Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Round-up of Latest Greatest Running Reads

It's freakin' Peak Week! Wait, what? Allow me to explain: When you're training for a marathon (joke: How do you tell someone is training for a marathon? Wait a second, they'll tell you), Peak Week is your highest volume mileage week, generally four weeks before the actual race. The idea is that then you spend the final three weeks "tapering" — that is, reducing your mileage, resting a bit more, and making sure you're in tip top condition on race day.

Still with me? Alright, so during this long four-month build-up to the Chicago Marathon (Oct. 13), I've been reading a ton of great running books to keep me motivated and inspired. And so what better time than Peak Week to share five I'd recommend that I read this summer.

5. Running Is My Therapy, by Scott Douglas — Look, there's obviously plenty of physical benefits to running. But what makes this book really interesting and totally unique is that it lays out the many mental health benefits to running, as well. It's incredibly convincing. Douglas, a long-time contributor to Runner's World magazine, cites dozens of studies and also his personal experience as evidence of the idea that running is a better (or at least as good as) a treatment for mental health issues as pharmaceuticals. And everything he says certainly jibes with my experience with running and dealing with bouts of anxiety and low-grade depression, as well. It's not just about the "runner's high" (though, when you catch one of those, it's pretty awesome), but rather about how running does things to your brain — both on a short- and long-term basis — that are identical to how many drugs treat mental health issues. No doctor, at least in U.S., would ever prescribe running by itself to treat mental health issues. But maybe they should, says Douglas.

4. Running To The Edge, by Matthew Futterman — This is a profile of legendary running coach Bob Larsen and an explanation of how he changed the philosophy of training and coaching running. The conventional wisdom had been that simply doing intervals was enough to get faster, but Larsen turned that on its head, realizing that threshold runs (or tempo runs, as we call them now) — basically running just to your threshold for a longer period of time (i.e, running to your edge) — is the key to better endurance, speed, and running economy. And wow, was it successful. Larson took a band of misfits from San Diego to the cross country national championship, before coaching at UCLA for decades with several national titles, and then transforming American professional running with champions and Olympians such as Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor.

3. Running Home, by Katie Arnold — Of any these books, this one would appeal most to non-runners who are simply interested in a well-written, smart memoir. It's actually a memoir about the challenges of life and dealing with grief...that happens to be written by someone who is also really good at running. That said, there's plenty of running here, too, especially in the latter half, as Arnold realizes just how good she actually is at this goofy ultra-marathoning sport.

2. The Rise of the Ultra Runners, by Adharanand Finn — This was an absolutely wild ride of a read! Finn, a British journalist and better-than-average marathoner, set out to find out what makes ultra-marathoners tick. And his method of research was partly to become an ultra-marathoner himself, with an ultimate goal of qualifying for the super-prestigious Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 100-mile trail race in France. To do so, he has to accumulate a number of points by running other qualifying ultra-marathons, the process of which he chronicles in painstaking and fascinating detail. I have no idea how he did this — both the running and the remembering clearly enough to write about these races. By about mile 20 of any marathon, I'm reduced to "left, right, left, right, please don't die" but somehow at mile 80 or whatever at these races, Finn is still able to tell us what he's thinking, how he's feeling, what he's hallucinating (these parts are crazy!), and how he's able to overcome the ever-present desire to quit. This is definitely one of the better running books for its insight not just into Finn's running, but also interviews with dozens of big-name ultra-marathoners, like Jim Walmsley and Hillary Allen. Really loved this!

1. 26 Marathons, by Meb Keflezighi — Woohoo Meb! If you're a runner, chances are you're a pretty big Meb fan. I sure am! Nobody has been a more gracious, engaging, and inspiring champion of the sport of running than Meb. Sadly, Meb has retired from professional racing, but this book chronicles each of Meb's 26 professional marathons. He discusses how he prepared for each race, what he learned each time, bits about the cutthroat business of running and sponsorships, and what lessons we all can apply to our running. It's so good.

(Past great running reads, if you're new here: Let Your Mind Run, by Deena Kastor [maybe my all-time favorite running read], Eat and Run, by Scott Jurek, North by Scott Jurek, Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall [duh], The Long Run, by Catriona Menzies-Pike, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami)

Any I'm missing that you've loved?

1 comment:

  1. I feel like the only person who didn't love Born to Run sometimes ;-) Thanks for the picks. I've been meaning to check out 26 marathons...