Trail Runner’s Book Review: Running Anatomy

Running Anatomy, 2nd edition, by Joe Puleo and Patrick Milroy, Human Kinetics, 2019.  Book review by trail runner Laura Clark.

Whether you are a recreational or a competitive runner, there comes a time when either youth or beginner’s magic fails to guarantee improvement. There is a saying that every new runner has a ten year grace period when effort is rewarded with substantial gains, but after that, results will take an inevitable downhill slide. One option is to switch things up, trading short for long, roads for trails, single events for combos. This will buy some time, but it is only a temporary fix. The real solution is to strengthen our bodies to handle the demands we place on it.

Enter Joe Puleo, Rutgers University and USMC coach and Patrick Milroy, medical officer for numerous events and medical advisor for Runner’s World, to demonstrate how to make a better you. But what makes this book different from all the other exercise books on the market? Simply the detail and care that goes into every explanation. Plus, it is written in a way that even I can understand. I can read a trail map perfectly well, but there it stops. I cannot relate the flat paper to where I am in a dimensional forest. Similarly, I barely know right from left and crossing the stream from page to body is hopeless. Aerobics classes are a personal disaster.

But, in this book, illustrations have a cartoon-flip style format and you can plainly see where you are, the steps you need to take and how the entire process should fit together. Below the illustration is a step-by-step “Execution” narrative to fill in any gaps for those of us, like me, who do better with written instructions. I had long ago given up on muscle-bound weight instructors in the gym whose idea of “cardio” is a 10 minute warmup on the treadmill and whose “no pain/no gain” attitude on the lifting equipment compromised my ability to get on with the rest of my day. Here, each exercise has its own “Running Focus,” explaining the rationale behind the routine and frequently offering suggestions to extend the drill once the original becomes no longer challenging. “Safety Tip” inserts explain how to modify your approach to avoid the “just grit your teeth” disasters I was experiencing in the gym.

True confession: my realization that strengthening was the way to go occurred when I broke through the 70 year benchmark. But rather than submit to yet another failed experience, I have been celebrating spring with a six week session at our local hospital-affiliated physical therapy center. While the focus there is more on exercises you can continue at home without fancy equipment, I was thrilled to spot many of the same moves they had taught me, with the all-important suggestions on how to extend the parameters once the execution threatens to become a mindless routine. I may even save money next spring!

But wait, there is more…While there are excursions into the usual training routines, injury prevention and weather and terrain adaptations, there is an interesting review of the history of running shoes, spanning pronation, supination and the inevitable barefoot running. Even more eye-opening are glimpses into the future, with anti-gravity treadmills, running sensors and power meters, which give you equivalent effort data for various types of weather conditions and terrain fluctuations, not to mention footstrike impact, pronation rates, and an entire slew of data previously only available through university labs. Someday soon, we can train like the pros. But the question remains: Do we really wish to reduce running’s intangible mental and feel-good benefits to mathematical input? Tech geeks might discover it adds new meaning; the rest of us, as the authors caution, must judiciously weigh the price against performance outcomes. Put in layman’s terms, do we want to run with headphones, or tune into the world and our bodies in a more instinctive manner? Perhaps a bit of both.

Either way, if your body is not strong, no amount of cutting-edge data will help. Select the exercises that will complement its requirements and run into the future with assurance and confidence.

Book review by avid trail runner Laura Clark (pictured above).