Tim Noakes: Lore of Running

Lore of Running is by far the best book I've read on endurance training in general and run training in particular. This review is about the 4th edition from 2002, which I bought from Amazon.co.uk.

It is brick of a book at 920 pages of regular stuff, an index, and 100 pages of downloadable references that I recommend you download right way if you start reading the book, because I was really annoyed by the lack of it while reading, and didn't find the link to the PDF before I was almost through, it's hidden in the small print at the start of the index.

A look at the table of contents will show just how thorough this book is.

Part I “Physiology and Biochemistry of Running” cover everything from how muscles contract and the chemical reactions and energy systems responsible, which reminded me about the hours I used just looking at the biochemical pathways poster back at the lab technician school in Århus. Part I concludes with something about temperature regulation while exercising, which I thought would be boring and I was tempted to skip it, but it turned out to be massively interesting.

That proved to be a recurring theme for me while reading the book, I'd think something would be uninteresting, read it anyway, and be really happy I did so. Excellent way to learn something new, and proof that Noakes know his stuff, what’s relevant and how to present it.

I think that’s the highest praise possible for a book of this kind.

Part II “Training Basics” covers how to go about training in general, starting with the 14 steps to develop a foundation, including the very useful “15 Laws of Training”. After that comes the very enjoyable Chapter 6; “Learning From the Experts” with detailed historical accounts of how runners trained going back to the mid 19th century and covering all distances from 800 m to 6-day races (yes, it is not only the cyclists that have 6-day races. I didn’t know that). It’s worth mentioning that Noakes himself is a marathon and ultra-marathon runner, and that’s his bias all the way through. There’s hardly any information for pure sprinters in the book.

One of the athletes that get a few pages of his own in Chapter 6 is Mark Allen, and that was the most enjoyable part of the book for me. But I’m a total Mark Allen fanboy, and it seems I share that with Tim Noakes. Noakes also spend a lot of time throughout the book referring to Bruce Fordyce, and it seems he’s the Mark Allen of ultramarathon running.

I should mention Paula Newby-Fraser and Ann Trason too, as both have been even more dominant than the two guys mentioned above in their sports. They’re mentioned by Noakes too, with Trason getting a few pages of her own.

The following two chapters are about “Avoiding Overtraining” and “Training the Mind”. Both very good chapters collecting and presenting a lot of information that I was mostly familiar with, but I’ve never seen all that information in one place before.

Part III “Transferring Training to Racing” is a comprehensive survey of various training plans and an attempt at extracting some common traits of those, especially with a look towards longevity in the sport. A lot of elite athletes don’t have more than 6-7 years at the top before they fade, which is what makes Mark Allen, Paula Newby-Fraser, Bruce Fordyce and Ann Trason all the more interesting since they all managed to stay at the absolute top of their game for well over 10 years each.

Very useful stuff, especially for me, since I’m in my “second coming of athleticism” now, and I clearly feel that at 36 I simply can’t just hammer my body like I used to be able to 10 years ago, and I’m looking to make running/triathlon an enjoyable and healthy part of the rest of my life.

Part IV “Running Health” covers ergogenic aids of all kinds, avoiding injuries and general health as a runner.

I like how both legal and illegal drugs are covered in the ergogenic aids section, always with a very clear distinction between them and appropriate warnings, but no moralising, which is great. It’s so painfully obvious how morally and ethically bankrupt you are if you’re a doper that it doesn’t have to be said explicitly once more. Which I just did now. Sorry.

He doesn’t cover how amphetamine works—or doesn’t—as ergogenic aid though, and I’d like to know. It was widely and openly used in cycling up until at least the 1950’ies. Doping regulations wasn’t introduced before 1962.

Chapter 14 “Staying Injury Free” is essential reading for all runners. It’s a comprehensive chapter covering a lot of ground with a firm focus on prevention, which is of course always better than a cure. I wish every medical doctor seeing patients with running injuries would read this part, Noakes share a lot of little hints from his own practice as a medical doctor treating injured runners.

Finally he debunks a lot of myths about general health in relation to running and training in general, plus a few things that you might have to be extra careful with as a runner.

Tim Noakes is championing the Central Governor Theory about sports performance, which says that the reason we get tired when exercising is that a part of the brain is monitoring a lot of things in the body and when critical values are exceeded it will tell us that we're tired and need to slow down. Throughout the book he's presenting a lot of evidence and explanations for this theory, including explantions and evidence for competing theories in a very sober and compelling way. I had read about the Central Governor theory before and thought it sounded like a quite good explanation, but now I'm completely convinced that it's the best possible theory. I don't think we'll have a better theory for the next 20 years.

If you’re a runner or a triathlete you should buy this book and read it, cover to cover. Indeed every endurance athlete would find this book useful regardless of the specific discipline, but it’s particularly useful for longer distance running, which is 10 km and up.

I’ve read quite a few books about training, and this has been the best by far. And the heaviest.

Highly recommended.