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.


Willie said...

Now had I read this prior to our trail long run I could have asked you in person, but oh well.
I'll have to pick up Fitz's books.

I like how Fitzgerald talkes "about finding your own comfort zone, your natural pace, and finding a workout program that works for you". Along with having "pattern of repetition in your workout schedule."

In previous training cycles, I was trying to run a specific pace and it seemed it was paces that I was ready for yet. This time around, I am trusting my natural instints on what feels like the appropriate effort. Running at 4am is not the same at running at 4pm so I have to trust effort and intuition. Surprisingly my fitness level is coming along with promise and I believe I am finding what works for me. It's so hard not to compare to what other runners are doing as they excel, but I have to remind myself that what's right for them is not necessarily right for me.

thanks for this post, very helpful.

Willie said...

Update - got the "Brain Training" Book. Great read, thanks for the recommend!