Sunday, June 24, 2012

Brain Training for Runners

I bought Brain Training for Runners at Kinokuniya last night, shortly before my eyes starting pointing in different directions and I needed to be sat down and fed cake until I felt better. I think that was to do with the big pile of pills I've been taking, rather than the shock on realising that the Big K would mark up a book from 17 US$ to 33 Singaporean, but who knows? (Curiously, UK books get a bit of a bump in price here, but never that much. Maybe it's harder to float books across the Pacific than drive them through Asia, or something.)

Although the book is 560 pages, I got through it in a few hours. Partly this is because Matt Fitzgerald helpfully tells you it's fine to skip chapter 2 (the brain, as considered by endurance athletes) if you want to focus on how to apply the methods and techniques that are later in the book. Also, it's because 353 pages are training plans for different distances and levels of effort, so there's not so much to read unless you're obsessed with comparing the training load in week 3 of a 5k run for three different levels of commitment.

There's some insistence on barefoot running, but then Fitzgerald goes back on himself and says that if you're doing fine with the shoes you have right now, you don't have to change, which is a nice change from the zealots who insist you must wear Vibram fivefingers at all times or your knees will explode and your children will have scoliosis.

The major focus is on accustoming yourself to coping with different speeds. Fitzgerald's point is that previous models of exhaustion don't explain observed behaviour: if we slow down because of a lactic threshold being reached, how come it's still possible to sprint for the finish line? The theory is that the brain 'decides' to slow performance to forestall injury, rather than the muscles doing so because they can't contract any more. (The latter would seem to suggest when you reached exhaustion you'd seize up.)

There aren't strong counterarguments listed against this, and it would be interesting to see what they are. It's also a bit annoying when the author occasionally says hot weather running can be an exception (especially if you're training in Singapore), but by and large it seems quite sensible. Listen to your body, train specifically to the event that's important.

The devil may be in the details. Training specifically may mean quite different things to different people - eg there's much more speedwork at the start of the marathon plan than I'm used to - but it's good to try something new from time to time, and Fitzgerald isn't horribly dogmatic. One very good thing is the focus on prioperception (roughly, body awareness) and how to improve this by focussing on cues (such as the tilt of your pelvis, the length of your gait, and so on). I think certainly compared to other plans I've read, which just say "run this far" each week, it's going to offer some improvement.

Perhaps. I've signed up for the Osaka Marathon now, and in 23 weeks time I should have another medal (and hopefully beaten my previous time there) - training starts on Tuesday, so let's hope I can make it round...


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While I agree with your post. Brain training is very useful for children, runners and everyone. informative one!

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