Brain Training For Runners – Book Review

Cover of
I just finished “Brain Training for Runners” written by Matt Fitzgerald, which was published in 2007.  The big push when I was leaving education last year was “Brain Training/Learning/Teaching” and I had some initial trainings in it, so I was interested in how this book incorporated brain training into running.
When I was thumbing through the book I turned to this quote and this is what made my decision to buy the book:

“According to the brain-centered model of exercise performance, a runner achieves his race goal when his brain calculates that achieving the race goal is possible without catastrophic self-harm.”

For some reason after reading that statement and the rest of the paragraph on page 57, I wanted to learn more about what Fitzgerald had to say. It piqued my curiosity.

Lots of Similarities

Something that struck me is that Fitzgerald’s view of a proper running form is very similar to the other books and articles that I have read recently and it also seems that he was on the leading edge of the minimalist/natural running movement that is much more mainstream today than it was back in 2007.

All the books that I have read recently seem to promote the same basic idea of what is good running form, injury prevention, nutrition and some other similar messages, but differ in how they get you to get there or the terminology being used.

Either there is a big bandwagon effect going on here or the running gurus are starting to agree that certain things are part of good running, because I am reading an awful lot about the following lately:

  • homo sapiens were designed to run
  • we get injured when we don’t run naturally
  • run more often, but run naturally (head erect, standing tall, compact arm swing, bending at the ankles, midfoot strike, etc.)
  • listen to your body/don’t run when injured
  • use minimalist type footwear
  • don’t beat your body to a pulp – have hard/easy days and rest days
  • eat right for you
  • do some crosstraining
  • if you race, it will hurt
I am sure there is more, but these seem to be the basics of how to run better, when you distill down all the information that is being put out lately.

A bit tedious

Getting back to “Brain Training for Runners”, I found the first three chapters tedious. I understand the need to set the ground work, so that the reader understands the “why” more later in the book when Fitzgerald is discussing “how to”.  However, getting through those first chapters was tough.
Once I got through chapter 3, I enjoyed the book a lot more. Chapters 4-10 gave me concrete ideas to follow and was written so that I understood, without my having to go back and re-read what he was trying to tell me several times, to figure it out.

Racing is Painful

In chapter 8 on “Mastering the Experience, he didn’t gloss over – that long distance racing at max effort is uncomfortable and can be painful. He tells it like it is, as you get fatigued, you start to hurt during a race and how well you do is often directly related to the amount of pain/discomfort you can deal with.
I appreciated his story about his inability to deal with the pain that accompanies racing when he was younger – been there done that. This is probably the real or at least part of the reason that I gave up racing for such a long time. I didn’t want to deal the with pain part of running races – because I knew if I was going to run a race and give it my best shot – it was gonna hurt and I don’t like to be in pain, when I don’t have to be.
This quote about accepting the pain made me stop and think about it for a few minutes:

“The meaning of “accepting pain” is quite literal. When it comes, you don’t wish it away, but instead welcome it as an indication that your are working as hard as you should be.”

In the past I never accepted the pain, I believed that it was something that was unwelcome, meant that I had gotten to the point where I would might hurt myself if I went any further and always backed away from the pain. I certainly have never “embraced the pain” in my career as a runner.
I guess that is the difference between a competitive runner and a recreational racer, their ability to “embrace the pain”.
A lot of what Fitzgerald wrote about in “Brain Training for Runners” probably applies to competitive runners or runners who want to take their training to the next level and become more competitive.  While the average runnah, could gain a lot from reading this book, I don’t really believe that it is geared towards a recreational runnah or racer.  I tend to believe that “Brain Training for Runners” is for those runners who want to take their running beyond running to run.

Part 2

The book also looks pretty thick at 562 pages, however part 1 of the book is only 208 pages, the remaining 300 plus pages in part 2 are different training plans that Fitzgerald has developed. It is actually a fairly quick read.
Part 2 of the book are training plans for various distances from 5K to Marathon. I am not a big fan of formal running programs in a book or online (personalized coaching is a different beast).
They might work great for some people, but for me I get too stressed if I don’t do what is planned. Even though Fitzgerald strongly advocates listening to your body and changing a workout when needed, knowing myself and my “let it be written, so it will be done” mentality…let’s just say I probably won’t use his training plans, exactly as he has written them.
I will however, take some of the his ideas and incorporate them into my running.
However, if for some reason I decided to become competitive again, this will be one of the books that I will look at while I am designing my training plan.

The reality is that

Books like this tend to push me towards the competitor side while I am reading them, but my history tells me that recreational racer better describes the kind of running I enjoy more and will probably do.
I found the book very insightful and fairly easy to read, once I got through chapter 3. “Brain Training for Runners” is a book I would recommend it to more experienced/intermediate runners who are thinking about taking their running to the “next” level.
I would give “Brain Training for Runners” a 6 on the 10 scale and will keep it in my library for future reference purposes.

4 thoughts on “Brain Training For Runners – Book Review

  1. Great review Harold! It sounds like there is some good stuff in here albeit a little dry. I am a fan of Fitzgerald and have "Racing Weight" in my stack of books to read. I think I will add this one as well.

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