Runner's World: The Runner's Body
Tucker, Ross and Jonathan Dugas. The Runner's Body: How the Latest Exercise Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer, and Faster (New York: Rodale, 2009)
I wanted to examine running physiology after looking at it from an anthropological angle, and this new reference guide from Runner's World fits the bill. The Runner's Body is divided into five sections covering the five major body systems: musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory, metabolic, central nervous, and immune. The comprehensive detail may be overkill for some readers, but it's great to have so much up-to-date information on the science of running in one place.
The authors (Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas) debunk many common running myths, such as the cause of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), the overemphasis on VO2 max as a performance-limiting factor to the exclusion of running efficiency; and the danger of over-hydration (hyponatremia) due to excessive consumption of sports drinks. In some later chapters, Tucker and Dugas take aim--rather less successfully, I think--at the recent emphasis on running technique:
The inclusiveness of running, as evidenced by the sport's phenomenal growth over the past few decades, is a wonderful thing. But it also provides an alternative explanation for why people get injured. A preponderance of today's noncompetitive runners, who don't share the physical condition or biomechanical traits of the elite, are likely to become injured with even the tiniest error in training, regardless of how good their running technique is. (p. 201)
I would suggest the opposite: that non-elite, non-competitive runners are likely to become injured from errors in technique, regardless of how good their physical condition or training may be. The authors continue their criticism of technique-driven approaches:
...the notion that millions of people, with different body shapes and sizes and leg lengths and centers of gravity and joint angles, could fit into one single pattern or technique is also difficult to accept. Rather, the passage of time would filter out any flaws for each person. (p. 203)
Here I disagree again. The passage of time filters out runners rather than running flaws. How many potentially lifelong runners have we lost to the naïve attitude that each of us can individually discover the biomechanically correct technique? Our bodies may be unique in their particulars, but they share a common anatomy and physiology; their reaction to the physical demands of running will be likewise similar. Without defending any particular methodology, I think Tucker and Dugas are too quick to dismiss running technique as a concern.
If you run, you need to read this book!