Category Archives: Training Guides

“The Competitive Runner’s Handbook”by Bob Glover and Shelly-lynn Florence Glover

Regular readers of these reviews will be aware that my writing has a pattern; start with a silly, occasionally humiliating, story from my past, then make an incredibly tenuous link to the book in question. For those of you for whom my schtick is getting a wee bit tiresome, you will be delighted to hear that I am stumped here. Not because The Competitive Runner’s Handbook is a bad book. Far from it. The problem is that it’s like reviewing a Haynes car manual. Vital as a reference source when the wheels fall off, but not exactly my ideal companion for a long flight.

The Glovers are coaches and heavily involved with the New York Road Runners. Their book is a huge compendium of running knowledge and wisdom gleaned from years of training runners of all abilities for races. Virtually everything you could wish for is covered here: training plans for specific distances, heart rate training, running form, dealing with injuries, to name but a few. The authors are not sports scientists, so some of the advice might be considered dated, but it’s not as if people are running significantly faster times these days than when the first edition of this book was published in 1983.

I have dipped into this book over the years repeatedly when I have needed suggestions for solo interval sessions, to get me out of the monotony of doing 6 x 3mins or 10 reps of 400m. The relevant chapters have a number of suggestions for speedwork, along with tables indicating how hard runners of different abilities should run and recover from each rep.

Ah yes, the tables. This is probably the standout feature of the book. It is stacked with data and charts. I feel delightfully smug every time I look at the “Categories of Competitive Runners” tables at the front of the book, which breaks runners down by their race times. When I first bought the book, I was a Basic Competitor for my gender and age group, running 5ks in around 24mins and half marathons in 1:52. Over the years I have progressively moved through the ranks to the point where I am somewhere between Advanced Competitor and Local Champion. Something tells me I will never make it to Semi Elite status, but it’s a gratifying ego boost nonetheless.

Perhaps the most useful part of the book is the comprehensive pacing chart in the appendix. This lists out what each minute-per-mile speed – down to the second – will achieve for specific distances. Sub-3 marathon? 6:51 pace. Sub-40 10k? 6:26 pace. You get the idea. It shows everything from 5 minute mile-ing (a 2:11:06 marathon) to 11 minute mile-ing (4:48:25 marathon). Although this information can be found on the web, I have yet to find a more convenient source for working out my desired speed than quickly flicking through these pages.

Overall, if you are looking for guidance when putting together a new training plan, want to think about your running in a more data-driven way, or need advice on whether you should run when ill, then I heartily recommend this handbook. There is something here for everyone, although you probably won’t ever read more than a third of it. There’s even an index entry for “pre-race arousal”, although I would not dream of making a puerile joke out of that…

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“The Art of Running Faster: Improve Technique, Training, and Performance” by Julian Goater

I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t heard of Julian Goater until he was interviewed on Marathon Talk last year. He is a former national cross-country champion, who has represented GB at international level at 5000m and 10,000m. This book is a distillation of his thoughts about improving performance, interspersed with anecdotes from his running days.

He’s from the “tough bastard” era of British running in the 1970s and early 1980s, when he and his rivals such as Dave Bedford and Steve Jones set records that still stand today…and knocked back as many pints as they’d run miles. Having read a number of Runner’s World articles about taking things gently and not overdoing the mileage, it’s refreshing to read a training book that’s uncompromisingly old-school. Goater clearly believes in banging out the miles. His example marathon training plan in the appendix suggests 70-mile weeks.

Don’t let that put you off though. If you followed the guidance in this book to the letter, you’d essentially be Mo Farah. Only the most committed of mileage-hunters would take up his suggestion that we should all run twice a day 5 days a week. And after reading this book, I’m still bobbins at keeping to a stretching routine.

But there is stuff in here that everyone can benefit from. I was particularly interested to read his thoughts on “gearing” when going up and down hills; adjusting your cadence and arm swing to help you power up the gradient more efficiently. He also convinced me to finally join in with the cross-country season last winter, which noticeably brought strength benefits to my Edinburgh marathon training.

Interestingly, he’s pretty dismissive of Yasso 800m repeats – the session where you try and run 800m in the min:sec time that you would run the hour:min of a marathon (so 3mins 15secs for a 3hr 15min marathon). To Goater, doing this over and over again: “That isn’t progress. It’s stasis”. I think I’d agree with this. In my training, I’ve seen more benefit from shorter, more intense intervals, such as 400m repeats or 1min on-1min off fartleks.

Presentation-wise, the book has a terrible, 1980s-BBC-style, cover, which I hope won’t dissuade people from giving this book the attention it deserves. Inside, the book is actually very nicely designed, with great vintage race photos, call-out boxes for the key points, and helpful end-of-chapter summaries.

So, brass tacks: has it made me faster? I’ve been dipping into this book for over a year, and in the 2013/4 season I set PBs in 5k, 10k, 1/2 marathon and marathon distances. The 10k and 1/2 marathon PBs were particularly gratifying, as I finally went sub-40 and sub 1:30 respectively, which had been long-term goals; since then I have got even faster. While my performance improvement is inevitably down to a number of factors (fewer pies being the biggest), the book has definitely made me think about my speed training and weekly mileage in new ways. Recommended.

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