Run to the Finish by Amanda Brooks

Subtitle: The Middle of the Pack


Posted on March 21, 2023

By Olivia Baker

Are you a middle-of-the-pack runner? Statistically speaking, that's the 95% who fall within two standard deviations of the mean finishing time in the race results. More colloquially, these are the runners who give the best they can be while juggling work, family and social life. They may not be in it for a podium finish, but they love the feeling of some miles well run. These are not the co-workers who humble-brag about doing an easy 20 miles over their lunch break or run in the elite field of their local 5K, but that's not to say they don't have big goals or aren't just as committed. Rather, the middle-of-the-pack runner wants to get strong and stay fit while also prioritizing their love and enjoyment of the sport regardless of what the stopwatch says. Quite frankly, though most fall into this category, we do not talk about this group enough!

This is precisely why I chose Run to the Finish by Amanda Brooks for the 22nd installment of Runners Who Read! So many of the top running books are written by or about elite athletes. While they have much in common with mid-packers, and many of their experiences in running are relatable, few of their books specifically focus on the running experience of the vast majority of people. Through Brooks' insightful guidebook, readers have the opportunity to gain a newfound appreciation for the middle of the pack experience − a place where friendships are forged on the trails and where personal growth flourishes amid the sweat and the struggle. Although filled with useful training advice and funny, relatable tidbits, at its core this book is about learning to love the run you've got without comparing yourself to others.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you identify as a middle-of-the-pack runner? Why or why not?

2. What are you most looking forward to learning from this book?

Subtitle: Real Runner Syndrome

Chapters 1-3

Posted on April 2, 2024

By Olivia Baker

Does anyone else ever feel that if you don't put "enough" focus on something, you aren't allowed to identify with it at all? I know that I feel this way sometimes. Just the other day, I had to catch myself. "Oh I'm not a real writer, I just write a fun little blog for this book club I'm a part of," I told someone.

I may not be a bestselling author or even write professionally, but that doesn't mean I'm not a writer. In running terms, this may look like "Oh I just jog sometimes" or "I'm not really a runner, I just occasionally run with friends, but I don't actually enter races." It's not racing professionally or even choosing to compete that makes you a runner. By definition, you are a real runner the moment you choose to start running.

However, many runners suffer from "real runner syndrome" (as Amanda Brooks calls it) − a belief that you are not a real runner despite the physical reality that you run. In the first section of Run to the Finish by Amanda Brooks, she offers several ways to cure "real runner syndrome."

First of all, what does a real runner even look like? One of the great things about the running community is the variety of shapes, sizes, genders, ethnicities, etc. that participate. Look at the start line of any mass participation race and you'd be hard-pressed to narrow down a particular look that defines "runner." A real runner looks just like you.

What if I need to take a walk break? Even elite runners take walk breaks sometimes. Trail runners and ultra-marathoners use walking to navigate particularly technical parts of the trail and steep uphill segments to help them finish faster and avoid injury. Many runners use walking to recover between intervals during training. Jeff Galloway, winner of the first AJC Peachtree Road Race, even wrote a book called "The Run-Walk-Run Method." Also, sometimes you just plainly misjudge your pace and need to walk to make sure you can complete the distance. Walk breaks do not disqualify you from being a real runner.

Do I need to reach a certain pace or distance to be considered a real runner? In short, no! The person who qualifies for Boston is no more a real runner than the person who has never run more than a couple of miles. Someone who can run under 10 seconds for 100 meters is no more a real runner than another who puts in 10 miles a week. Speaking from experience, Brooks says: "What I want you to know is that feeling like a real runner won't happen the day you hit a certain pace or complete a specific distance. Those are goals to get you started and that might motivate you to show up on days when you'd rather sleep in." (pg#17). Ironically, it's the very process of pursuing such goals that has already made you a real runner, not achieving the goal itself.

Seeing yourself as a real runner is an important step because it can lead to impactful behavioral change. In other words, if you begin to see yourself as a real runner, you may begin to do what you deem are "real runner things." Maybe you'd be more likely to warm up before a run, take post-run nutrition more seriously, spend a little time stretching before bed in the evening, and start to connect with other runners in this vast community. All of those things can help us stay healthy, achieve our goals, and enjoy the run, but they start with seeing ourselves as real runners.

