Running Tangents

Book Review: RUN by Matt Fitzgerald


Disclaimer: The following is a “book review” in the broadest sense of the word. I’d say it’s more like “Jen’s take-home messages” rather than a comprehensive summary or critique of the book. If you’re looking for a real review, I’m sure you’ll be able to find lots of articles elsewhere on the internetz.

RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald

As with so many books I’ve read in the past year and a half, this one was forced on me kindly suggested to me by the Gypsy Runner. At first, I thought it was a little-known book by a little-known author, but that only goes to show you what a newbie I am. Since I started reading RUN, I’ve seen Matt Fitzgerald’s name all over the place, associated with adjectives such as well-known, famous, and best-selling. Clearly, I am out of the loop!

Here’s the Table of Contents, for your perusal:

Overall, I  enjoyed the book very much. It’s well-written, interesting, and presents a fresh perspective (to me anyway) on how the brain plays just as big of a role during running as the heart, leg muscles, and lungs. I haven’t read Fitzgerald’s earlier brain-centered running book, Brain Training For Runners, but from what I can gather, RUN appears to be more Zen and laid-back. Personally, I liked the first two parts of the book the best (Chapters 1-7) and found them to be the most useful. However, I’d imagine that others might get more out of the last section than I did, or that perhaps I would too at some point in the future. RUN is definitely the kind of book you can re-read and come away with new insights each time.

The three major concepts that made an impression on me were the contributions of confidence, enjoyment, and suffering to improved performance.

Fitzgerald writes about the importance of both physical and mental confidence and their relationship to each other. Once physical confidence is achieved, mental confidence follows, which is then key to successful racing. How does one build confidence? Repetition is one way, since repeating similar workouts weekly allows for apples-to-apples comparisons and gradual but noticeable improvements. Another method is to track your workouts and note your level of confidence afterward. This will help you understand what workouts boost or detract from your confidence level, allowing you to adjust your expectations for each type of workout. Finally, Fitzgerald recommends devising a training plan that will provide the highest level of confidence. For instance, if you fear that you won’t be able to run 26.2 miles on the day of a marathon, then by all means defy conventional wisdom and run 26.2 miles for your last long run (e.g., instead of 20) to prove to yourself that you can do it.

It’s pretty obvious, but it still needs to be said: if you like something, you’ll probably be better at it (or at least try harder). We can all pretend to be good sports, but it’s an undeniable fact that it’s definitely more fun to be good at something than to suck at it. The converse is true too: failure = sadness. Besides encouraging runners to enjoy their runs, Fitzgerald suggests that runners keep a journal and grade their runs based on levels of enjoyment (don’t forget to note the confidence level too!). From that data, one can look for correlations between types of training and enjoyment, or perhaps look for patterns of enjoyment (e.g., monthly, seasonal, weather-related, etc.). For instance, I’ve noticed 2 out of 2 times (not enough to be statistically significant yet) that my first run post-race tends to be terrible, which is probably due to physical factors (body is still recovering) and emotional factors (coming down from runner’s high). So now, armed with that pattern, I know not to be too disappointed if I have a less-than-stellar run after a race. You can also use the enjoyment data to figure out which workouts you don’t like and why. Perhaps you have unrealistic expectations, or you’re bored/tired of that workout, or you haven’t mastered that workout (i.e. hills for me!). From there, you can start adjusting your expectations, which will hopefully lead to more enjoyment.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all Zen on you and tell you that “Life is suffering.” (Even though it totally is!) Here’s a quote from the book:

“Think about the level of discomfort you experience in races, and then ask yourself how often you approach this level of discomfort in workouts.”

Uh, can I get an AMEN?? The idea here is to get your brain and your body used to the idea and sensation of suffering during training so that you have a higher tolerance for it come race day. Fitzgerald points out that most runners would prefer to increase mileage than to increase intensity (e.g., hills, speedwork) because intensity hurts. He doesn’t advocate constant suffering during training, but one should definitely not shy away from it. In fact, it will probably help you gain confidence, which will then increase your enjoyment. Win/win/win!

Etc. Here are some quotes and other things of note that I liked from RUN:

So those are my two-cents. Have you read RUN or any other brain-related running books? What did you think?