Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

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Did you know?
We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Runner's Body - Our first book

The Runner's Body - a book for curious runners everywhere

They say better late than never.  Hopefully that's true, because this is a super-LATE post, about a book that's been available since about June this year!  I have all kinds of excuses for why it's taken fully 7 months to actually write a post about Jonathan and my first book (along with Matt Fitzgerald), but maybe the reality is that we're just not that keen on self-promoting ourselves and we never got around to doing this post, despite our best intentions and the encouragement of many who suggested it!  There were also a few things that came up - in June, it wasn't available in SA yet, in July, it was the Tour de France, in August, it was athletics, in September, it was Caster Semenya.  So this post, on something as "trivial" as our first book effort, slid down the list until today - better late than never!

The Runner's Body

The book is called "The Runner's Body", with the by-line "How the latest exercise science can help you run stronger, longer and faster".  It is published by Rodale, and you can purchase it from Amazon.com here, or, for those in South Africa, on Kalahari.net here.

As mentioned, it was written by me, Jonathan and Matt Fitzgerald, a highly respected (and very prolific) writer from San Diego - you can check out some of his other excellent books here.  The story begins with Matt and an article that he was writing on Oscar Pistorius, way back in 2007.  He interviewed me for that piece, and we struck up a conversation about sports science, running and writing in general.  It seemed logical to put our collective minds to use and bring together all the writing we'd done on the site during its first year of existence, plus new information that we all wanted to see in a book, and to use Matt's expertise to fill out the content into a book that would be readable and informative for runners.

The result - The Runner's Body.  The idea behind the book was not to write another textbook explaining the physiology of running.  Nor was it to prescribe training programmes and help you "run your best 10km in 8 weeks".  We all felt there were enough books like that out there.  So instead, we went for the "Freakonomics" approach to physiology, where we tried to weave the physiology and science into a readable format that gave practical and interesting advice to runners.

Those who are regular readers of the site will know that we have tried to do this throughout our existence - to peel away the layers of physiology and explain, in 'entertaining' terms how science can improve sport.  With Matt's help, we've hopefully improved on that even more, producing a book that we'd like to think is informative and entertaining, as well as practical.  You can expect some anecdotes, some trivia, some science and hopefully some debate!  In this case, we've zoned in on running, but that does not mean that those of you who are not runners could not also enjoy the book.

To give you an idea of the content, the book covers, among other topics:

The morning after problem
Why do your muscles get stiff after exercise?  Why your current beliefs about muscle stiffness might be wrong.  And what does this tell us about the body and adaptation to exercise?

Big Impact
Your bones are an engineering marvel - NASA's best would struggle to design a material that is at once durable, flexible, adaptable and alive.   It withstands 100,000 impacts of six times your body weight per week.  Learn about bone health, osteoporosis, stress fractures, and how the right training and diet can help you stay bone-injury free.

Weak in the knees
Every year, 2 in 3 runners will suffer some kind of injury.  Learn about injury development, the Big Five running injuries, and how you can train smarter to minimize your risk of injury.

More mileage per milliliter
Much has been made of the VO2max as the be-all and end-all of exercise.  But running economy may play an even greater part in determining who wins and who doesn't.  Why are some runners more economical than others?  Who is the most economical runner in history? How can you become more economical? 

Blood, sweat and Gatorade
For thirty years, you've been told to drink before you're too thirsty, or it's too late.  You've also learned that dehydration is the biggest danger you face as an athlete.  But what if you're wrong?  What if you learned that the reason you think this is because of American Football, scientific endorsement and the selective funding of research that helps to sell sports drinks?  Learn why the body is a more amazing machine that you may have realized, and why taking the advice of scientists may lead you to a far more dangerous situation than you thought.

The mysterious muscle cramp
50% of runners will cramp at some point in their racing careers.  The answer is simple - electrolyte deficiencies and dehydration.  Right?  Wrong.  As with fluid replacement, myths around cramping abound.  Learn why electrolyte depletion can't be the explanation for cramp, why certain muscles cramp and others don't, and what you can try to do to minimize your risk of cramp.

Maximum fuel economy
You are what you eat.  As applied to runners, this famous adage conjures up discussions about carbo-loading, fat-loading, pre-race meals and in-race nutrition.  Learn how your body uses different fuels in different situations, and how you can manipulate your metabolism for best weight loss, fat burning and performance.

