This is without a doubt the most comprehensive book I’ve ever read about the human body’s core. Dr. Zazulak begins by emphasizing how important our core is for the prevention of injuries and this is the premise of the book. Master Your Core is more than just a book with a bunch of core exercises; it’s obvious Dr. Zazulak understands people also need to know why the core is important and how you can improve your core in ways other than physical activity.
The book is logically divided into two parts, with the first part called Core Fundamentals and includes discussions on defining core stability, how to develop awareness and control of our core, neuromuscular imbalances and how they effect the core, a detailed discussion of posture, and a lengthy discussion on sex-based differences. Prior to this book I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything about differences between men and women’s cores but this book goes over everything from how hormones, anatomy, neurological differences, and psychological factors effect men and women’s cores differently.
There is also a section on meditation, mindful breathing exercises, and practicing gratitude, an interesting section on the heart-core connection, discussions on the importance of water, sleep, and self-care, and different breathing techniques designed to tone the core floor. One thing I learned is the connection between your jaw and core floor. When you clench your jaw because you’re stressed, you also clench your pelvic floor. Perhaps not surprisingly, women tend to “internalize emotions more often, which manifests as muscle tension in an unrelaxed core floor.” This can compromise blood flow and deprive the muscles of the oxygen and nutrients they need to function optimally.
Part 2 is called the Core BASE Guide and includes tangible ways to improve your core. Within this part are four sections: breathing, awareness, stability, and empowerment. As you might imagine the section on breathing is a deep dive covering all things breath-related and the importance of deep belly or diaphragmatic breathing.
In all, there are seven tables each with seven core exercises including descriptions for each exercise and a table with diagrams for each group of exercises (for 49 total core exercises). Dr. Zazulak notes that no one should feel obligated to do every single exercise; she acknowledges it would be too much for some people and everyone has different abilities and needs. Meditation is once again discussed in the Awareness section, as are mantras and body awareness. There are some examples of core-empowering activities such as yoga, martial arts as well as some unexpected ones like laughter and nature and readers are told to choose ones that speak to them personally.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is how the book is filled with apropos quotes throughout. A quote I especially liked is the following that is at the beginning of the last section before the conclusion:
“Doctors won’t make you healthy. Nutritionists won’t make you slim. Teachers won’t make you smart. Gurus won’t make you calm. Mentors won’t make you rich. Trainers won’t make you fit. Ultimately you have to take responsibility.”—Naval Ravikant
In other words, if you don’t put in the work, it won’t happen. Chapter 13 describes how you can personalize the book and the exercises to fit your body and needs. There’s even a way to calculate your core score, which may especially appeal to competitive people. I like it because it gives you a goal to work your way towards and it gives you a tangible way to measure your progress.
I really enjoyed this book and how in-depth Dr. Zazulak dives into all things core-related. It’s so much more than just a book listing off core exercises. The book shows beautifully how the mind, heart, and musculoskeletal systems all work together with our core. Also unique is the section on women’s core health and how women’s and men’s cores are different and shouldn’t be lumped together.
******* I’ll be doing a giveaway of Dr. Zazulak’s book on Instagram tomorrow, August 14. Check out my post there if you’d like to enter. If you’re not on Instagram, reply below why you’d like a copy of this book and I’ll mix in your entry with the others on IG when I randomly pick a winner.
This year I’ve been reading more books on the mental aspect of running. I loved Deana Kastor’s book Let Your Mind Run and have found myself referring to some things she covered in the book on some tough runs or when I’m just not in the right frame of mind. When I heard about Michele Ufer’s book and the story behind the author, I knew I had to read his book.
Michele Ufer is a German athlete who came upon the ultra running scene apparently out of nowhere in 2011. Despite having seemingly almost no running experience, Mr. Ufer decided to run a 250 km stage race in the Atacama Desert in Chile at an altitude of 2500-3500 meters (8202-11,483 feet) and not only finished but managed to finish in seventh place overall. He attributes his success to his extensive mental training before the race. The link to the Atacama Crossing Ultramarathon is here.
Most people that prepare to run an ultra distance (anything longer than a marathon) put in extra miles running. They increase their distance gradually to build up their bodies and put in the super-long miles on the weekends in addition to the weekly miles. The emphasis is very much on running, strength-training, stretching, and recovery, but all of this relates to the physical aspect of running with the majority of runners. You don’t hear about an ultra runner spending hours on end working on the mental aspect of running.
But this is exactly what Ufer did when he was preparing for the Atacama Crossing. Ufer, who has a PhD in sports psychology, drew on his extensive knowledge to take advantage of the psychological and motivational potential of goals and mental training. He utilized not just one or two mental strategies, but several, such as creating internal images, self-talk, the power of music, and inner monologues.
The idea behind the importance of the mental aspect of running is nothing new; runners have been aware of the importance of the mind for many years. You hear things like we need to think positive thoughts when we’re running and we need to have a good attitude. Other than thinking positively, however, there honestly isn’t much concrete and exact advice out there on the subject. Until now.
Dr. Ufer’s book is absolutely filled with practical exercises designed to work on the mental aspect of running. As I type that, I realize of course this is applicable to not just running but life in general. Being stronger mentally is certainly a trait anyone whether they’re a runner or not would benefit from.
