The Complete Book of Running For Women by Claire Kowalchik

A throwback review from when I was still a newbie runner and this was one of the first running books I ever read.

A throwback review from when I was still a newbie runner and this was one of the first running books I ever read.

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 416 pages.
Read from April 20 to June 26, 2013.

As someone who has been seriously running for almost two years I didn’t think that this books would have anything to offer me. I was thankfully mistaken!

This book provided helpful insight for runners of all levels and goals. What I found the most beneficial was the advice that was supplied in regards to maintaining running while staying busy with family and relationships. While I am not a married woman and I don’t have any children I strongly admire the woman who keep running involved in their lives. I struggle to keep up sometimes, so I don’t know how other women manage! Women who run are taking care of themselves and they understand the importance of taking the time for themselves, especially when juggling a career, family etc. Besides the physical benefits of running most women who stick with running, stay for the mental benefits. I know I do!

I also appreciated the scientific explanations that were provided on why men and women perform so differently. The most fascinating was how different our bodies carried oxygen to our muscles and differences in how we store glycogen.

As I mentioned, I’m no where near the married-with-kids sort of life but I actually really enjoyed the chapters in regards to running while pregnant. I wasn’t going to read the chapter as it doesn’t currently apply to me but maybe one day in the future it might. As long as a woman is active before becoming pregnant and cuts her activity levels in half the benefits of running and staying active while pregnant is remarkably impressive. I even appreciated that they stated that while it is beneficial it has to come down to the woman’s comfort level too. If you’re not comfortable exercising while pregnant, then don’t.

The chapter in regards to menopause was another one that I was going to skip but I’m glad I didn’t. My Mom is runner who is at this stage and reading this chapter gave me a good idea of what her body is going and just how important is it to continue to stay active.

The few annoyances I did find with this book was that some of the information was a bit out of date, as the book was published well over 10 years ago so that’s not overly surprising I guess. For example, some of the brands of supplements or clothing that they suggested no longer exist. The one that stood out the most for me was that they suggested that runners shouldn’t do yoga because runners needs some tension in their legs and even implied that their aren’t any professional runners that do yoga. While this may have been relevant when it was published it most certainly isn’t now! The other item that was a bit tedious was that all of race and reference information was for the USA only, which wasn’t helpful to me as a Canadian.

Overall I would still recommend this books for any woman looking to get into running or is already running.

Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 336 pages.
Read from May 11 to July 19, 2014.

This book reaffirms many of my beliefs in regards to food and was, in a way, a relief to read for this reason. I am a very active person but my eating habits are far from clean ( I just love beer too much) but through moderation I’ve managed to find a balance between food and exercise that keeps me healthy. Diet Cults explores a variety of diet fads and discusses why they work for some people, why they are hard to maintain and how they have shaped how we feel about the food we eat. Fitzgerald then delicately discusses each of the fads and explains their fallacies (while never fully discounting all of them either) as people are constantly searching for the ‘one true way’ to eat. Fitzgerald then lays down the science with how adaptable the human stomach is and provides a variety of  diets from cultures all over the world to show just how diverse they are in terms of their nutritional content.  As Fitzgerald concludes, to the dismay of some diet-faders, there is no ‘one true way’ to eat and advocates for more agnostic eating.

Fitzgerald is an athlete and sports nutritionist and has written numerous pieces on running and fitness. As he discusses in this book he wasn’t always fit and trim either and had to work hard to get back on track. One thing that Fitzgerald notes is that athletes are by far the best and most agnostic eaters, which may sounds really obvious but that is because athletes eat for optimal performance, but this doesn’t just mean physically. Food has a powerful way of shaping our moods; we like to eat for pleasure, and it is this aspect that athletes and agnostic eating really advocates. As many diet fads have endorsed, most of us believe that if something is tastes good then it must be inherently bad for us which isn’t necessarily the case. While that Big Mac is never going to be good for you, Fitzgerald discusses the benefits of coffee, potatoes, wine and chocolate and breaks through some of the myths surrounding them (hooray)! He also goes to explain that through moderation,  items like a Big Mac can still be something you indulge in from time to time. There is no food that is off-limits in this book.

As someone who has never been overweight, I can’t imagine what it must be like for so many people who are wanting to lose weight as the amount of information that’s floating around on the internet alone is enough to overwhelm anyone. Fitzgerald truly makes food simple; his writing is down to earth and simple to read but still provides you with all the nitty-gritty and well-researched details.