Mind matter over body matter
Fatigue is the most fascinating topic in physiology today.  Theories on fatigue have evolved over the years, and the latest thinking is that our brains regulate exercise performance in ways that are too complex to fully understand.  That doesn't stop us from trying though!  Matt had already written a book called Brain Training, based on the fatigue research of Prof Tim Noakes.  My PhD thesis inherited this line of research, and this chapter discusses at the brain and performance.  How does your brain regulate performance specifically to prevent bodily harm during exercise?  Hopefully, it will challenge the way you think of the limits of your performance.

It's all about style
If you want to start an argument among runners, talk about running technique.  Opinions range from "let it be" to "teach it like you teach a golf swing", but the debate is always heated!  Should we land on the heel, or the forefoot?  Do shoes increase the risk of injury by allowing us to heel-strike?  This chapter examines the aspects of running technique, evaluating whether teaching technique is both desirable and feasible.

In the long run:  Aging and running performance
Nothing in life is as inevitable as aging.  We're all faced with the steady process that usually sees us slow down, become less able to recover from training and more injury-prone.  But what of those who seem to defy Father Time and run well into their 70s?  Men like Ed Whitlock, who broke 3 hours for the marathon at the ripe age of 74!  In this chapter, you'll learn about aging and performance, and when you can expect your best running years.  Learn also about a condition where people become intolerant to exercise, a form of "premature aging" and what you can do to avoid it.

Thank you for your support

There's a lot more to it - those are just some of the chapters.  Others cover exercise and free-radicals, the immune response, endorphins, diet and optimal body weight.  We hope it makes for good discussion and debate, and is thought-provoking enough to help you improve your running (and impress some friends with a new way of thinking about issues you may not have considered before).  Just to give you some outside opinions, there are some reviews of the book pasted below this post.

As is always the case, we don't aim to have the last word, but rather to start the conversation, so we're always happy to entertain questions, comments and even criticisms!

Thank you to all of you who may already have bought the book.  We really hope you enjoyed it (despite the odd mistake courtesy of the publisher).

To those who are sufficiently curious (the book is for you, after all), you can order it on Amazon.com, or Kalahari.net (for SA readers). 

Thanks again for the support - the book would of course not be possible without this site, which in turn would not exist without your time and readership!

2009 recap to follow!

Some reviews for The Runner's Body (From amazon.com)

A fantastic resource for the science-oriented runner. Lies strongly toward the left on the spectrum between peer-reviewed journal and popular press. No bibliography and no citations are a definite weakness. The material is presented in a logical fashion and is readable for someone who isn't accustomed to the peer-reviewed journal format (most people). Challenges many of our cherished beliefs regarding proper training, nutrition, recovery, etc. If you're looking for a day- by-day training guide this isn't it, but if you want to know what the current research shows about training principals, this is for you.

Richard Hudson (Miami, FL):
Are you a runner who wants to be enlightened? Then pick up this book, which challenges conventional wisdom in many areas including training, diet, fatigue, and injuries. I have been running for three years and trying to move up a level. This has helped me understand many things about my body and its adaptation to running. I've already seen my times improve. One point I will make is that the information may be overwhelming to a beginning runner or a non-runner who is considering the sport; however, for anyone who has been running seriously even for a few years, you will learn a lot and should be able to make some adjustments right away. The only people who may not be too keen on it are the makers of nutritional supplements and some sports drinks, whose effectiveness the book debunks. Another point is that I read this book on the Kindle, and some of the charts don't reproduce as well on its screen. I suspect that the paper version would alleviate that problem. 

A.Mulhern (North Carolina):
Found this book to have valuable information to improve my running; includes info on mechanics, hydration, optimal fueling, mental involvement, weight loss, supplements, shoes (or no shoes), etc. When the science is inconclusive, they say so, which is refreshing. I've run over 85 marathons and 8 ultras, and I still learned a lot from this book -- even took notes to review key points before my next race.

J.Schneider (Long Island, NY):
I think this is a good book for the athlete who is interested in the science behind the training. This book is not for someone looking for a basic training program. It is for the person who wants to know about all the physiological processes involved in running on the cellular level and why things work the way they do.