He also recognizes that there’s more to mental training than just thinking positive thoughts and there are indeed limitations. If I think to myself that I will be a 3-hour marathoner even though my fastest marathon to date is 4 hours and 20 minutes, it doesn’t mean that will magically happen just by thinking it will, even if I include other mental training actions such as visualization and others but I just can’t reach the goal times necessary for that 3 hour finish time on my training runs. In other words, you do have to be realistic and know your physical limitations.
What sets this book apart from others on the subject of the mental aspect of running are the numerous exercises. There are questions to ask yourself such as “Which activities and things give you strength, do you enjoy doing, and are good for you?” You make a list and rank everything accordingly. There are also tons of visual imaging exercises, such as visualizing yourself from another person’s perspective. The instructions are thorough and allow you to dig deep into your inner thoughts.
Perhaps one of the most extensive sections deals with understanding your true self when it comes to running and what state your mental strength is currently in. There are exercises on diagnosing your own personal mental strengths during training and competition. You rank each of them and at the end are able to identify the mental skills needed to overcome certain challenges that you can work on. There is also an exercise to ask yourself the reasons why you run.
The book moves on to focus on using more appropriate language to ourselves, like focusing on goals instead of mistakes or things we do not want. He talks about using “towards” goals instead of “away from” goals, like instead of saying “I don’t want to get stomach cramps” you could say, “I want to feel light on my feet and full of energy.” Much of this is also spinning negative thoughts into positive thoughts.
A thorough visualization guide takes you through how exactly to visualize things rather than just saying something like, “Picture yourself running.” Dr. Ufer gives several different exercises to help with being able to thoroughly visualize sequences of events. By the end of the chapter, you should be able to picture in your mind’s eye how you mentally wish to experience everything from the evening before an important competition all the way through to how you want to feel after you cross the finish line.
Not to lead you down the path that this is just another book on positive thinking, Dr. Ufer points out the negative effects of positive thinking. He says that many studies now show that some people who are most effected by depression, self-doubt, and are unhappy with their current situation are actually pushed deeper into depression by a constant deluge of positive thinking; instead we should be more realistic and constructive. He also discusses ways to handle failure, crises, and injuries.
If you enjoy introspection and figuring out how your mind works and would like to work on the mental aspect of running, I believe you may enjoy this book. However, if you’re unwilling to put the time necessary to do the exercises, you probably won’t get nearly as much from this book but you still might find it interesting. Be prepared to answer many questions about yourself and dig deep into what Dr. Ufer calls your “personal navigation system.”
Do you enjoy learning about the mental aspect of running? Have you read any good books on the mental part of running?
If you’re a runner long enough, you’ll find yourself bored and stuck in a rut. Races that you run every year and you used to get excited about can become ones that you dread. One way to deal with this is by signing up for a race doing something you normally don’t do, like an obstacle race if you normally run road races. Or a marathon if you’ve never run a marathon before. Or how about the Empire State Building Run-Up, where you race up all 102 stories of this skyscraper? How about signing up for an entire year’s worth of crazy races that completely put you out of your comfort zone?
That’s what author Susan Lacke did. One night after realizing her boredom with running despite just scoring a 9 minute PR at the Huntsville Marathon in Utah, she signed up for races around the world that would get her out of her comfort zone. She signed up a wide variety of races from the Pony Express Trail 50 where you have to carry absolutely everything with you including your own waste to the Coffin Race where you run with a team to carry a makeshift coffin with another person in it to Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll in England where runners chase a wheel of cheese down a steep, treacherous hill.
In the book, she starts with some background information about herself including some from her childhood. Lacke is a writer of endurance sports, professor, and author of the book Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow. She also happens to be deaf and she weaves this element of her life into the story naturally.
To begin her journey, Lacke ran the Huntsville Marathon in September and after that she ran the Red Bull 400 later that month. If you’re not familiar with the Red Bull 400, it’s a race where you run (climb, really) 400 meters up a ski jump in Park City, Utah built for the 2002 Winter Olympics. She had my respect as a runner when I read that she ran a marathon in the same month as running the Red Bull 400. But she didn’t stop there.
Every month except November (why nothing was scheduled for November is a question I have for Ms. Lacke) for the proceeding year, she ran in what I would call an extreme running event. Some months she ran in multiple events, like in May when she ran Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll, and Caliente Bare Dare 5K. Just running one of most of these events would scare the hell out of most of us runners, but to run in all of these events in one year is truly astounding.
Throughout the book, she has a chapter for each running event which she describes in perfect detail from beginning to end. Lacke has a real knack for storytelling and the crazy events she participated in make for even more interesting stories. She also writes about how she started running and about her best friend that got her interested in running who has since passed away.
If you can’t tell by now, I absolutely loved this book and found myself not wanting to put it down when it was time for me to go to sleep. The short chapters make for a quick and easy read. If you enjoy reading about running adventures, I believe you will also enjoy this book. I haven’t even described all of the races she ran, not to give it all away, but there are even more, some of which you may find yourself actually wanting to run them after you finish reading about them, as I did.
