Science of Running Interview: Steve Magness’s New Book on Training

February 18, 2014 1

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Steve Magness who writes for the website Science of Running is publishing a book. It will be available by February 18th. The name is, “The Science of Running-How to find your limit and train to maximize your performance”.

Magness is an assistant coach along with Jackie Areson at the University of Houston, his alma mater. Previously he was an assistant coach at Nike Oregon Project, leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Magness ran in the NCAA for Rice University and the University of Houston. Currently he coaches professional runner Areson, who has run as fast as 4:12 in the 1500m and owns a 5k personal best time of 15:14. He also coaches Sara Hall and Tommy Schmitz. Schmitz owns an 800m personal best time of 1:49 and a 1500m best of 3:39.

Christopher Kelsall: You have recently published a book. What is it about?

Steve Magness: I like to think of it as two books in one. The first half is pure science. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about running. It’s the data-driven side of the book. The second half, has very little science, but instead is all practical information on training. It’s not like other books where it tells you exactly how to train, but instead it’s more of a philosophy of training.

CK: Now you worked for Nike at one point. Were you acting as an advisor to Alberto Salazar for the science aspect of training? If so, what in the realm of training and coaching did you take away from your time there?

SM: Yes I did. I was the Scientific Advisor for the group. I took away a lot of lessons from that experience. I learned a lot about what the most current high-tech gadgets are, and also what the human body could do. The amount of training and how quickly people could recover was definitely a lesson in how far you could push.

CK: Knowing that “stress and adaptation” is a general governing guide for you. Do you have a list of basic principles to apply to effective training, guidelines to assist in the decision making process about macro and micro-scheduling?

SM: Definitely. It’s all about taking this big complex mess of how to train and simplify it. That’s kind of a theme throughout the book. I try to say ‘here’s all the information you could ever need on running and training’ but then cut the “fat” and give some simple usable lessons. So in the book I present a few of my rules of training.  For example, a few would be: 1. Build and Maintain.  2. Progress Everything. 3. Never leave anything behind, and so on. In those three rules, we’re talking about how training is essentially a process of developing different abilities, whether it’s aerobic or anaerobic or pure speed. So we need to build up those abilities to appropriate levels by continually stressing and adapting to them. But once we’ve built that up, we still have to maintain it and not forget about it.

CK: On your website, Science of Running, you write that “dissecting fatigue” is your favourite section of the book. Why is it your favourite?

SM: It’s a fascinating subject and probably the hardest chapter I had to write. Fatigue is such a nebulous catch-all term, and no one really understands the entire process of how it works. That being said, there is some really cool and exciting research going on in the world of fatigue. For instance, there have been studies that show mental fatigue severely impacts physical fatigue. So if you come straight from an exam, your performance on the track will likely suffer. Trying to simplify it all into a tidy message that makes sense was an extremely difficult challenge. But that’s the beauty of it all. If I could boil down fatigue, I’d simply say its interplay between our drive to keep pushing and our body pulling in the reigns to keep us from violating homeostasis.

CK: There are several types of fatigue for example the mental fatigue you refer to, as well as physical fatigue, but also there is specific to your sport and physical fatigue that is unrelated to your sport. Do you get into this?

SM: Definitely. When you look at fatigue you have this mass of different types or contributing factors. What I try and do is show that these are all the different types of fatigue and how they contribute, but then try to synthesize it all. If we look at all the different kinds of fatigue separately, it’s extremely interesting, but it’s hard to translate that into practical application. In the book, what I’ve tried to do is explain a few overarching fatigue theories. That way we have something useable.

CK: It is suggested that if the prospective reader, is looking for something to help them finish their first 5k, this book isn’t for them. How far down the seriousness quotient does this book cater to?

SM: Ha, Well, not to discourage people from buying it, but I wrote the book I wanted to read. So it’s pretty serious. What I would say though is that half of the book is a relatively hard read, like Lore of Running. The other half is serious, but not super technical. So by serious I mean someone looking to improve. That doesn’t mean it’s only for elites, but it’s for your guy or girl down the street who has trained with some seriousness, but is still racing to achieve a personal best. That’s what I would say the target audience is. It’s for people who are trying to PR, or for older runners, age-graded to PR as well.

CK: Being that science is ever-changing; do you look at this one as a first edition, like the Lore of Running has had several new editions?

SM: I’d like to think so, but let me get some recovery from writing first! As the science expands and changes, a lot of what we know now will become outdated. That’s the beauty of science. As our knowledge evolves, we get to tear up old ideas and replace them with a better understanding of the field.

CK: Can you tell me the various ways people may be able to purchase the book?

SM: Sure. It’ll be available online on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. You can also go to my blog at Science of Running.com to order and I’ll be giving away some good deals for those who order through there.

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