Book Reviews: Let Your Mind Run and Good to Go

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Tom Poynton recommends some books to help you get the most from your training.

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor

Deena Kastor is one of the best American female endurance runners of the last 20 years and this book sets out the story of how she achieved her success. In fairly conventional terms, she starts off with her early life, beginning with her years in California, where she excelled in high-school running and won a scholarship to a university with one of the strongest squads around where she continued to develop. However after this early success, problems arose, her running career stalled and she was left alone to reconfigure more or less from first principles how best to make the most of her talent.

Where this book differs from many is where she goes into detail about how she re-set her thought processes and her running. Kastor stresses the importance of self-talk and how you frame particular situations, working with a coach you really trust, and having supportive training partners. After a while she started to get the results she feared she’d never see, and she has ended up holding several national records, obtaining an Olympic bronze medal, and becoming an eight-time national champion in cross-country.

This is a really useful book for anyone interested in building a strong mental base as they look to develop their running. Not all of what she did would resonate with everyone, but there should be elements that appeal and readers could seek to replicate. This is not an either/or approach to the mental/physical side – more that the development of the mental side is (for some at least) a pre-requisite to the necessary physical prep ahead of a major training block.

Good To Go – How To Eat, Sleep And Rest Like A Champion by Christie Aschwanden

In this book, Aschwanden deploys both practical experience and scientific knowledge to consider how best to recover from exercise. The author was the lead science writer at FiveThirtyEight and health columnist for the Washington Post. She has raced competitively in a Nordic ski racing squad, as well as being a recreational biker, runner, and skier who enjoys the outdoor life in western Colorado.

The author presents her first-hand experiences of some of the various recovery methods available – some quite obvious (is a post-race beer good or bad for you?) whilst others less so (I had no idea that infrared sauna was a thing!). She tries things out for herself, for example sitting in a cryogenic freezing chamber, and speaks to those who sell and promote these products as well as leading scientists to gather their views as to how such cures can best be assessed and how effective they can be. She shows that the evidence base is surprisingly thin for some products with very expensive price-tags.

The main take-away I got from this was to prioritise proper sleep, to value self-care (with some of the value of these methods actually coming from being forced to stand still for a moment and to mentally wind down a little), and to beware of expensive gimmicks. Other than that, there isn’t really a magic bullet.

This is a very solid combination of personal experience as an athlete and accessible science, and it was interesting to consider not just the scientific conclusions, but also how best to design a study, as well as what the conclusions might be and where the gaps in knowledge are. Highly recommended.

Tom Poynton has been running since 2008 and a Serpentine member since December 2011. When not running, he enjoys food and drink and exploring the countryside.

Grace Mackintosh Sim did the illustration for this article. Go and have a look round her website (link below).