The book is 242 pages and you can find it at your local bookstore, library, or Amazon.
I first heard about this book on the Marathon Training Academy Podcast. One of the hosts, Angie, is an avid reader and recommended this book, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ll fully admit that it took me a little while to warm up to this book, but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.
This book is written primarily about some people that influenced the sport of running, primarily long-distance running. Some people are well-known, like runners Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor, coaches Bob Larsen and Joe Vigil, but some of the characters are lesser-known (at least to me) like Terry Cotton and Ed Mendoza. The real reason for Futterman writing the books seems to be a group of guys who called themselves the Jamul (pronounced “HA-mool”) Toads, whose coach was Bob Larsen.
Futterman goes all the way back to the 1950’s to develop the story behind Coach Bob Larsen as a young boy and runner. He tells of the injuries that Larsen and his teammates had in high school. Larsen begins questioning the workouts of runners when he’s a young boy and that continues into young adulthood. While he’s enrolled in San Diego’s kinesiology department, he meets Frederick William Kasch, a recent PhD recepient who is developing a fitness program for adults to test theories about exercise, muscles, and the heart. At the time, it was commonly believed that one might die from a heart attack if you exercised vigorously after the age of thirty-five.
This is also during the time when Arthur Lydiard was becoming an advocate for running as exercise. Lydiard believed in putting in the miles and his runners routinely ran 100 miles per week. Bill Bowerman, the founder of Nike, also met with Lydiard during this time and returned home to Oregon to spread the word about “jogging.” When Larsen graduates in 1961 from San Diego, he decides to stay there and enrolls in graduate school in kinesiology and physical education and takes on the role of coaching distance runners on the SDSU track team. The book then takes us through a brief history of cross country teams of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Here is where Coach Bob begins his tinkering and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t work with his athletes. One thing he firmly believes from the beginning is that runners should train with a group. The idea is if you run by yourself, it’s too easy to slack off but if you’re with a group, that forces you to dig a little deeper. He also firmly believes when you think you’ve reached your limit, push a little harder. You want to find that fine line where you push your mind and body just to the edge, without falling off (hence the title of the book).
The evolution of the tempo run, which is largely credited to Larsen is discussed, as are the stories of the many other runners that Bob Larsen coached, including Dale Fleet, Dave Harper, Kirk Pfeffer, Mike Breen, and Ed Mendoza and Terry Cotton as mentioned earlier. Around mid-way through the book, the Toads have grown to a group of about 30 guys. The book follows the runners through the 1970’s, including their ups and downs. Everything seems to be going great for Larsen. He expects the rest of the world to start following his way of running to the edge. But then it doesn’t happen. Runners start looking for a different way to train. Bob Larsen’s ways seem to fall to the way-side for the next several years.
Part 2 of the book fast-forwards to 1993, and catches us up. Larsen joined UCLA’s men’s track and field program in 1979, where his runners went on to win first place in the NCAA championship in 1987. His team is considered one of the best college teams in any sport in 1988. His focus is now on shorter distance runners, until he meets Meb Keflezighi, when everything changes again for Coach Bob. Larsen decides to offer Keflezighi a full scholarship to UCLA after watching him run and talking to his family afterwards, and this begins Meb’s relationship with Coach Bob that ended up lasting well into Meb’s 30’s.
The second part of the book also develops the story behind how Coach Bob set up a training ground at altitude for Meb and other runners like Deena Kastor who joined them over the years. Although Larsen knew the significance of training at altitude based on what he had seen with African runners who regularly run at altitude, this was fairly new territory for Americans at the time. Basically until they saw the payoff in the form of wins for Meb and Deena, they didn’t really know if all of their hard work was working. Part 2 of the book goes through the many wins but also losses for Meb and Deena over more recent years, such as at the Beijing and Athens Olympics, several New York City, Chicago, London, and Boston Marathons, among other races. The book ultimately ends with Meb’s win at the 2014 Boston Marathon, a fitting place to end the story.
I had heard some of these stories before like the ones about Deena Kastor’s training in Colorado and her running and ultimately winning bronze in the marathon in the Olympics in Athens but most of this was new to me, especially the stories about the Toads. I found this book interesting although perhaps a bit slow in parts. Typically I enjoy reading about the history behind running and runners who were involved in the evolution of long-distance running as we know it today. If you also enjoy reading about the history of running and runners, you might also enjoy this book.
Have you read this book or have it on your list of one you want to read? If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?
Although I feel like I’ve been a runner since I was a young child and I was on my school’s track team in elementary school, I just ran for fun mostly until after I had finished graduate school in my mid-20’s. I didn’t run on my high school’s track or cross country team nor did I run other than for fun during college. I ran my first 5k race when I was 28 years old. Looking back on it now, while I did know a little bit about running, I knew absolutely nothing about racing.
My first 5k race was under hot, humid conditions on the 4th of July but it sparked something in me and I wanted to race longer distances. You might think after the 5k I would gradually work up to longer distances like the 10k or a 10-miler or even a 15k, maybe eventually running a half marathon. But you would be wrong. I went straight from my very first 5k to signing up for a half marathon four months after that.
