I’m beginning to collect an array of books about running. Here are three that I’ve found very helpful.
Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running (Danny Dreyer)
I first picked up this book after a conversation with a freelance photographer, and fellow runner, I work with occasionally. He was giving me some pointers on landing midfoot (rather than landing on my heel) and mentioned using a metronome in his training. I started Googling around on the Internet and came across Dreyer’s website. Intrigued by his book and the philosophy behind it, I ordered a copy and haven’t been sorry.
Over the course of several years, Dreyer met two Tai Chi masters who influenced his running form. Chi (chee) is the energy force that animates all things. By practicing mental focus and relaxation, we can learn to direct this energy. Observing the masters’ almost effortless movements originating from their centers, he wondered how he could incorporate that into his running.
The book discusses the Chi running form (landing midfoot) as well as cadence and stride length. Dreyer argues that 85-90 steps per minute is optimum cadence for most people. This is where the metronome comes in. Stride, on the other hand, is where your feet fall in relation to your body. The closer beneath your hips, the better, as overstriding can lead to heel striking, which leads to all sorts of other problems.
More than running form, though, is the four chi-skills Dreyer promotes, those same attributes Dreyer saw in the tai chi masters. Focusing our minds, breathing, relaxing and having a keen sense of what our bodies are doing so we can make adjustments along the way are the skills that will take runners to their top form.
The Runner’s Guide to Yoga (Sage Rountree)
If you’re a runner, you know how important it is to have muscles that are flexible. Tight muscles can lead to being sidelined by an injury.
Yoga keeps muscles limber while strengthening them. Holding a pose gently stretches muscles, yet the poses are isometric exercises as well. As muscles are strengthened and stretched, they help with overall joint health and stability.
Participants of endurance sports such as long-distance running frequently need to learn to balance the “need for speed” with the need for rest. This is where yoga comes in.
“Running and yoga go together like yang and yin . . . each hold space for the other at their core,” says Sage Rountree in her book The Runner’s Guide to Yoga. Yoga improves a runner’s efficiency and power while teaching (or reinforcing) intention and breath
A columnist for Runner’s World and a registered yoga teacher, Sage Rountree’s book treats common problem areas to make runners stronger and more resistant to injury through a regular yoga practice. The book offers poses for strength and flexibility and poses that prevent and correct overuse injuries, such as Warrior II. Rountree concludes the book with pre- and post-run sequences.
Breathing and meditation exercises also are included. Being aware of their breath, how it shifts with different paces and whether it’s originating from higher or lower in their chest helps runners find their baseline. They’ll be able to return to this foundation when they find their breathing off track during a race.
Anyone who has practiced meditation knows its calms the monkey-chatter in our heads and teaches us to be focused. We all experience self-doubt and self-criticism. Runners benefit from tuning out and turning off the voices in our heads and staying focused on their breath and form, improving their runs overall.
Yoga is about balance and Rountree’s book for runners shows them how to keep balanced within their bodies and in their minds.
Running Anatomy (Joe Puleo & Dr. Patrick Milroy)
I knew I wanted a copy of this book when I first saw it in the bookstore. What I like about it is that it very clearly explains which muscles benefit from which exercises. The authors take each section of the body (such as the core), provide relevant exercises, then show the running focus, all with clearly drawn illustrations.
For instance, after an explanation of the bones and muscles in the upper legs, front and back, the intro to the chapter closes with specific training guidelines. Exercises are presented, showing various ones with machines as well as free weights. Technique tips and an explanation of how that particular exercise affects the runner’s performance.
The book also includes chapters on common running injuries and anatomy of running footwear, which I found interesting.
The one thing I didn’t like about the book had nothing to do with the content but with its typography. A san serif font was used to print the book. (Serifs are the little lines at the end of letters.) Serifs guide the eye along the page, making large blocks of print easier to read. I took me a couple days before I realized why I felt I was struggling to read the book. I have no quarrel with the content – it’s excellent. But the lack of serifs make reading it for extended lengths of time a challenge.
Taken together, these three books will push your running to new levels. Chi Running will provide you with a new way of running, one that will help you tap into your inner chi and keep you injury-free. Yoga for Runners will keep you flexible through the many poses within the book as well as giving you exercises to improve your focus. And Running Anatomy will help you understand how all the muscles in our bodies work together.