No, I am not one of those lucky runners who was asked to review the book by the publisher. I just picked it up because it was positively reviewed by Runner's World, and because it is based on research. I confess - initially I thought that I would learn a great deal about "mental training". However, within the first couple of pages the author describes clearly that brain training is different than mental training. The brain has running related functions that are either reflexive or occur outside conscious awareness. In this book, the author describes in detail these functions, and provides exercises ('proprioceptive cues') to train the brain and become a faster, more efficient, injury free runner. The book is not always an easy read. There are parts that are fairly technical. Nonetheless, the book pushes you to go against your intuition and question much of what you've learned and makes sense about running.
Here are a couple of interesting things from the book:
1. Fatigue is not caused by energy depletion.
The author points that research has shown that there is still fuel available to muscles when fatigue occurs. The actual cause of fatigue is a reduction in muscle activation by the brain that is influenced in part by declining energy stores. This is believed to be a protective mechanism that prevents us from running to the point of serious harm.
2. Good running form can be learned.
Running form is very important in how efficient a runner is, and also in injury prevention. Running form is controlled by the brain, is automatic. The programs that control running form can be modified via a variety of techniques to produce a running stride that is efficient and powerful. The book gives clear guidelines in terms of correcting form.
3. A runner's pace is not determined by physical capacity, such as VO2max.
Althouhg VO2max (capacity to consume oxygen) is important in determining the pace, teleoanticipation determined by the brain has a more important role. When you start a race your brain calculates the maximum pace you can sustain over the planned running distance based on measures of your fitness level, past experience, air temperature, etc, and helps guide you toward the appropriate pace by producing feelings of comfort and discomfort. The author promotes "embracing suffering" during runs and doing at least one "breakthrough run" a month (race or a run where you push yourself as far as you can) in order to train the brain to allow you to run with more comfort at your chosen pace.
4. Running injuries are not caused by the high-impact nature of running.
Impact forces to contribute to running injuries, but the main culprits are other factors that cause us to run in ways that contradict the preferred movement patterns stored in the brain and thus increasing susceptibility to impact related tissue damage. These factors are running shoes and sitting 8+ hours. With regard to running shoes - the author points out that all the cushioning in the shoes forces the foot to land on the hill. This does not occur when running barefoot - try it, it is true- because it is painful. However, the cushioning in the shoes protects the hill from the pain, thus changing how the foot lands during running. The author mentioned that his running injuries disappeared when he switched to "minimalistic running shoes" (some Nikes) that do not provide all the protection, and thus allow his feet to move normally during the runs.
5. You don't need to drink too much during runs
He discussed how elite runners do not drink much during races. He noted that liquid is not absorbed during fast runs, and so water tends to accumulate in the stomach and cause pains and nausea. The body is capable to run dehydrated.
6. It's good for you to do training long runs without taking in energy.
This is because during such runs the body secretes certain chemicals (IL-6) that help the brain and body to adapt to the stress of running, and make one more efficient. He advocates alternating fueled runs with unfueled runs. Also, he mentions that consuming protein during the run helps with recovery and preparation for next day's run. Accelerade is the only sports drink that contain protein.
7. It is important to embrace your pain
Fatigue related pain is the subconscious brain's way of trying to convince the brain's conscious decision-making center to slow down the pace or stop The only way to reject the message is to embrace the pain and embrace it. The author talks about "practicing suffering" in order to habituate to pain and desensitize oneself.
These are only a few of the messages from the book. As I mentioned, some are counterintuitive. I think it's worth reading the book. I am definitely going to try some of his suggestions, particularly those related to practicing good form.
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