My first half marathon kicked my butt as I was woefully under-trained and under-prepared in many ways. I could barely lift my arms above my head after the race (my arms were too weak, which told me I needed to start doing some weight training) but one of the first things I said when I crossed that finish line was that I could do better than that and I wanted to sign up for the same race again the following year. It’s the only half marathon I’ve ever run more than once. True to my word, though, I finished the same half marathon the following year almost 16 minutes faster than I had the previous year. I was hooked on half marathons.
I eventually did run a 10k, 10-mile race, and 15k, but I mostly focused on half marathons. While still in my 20’s, I ran a total of three half marathons including one that’s still one of my favorites, the Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii. I don’t even remember why I signed up for this race to be honest. If I recall, I was planning a trip there for a vacation and happened to see there would be this half marathon going on while I was there and I thought, “Why not?” and signed up. It turned out to be a great decision and I have fond memories of that race. I still remember watching the sunrise on race day, running up some steep hills and running past houses who had their sprinklers going to help cool us runners off on that hot day in June.
Just one month after turning 30, I ran the Gold Rush Half Marathon in North Carolina, one of the hardest half marathons I’ve ever run to date. It was hot, hilly, and humid, which I’ve since then dubbed “The 3 deadly H’s.” This race taught me to do a little more research into race locales and race courses instead of just picking a race and signing up for it. Had I known how hilly the race was and given that it was held during the summer, I most likely wouldn’t have run it. This was before I had the goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states, and it was my third half marathon in North Carolina.
Truth be told, my 30’s were when I really “grew up” as a runner. I ran a whole slew of half marathons in my 30’s, especially once I decided I wanted to run a half marathon in all 50 states. My daughter was born when I was in my 30’s and this was the longest hiatus I ever took from running half marathons after she was born. I actually ran a half marathon, Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I was just barely pregnant. My doctor said I should be fine since I had already run several half marathons and to just take the race easy. When my daughter was little, she used to love to hear the story about how she “ran” a half marathon in mommy’s tummy before she was even born.
During my 30’s, I began to discover all things “proper” when it comes to running, such as proper running attire and shoes. When I was in college, I would just wear whatever athletic shoes I happened to have when I would go out for a run. A bad case of shin splints in college taught me that wasn’t a smart idea but I still didn’t really educate myself about running shoes until I was in my 30’s. I also began to invest in shirts and shorts made of technical fabrics and socks made specifically for running rather than those made of cotton. I wasn’t yet aware of Nuun hydration products but I began to buy Gatorade and drink that on long runs although not consistently. I began to experiment with different Gu’s, Gels, bloks, and Powerbars.
I also ran a marathon in my 30’s, the Long Beach Marathon in California. What should have been cooler, comfortable weather for a marathon turned out to be a nightmare. The temperature on that October morning quickly rose into the 80’s and the red flags were out on the course although the course was still officially open. All around me runners were literally passing out from the heat. I began to experience tunnel vision, where I had no peripheral vision, presumably from heat exhaustion. My husband was waiting for me at the finish, and I called him sometime during the race to let him know I wouldn’t be finishing until much later than I had originally anticipated. I alternated between walking and a slow jog but no matter what, I knew I had to keep moving forward for as long as I physically could. If I stopped for even a second, I knew that would be the end of the race for me. People around me kept asking me if I was OK, so I assume I must have looked really bad, but I just told them I was fine. As soon as I crossed the finish line and saw my husband, the first words I told him were that I never wanted to do that again. It was my one and only marathon.
My 30’s were also when I first experienced anemia. Prior to this, I had never experienced anemia so I didn’t know what to look for. All I knew was I had slowed down considerably when I tried to run and I was becoming more and more out of breath even during simple everyday activities like walking up a flight of stairs. Finally, I went to my doctor, was diagnosed with anemia, and began taking supplements with high doses of iron along with folic acid and Vitamin C. In hindsight, I most likely was anemic for some time before I went to the doctor, and it took several months before I truly felt like myself again and even longer until my running times fell.
In my 40’s, I feel like I finally became an educated runner. I discovered Nuun hydration and Honey Stinger fueling products. After trying so many different hydration products, Nuun was such a revelation for me. I love how it’s low in sugar and has all natural ingredients. I have a picky stomach and have had trouble with so many different things I would try to eat on long runs but with Honey Stinger products, I’ve never had any issues and am so happy to have discovered their waffles, bars, and chews.
Anemia reared its ugly head once again in my 40’s but this time I was more aware of the signs and symptoms and caught it earlier than I did when I was in my 30’s. Despite going to multiple doctors, I never got a straight answer about the cause of my anemia. I had an endoscopy to rule out anything major and some other tests were done but nothing definitive was ever determined. I suspect mine is from foot strike hemolysis (you can read about that here) combined with the fact that I was not diligent about taking a daily supplement with iron. After round two with anemia, you’d better bet I take a multivitamin with iron every day now!
One unexpected thing that happened in my 40’s is I set a PR (personal record) at a half marathon. Most people think they’re well-beyond a PR in their 40’s and I was no different, especially given the fact that I’m not new to running. However, at the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming, all of the stars were aligned perfectly for me on that day and I ended up finishing the fastest ever at a half marathon. Needless to say, I absolutely loved this race and highly recommend it to anyone that wants to run a fast half marathon in a small town with the beautiful mountains of Wyoming around you.
