wanting to learn more, to the seasoned athlete wishing to fine-tune their performance to perfection. It would make a perfect gift for the runner in your life, or perhaps as a post-race treat for yourself; it is available from all usual book outlets at an RRP of £20.

Follow John Brewer on Twitter here: @sportprofbrewer

I received an advance copy of Running Science to review, but all opinions are as ever, my own.

Recent Running Reading

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Recovering  from the Cateran Trail Ultra has been tougher than I expected. I’m used to just bouncing back after races after the soreness goes away, but since the race three weeks ago I’ve been enveloped in fatigue which is just not shifting. I didn’t run or exercise for 9 days afterwards, and since then I’ve done one 2 mile jog to an exercise class, one club tempo session, circuit classes, yoga, some swimming and one 3.5 mile hill race (Krunce – it was awful and I was 5th last in 40 minutes).

Everything I attempt to do is such an effort – it is hard to accept that my body is just taking a normal amount of time to recover. I don’t like being out of a normal training programme; it makes me feel lazy and sluggish which is not conducive to a positive outlook for the Great Glen Ultra in 4 weeks time. It’s true what they say about the racing being the easy bit…

However I know I just need to be patient – it will come back and I will run long again. In the meantime it doesn’t give me much to write about here though, so I’ve decided to share with you some running things that I’ve enjoyed reading recently.

Running Free: Richard Askwith
Yellow Jersey Press

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I got an email from a publisher a couple of months ago asking if I’d like a copy of this book. Free book? Free running book?! Of course my answer was yes. I took it with me on honeymoon and whilst lying on a beach in the Maldives, soaking its pages with sweat, Askwith’s wonderful descriptions of British running transported me back home to rainy, muddy fields in an instant.

Askwith is best known for his book Feet in the Clouds which describes the demanding and reckless world of Fell-Running. The book gained an almost cult-like status amongst runners after it was released, so his second running title has been highly anticipated.
The book is an account of Askwith’s love affair with running and how he found his place in the sport. The overwhelming message from the book is a question however – how can something so simple have become so complicated? Why are we spending so much money on something which we can experience for free? It’s something I find myself wondering frequently myself as I find myself once again browsing race listings and parting with chunks of my salary for the privilege of running a route I could run for free any other day of the week.

I began turning down the corners of pages on which there were statements which I particularly agreed with, but after the first Chapter I found that this was a silly exercise as the book could have been a conversation with myself and my friends during a long run. One sentence in the first chapters jumps out however and it simply has to be shared:

Runners are born free, and everywhere they run in chains. Or, if you prefer, chain stores. This book is written in the hope of helping at least some of these runners to liberate themselves”

Askwith questions the relatively new phenomenon of expensive obstacle racing (Tough Mudder? Spartan Race, anyone?) where inner city fitness fanatics take themselves out into his countryside and pay extortionate race fees to subject themselves to carefully regulated amounts of mud, ice and water; everything which he sees on a daily basis without any of the hassle or Health and Safety disclaimers. Askwith also documents enjoyable runs with Hash House Harriers where off-road antics are the norm and free of charge, and mentions a notorious Scottish Hash near Aberdeen which is known as being pretty hard core… I’d like to think that that is the Mearns Hash!

Alongside beautifully descriptive prose about the 100 different types of mud we have in Britain, he also outlines how the most simple of sports has been commercialised and queries how we have managed to come so far from a sport which is perhaps the most simple of all. Within a few pages I found myself nodding with every page I turned, and laughing along with his observances of the idiosyncrasies of running which I am as guilty of as any other runner. However along with the humour comes food for thought and the concept of ‘mindful’ running. Askwith no longer wears a watch to time his runs and rarely enters races. Towards the end of the book he muses:

“If the idea of a run that isn’t overlaid with gamified incentives doesn’t excite you, you might want to consider another sport. Or alternatively, to look again at the kind of running you do, and ask yourself if there might not be a more exciting way of doing it.”

This book is for anyone who’s ever given Big Running Co. the side eye, or anyone who has  questioned the sense in commodification of such a simple activity. If you’re very proud of the fact that a sub-4 marathon time earns you the right to buy an orange Xempo running shirt and define yourself by such material things, you might want to give it a swerve.

