- Derek M. Hansen – December 9, 2009 -
I’m a big fan of books in general. I have a pretty comprehensive collection of books on all aspects of training and conditioning: Textbooks, science books, “how to” books, biographies and others. Call it a thirst for knowledge, obsessive-compulsive disorder or just plain hoarding, I’m always looking for a book on both old and new subjects.
When I came across a book on running by Tim Noakes called Lore of Running, I decided it was worth a look. This book is a 921-page monster that is as thick as a telephone book. My first thought was, “I’m going to flip through this tome, not try to read it cover-to-cover.” In the age of instant gratification, Twitter and sound-bites, bigger does not always mean better to the masses. So, Noakes did take a big gamble at securing sales by literally creating a textbook on running. A quick look at the table of contents will give you an idea as to what the book covers:
Lore of Running – Table of Contents
Part 1 – Physiology and Biochemistry of Running
Chapter 1 – Muscle Structure and Function
Chapter 2 – Oxygen Transport and Running Economy
Chapter 3 – Energy Systems and Running Performance
Chapter 4 – Temperature Regulation During Exercise
Part 2 – Training Basics
Chapter 5 – Developing a Training Foundation
Chapter 6 – Learning from the Experts
Chapter 7 – Avoiding Overtraining
Chapter 8 – Training the Mind
Part 3 – Transferring Training to Racing
Chapter 9 – 10K to Half-Marathon
Chapter 10 – Marathon
Chapter 11 – Ultramarathon
Chapter 12 – Pushing the Limits of Performance
Part 4 – Running Health
Chapter 13 – Ergogenic Aids
Chapter 14 – Staying Injury Free
Chapter 15 – Running and Your Health
First and foremost, although the book has the word “Running” in the title, it is a book for long-distance runners and coaches. A quick look at the index reveals that there are only about six full pages devoted to speed training. And when we say speed training, we are not talking about training for the 100, 200 and/or 400 meters (maximum speed and speed endurance). Noakes discusses speed in the context of running faster over longer distances, touching on interval training as a means of increasing velocity. So, if you are only concerned with sprinting or speed work, this is definitely not the book for you.
The value of this book is in its comprehensiveness. By no means is it a “how to” book. It reads more like a textbook or reference book. Noakes spends a good deal of time covering basic physiological concepts and principles. He begins with muscle physiology and makes his way into energy systems and respiratory science. There is significant discussion of the concept of VO2max (maximum rate of oxygen flow) and there were many interesting tables documenting the historical VO2max scores of many top runners. Names such as Steve Prefontaine, Henry Rono, Said Aouita, Alberto Salazar and Frank Shorter are provided to demonstrate that while a high VO2max is helpful, it is not the primary determinant of success in elite endurance running. I believe Lance Armstrong, who has recorded a VO2max score of 85 ml/kg/minute, also demonstrated this fact. Armstrong’s personal best time for the marathon is a respectable (but not world-class) time of 2 hours and 46 minutes posted back in 2007.
Noakes also spends a good deal of time on the discussion of “Temperature Regulation During Exercise.” While I’m not certain that your average recreational runner will care to delve into this section, particularly if you don’t live in a warm climate, there are some interesting points brought up in this chapter. One such discussion concerns the higher incidence of smaller athletes winning the marathon over their larger counterparts. For example, a study of Boston Marathon winners shows that the average heights and weights of winners has not changed in the past 100 years. The conclusion was that smaller athletes produced less heat at any running speed than do heavier athletes. Heavier athletes have greater challenges in keeping their bodies cool and must reduce their running speeds to maintain heat balance. Such data can have significant implications for selection of marathon athletes at developmental stages of their careers. Noakes also spends over 40 pages discussing fluid loss and hydration protocols – something that should be taken seriously by any endurance athlete.
Other areas of the book that I enjoyed reading included:
- An intelligent discussion of the training progression for the less experienced runners. Noakes lists off 15 Laws of Training that are basically common sense rules for any coach or athlete. These laws include prescriptions such as “start gradually and train gently, don’t set your training program in stone, alternate hard and easy training, don’t overtrain and rest before the big race.” The one law that I don’t necessarily agree with is his, “Train first for distance, only later for speed.” Of course, my definition of speed is likely different than most, if not all, distance runners. But I do believe that speed can be developed in parallel with specific endurance capabilities, with less risk of over-reaching and injury. Noakes’ one law that I particularly like is Law 6: “Achieve as much as possible on a minimum of training.” With my training programs, I am always trying to determine the minimum amount of training required to create the greatest positive adaptation.
- A comprehensive historical overview of the key athletes that have influenced endurance running. Noakes’ list spans over 150 years and outlines the different approaches used by individuals as training has evolved over the last two centuries. Notable names include Paavo Nurmi, Arthur Newton, Emil Zatopek, Herb Elliott, Ron Clarke, Kip Keino, Derek Clayton, Frank Shorter, Rob de Castella, Steve Jones and Carlos Lopes. He also covers the African influence on and dominance in long distance running in the last 45 years. He concludes this section by reviewing notable ultra-marathoners and ironman triathletes.
- A comprehensive chapter on overtraining. Because many runners focus too much on quantity and not enough on quality, this is an important section for all athletes. I was impressed to see Noakes touch on the use of Heart Rate Variability to assess training status and prevent overtraining.
- A wide array of sample training programs for long distance athletes from 10km and up. As we all know, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Individualizing your training program becomes more important the further up the performance ladder you get. Noakes provides snapshots of various athletes’ and coaches’ programs including information from Jeff Galloway, Jack Daniels, Peter Pfitzinger and Grete Waitz, as well as Noakes’ own training plan recommendations.
- Coverage of all areas of interest to runners including a review of ergogenic aids, injury treatment and prevention and general health issues. Noakes covers such issues as exercise and fertility, pregnancy, iron deficiency, immune function and diabetes. Given that Tim Noakes is a medical doctor, I would think that he is going to make sure that all of his bases are covered in the area of health and exercises.
Although I am impressed with the breadth and quality of content of this book, I would have advised Noakes not used the word “Lore” in the title. Most people do not know what the word “lore” means. The actual dictionary meaning of lore is, “knowledge gained through study or experience.” That is all well and good but, honestly, it sounds way too much like “bore” and, combined with its size, could easily turn people off the book. Having said that, the book offers a wealth of knowledge in many areas relating to long-distance running, and can serve an athlete or coach as a very good reference book on comprehensive training for longer distances. Knowing that many long-distance runners may have obsessive-compulsive personalities (how else can you go for multi-hour runs), the Lore of Running can be considered a Bible of Running for these individuals. Noakes also includes a good deal of information on training for ultra-marathons, which I find interesting as I don’t see there being as big a market as say the 10k and marathon. It is obvious that Noakes is more concerned with providing the reader with the most comprehensive manual on endurance running possible.
In summary, the “Lore of Running” would be most suitable for runners that have at least some training experience and are hoping to learn more about all aspects of distance running. Beginners may be intimidated by the sheer size of this book and may be best served by a more introductory book on running. However, the “Lore of Running” is reasonably priced and offers good bang for your buck, even if you are a triathlete wanting to learn more about training for the running portion of your event. Hopefully this book is offered for the new e-book readers coming out such as Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook or Sony’s Portable Reader so that you are only lugging around 10 ounces and not a couple of pounds of paper.