The Runner’s Body – Our first book  //  a book for curious runners everywhere

22 Dec 2009 Posted by

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 here, or, for those in South Africa, on here.

The Runner's Body (book cover)

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, or (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

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.

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.
Richard Hudson (Miami, FL)

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.
A.Mulhern (North Carolina)

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.
J.Schneider (Long Island, NY)

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.
R. Colberth

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.
M.Sanders (Colorado)

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Order the Runner’s Body (SA Readers) 

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