Book Review – Triathlon Running Foundations
You won’t find too many reviews on this blog. I may have reviewed a movie or two, but that’s about it… until now.
A Little (Self) Help Here… Please
Most people don’t simply read how-to books because they are interesting. I don’t. People buy and read how-to books because they want to change some aspect of their lives. They want to be educated. My aspect is running.
In the last 14 years I have used every known excuse to explain poor running. One time I went into a chiropractor’s office with huge indelible ink marks on my shins to show him where the pain was. Another time, after IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta, the pain in my right foot was so bad, I was hobbling around on crutches for several weeks. And then in 2017, just before the USAT Nationals, I was thrown from a horse and suffered terrible hamstring pain. I know those are not really excuses for poor performance. Rather they are the product of my biggest excuse which has always been hope.
For 14 years, I hoped to run well in races. Athletic performance is not much different from business or any trade. You don’t just hope things will turn out well. You plan for them to turn out well. I’ve been great at planning my swims, transitions and bike rides. But running? Nah.
That started to change for me about 18 months ago when I began running regularly with Marty. Since that time my outlook and education have taken a huge leap forward. Although I always knew about the TSB model of performance, I began to dig into the math behind it. I’ve also been learning about physiological responses to training like mitochondrial content and function. Podcasts such as Triathlon Taren and That Triathlon Show are full of good science based information.
Enough about my issues. I bought Taren Gesell’s latest book, Triathlon Running Foundations because I’ve always enjoyed his podcasts (with wife NTK and numerous guests) and wanted to see what he had to say about triathlon running.
Taren’s book is full of good stuff. I can’t verify all his statements but his message is essentially the same as that professed by many top level coaches and academics. The main take away lessons from the book are:
Triathlon running is different from running running.
Easy workouts need to be really easy.
Hard workouts need to be really, really, really, really hard.
Gadgets might be fun and cool, but not necessary for running.
This is nothing new, but so many athletes, as Taren points out, violate some or all of these basic concepts (myself included when I trained for a whole season in zone 3 because I thought that was how to do it). What is unique is the way that the messages are delivered. I’ll get to that in the next section, but first I want to mention a bit more about the content.
A good how-to book must deliver enough detail that its concepts can be applied. Because every athlete is unique, it is difficult to speak to a broad audience about the details of training. For someone like myself who has a bit of experience with running, there are plenty of details in the book that can be used to apply the main concepts. I believe a beginner could take this book and use it as a starting point for developing good training habits. However, beginners may need to work with a coach or more experienced runner to fully understand how to apply the concepts.
Much of Taren’s advice comes from his own experiences and his work with several coaches in addition to his knowledge of the scientific literature. However, we don’t have to just take his word for the more subjective issues such as shoe selection. He falls back on conversations he and NTK have had with well known athletes such as Sarah and Ben True.
Throughout the text there were many references to Taren’s websites and products. It’s pretty obvious he’s pushing his services, but don’t let that deter you from this book. And it’s quite understandable. This is how he makes a living: sharing his knowledge of triathlon with his subscribers. If, by the end of this book, you still ask, “Where do I go to learn more about Triathlon Taren,” just flip back through the pages and you’re likely to land on a page with a web address.
You are also likely to see the word, broscience (page 93). I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I think it’s the propagation of opinion to the point that it is taken as fact. The book does a pretty good job of avoiding knowledge based on this kind of opinion. Some statements come with citations, some with personal anecdotes, some with no backing at all. A majority of the statements are based on the author’s own personal experiences. However, this is not a reason to discount the content. The reader needs to be aware of which statements are evidence based and which are anecdote. Taren makes it pretty clear which is which. We have to remember that opinion and personal observations can be useful to the reader, even in a how-to book.
As I read about Taren’s personal triumphs and failures, I felt that I was getting to know him as a person. This is so important for a good author, because when we feel connected to the author, we are likely to take more enjoyment from reading their work and understand it better. Not only can I forgive an author of this subject for talking so much about personal experience and anecdotal evidence, I can appreciate it and here are two reasons why:
From my experience and what little literature I’ve read, it appears that most scientific studies in athletics and human physiology lack the power to make broad conclusions for an entire population. I think this is due to the low numbers of athletes that can be studied at one time and the myriad of variables that impact performance.
Training for endurance sport still seems to be very much an art and there is no way at this point to control all variables, so speaking from personal experience is not necessarily a bad thing.
I have learned to dislike self-published books. They are almost alway full of typographical and grammatical errors. To make matters worse, the sentence structure is usually very poor which makes the reading very difficult.
After reading this book, I may just have to change my opinion on that.
Triathlon Running Foundations is very well written. Someone obviously proofread and spell checked this text. I am quite impressed. I did find one typo and thought it would be fun to tell you what page it is on, but now I can’t locate it. Besides, if that’s my idea of fun I need serious help.
Taren talks to his audience. He doesn’t lecture. He doesn’t profess. He talks in plain Canadian English. And believe it or not, no translation is needed because he offers suggestions in both kilometers and miles. Also, he’s not afraid to let his sense of humor come through which adds to the personality of the writing.
In my opinion, this book is a must read for triathletes. Even if you know how to run like a triathlete, just getting to know running from Taren’s perspective is fun.
When I first saw a video on Taren’s YouTube channel several years ago, I did not get the sense that this securities trader turned social media consultant turned triathlete would be leading the coaching efforts behind thousands of athletes. Yet here he is, making a living from professing the virtues of triathlon.
Thank you, Taren, for helping to make triathlon accessible to so many.
Until next time…