Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Complete Book of Running

Just after New Years, I was finishing some errands in town, and went into a charity shop. These are the British equivalent of a GoodWill of Salvation Army store, with donated clothes, books, old records, etc. I was travelling the next week, and thought I'd see if there were any paperbacks that might be good to take along.

In the shop I found James Fixx's The Complete Book of Running. I was aware of this book - which heralded the first running boom in the 1970s (the second boom being today) - but had never read it. I only had some change on me, but at 50 pence ($0.75), it was mine.

The title of the book's forward is captivating: On the subversive nature of the this book. It recounts Fixx's introduction to running. He was an overweight smokers in his mid-30s, and he realised that he was going downhill when he injured himself in a game of tennis with a friend. He's shocked that his body has betrayed him.

So he starts running. He enters a local 5-mile race, and is surprised by the pace at the start. Fixx drifts back through the crowd, and eventually finishes last.

But he sticks with it, and starts running every day. And a transformation occurs:

...what I found even more interesting were the changes that had begun to take place in my mind. I was calmer and less anxious. I could concentrate more easily and for longer periods. I felt more in control of my life. I was less easily rattled by unexpected frustrations.

The book draws you in. Obviously, much more is known about the health consequences of running now, but Fixx has chapters on longevity, weight, running over 40, women, and injury.

The book is old school, but I found it engaging. Fixx has a special interest in the Boston marathon, and even goes for a run with Bill Rodgers.

In "The scientists of sport" chapter, he presents data from David Costill on how to train. Costill's arguement is that it takes several days to recover the glycogen store depleted by longer miles, and so the focus should be more on monthly, as opposed to weekly, miles. In his view, the way to build distance is to alternate weeks with higher miles and lower miles, and overall increase. (I've been doing something different in the build up to my half marathon - increasing miles each week - but it's something I'll consider).

In his conclusion, Fixx argues that running provides a link with our primal selves:

My suspicion is that the effects of running are not extraordinary at all, but quite ordinary. It is the other states, all other feelings that are peculiar, for they are an abnegation of the way you and I are intended to feel. As runners, I think we reach directly back along the endless chain of history. We experience what we would have felt had we lived ten thousand years ago, eating fruits, nuts and vegetables and keeping our hearts and lungs and muscles fit by constant movement.

James Fixx died of a heart attack at age 52, after a run. For some this may undermine the message of the book, however Fixx's father had a heart attack at 35, and died 8 years later, so genetic factors may be at play.

Overall, the book has survived well. It's clear, engaging, and still has the power to motivate.

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