R. Colberth:

 The book had good information and was a big help in some areas. However, the authors simplified some explanations a little to much for my taste. Overall the book is excellent. I recommend Runner's World The Runner's Body to any runner who want's to further their knowledge on the sport.

M.Sanders (Colorado):
I love to know the "why" behind the things I do. This books is great for that! It reads a bit like a text book so don't expect it to be fun and exciting. But learning the facts behind what is happening as I train for a marathon make it so .... for me anyway.

Order The Runner's Body (US Readers, and rest of the world)

Order the Runner's Body (SA Readers) 


Michelle Simmons said...

I bought your book a while back when it was first published- I knew it would be good when I saw it in the store since I read your blog and have also read Mat Fitzgerald before. Anyway, I devoured that book in just a couple days and found it very informative, having since recommended it to others! Thanks for writing it.

Eric Mellow said...

I just started a triathlon blog that pulls together triathlon training, nutrition, and gear information from across the internet. I really enjoy your blog and plan on linking to it regularly; in fact, I just did a post on your book. I'd really appreciate if you put my blog up on your "links" page. You can check it out here:
Keep up the good work!

Unknown said...

hey guys,

i manage a running store in the states and would like to carry your book. to whom do i speak about that opportunity?

thanks, eric johnson
springfield, missouri, usa

Martin said...

I was given this book as a present about 10 days ago (the person picking it up for me knew i read the blog).

Days are busy around Christmas time so for now I've only got round to reading the bit that I really needed to know more about - my achilles is done in and I had an appointment with physio a couple of days later.

I don't believe she's ever had a patient as up to date as she had that day :)

So thanks for that lads. I'm sure the rest of the book will make for a top read, will get round to it in the new year, and will then post my thoughts on here.

Anonymous said...

Belated congratulations on your first book - may it be the first of many.

If there is one consistent criticism of the book from Amazon reviewers, then it is the lack of a bibilography and citations.

Perhaps this could be addressed in future editions?

Anonymous said...

bibliography not bibilography

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi all

Thanks for the positive feedback. Mama, thanks for the compliments and feedbacks. I am glad you have recommended it too! Thanks, as always, for your support!

To Eric, I'll have a look at it. Triathlon should be a sport we cover a lot more than we do, but for some reason we've never really gotten into it - largely because here in SA, we don't have much coverage on TV. So it's a bit foreign to me. But maybe a resolution for 2010 is to get more into triathlon, and so I'll have a look at your site, put a link on and then hopefully jump at opportunities in the new year!

To Eric:

Thanks, that's great of you to offer! I'm going to email the publisher, Rodale, and ask them about it. How do I get hold of you afterwards? I'll post something here in the comments sections. Thanks for that!

To Martin:

Great, I hope the information turns into injury-free running! Achilles tendon injuries can be a real pain, speaking from experience. I hope your physio and you can sort it out! Good luck!

Then finally, to Colenso:

The bibliography issue gave me gray hairs. To cut a long, complicated story short, there WAS a bibliography, but it never made it into the published book. You may notice a few typographical errors in the book as well - same thing happened there, where the initial book was proofed and those errors pointed out, but because of time-pressure and the publisher, they never made it into the first edition. The same for the bibliography, which was a major oversight. But as I say, it's there, and I'm told that if there is a second edition, it goes into it. I felt a little let down by the publisher on that account, to be honest. But I guess those things are part of the learning curve.

So let's hope there is a second round of printing. I'm trying to find that out, but again, it's proven rather difficult.


dave-id said...

congrats on achieving your goal -- a highly informative yet friendly & readable book! i thoroughly enjoyed it (especially the de-bunking of commonly held myths).

i noticed a printing error (?): At the start of Chapter 1, in the section titled "A Tug-of-War and a Power Stroke", you referred to the "illustration on page 12" which should have showed what muscles and myofibrils look like... however, there's no illustration to be found on page 12.

nevertheless, thanks for a great book, and happy holidays!

Unknown said...

Guess which book I got for Christmas! :)

I've not finished reading it so you might comment on this later in the book. I noticed in the chapter on DOMS that there was no mention of ice-baths or recovery runs, both of which I consider assist with the recovery process and help to prevent/ease DOMS. But in light of your discussion in the book maybe they are interfering with the bodies natural processes.
I'd appreciate your thoughts/comments.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Smurf

Glad you got the book. I hope it was your number 1 Christmas gift!