Discussion Questions:

1. In chapter 1, Brooks encourages us to view ourselves as real runners by identifying with our "real runner names" made up of our last name plus the last animal we saw on a run (pg# 18). What is your runner name?

2. Referring to the word "jog", Brooks writes this on page 23: "What I'm trying to say is that sometimes labels matter. Most often I hear it from fellow runners to denigrate what they do: 'No, no, I just jog sometimes.' It's the easiest way to say you aren't a real runner. If that takes some pressure off your runs, allowing you to head out and enjoy it more freely, then I'll give you a pass. But if you're doing it to diminish yourself because of the clock, then it's gotta stop." Do you agree with Brooks that runners, for the most part, shouldn't refer to themselves as joggers because of the reason she stated above? Why or why not?

Subtitle: Pre-hab, Cross Training, and Other Injury Prevention Techniques

Chapters 4-6

Posted on April 11, 2024

By Olivia Baker

"A mile a day keeps the doctor away" (or so they say). This phrase comes from a daily mile run first instituted by Elaine Wyllie, the headteacher at St. Ninians Primary School in Stirling, Scotland, for her students. Concerned by the lack of fitness displayed by children in the school, in 2012 she began encouraging her primary school students to run a lap around the field at the school (approx. one mile) every day. Not only did they show great improvements in fitness − by the end of the year, not one of Wyllie's 57 students was deemed "overweight" by the school nurse − they also exhibited better concentration in class and general well-being (Elaine's Story | The Daily Mile Foundation).

As with a good cup of coffee, many of us who are runners can identify with the improved well-being and greater focus we have after our morning runs, but that doesn't mean our work is done. While we may not end up in the cardiologist's office, we may find ourselves in the physical therapist's office if we don't take steps to prepare our body for regular running. In the middle chapters of Run to the Finish by Amanda Brooks, we find some great practical tips for keeping ourselves out of PT's office and consistently enjoying the roads, track, and trails.

First, we should all be engaging in pre-hab: exercises designed to prevent injury. "Instead of waiting for an injury to occur, then spending months of time on rehab while quietly sobbing into our green smoothies, we can do a few things each day, right now, to prevent most injuries." (pg# 75). Identify your potential problem areas and dedicate a few minutes before each run to work on them. Do you have flat feet? Spend some time strengthening your arches. Tight IT bands? Stretch those hips before each run. Weak hamstrings? Spend a couple of minutes activating your glutes before a run to help take the pressure off of them. Those few minutes on the front end can save lots of time and money down the road.

Second, consider strength training. Many running injuries come from muscular weakness which, when exposed to repetitive activities such as running, can lead to injury. Pre-run exercises are only a short-term solution when the problem stems from weakness. Those issues need to be addressed through active strengthening, but contrary to what may come to mind it doesn't take an hour-long session in the gym, either. Again, the key is just a few minutes consistently attacking the areas of weakness through targeted exercise.

Last, in the event that something feels off it is always better to take a day of cross training than to risk injury by running. Swimming often gives the aerobic benefits of running without the pounding of hitting the ground with every step. Felt a tweak in your hamstring? Choose a more quad-dominant activity like biking to reap the fitness benefits without putting pressure on it. The elliptical may be the activity most similar to running without actually running and is a good low-impact option.

"The sole focus among runners I knew was mileage; everything else was 'nice to do' but who had the time for all that stuff? What's important to know is that once I figured out this piece, I spent 10 years running an average of 1,600 miles a year without more than a little twinge here and there…" Brooks writes (pg# 73). Setting aside a little bit of time each week for pre-hab, strength training, and cross training saved Brooks a lot of time in the PT's office, and it can allow us to do the same. So, maybe the quote should be slightly amended to: a mile almost every day, with a little bit of pre-hab before and some strength training worked into the week, and maybe some cross training when we need it, keeps all of the doctors away and allows us to run consistently for years to come.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where have you identified weaknesses or imbalances in your running? What are a couple of things that you are doing or could do to work on them?
  2. Chapter 6 of Run to the Finish by Amanda Brooks discusses various marathon training philosophies. Between the Higdon (6 days/week running, limited cross training), Galloway (Run/walk method), Hanson (High Mileage w/3 workouts per week), Maffetone (emphasis on becoming more efficient at a low heart rate), and FIRST (high intensity but only running 3x per week) methods, which one resonated with you the most?

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