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Hal Higon – 4:09:43
Published by Human Kinetics

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I think most people reading this blog will have a fair idea about this book by now, if they don’t own a copy already, that is. Hal Higdon, contributing editor of Runner’s World, has done a remarkable job of pulling together the tales of several runners’ experiences throughout the dreadful events of the day of the Boston Marathon Bombings of 2013. He collected tales from blogs, facebook posts and letters and has woven them in a real-time format to document the day from several points of view as the clock ticked down to 4 hours 9 minutes and 43 seconds – the time the race clock showed when the first bomb went off.

I first heard about this book when I read somewhere in a facebook group that a mutual friend and fellow Scottish Ultra runners account of the race from his blog was going to be featured. I remember watching the news update in horror knowing that John and Helen Munro were out there and frantically refreshed facebook until someone posted news that they were both safe. Before I go any further I want to link you to both John and Helen’s accounts of the day; they are heart-stopping and tremendously well written, and say more about everything than I ever could.

John: Achilles Niggle
Helen: Running Through 2011

I still find John’s blog intensely moving and it generally makes my eyes well up if I re-read it. Prior to the bombings I didn’t have much interest in becoming a ‘fast’ marathon runner, or in other words, qualify for Boston. I enjoyed my ultra runner status of being slow and steady over much greater distances too much. But like so many others, I now aspire to earn my place on that starting line one day – however that is a different story for a different day.

The book is short and gripping – I finished it in three lunch breaks at work – but it says all it needs to say. I wondered if within it there would be the same tremendous miles of of lyrical editorial content about the race and the bombings that the newspapers and websites published, but Higdon keeps it completely simple and sticks to the words which were written by his subjects, although perhaps with a little tweak  and some artistic licence here and there. It would have been very easy to make this book an over-dramatic, sensationalist tribute but he has hit it just right – he wanted to publish these stories and he has done it correctly, and respectfully.

John’s blog is featured throughout, and he even has the honour of almost having the last word in the book. That honour is given to the American President however, which as he admits in a later blog, is quite alright really.

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Like The Wind magazine http://www.likethewindmagazine.com/

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“Like the Wind magazine is a collection of stories about running, from the track, trail and road. There are personal anecdotes, inspirational tales and wonderful pictures, all designed to inspire and delight”

I heard about Like The Wind on twitter. I saw people exclaiming their delight for the first issue and decided it looked like something I would want to read. I’m sick to the back teeth with the content of most modern running magazines and their insistence on publishing crap that insinuates that the reason all women do exercise is to lose weight and look good for men. Or raise money for charity. Or socialise with their friends. Of course there may or may not be elements of all of the above for many female runners but for the most part any female fitness publication in the shops these days is patronising, infantile and seven shades of hypocritical. An article on how to love your curves, opposite an advertorial for Zaggora weight-loss compression shorts? Bollocks. The publishing industry owes us more than that.

Like The Wind is published by freestak, who describe themselves as a social media and marketing agency for running and endurance sports brands. Corporate nonsense aside, they’re doing a stellar job of filling in a tremendous gap in the market where people desire to hear running tales and lore from around the world, presented in a relatable format and without an advert in sight.

I was captivated by my magazine when it arrived and loved the quality of the paper it was printed on. Each beautiful illustration could be examined for ages and I soaked up the words of the articles as slowly as I could. I savoured the magazine and read one article a night until I ran out – I really didn’t want it to end. This is a publication to cherish, filled with passion and heart, and written by people with the art of inspiration flowing from their fingers. It’s not a magazine about running, it’s a magazine about how life is when you fill it with running and the thoughts that go through your head, the relationships you build, the battles you fight, the unexplainable lows and the indescribable highs.

You can order your copy from their shop for £9, although only limited editions of issue 1 remain. After purchasing issue 1 I have subscribed for a four issue subscription for £40 which will deliver me issues 2, 3 and 4. I received issue 2 the other day and I am almost too excited to begin reading it as I know that I’ll want to plough through it in one go, but it is a work of art which must be savoured.

If you like running and thinking, and think while you run, or run while you think; do yourself a favour and get a subscription immediately. I cannot praise this publication highly enough. They welcome submissions from anyone, and I thought that I might try and write something to submit, but I am not sure where to start just yet. Everything they publish seems to come from the heart though, so I don’t think I can force it. Suggestions welcome…

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Disclaimer Note: I was sent ‘Running Free’ for free, but was not asked to write about it. I wrote about everything here because I wanted to share my thoughts with you, not because a PR company paid me to do it.
I can’t believe the blogging world has become so convoluted that I have to disclose that my thoughts are my own and not something that’s been paid for. I think I’ve just found the topic of my next post…

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