Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Runner's Body - a book for curious runners everywhere

This is a new book from the authors of one of my favorite blogs, The Science of Sport. Ross Tucker, PhD and Jonathan Dugas, PhD provide scientific comment and analysis of sporting performance. Their articles are really interesting, although sometimes a bit too scientific for my simple mind! :-) Anyway, their book looks really interesting, as I'm always trying to figure out how to be a faster runner! Read about it below...


The book is called "The Runner's Body", with the by-line "How the latest exercise science can help you run stronger, longer and faster". It is published by Rodale, and you can purchase it from Amazon.com here. The idea behind the book was not to write another textbook explaining the physiology of running. Nor was it to prescribe training programmes and help you "run your best 10km in 8 weeks". We all felt there were enough books like that out there. So instead, we went for the "Freakonomics" approach to physiology, where we tried to weave the physiology and science into a readable format that gave practical and interesting advice to runners.

To give you an idea of the content, the book covers, among other topics:

The morning after problem
Why do your muscles get stiff after exercise? Why your current beliefs about muscle stiffness might be wrong. And what does this tell us about the body and adaptation to exercise?

Big Impact
Your bones are an engineering marvel - NASA's best would struggle to design a material that is at once durable, flexible, adaptable and alive. It withstands 100,000 impacts of six times your body weight per week. Learn about bone health, osteoporosis, stress fractures, and how the right training and diet can help you stay bone-injury free.

Weak in the knees
Every year, 2 in 3 runners will suffer some kind of injury. Learn about injury development, the Big Five running injuries, and how you can train smarter to minimize your risk of injury.

More mileage per milliliter
Much has been made of the VO2max as the be-all and end-all of exercise. But running economy may play an even greater part in determining who wins and who doesn't. Why are some runners more economical than others? Who is the most economical runner in history? How can you become more economical?

Blood, sweat and Gatorade
For thirty years, you've been told to drink before you're too thirsty, or it's too late. You've also learned that dehydration is the biggest danger you face as an athlete. But what if you're wrong? What if you learned that the reason you think this is because of American Football, scientific endorsement and the selective funding of research that helps to sell sports drinks? Learn why the body is a more amazing machine that you may have realized, and why taking the advice of scientists may lead you to a far more dangerous situation than you thought.

The mysterious muscle cramp
50% of runners will cramp at some point in their racing careers. The answer is simple - electrolyte deficiencies and dehydration. Right? Wrong. As with fluid replacement, myths around cramping abound. Learn why electrolyte depletion can't be the explanation for cramp, why certain muscles cramp and others don't, and what you can try to do to minimize your risk of cramp.

Maximum fuel economy
You are what you eat. As applied to runners, this famous adage conjures up discussions about carbo-loading, fat-loading, pre-race meals and in-race nutrition. Learn how your body uses different fuels in different situations, and how you can manipulate your metabolism for best weight loss, fat burning and performance.

Mind matter over body matter
Fatigue is the most fascinating topic in physiology today. Theories on fatigue have evolved over the years, and the latest thinking is that our brains regulate exercise performance in ways that are too complex to fully understand. That doesn't stop us from trying though! Matt had already written a book called Brain Training, based on the fatigue research of Prof Tim Noakes. My PhD thesis inherited this line of research, and this chapter discusses at the brain and performance. How does your brain regulate performance specifically to prevent bodily harm during exercise? Hopefully, it will challenge the way you think of the limits of your performance.

It's all about style
If you want to start an argument among runners, talk about running technique. Opinions range from "let it be" to "teach it like you teach a golf swing", but the debate is always heated! Should we land on the heel, or the forefoot? Do shoes increase the risk of injury by allowing us to heel-strike? This chapter examines the aspects of running technique, evaluating whether teaching technique is both desirable and feasible.

In the long run: Aging and running performance
Nothing in life is as inevitable as aging. We're all faced with the steady process that usually sees us slow down, become less able to recover from training and more injury-prone. But what of those who seem to defy Father Time and run well into their 70s? Men like Ed Whitlock, who broke 3 hours for the marathon at the ripe age of 74! In this chapter, you'll learn about aging and performance, and when you can expect your best running years. Learn also about a condition where people become intolerant to exercise, a form of "premature aging" and what you can do to avoid it.

Thank you for your support

There's a lot more to it - those are just some of the chapters. Others cover exercise and free-radicals, the immune response, endorphins, diet and optimal body weight. We hope it makes for good discussion and debate, and is thought-provoking enough to help you improve your running (and impress some friends with a new way of thinking about issues you may not have considered before).

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