Fitzgerald breaks down all the groups of food as such:

Food table

There are only two essential types of foods that we require to live healthy: fruits and vegetables. Get enough of these and you’re good to go but for the average person, especially an active one, we often require a bit more which is where the recommended foods come in. Fitzgerald gives a good break down of what types of foods are included in each group but for example, in the nuts and seeds section, he includes items like olive oil and all-natural peanut butter, where as commercial peanut butters are not included as they contain way too much sugar and unhealthy oils. Within high quality meats, he includes almost any part of a chicken, while bacon and hot-dogs are classified in the low quality meats area under acceptable foods. Other foods, include things like alcohol and anything else that doesn’t fit into the other categories.

The idea of moderation is that you eat more of the essential and recommended items than the acceptable ones. While this is such a simple concept that almost seems too obvious, nothing is off limits in terms of food choices. Fitzgerald just wants to reestablish a healthy and pleasurable relationship with food again and it’s easy to forget sometimes with many people’s busy lifestyles. Food is meant to be enjoyed, not rushed or rammed down our throats just out of pure necessity and by following some basic moderation, getting some exercise and stepping away from the crazy calorie counting it’s simpler than we think to be healthy.

Fitzgerald effectively questions the madness of dieting with this book and brings nutrition back to its simple basics. Now what are you waiting for?! Shed some food-guilt and read this book!

Smart Marathon Training by Jeff Horowitz

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 224 pages.
Read from May 15 to 29, 2014.

I’ve been running now for about 3 years and I’ve read, browsed and skimmed a variety of articles, magazines and books on different running techniques and training programs. What I found with so many of them is the excessive amount of exercise that are contained within the recommend training schedules, even ones for the absolutely beginners. I always felt that a 6-day-week training program that mixes 4 or 5 days of running with a variety of different cross training and weights is way too much for a beginner. To me, that spells burn-out and injuries. The first year I started running and training for a marathon I ran 3 days a week and I was utterly exhausted managing just that! The average person has a busy life juggling work and family, which is tiring enough in and of itself, just finding a solid running base before beginning any sort of training is challenging enough. Whether a beginner or not, every runner wants to be successful, injury-free and find a balance with everything in their life and this book finally confirmed everything that I was already feeling about training: less is more.

Jeff Horowitz challenged the idea of running back to back races without injury and has successfully run over 150 marathons and has applied this knowledge in his career as a coach and in this book. The traditional marathon training plans which can have runners clocking in over 80+ kilometers in a week (50+ miles). The premise behind these traditional plans is that in order to better at running you need run and do a lot of it. Horowitz argues that this isn’t the case and that you can run a better marathon by running less and making your workouts more efficient. His system focuses making your training dynamic in that each of your training runs have a concise goal and effort scale. For example, The long run: is to expand your endurance and work slow twitch muscles. This is run with the a 60-70% effort while the tempo runs are shorter runs in which you are running near your race pace or a bit quicker and you should be exerting about 80 to 85% effort. He emphasizes how important hills and speed work are to build strength, reduce injuries and work your fast twitch muscles which, will give you the speed to beat your personal best.

I had to flip the notion that “more is better”…devised a plan that includes three runs a week, totaling no more than 35 miles, consisting of speed and hill work, a tempo run and a long endurance run; core strengthening, strength training, running drills and balance work two to three times a week; and aggressive crosstraining…at least twice per week.”

What makes his program unique is that the emphasis isn’t on the amount of kilometers you’re making each week and he suggests running no more than 3-4 times a week while following quick and easy weight and strength training exercises, cross training (biking is his highest recommendation as it compliments running the most) as well as core and flexibility. He emphasizes just how important and beneficial these exercises are to running. Having a strong core and legs will ensure you will encounter less injuries and will improve your speed while cross training works out different muscles to keep your body from reaching exhaustion but at the same time you’re still adding to your overall training. Exercising while exhausted is not only hard, but not wise. You risk injury and you’re not doing your body and favors but pushing yourself that hard. Horowitz helps runner’s recognize when they’re doing too much and to pay attention to their bodies and intuition, which so many training programs ignore.

This book is by far one of the best marathon training programs and it has affirmed that my own ideas about marathon training are good ones. I would highly recommend this read for anyone embarking on a marathon, whether they are beginner or just looking to change up their training scheme.