I am so lucky to have my friend Cari to swap books with – once it was just travel narratives and other interesting non-fiction; now it tends towards the running books! I didn’t find an amazing amount of new information but, a few annoying assumptions aside, it is a good manual explaining various types of running speed work people might like to try. Oh, and I note I am exactly one calendar year behind myself with this one (see when it arrived). Oops! One book confession below, too …

Hal Higdon – “Run Fast”

(04 November 2017 – BookCrossing)

Hal Higdon has a wealth of running and editorial experience and he pulls together loads of research in this updated version of his book. It’s still a little out of date in that he celebrates being able to print off your running records from your computer, where everyone keeps them on Strava or some such now, don’t they? But the principles are still sound.

So, the assumptions. As is often the case in running how-to books, and especially older ones when, to be fair, the field of running was less broad, running at 10-minute mile pace is seen as being the slowest thing in the world. Now I can run at 10-minute mile pace … for a mile. Just about. With a tail wind. It’s OK, because we all know there are a lot of fast people out there, but it feels like a bit of a kick in the teeth, even for someone who has run races at all distances up to marathons and has come to peace with her pace. There’s a kind of assumption that only beginners run that slowly and it’s something to progress away from.

The standard, non-named runner is always a he, as far as I noticed, although to be fair women at both the sharp and beginner ends are mentioned and celebrated when individuals are being discussed. There are some slightly odd comments about how women are more intimidated by running on running tracks than men are (I’m personally seen equal numbers worrying about this!) and venturing into the gyms now, managing to cope with the testosterone-laden and muscly atmosphere (I’ve been happily gym-going from before this book’s publication in 2000 and haven’t found this) and apparently “the guys have become accustomed to having a gal pumping iron at the next bench”. Hm. And there’s one awful sentence explaining that women can benefit more from strength-training than men … “as long as the extra strength does not equal extra weight, or what some beauty-conscious women might consider ‘ugly muscle'” (p. 188). I’m sorry?? It’s such a shame, as he finishes that paragraph pointing out that strength training can help prevent osteoporosis, a good point undermined.

But apart from that, this is a good, practical guide to building speedwork sessions into your running training. It goes through the different kinds and explains how to do the sessions and what they help with, all quoting research on the topic. Fartlek, surges, tempo runs, they’re all in here, explained and discussed, with plenty of examples from Higdon’s own running career.

As well as the speed sessions, he covers good running form (hard without images, though) and some weight-training exercises (these are quite complicated and again, are not illustrated: I wouldn’t actually want to try the barbell lifts he describes without visual aids!). Very importantly, he stresses the importance of introducing all of these new things carefully and slowly, conservatively, even, which is very good news.

So a good book in general, but a little outdated in a few aspects.

Book Confession: how could I not order this lovely (direct from the publisher? “Once Upon a Time in Birmingham: Women who Dared to Dream” is a collection describing a crowd-sourced selection of Birmingham women through the ages who have excelled, achieved and changed people’s lives. From Dame Elizabeth Cadbury to less-well-known names, it’s written by a friend of a friend, and features as one of the women, Imandeep Kaur, who I know through the running community. Published by local independent publisher Emma Press, you can find a direct link to the book here. Buy it for anyone from a young teen upwards, and especially to share our lovely city at home and further afield.