On the question of ice, it was on a shortlist of things to discuss, but in the end got cut, mostly because I'm not convinced either way that it works or doesn't. In theory, the idea is to prevent the initial inflammation induced by exercise. Is that beneficial? Jury's out.

Earlier this year, a study came out showing that the intake of anti-oxidant vitamins (in very high doses) prevented adaptation to training. Now, those anti-oxidants are surmised to do pretty much the same thing as icing - is it possible that icing prevents training adaptation?

Further, no one has really shown that icing reduces the severity of DOMS, although this effect may exist as a placebo. Like I said, jury's out on this one.

Finally, there is a complication in that after a while, icing actually causes vasodilation, which might increase the inflammation.

So to me, there were too many questions, though this is a topic I certainly want to look into a little more in the future!

Maybe it'll go in the sequel, with more answers than questions!


Anonymous said...

I'm halfway through your book and I just purchased Mat Fitzgerald's Brain Training for runners. I personally liked the Freakonomics approach of the book. Though unlike Freakonomics, which didn't have much economics in it, your book definitely covered many things about exercise science and its corresponding myths. Since it's somehow technical, I suggest having a glossary so that the readers can recall some important definitions that were somehow forgotten.

Steven Woo said...

Regularly read the blog and I have bought and like the book so far (and I don't run a lot anymore), but have found a disturbing number of typos. Page 11 refers to a nonexistent illustration on page 12, and the discussion of causal relationships on page 30-31 with A/B/C has switched B and C so that it makes no sense as written, because it states that there was a theory that DOMS causes lactate in one sentence?!
Is there a list of corrections some where?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Steven

Thanks for buying the book and for the comment.

I'm really sorry about the number of errors. As I said to someone above, what happened was that the publisher sent me all the proofs to go through, so that I could pick up mistakes. I did this and then sent back a document filled with those mistakes - the three you've picked up on were in that list.

in their wisdom, however, Rodale didn't make use of a single one of my edits. To this day, i don't know why that happened. The end result is that they have a list of all the corrections, and the original book.

I'll be honest, I am angry and embarrassed by it, because you're not the first person who has mailed to point out these obvious mistakes. Unfortunately, the publisher says there is nothing they can do about them, and so we're stuck with it for the first edition. Hopefully, there will be a second edition and we can fix them up.

Until then, I can mail you the document with all my corrections if you'd like, but it's a lengthy document. I do apologize again for the errors.


Steven Woo said...

I would love to get the corrections! I should mention I really like the content and approach of the book, just got thrown off by those things so I had to reread several times to make sure.



ckdelapaz said...

I'd be happy to receive those corrections too. I'm actually reading the book for the second time so it would be nice to know the mistakes. Please email it at ckdelapaz@gmail.com. Thanks

Unknown said...

Noticed the fantom illustration as well. Maybe post the illustration here or point to a similar one already online.

Martin said...

right, I said I'd come back with a comment when I'd finished it. I actually did quite a while ago, and plan to re-read it soon.

I've studied a bit of anatomy as part of doing a bachelor degree in sports but I still feel I need the re-read to completely grasp everything.

Anyhoo, it seems you were out to get a tag as mythbusters, and that tag you've got, well done. Too many myths busted to mention any in particular but again, well done.

The issue with hyponatremia was a bit overcooked I thought, as it is not like there's many people suffering from it (like dehydration really).

I'd recommend the book to any runner who wants to improve and therefore wants to know why his body does this or that in training and a race. For the same reason I won't suggest it to any possible competitors in my area!

Also found the point about not drinking fizzy soft drinks (even the no calorie kind) to avoid injuries interesting, and would have liked to hear more on this.

In short, I found it excellent.


Theo Myer said...

Thanks for your work. I've enjoyed the book immensely.

I have a question about the Diet Quality Scale. I am using the DQS to help me modify my diet (very accessible tool, so thanks!) and I noticed some conflicting information. In the table (p. 158) Omega-3 fats are given a 2 for 1st serving, then zeroes for the 2nd - 4th servings. In the text (p. 159) it says that a person should have three servings of O3 Fats.

I also noticed that you say the total possible points is 32 (p. 159), while the chart only lists 29 possible. I'm guessing that I should amend the chart to list the 2nd serving of O3 Fats as 2 and the 3rd serving as 1. Is this correct, or is the text incorrect?