You may be wondering about other things like cross-training and how that’s changed over the years. When I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s I would ride my bike quite a bit, but after my daughter was born, I found myself on the bike less and less. In my mid-40’s I began to ride my bike once again and remembered how much I enjoyed going for a bike ride. I didn’t do much strength training in my 20’s but I definitely made that a priority in my 30’s and have continued that into my 40’s. I discovered standup paddle boarding in my late 40’s and have been loving that as a form of cross training. Yoga has always been a high priority for me and I’ve been faithfully going to one yoga class or another since my late 20’s.
I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had that many running injuries considering how long I’ve been running. Sure, I had shin splints in my 20’s, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) in my 30’s, and minor things here and there but nothing major. I’ve been diligent about listening to my body over the years. When I’m running, I do a mental body scan to see if there are any aches or pains. If I have a sharp pain that doesn’t go away on its own, I’ll end the run and try to figure out the root cause. For me, often a knot in a muscle will cause pain and if I can work it out either by myself or with the help of a massage therapist, the pain will go away. Just about the only time I’ve had to take extended time off from running because of running injuries is when I didn’t stop running when I should have, early on when I began experiencing pain.
So now I’m looking forward to the next decade of running in my 50’s and beyond. I hope to be one of those people who’s still running as long as I live!
What about you? How has your running changed over the decades or are you a relatively new runner?
When you finish a hard run, do you immediately immerse your lower body into an ice bath, cringing but nonetheless telling yourself you’ll feel better afterwards? Or do you chug a protein shake after a long run to help you recover? Are you a big fan of sports compression clothing? Have you ever wondered if any of the multitude of recovery products and services really “work” meaning they truly help your body recover faster or more efficiently? If so, you might enjoy reading Christie Aschwanden’s book, “Good To Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn From the Strange Science of Recovery.”
As the saying goes, Christie Aschwanden wears many hats. In addition to being an author and contributing writer for dozens of publications, frequent speaker at writer’s workshops and journalism conferences, she is an athlete who has competed on the Team Rossignol Nordic ski racing squad, in addition to being a runner and cyclist. I think her scientific background along with being an athlete herself gives her a distinct advantage in writing a book like this and doing it so thoroughly and completely.
Recovery (from athletic activity) has become a huge buzz word in recent years, as Aschwanden points out in her book. There are entire centers devoted solely to athlete recovery now across the country. I did a quick search for my area and two places came up; one was an orthopedic “performance” center that offers things like myofascial cupping, dry needling, NormaTec recovery boots among others and the other was a place that called itself a recovery center but offered other services like posture work and pain relief in addition to cryotherapy wraps and NormaTec recovery boots.
But let me back up and start at the beginning of the book. Aschwanden begins by explaining how the book came to be and how and why she wanted to find out all she could about recovery and the science behind it. She makes it clear that many scientific studies on athletes are flawed. As you may already be aware, many athletic studies are based on small groups of men and as such may not be relevant to women or even other men in general. I like how exercise physiologist and author of many scientific publications and the book, “Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life” Stacy Sims puts it: “Women are not small men. Stop eating and training like one.”
Next, Aschwanden tells the story behind Gatorade and discusses hydration and how the balance has shifted to one where athletes are so worried about being dehydrated that they are dying of hyponatremia, which is when you drink too much water and your electrolytes become unbalanced. In perfect succession, she tells the story of how PowerBar came to be and how so many other companies followed suit and the industry exploded with recovery drinks, bars, and other high-protein concoctions. The bottom line that Aschwanden arrives at for both hydration and nutrition is that we’re over-complicating matters. We should be drinking to thirst and have a meal with real food (!) that’s a mix of mostly carbohydrates and protein after a workout. Our bodies will adjust and rebound on their own unless you’re in a multi-day event like the Tour de France and you have a tough race the following day.
The next chapters are on ice baths and cryotherapy, infrared saunas, massage therapy, foam rollers, and compression gear including compression boots. Ice baths seem to be a bit complicated in that they may not be a good idea after strength training or if you’re in a building phase of training, but if you’re only interested in short-term benefits, then go for it. There’s evidence that icing may inhibit an athlete’s body’s ability to adapt long-term on its own but other research shows by reducing pain and soreness, icing may allow an athlete to train again sooner, so there are somewhat mixed findings at this point. Once again, Aschwanden concludes that perhaps we’re over-thinking these recovery aids as well since all we really need to do is gentle exercise to naturally promote blood flow through tired muscles and speed up the flow of by-products of intense exercise.
Perhaps the most important chapter in the book is chapter 7 titled “The Rest Cure.” I’ll cut to the chase here and put it simply. The single most important thing you can do for yourself to help with recovery is get adequate and restful sleep. She gives many examples of professional athletes and how they’ve come to realize how important sleep is and have made it a priority in their lives. You can be doing a half a dozen different things to aid in recovery but if you’re not getting enough sleep, nothing else matters. Your body needs sleep to repair and re-build muscles and if you’re not getting enough time for that to happen, your performance will eventually suffer.
