Review: Run Smart, John Brewer

RunSMartProfessor John Brewer is known as a go to guy for marathon running. He works at St Mary’s University in Twickenham where they have some fantastic running programmes (Mo Farah was a such a regular when he lived nearby they’ve named the track after him) and unusually Brewer specialises in applied sports science. The applied bit is particularly exciting because it means his work crosses the researching theories vs implementing theories into practice divide. So, I had high hopes for his book.

The book has a nice angle; exposing the running myths while giving you the most up to date knowledge of what science is telling us on how to run a marathon well. It is packed with pictures, beautifully designed, very easy to use and much more like a handbook than something you would read cover to cover. I think it would work well for someone completely new to running who is in that sponge phase of wanting to soak up all that they can about the marathon they have signed up to. It does bust some myths. It does give some good information on racing in different conditions, the kit to use, nutrition to think about, race day prep and training, but I think that causes a little bit of an issue in that is covers so many angles that Brewer has gone wide (to skim everything) rather than deep (and go into too much complexity). For me this means it felt like there was a mismatch between the way the book was pitched (to someone who is starting to take their running really seriously) and the information, tone and presentation (which was more suited to someone just starting out).

As I read every book from the perspective of what sport psychology can I take from this to help my clients I was quite disappointed. The sport psychology elements were neither incorporated fully into the individual elements or given (in my opinion) substantial enough sections within the wider chapters. Completely understandable when going wide to cover everything but it didn’t feel there was enough specificity for someone to be able to draw out any specific suitable tactics to use.

Having said all that, if you are pretty early on in your marathon journey, and looking for some basic, evidence-based knowledge to build your training plans and prepare for your race this book could be very helpful. If you are really taking a step up and wanting to work seriously at your running this book will definitely help you learn a few new things about how to run smarter, but you’ll need to go elsewhere for the specifics to get you actually running faster.

 

Review: Irongran, Edwina Brocklesby

Irongran

My plan to read 25 sports books in 2018 is way behind schedule but one I managed to read in under 24 hours (to the joy of my little one who got to watch far too much CBeebies that day) was Irongran.  I was involved in the early stages of the book and am quoted in it a couple of times but I promise it was not ego driving me to read it. Eddie is actually a really lovely storyteller, and she has an amazing story to tell. Growing up with a grandma who was Winston Churchill’s cook during World War Two gives us an amazing insight into a historical period of British life, and gave Eddie an inspiring role model to look up to. A career in social work gave her an insight into those struggling with some of the toughest starts in life. And then her husband’s early death from cancer inadvertently changed the course of her life when she found the most effective way of dealing with her grief was through running. Having only started running at the age of 50, Eddie found her running club friends gave her the space and inspiration she needed to get back on her feet and, supported by them and her three children, she signed up to London Marathon. 23 years later (she is now 75) Eddie has run at least three London Marathons, completed some of the hardest Ironman races in the world including the world championships in Kona and competed internationally for the GB age group team many times, rarely coming home without a medal. Oh and she has also cycled across America. As you do.

Much of her sport has been done to give her a platform to talk about her passion; getting older people active. The book includes her research on the importance of being fit to allow you to age healthily and the benefits it gives it terms of friends and mental wellbeing. Eddie has bought her passion to life through the Silverfit charity; a project setting up active sessions in parks across London to give those over 45 exercise, company and fun. She’s even set up a Silverfit cheerleading team!

Each chapter in the book brings to life a well-used phrase (age is just a number, dreams don’t always live up to your expectations) with a great experience behind it. I really loved reading about Race Across America where Eddie forgot to load up her iPod properly before heading off and had to listen to the same album (Billy Joel) for 3000 miles! I also loved her tenacity at tripping over during London marathon, knocking out a tooth, popping it in a bag of milk and finishing the race. These stories of how Eddie doesn’t even consider stopping when in periods of adversity are a great when you need a kick up the bum to go out for your own training. A run after a couple of chapters of this book and you’ll be running 30 seconds a mile quicker out of sheer guilt that you are half her age and far more lazy!

Review: Run for your life, William Pullen

Run for your life Pullen

Within my sport psychology practice I’m getting increasingly interested in how athletes can use mindfulness to become more aware of their thoughts. I’m not convinced meditation and mindfulness techniques as a whole work universally, and some of the research starting to come out is suggesting that while they can have a really positive impact for some, for others they can even be harmful. But what I do love about the mindfulness process is the moments of relaxation they give you and the ability to start to notice your thoughts better and become more aware of what is flittering around inside your head. Often these are the things we’ve been trying to squish and ignore but are actually holding us back, filling us with a little bit of dread. Acknowledging them and accepting they are there gives us an option to do something about them.

I was really interested when I saw that William Pullen had bought out a book on Mindful Running. From his work with individuals requesting therapy he has managed to combine some of the benefits of running with the benefits of talking openly and feeling like you are being really listened to. He has turned this idea into; Dynamic Running Therapy. As far as I can see no academic or peer reviewed studies have been run on it but the grounding for it feels sensible. There is a lot of research on the positive impact of running on mental wellbeing. There is a lot of strong research on the benefits of mindfulness. This therapy pulls them together but can feel fairly anecdotal for those approaching it from an evidence-based background.

Pullen’s idea is that the movement of your body helps you get closer to what is going on inside you so you can understand it more and process it better. Depending on the issue you are dealing with; depression, anxiety, relationships, anger or decision making, Pullen offers a bunch of questions for you to ponder while running. These feel helpful as a way to approach mindful running, to give you something to actively chew over.  Alongside this, Pullen suggests you keep a diary to track your progress. Training diaries or even daily life diaries can be so beneficial for keeping us aware and switched on with what we are feeling. I also really liked the reminders Pullen included about how we are working to notice our thoughts but that we are not our thoughts. When we get into a negative place it is often difficult to remember this so setting out on a process with this front of mind is helpful.

I feel after reading Pullen’s book that this could be really helpful for some people but it comes with two caveats. Firstly, as a sports psych, most of the people I work with are athletes, and so setting out on run is rarely ‘just a run’ with the option of having enough head space to actively become aware of your thoughts. Even with that as an aim, experienced athletes will be noticing pace, niggles or registering times and heart rates. So this is perhaps not suitable for those who take their running seriously as years of training will have taught them to subconsciously read their bodies, not their minds. Secondly, I think this will be personality dependent. I felt; partially due to the subject matter and partially due to how he writes, Pullen makes dynamic running therapy feel like a hug on the move. Cosy and welcoming for some, off-putting for others.

So if you are interested in how you can use running to increase your mental awareness and potentially wellbeing, and are not already a runner, this maybe an approach for you to consider.