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…