Brain Training for Runners


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Over the last month or so I have become a big fan of Matt Fitzgerald's approach to training.  I started when I checked out The Runner's Edge from the library (a title a quickly went I bought for myself a week later).  Since then I have added Matt's Racing Weight and Brain Training for Runners to my running library.
Matt style is every straight forward and easy to read.  I love that in the second chapter of Brain Training for Runners entitled "The Running Brain" he tells readers to skip most of the chapter if they aren't interested in reading about the more detailed physiological aspects of the brain.  Brain Training is based on the idea that it is really your brain, not your muscles, that limit your performance.  Your brain will not allow you to go the point of complete exhaustion.  Therefore you must train in way that syncs the mind and body for optimal performance.
In order to achieve this Matt provides a running plan that looks quite different from anything I have seen, here's part of his rationale:

1. Develop objective performance goals for each workout. This stimulates the brain to allow higher levels of muscle output.
2. Gather objective feedback.
3. Pursue key workout pace targets which increase as you move closer to your peak race.

Matt's plans for marathons feature recovery runs and 3 key workouts each week (hill work or intervals, fartlek or intervals and long runs). The 3 types of workouts are found in the majority marathon plans one can find online (Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, Runner's World, etc. although in some cases not until you get to the advanced). There are however a few key differences:
1. Information regrading pacing.  One of the draw backs I have found to many other plans is that the author will say, "at an easy pace" or "marathon pace." When I was preparing for my first marathon I had no idea what my marathon pace would be and easy could mean walking 14 minute miles! Since running 14 minute miles would not really help improve my times I needed something more objective in order to help me improve as a runner.  In Brain Training, Matt provides the reader with a chart based on previous performances to help determine the pace for runs during training (The Runner's Edge provides and more detailed chart).  Therefore when a run says "base pace" I know exactly the range I need to running at during this phase of training.
2. Specific resistance workouts. I love adding other types of workouts to my training besides running.  However, I have found that I can easily over work my body during these workouts and not be ready for running the next day.  Also, since lifting weights is the main source of training aside from running, I need to be careful not to bulk up.  The resistance workouts for each week are specific to runners, can easily be done at home (with no equipment), and help improve running economy.
3. Finally, each week you focus on a specific proprioceptive cue.  These cues are connected to your running form.  While Matt is not try to remake your entire form, there some subtle changes that can be made that will make you a better runner.

In preparation for the St. Jude Marathon this year I have switched to Matt's Level 2 Marathon Plan. Unfortunately I am a little behind.  The marathon plans call for 24 weeks of training. By the time I got the book I was a week behind, no problem, then I messed a week and a half due to injury, only a slight problem. Hopefully it will be smooth sailing from here on out.
Obviously you can keep track of my training here or at DailyMile.


Tricia said...

Great review, I'll have to check out those books!

JD said...

Thanks Tricia! Good luck with the upcoming race in San Antonio. The books have been helpful with training so far. I plan to give an update once I complete the first phase so that readers can see any improvements that have been made.

Kenley said...

Thanks for the Book Review. I wonder if it is in audio? lol. I like taking different approaches to the whole training thing. I am currently training for my first half in September. I am constantly tweeking and modifying my plans. I just want to make it through to the end as it being my first. Hey, you always get a PR on your first right? lol Take care and thanks again for the insights.

JD said...

That's exactly the way I felt when I finished my first marathon. I totally blew up and was fighting a injury from before the race started, but I still went out there with my wife and finished. The 5:13 wasn't pretty, but at least I was out there doing it!
Now on my next week I should also be able to say something amazing like, "I cut an hour off my marathon time." Although to qualify for Boston it will need to be 2 hours!

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