Aschwanden discusses the multi-billion dollar supplement industry, largely lead by protein powders. Not only are most of these supplements completely unnecessary for most average athletes, they can cost hundreds of dollars in a single month, and even worse many are laced with heavy metals like arsenic and lead. Sure, you can look them up on websites that verify some supplements (although not all of them on the market by a long shot), but there’s still no guarantee that you’re getting what you think you are or that it will do what you think it’s supposed to. We all want to believe drinking a protein shake after a workout will give us that boost to help us be stronger or recovery faster, but the truth is, it’s all such a marketing scam, it’s difficult to know what to trust as solid, scientifically-based information rather than hearsay from a coach, trainer, or other athlete often with little to no scientific background.
The book ends with a discussion on the placebo effect and what a powerful thing this can be. For example, in scientific studies on ice baths, it’s pretty much impossible to fake an ice bath, so obviously everyone in the study that gets an ice bath knows it and the people in the study that aren’t getting the ice bath also know it. However, if you feel in your heart that ice baths have always “worked” for you, whether that means it makes you feel like you’re not as sore the next day or you can work out harder or more intensely the next day following an ice bath, that will effect your judgement and lead you to be biased if you’re in a study on ice baths. She concludes at the end of the book that soothing your muscles and body in a way that makes you feel better emotionally “even if nothing is actually changing in a physiological sense” provides a ritual for taking care of yourself and being proactive in your health, and helps you focus on rest.
Her bottom line seems to be as long as a recovery tool isn’t causing actual harm or costing you large sums of money, who really cares if it’s not doing much for your body in a way that’s been scientifically proven. So if you love to get massages regularly, use compression tights after a tough run, and sit in an infrared sauna once a month, go for it. The mind is truly a powerful thing and often if we think something makes us feel better, then in the end, that’s probably all that matters. I love the quote by Camille Herron who set a world record when she ran her first 100-mile run, who says she recovers by feel and keeps it simple. She said, “I am really in tune with my body, and I pay attention to what I’m feeling.” If she craves a cheeseburger after a marathon or ultra, that’s what she eats. Keep it simple.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably already know I love to hike so I’m going to diverge from my usual Friday running post and write about hiking today. I feel like I’ve always loved hiking in the mountains. Growing up in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia probably sparked my love of hiking mountains. I have fond memories of visiting several state parks in West Virginia as a kid. My love of hiking has only intensified as an adult. I recently wrote a post on hiking tips that you can find here: Hiking Tips for the Beginner.
Recently, I took a four day hike through Peru, ending in Machu Picchu, and it was undoubtedly some of the best hiking I’ve ever done. To be totally honest, however, we were all completely spoiled by hiking standards on this trek. We had porters to carry all but a small daypack, a cook to prepare all of our meals, and a guide to lead us (although he was more often than not lagging behind with one of our fellow hikers on horseback who was not dealing well with the altitude, but he would yell up ahead if we were in doubt of which way to go). My point is, we were far from self-supported thru-hiking (more on that in a second). If you’d like to read about my trek to Machu Picchu, the posts are here: Lares Trek to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions- Day One, Lares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Two, Lares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Three.
Fastest Known Time attempts (also known as FKTs) are well-known in the hiking community. The people that hold the record for FKTs are another caliber entirely than us mere mortals. FKTs have been set for the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and a surprising 840 more routes in the United States alone, as well as many others around the world.
Heather “Anish” Anderson still holds the record for female self-supported FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail that she set August 7, 2013. Self-supported means you never enter a vehicle along the trail and don’t have a dedicated support crew, but you may use mail drops, facilities in towns along the way, and the kindness of strangers. She walked from southern California to the tip of Washington in a record 60 days, 17 hours, 12 minutes. Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home is a recount of Anderson’s journey for reaching this FKT record.
At 206 pages including acknowledgements, this was a quick read for me. There are 36 chapters plus an epilogue, so I found it easy to read a chapter or two before bed. I felt drawn into her story and enjoyed the bits of back-story she included, which allows the reader to better understand Anderson’s history and why anyone would want to attempt an FKT in the first place.
By no means is this written as a manual for anyone who might be interested in hiking a trail like the Pacific Crest Trail, which by the way is 2655 miles from Mexico to Canada, passing through the Sonoran & Mojave deserts, and then over the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. The PCT crosses California, Oregon and Washington, and passes through 24 national forests, 7 national parks and 33 wilderness areas. This is simply Anderson’s story and some of the things she encountered along the way on the trail.
One thing I should mention here is the “Anish” part in her name for anyone that may be wondering. She adopted the trail name “Anish” in honor of her great-great grandmother, who was of Native American Anishinabe heritage. Trail names originally began on the Appalachian Trail to keep all of the hikers straight from one another, by giving them unique nicknames which usually fit their personality or a quirky part of a hiker. Some people choose their own trail name while others wait until someone else gives them a trail name.
Anish grew up as an overweight child in Michigan who was often teased and by no means had an upbringing to prepare her for what her adult life was to become. However, she proves that she is in charge of her own destiny. In 2019 she was National Geographic’s National Adventurer of the Year. By then she had walked 28,000 miles on trails and had become one of 400 people who have claimed the Triple Crown of Hiking, completing the Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails in addition to the Appalachian Trail in one calendar year. In 2015 she set the record for female unsupported FKT on the Appalachian Trail and in 2016 she set the record on the Arizona Trail.
