It has been a long time since I haven’t reviewed a book (maybe because I can’t read). The last time around it was ‘Born to Run‘, by the way, if you still haven’t read it: buy it now and read it! Shortly after I had read it, my dear friend Lanky Pole recommended ‘80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower‘ by Matt Fitzgerald and he even lent me the book.
I’ll spoil the book for you: the killer is the butler. Oops, wrong book. Joking aside, this book is all about how to improve your performance by running 80% of your training slowly and 20% of your training at medium or high intensity. The book starts with a little bit of history and explains how runners like Zátopek already knew that you have to train hard to improve your running, but some running coaches like Arthur Lydiard had the intuition that you should add a lot of easy running to make it even more efficient. And now most elite runners follow more or less the 80/20 rule, whereas recreational runners usually do 50/50.
The author goes on about all the research that has been made to support his claims. Even though he mostly cites studies that do not specifically focus on the 80/20 rule but on polarised running (no running at medium intensity: just low-intensity and high-intensity training), it kind of makes sense and his argument is pretty compelling: running mostly slowly will allow you to enjoy it more, but it will also give you the capacity to run more. He then makes the case that high volumes of running condition your body to refine and optimise the act of running (like playing scales on the piano) thus making the high-intensity training more efficient. One thing that he mentions though is that it only works if you train really hard in the 20%.
I can’t really go much more into the details because it is very technical and even a bit boring at times. To be honest, I’m happy the book was sprinkled with anecdotes because it is sometimes particularly abstruse. I read it a year ago, and even now that I have more knowledge about running than back then, I still think this book is too technical for me. The last third of the book is all about how to build your training plan based on his rules and his training plan templates. Boring.
I still learned a few things:
- It is a good thing to monitor your Heart Rate (HR) while training. Although I learned the hard way that if you do that, you must imperatively adjust your HR zones precisely. It is also better to calculate your HR zones based on HR reserve rather than % of max HR. The book explains how to do it, but then again it does so in a very technical and boring manner.
- If you decide to train based on HR zones, it is better to pace yourself using the HR monitor for slow runs (psychologically you’ll tend to respect the upper HR limit) and using pace for faster runs (you’ll tend to try and runs faster than the target pace, which isn’t a bad thing for high-intensity sessions).
- Matt Fitzgerald is right: running slow is really enjoyable. Now I can’t wait for Sundays and my long runs!
As a conclusion, this book, like any book about running, couldn’t possibly be better than ‘Born to Run’ (because I loved it so much). All the same, I was expecting it to teach me a lot but it was just too technical for me – however it will certainly suit very well to more advanced runners.
Ethiopia is a big country in the world of running. I didn’t know it before Lanky Pole went there to spend a month-long holiday (I already mentioned that this mad man mostly travels for running) but it is the home of running legends such as Haile Gebrselassie and Abebe Bikila, who both held the World Records for Marathon & Half-Marathon in their times, and a plethora of super fast men and women.
I recently watched Town of Runners, a documentary by Jerry Rothwell about young runners in Bekoji, a town in central Ethiopia, famous for producing top notch runners such as the olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and her two amazing sisters Ejegayehu and Genzebe. Unsurprisingly, many younglings in this area train hard (very hard) to follow the footsteps of these giants. For many of them, it is the only hope for a better life, they dream of going to the capital Addis Ababa and then to Europe or North America to make a living out of running or even to become legends themselves.
Town of Runners
The documentary follows two hopeful and talented young girls who dedicate their lives to running (on top of going to school and helping their parents at home and in the fields). The beginning made me feel quite optimistic, as we meet their ever-smiling coach who’s confident that he can train world-class athletes, as he has already done. But disenchantment comes soon enough as they encounter cheating and nepotism in competitions they enrol in.
When they finally make it to running academies, things get worse and worse: they’re far from their families, underfed and poorly treated. In short, the documentary isn’t really optimistic and gives us a glimpse into the misery of the masses who fails for a few chosen ones.
You can watch the full documentary on Vimeo or on Netflix UK. Once you’ve watched it, you can read an update one year later, but I got attached to the characters and I wish I could read an update now, five years later.
Everything is in the title. Just buy the damn book and read it! Seriously, when the Quiet Roman recommended to read it, I only complied because he’s one of my friends and I tend to trust these guys. But I really didn’t want to read it because I usually don’t like non-fiction, my to-read pile was already taller than the Eiffel Tower, and at the time I still hated running.
The narration alternates between facts about running and Christopher McDougall’s quest to find the Tarahumara, the legendary tribe of runners. These guys are unbelievable, at parties they drink to death and then they race each other, running hundreds of kilometres in the scalding hot canyons of northwestern Mexico for up to three days in a row, with hand-made flip-flops.
When he finally finds them, he then convinces a bunch of lunatics, American ultra-runners, to race them in the Copper Canyons of the Sierra Madre. Each of them is madder than the next. I cannot decide who’s the craziest between the hermit who lived in a hut in the Copper canyons for decades just to rediscover this hidden tribe, the girl whose seduction routine is to outdrink men and outrun them the next day despite de hungover, the guy who decides to compete in a modern Ironman with XIXth century gear from the Victorian era and runs barefoot on the sharp stones of the canyons, the guy who runs so much that he had his toenail surgically removed because ‘they kept falling off anyway’, or any other of these maniacs.
The running facts are as enthralling as the main story and some of them left me dumbstruck. I now think there’s a fairly good chance that we were born to run indeed, and I’m amazed that hunting animals by chasing them for hours until they die of exhaustion is probably one of the reasons why homo sapiens survived as omnivore bipeds for 200,000 years in a hostile environment.
The writing isn’t too bad and it’s a real page-turner. This book really got me hooked, it made me laugh out loud and left me in awe, but the reason why it’s so good is that it really makes you want to run and to enjoy it. Why haven’t you bought it and read it yet? Come on then!
Ref: Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall