Review: Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running

80/20 Running:

Matt Ftizgerald

Fitzgerald is an ace at taking a basic idea about endurance sports and turning it into a useful, if a bit padded book. Racing weight is about, well, weight and racing, and 80/20 is about the very popular (some would say ubiquitous) running methodology of running eight percent of your miles easy and twenty percent hard.

 

Like racing weight, the concept at the center of 80/20 isn’t difficult to grasp, but Fitzgerald takes the time explain to us why, exactly, this training modality work, and why other modalities don’t work as well. As he is fond of saying, if you want to be good at running, do what the pro do. And the pros don’t do only HITT work outs, or crossfit endurance, or any of that other shenanigans. They run, a lot, mostly easy, sometimes hard.

 

It isn’t complex in theory, but in practice, its challenging. In addition to the science on offer here, Fitzgerald provides useful guidance on how to determine what is, really, easy, as well as helpful training plans for running preparing for races from 5k to marathon.

 

Do you need this book to utilize this training approach? No. Is it interesting if you’re obsessed with endurance sports? Yes. As a runner trying one more time to get into peak shape, I liked it. Your mileage may vary.

 

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Ayer’s The Long Race

The Longest Race: A Lifelong Runner, An Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance
Ed Ayers

A lifelong runner uses his training, and running, of the JFK 50 miler as a way to ruminate on the nature of running, both as an activity and as a metaphor for political action. Ayers has been running competitively since the 1970s and his ruminations on the glory days of the 70s running boom, and on what it means for an elite amateur to grow old are wonderful. He is also a political activist, deeply invested in environmental issues and other progressive causes. While I agree with Ayers on just about every political issue, I found these sections of the book tedious and preachy. I’d have like to hear more of his life on the roads and less about his thoughts on political issues.

Still Ayers has had a unique view on over forty years of running. This is worth checking out if running memoirs are your thing.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Fitzgerald’s Iron War

Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run
Matt Fitzgerald

In 1989 Mark Allen and Dave Scott, two of the greatest triathletes of all time, competed in what is still the closest, and my all measures, greatest Ironman world championship. This book is the story of those men, that race, and the early days of triathlon. It is also one of the best books on endurance sports I have ever read.

Sure you get the story of the 89 Kona world championships, and the backstory on two of the most fascinating endurance athletes of all time (Scott, hyperactive, incredibly driven, old school; Allen, innovative, spiritual, haunted) but you also get so much of the history of the sport, the physiology (and psychology) behind elite performance, and some thoughtful ruminations on what it means to be an aging elite athlete.

If you’re interested in endurance sports, whatever they may be, this is a book for you. Hell, even if you’re just interested in what it takes for fascinating people to be the best in the world at what they do, you’ll find this one interesting. Very pleased I took the time to read this one.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Strayed’s Wild

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Cheryl Strayed

Lee Child aside, my reading tastes almost never intersect with the New York Times bestseller list, but when the best seller in question is about a completely unprepared hiker taking on the notoriously difficult Pacific Coast Trail, you know I’m going to check it out.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is a memoir of her hike of most of the Pacific Coast Trail. But more than that it’s the story of a young woman’s grappling with the loss of her mother and her own precarious position in the world. Its heartfelt, well structured, and basically well-written. While some of it is a bit trite, much of it feels real, and at times, it can be downright moving. Depending on your tolerance for the plights of troubled youth trying to find themselves, you might love this one, or find it all to be a bit much. I think I came out somewhere in the middle. Satisfied with having read it, but wouldn’t have been disappointed to have missed it.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Armstrong’s Its Not About The Bike

Its Not About The Bike

Lance Armstrong

Even here, in a book that is supposed to be the inspiring, heart-felt version of Armstrong, the story of overcoming every obstacle (the poverty, the cancer, the doubters); the story of the charitable work, and the small town kid made good, even here, you can tell he’s a Grade – A Asshole. He insults those who helped him along the way and pushes those around him unrelenting hard. Those not willing (or unable) to keep up are promptly thrown aside. He all but admits to being a sociopath obsessed beyond all reason with success.

Now don’t get me wrong, Lance’s fight with cancer is inspiring, even now after everything, but in hindsight, its easier to see that his fight with that disease was part of a larger fight against the world. And while it inspiring to go all in against a deadly disease, its less inspiring to go all in against you oldest friends and supporters.

Not only is the Saint Lance mythos of this book now discounted, the book itself is not well written. Its schmaltzy, and corny and just not very good. With all the better books about Armstrong out there, this one should probably be avoided for all but the most completest Armstrong scholars.

Not Recommended.

Review: Alberto Salazar’s 14 Minutes

14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life

I’ve been meaning to write something up about Alberto Salazar’s memoir for sometime, but now, with Salazar in the news, it seems like the right time.

Salazar was the most dominant marathon runner of his time — winning New York in 1980,81 and 82 and the Boston Marathon in 1982.  Salazar was legendarily driven, pushing himself into dangerously unhealthy territory in both his training and racing, most famously, in the legendary Duel in the Sun with Dick Beardsley at the 1982 Boston Marathon.  Salazar won that duel, but he was never the same. Afterwards, he battled depression and a compromised immune system. He finished a disappointing 15th in the 1984 Olympics, and spent years afterwards racing to disappointing finishes. Eventually, he was able to figure out his health issues*and, at 34, win South Africa’s legendary Comrades marathon.

Salazar in his running prime.

After Comrades, Salazar retired from competitive running and eventually founded the Oregon Distance Project, with which many great distance runners have been associated, including Galen Rupp, Mo Farah and Kara Goucher. If you follow the sport, you know it is also now embroiled in allegations of doping which may forever  tarnish Salazar’s reputation.

All of this (well, all of it but the doping) is covered in his memoir. As is his contentious relationship with his difficult and demanding father, his insane training regimes (including 200 mile weeks) his brush with death in 2007 (giving the book its title; allegedly Salazar’s heart stopped for 17 minutes), his relationship with athletes, (most notably his father-son like relationship with Rupp) and his deepening Catholicism, including his interest in the Marian phenomenon at Medjugorje.

If you’re interested in the history of distance running, the book is a must read. Salazar addresses how his troubled relationship with his father led to his running obsession, and how that running obsession perhaps ruined his health. He speaks openly about his deepening faith and his story of discovering Rupp is fascinating.

But Salazar is also a bit of a nut. The Medjugorje phenomenon is pretty far out, even for ultra-devote Catholics and his constant tinkering with his runners nutrition, gait, and training is all a bit mad scientist, (and perhaps also against the rules).

Salazar today

It can make for amusing, and occasionally bizarre reading. However, just because it is amusing, doesn’t mean it’s good.  As anyone who reads sport memoirs knows, much is always left out, and the writing is often workman like. Such is the case with 14 Minutes.  The point of this book is to cement Salazar’s reputation as one of the great men in U.S. distance running, so you’re not going to see anything about doping, or about the athletes who left the Oregon Distance Project broken. Still, it’s a fascinating story, made more interesting, perhaps, with the latest accusations that the Salazar presented in these pages may not be the full story of this slightly mad legend.

A side note about the copy of this book I read – I took 14 minutes out of the Brooklyn Public Library. Whoever had read it before me had carefully corrected numerous statement in the book with a pencil, correcting points of running history Salazar got wrong, or mile splits that didn’t add up. This was all well before the doping allegations, but someone in Brooklyn was already suspicious.  

*Or, as some whisper, find performance enhancing drugs.

Review: You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg

You Are an Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Tr iathlon

As the subtitle suggests, You Are An Ironman traces the stories of six age groupers as they train for, and race, Ironman Arizona. Given my obsession with mortals attempting events of long distance, and the fact that the author is a New York Times reporter, I was really looking forward to this one.

It was a bit if a let down.

In following the six athletes, Steinberg jumps back and forth between the characters. The book is two pages on an soldier in Colorado, struggling to find the time to train followed by a page on a mother in Sacramento juggling her five kids, followed by three paragraphs on a teacher in Arizona whose Ironman dreams have hurt his family’s finances, followed by a page on a husband and wife in South Carolina who train together to raise money for charities. It’s all a bit confusing. Further, it appears Steinberg never really got to know these people. Much of the insight into their inner lives (such as it is) comes from the personal blogs of the athletes, and all of their experiences are told from their perspective, with little context given. We read, briefly, that one participant’s wife isn’t particularly supportive, but we don’t her from her as to why.  We learn that one woman has a deep religious faith, but we don’t learn how that plays out in her life.

Its all a bit surface level.

Still, there were moments of inspiration. Many of these people overcame incredible setbacks on their way to the race, including cancer, injuries, and just the stresses of everyday life.  Training for an Ironman is an incredible time commitment, and much of it is absurdly boring. Steinberg’s attempt to make it interesting left me wanting more context on the life of the athletes, yet it still almost brought me to tears when while reading of their struggles, especially in the race itself.

I’m going to rate this one as recommended for the enthusiast. If you’re interested in what it takes to train for the Ironman culture, you’ll appreciate this. If not, you’re better off with something else.