I found myself cheering her on as I read the book, something it seems other hikers were doing when Anderson was attempting her FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail. She would sometimes go into towns along the trail and overhear other hikers talking about the “Ghost,” which she came to realize was herself. She would be there on the trail one minute and the next, she would vanish and be gone.
Even if you’re never going to attempt an FKT in your life but you enjoy a good day hike (like me) or even a multi-day supported hike (also like me), you would probably enjoy this book. I found the stories about Anderson’s encounters with animals like cougars and rattlesnakes to be frightening but her reactions to be totally empowering, although I’m not sure I would have been that brave.
In the end, I believe this book is about Anish finding her courage in life along the Pacific Crest Trail, and she just happened to finish in the Fastest Known Time for unsupported females.
Even though this book isn’t a new release, I recently heard about it on the podcast, Marathon Training Academy, which you can find here. The hosts of the podcast, Angie and Trevor, interviewed Martin Dugard and it seemed interesting enough for me to check out the book. Aside from this book on running, Dugard is a New York Times bestselling author of many books and co-author of books from the Killing Series with Bill O’Reilly, in addition to many magazine articles and the movie “A Warrior’s Heart.”
From the beginning of To Be A Runner, which is a series of essays that Dugard uses to weave together the story of his running journey, it’s apparent that running has always been a driving force in Dugard’s life. As a young boy, he caught the running bug after running a mile at a running club his parents belonged to. He says in the book, “Running has taught me that I can do anything, just so long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other.” That’s a powerful lesson in life.
In addition to being a runner for the majority of his life, except for stints where he would slack off, gain weight, and be drawn back into running once again, Dugard has been a running coach for many years. In the book, he describes how he kind of fell into the position of Head Cross Country Coach at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, California in 2005, where he still coaches. Throughout the book, he tells coaching-related stories about the girls and boys on his team, most of which are entertaining and interesting.
Dugard seems to be an avid traveler and tells stories of running in places like a small island off the coast of Borneo, where he was warned about 30-foot pythons who live in the jungle there and drop out of trees onto unsuspecting prey. He tells of running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain and running in the early morning hours in London. In the story about running in northern Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, he explains how he came up with his mantra “Keep pushing … always,” which is now on the shirts of his cross-country runners.
Besides the stories of pythons in Borneo, there are other examples of encounters with animals throughout the book, such as a brown bear and her cubs in Mammoth, California. There was the elk in Jackson, Wyoming and the moose in the Rocky Mountains. He tells of being on the lookout for mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and rattlesnakes in the canyons of Southern California, where he lives and regularly runs.
In the short story entitled Saipan, he explains how this where his “quixotic” Olympic quest had come to an end. You see, Martin Dugard decided sometime during his middle-age that he was going to get himself back in shape and try out for the men’s Olympic team. This dream ultimately ended at the XTERRA off-road triathlon in Japan where Dugard finished last, but in the end he was able to turn that experience around into a positive learning moment.
There are many other stories in this book that’s 238 pages including the acknowledgements, but I don’t want to give too many away. If you enjoy reading stories about other runner’s journeys, I believe you would enjoy this book. There are small interjections about Dugard’s running beliefs and philosophies (ice baths, running shoes, etc.) but for the most part, this is not a book about how to be a “proper” runner. This is simply one man’s story of how running has influenced his life and in turn how his life has influenced his running. Check it out for yourself!
Have you read this book or any of Martin Dugard’s many other books? If so, what did you think?
I first heard of Dr. Mark Cucuzzella on the Marathon Training Academy podcast, which I believe he’s been a guest on at least a couple of times. When I learned Dr. Cucuzzella had a book out, I knew I had to read it. In true form (at least based on what I heard of him on the podcast), Dr. Cucuzzella’s book is extremely thorough.
Run for Your Life is divided into three parts: Before the Starting Line, The Body in Motion, and Running is for Everyone. Within each part are five to nine chapters. Including the Appendices, Acknowledgments, Notes, and Index, this book is 349 pages so it’s not a quick read. As you might guess, the first part of the book gives some background information behind running in general and the history of humans and running with a multitude of information about walking and the foot. The second part of the book, the real meat of the book, covers everything from nutrition, which Dr. Cucuzzella is a huge proponent of nutrition as medicine, to the importance of recovery in running, and the prevention of injuries. The third part of the book covers what an important place movement and exercise has for people of all ages and walks of life.
Going back to part one, Dr. Cucuzzella spends a huge amount of time covering sitting, walking, shoes, and the foot, which makes sense because modern humans spend so much time sitting and wearing shoes. I don’t think it’s news to most people that sitting for hours on end is bad for our health in general but many people may not realize there are other options out there. Dr. Cucuzzella gives several options to sitting for long periods such as working at a standing desk to the simplest but often over-looked idea of taking standing or walking breaks every thirty minutes. He also describes how he suffers from hallux valgus, a deformation of the big toe caused by repeatedly wearing shoes with a pointed toe box, and he describes in detail how he was able to correct this condition. No surprise that he’s a big proponent of minimalist shoes. There are also drills in the book specifically for strengthening your feet.
