Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Run" and "Brain Training for Runners" by Matt Fitzgerald

I'm a sucker for running books--just the other day I went to the library and picked up a couple more running books I hadn't read yet. Unfortunately I haven't been doing due diligence when it comes to reviewing said running books. Now that I'm on spring break, however, I have a little extra time to write a review of two of Matt Fitzgerald's book on running.

One of my favorite books on training was Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald's, "Run Faster from the 5k to the Marathon." If you're newer to running but serious about improving I'd still recommend that one. Read the full review to see what it's all about.

"Brain Training for Runners" is quite a bit different from "Run Faster." "Run Faster" is what you'd call a nonlinear periodization, mixing faster running throughout. "Brain Training" follows a more traditional Lydiard-type periodization with more base-building at the beginning of the programs and faster runner towards the end.

"Brain Training" departs from the Lydiard model, however, when it comes to training paces. Rather than use a pacing table like Daniels' VDOT value, Fitzgerald instead uses race paces (such as 5k, 1/2 marathon, etc.). He bases this on the whole premise of his book--that performance is limited by the brain and not the traditional way of thinking (V02 Max, lactate threshold, etc.). He's not alone in this "central governor" theory of exercise performance as Tim Noakes, a prominent exercise physiologist has also suggested this model.

"Brain Training" explains this "central governor" theory thoroughly and I think it makes a lot of sense. Certainly performance is affected by physiological factors such as muscle strength, lactate threshold, and V02 Max, but these values alone aren't enough to explain the totality of running performance. I thought "Brain Training" did a nice job of showing how having a brain-based view of performance can affect your training. "Brain Training" also gives advice on cross training, running form, and provides training plans for the 5k through the marathon. 

"Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel" was a much different book than "Brain Training." For one thing, half of "Brain Training" is devoted to training plans, while "Run" had no training plans whatsoever. I could see, however, how Fitzgerald's views evolved from "Brain Training" to "Run."

"Run" was different than any other training book I've read. I enjoyed it very much--it seemed so intuitive and almost everything he had to say made sense. Fitzgerald talked about finding your own comfort zone, your natural pace, and finding a workout program that works for you.

One of the most useful pieces of advice he gave was to find a pattern of repetition in your workout schedule. While the current trend is to mix things up and change training, constantly tweaking and finding something new, Fitzgerald emphasized a pattern of repetition. Again, his ideas of this made perfect sense. Doing similar workouts throughout a training cycle gives athletes an apples-to-apples comparison of their fitness during the progression of a given training cycle.

Fitzgerald also touches on motivation, confidence, and using emotions like anger to help improve running performance. He talks about finding your own formula and workout pattern that best helps you improve. For experienced runners, this is fairly simple. For those less experienced he suggests trying the different models out there--Lydiard-type periodization, nonlinear periodization, or something in-between.

One big difference I noted between "Brain Training" and "Run" was the handling of running form. There is someone of a trend in running form--forms like "Chi Running" and the "POSE" method. These methods have been mostly defunct as learning a set form of running seems not to make any difference in prevention of injury or performance (in fact, a study of the POSE method showed that runners who changed their form actually showed a decrease in running economy). Fitzgerald spends a fair amount of time in "Brain Training" exploring proprioception cues for running form. In "Run," however, Fitzgerald focuses more on other methods of improving running form--namely runner more and running faster.

"Run" does not provide any training plans like most books of this type. Rather, it gives some basic workouts and discusses how to set up a plan in general. Really with all the training plans out there, many of them free on the internet, I didn't see any need for training plans--especially considering what type of book this is.

I'd recommend both these books to anyone interested in knowing more about training. I'd especially recommend "Run" to serious runners looking to take the next step in their training--especially those who don't need a cookie cutter program but would rather use what they already know more efficiently. "Brain Training" is probably more appropriate for someone who doesn't know as much about training or is exploring different kinds of training.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


After a two week stretch of almost perfect running weather, I am completely spoiled. Sunday was absolutely ideal for running--low 50s, slight breeze, and sunny. After a trip to Iowa for a friend's wedding, I headed out on a 12 mile run down to a regional park (with dry trails!), around Jensen Lake, and back. It was awesome. It's been the perfect spring for running.

Then, yesterday, it was chilly. Low 40s and windy. I didn't need to get a run in, but being on spring break I figured I'd run at least a few miles every day. But no, being completely spoiled by nice weather almost all of March, I sat around my house, mostly being lazy, and didn't get outside at all. It's amazing what a couple of weeks of nice weather will do to my fragile running psyche. Rather than suck it up, put on a wind breaker, and get a couple miles in, I instead grocery shopped, went to the library, read, and watched some TV. Ugh.

Today there was 40 mph gusts of wind and it sounded like our townhouse was going to get blown over when I woke up this morning. I've resolved, however, not to be huge wuss and get out the door and put in some miles. Yesterday was my first day off from running in two weeks, so I suppose I shouldn't feel too bad about it. Today, however, there's no excuse--even though it's crazy windy it is warmer than yesterday. So, after taking care of some chores, I got after it to the tune of 11 miles.

I'm going to try to shed all the wussy-ness this mild March has imposed for me and get good running in the rest of my week. I know I have a little bit of a problem when one of my favorite things about being off of school is the ability to run whatever time of day I desire and as long as I want. I've got a 7 mile race this weekend so I'm not going to go too crazy, but I'm definitely going to get a good amount of miles in this week.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


It's been six days straight of 50 degree + weather in Minnesota. In March! Yesterday we set a record in the Twin Cities with a high of 73. I had time to get a quick run in and decided to go shirtless. It was my earliest shirtless run ever in Minnesota (probably in Nebraska too, but I didn't keep those kind of detailed statistics back then).

It's hard to say how many hearts I broke yesterday as eyes moved from my tanless torso to my wedding ring--I'd say the number isn't important. What is important is this awesome weather. Last year I was logging endless miles on the treadmills at the Y while near-record snow and city budget shortfalls left most of the sidewalks and bike paths in Eagan totally unrunnable. This winter, however, I don't think I had to do one run inside that I was hoping to do outside.

And now, I've been able to run outside in shorts for almost a week straight. This Sunday, before I ran 10 miles along the river (on a trail that was underwater last year until July), I even went on a bike ride. It was great.

I don't know how long this awesome weather is going to last, but there's nothing bad in the 10 day forecast and I'm finally getting in the kind of miles in I've been wanting to run all year. For a while I was beginning to worry if my goal of 2500 miles for the year was going to be a problem. After running 50 miles last week, I'm on my way to running 50 more this week. What a great time of year!