Part two of the book begins with proper running form and includes drills for developing efficient running form. As I mentioned earlier, there is a large section devoted to nutrition including some recommended lab tests including basic ones and second-level tests for higher risk groups. In the section on recovery, Dr. Cucuzzella talks about how exercise can effect our hearts in a negative way if we don’t allow enough time for rest and mentions a couple of apps to measure heart rate variability (HRV), which is something not really talked about much.
There are some basic tips and general information in part two about running a marathon and racing in adverse conditions. One tip that many people may not realize is when you’re running in the heat, it’s a good idea to use sunscreen sparingly because it beads the sweat, which rolls off without evaporation but it’s the act of sweat being evaporated from your body that cools you. Dr. Cucuzzella also recommends some specific gear for running in the rain and/or cold weather. Another important section of part two is about the therapeutic mental benefits of running, something often over-looked by people especially those that aren’t runners. Part two ends with a discussion on some common running injuries and how to prevent them.
Part three begins with information specific for women and includes the full spectrum from running while pregnant to the benefits of running for menopausal women. Specific information related to children and running follows, then information about older people running. Dr. Cucuzzella dispels the myth (do people really still believe this?) that running is bad for your knees and joints with his notation of Paul Williams’ study at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that found no increase in osteoarthritis or hip replacement even for runners who participate in multiple marathons a year. In fact, there are a multitude of references to the medical literature on the subject of running and exercise throughout this book if you’re the kind of person that “needs” to have scientific references for you to be properly informed.
In addition to a slew of scientific references, this book is filled with drills and exercises, either for warm-ups, for strengthening, or recovery. There is a website runforyourlifebook.com that includes a wealth of information. Under the resources tab, you can find videos on mobility and stability exercises as well as other things like kid-specific information and links to the Freedom’s Run Race in West Virginia that Dr. Cucuzzella is a co-director for. Finally, there are training plans for the 5k, half marathon, and marathon that seem pretty straight-forward for beginners or newish runners.
So, after all of that, what did I personally think of this book? Well, I think it’s an excellent tool for any newbie runner because of the wealth of knowledge included. A more seasoned runner can also benefit from reading this book, but they likely wouldn’t find much of the information new but perhaps good reminders of things they’ve heard before but had forgotten. I personally enjoyed this book and the way the information is presented.
Have you read Dr. Cucuzzella’s book? If so, what did you think? Do you think you would be interested in reading it if you haven’t read it?
Kara Goucher is a two-time Olympian with an impressive running resume. She was the 10,000 meters silver medalist at the 2007 World Championships in Athletics and competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics. She made her marathon debut in 2008 and finished third the following year at the Boston Marathon.
Goucher signed with Oiselle Running in 2014 and they have a very apropos description of her on their webpage: “But Kara is so much bigger than her accolades. She’s is easily one of the funniest and most genuine people you’ll meet. She’s a loving mother and wife. She and her family live in Boulder, Colorado where she trains under Mark Wetmore.”
From what I’ve seen and heard about Kara Goucher, she seems like a genuinely nice person, a modest Minnesotan at heart, and a cheerleader for other runners. When I heard she was releasing a confidence journal, I was intrigued. I’ve never been one to keep running journals, whether it’s of my daily miles, races, or anything training-related. The confidence journal seemed like more than just jotting down how many miles you ran, what the weather was like, and how you felt, though.
Still, given my history of not sticking with a running journal, I was hesitant to buy Goucher’s book, so I checked out a copy from my local library (actually they borrowed it from another library in another state, but it’s all the same to me and a fabulous perk my library offers). When I leafed through the journal, I immediately felt drawn in. It’s got an easy to follow format with informal photos of Goucher and quotes by her. There are several pages where you can write things down after some prompts such as: “List three recurring worries that hold you back,” with space to write three things down. She also has an example of a constant worry of hers: “I don’t think I’m good enough to compete at this race.”
Basically, the journal is divided into three sections. The first section covers confidence techniques such as using power words, mantras, and setting goals. The second section has confidence essays from six powerful women in the running community including Molly Huddle and Mary Wittenberg. Finally, there is a third section filled with writing prompts that tie into subjects from the first section (like using a mantra) and confidence journal tips. There is space to write for 21 days, so obviously the idea is for Goucher’s book to get you started on your own confidence journal, after which you would continue in a notebook or electronic device (like your phone).
I believe this confidence journal would be great for just about any runner who is ready to dive into the psychological side of running. Many of us focus on our miles and hitting our goals for training but don’t really spend time working on the mental aspect of running. This journal would help you identify and sort through anything that may be holding you back from running, including things you didn’t even realize were holding you back.
Goucher also says how people that aren’t athletes can benefit from a confidence journal as well. She gives examples how we all struggle with doubting ourselves in our daily lives. By focusing on our accomplishments and the positive in life, we can all benefit. I completely agree.
Do you keep a confidence journal or any other type of journal? If not, do you think a confidence journal might help you with your running or just life in general?