I first learned of Steve Magness when he was a senior in high school. He ran the fastest high school mile time of the year, one place ahead of favorite Austin son, Erik Stanley. In the years following, and under great expectations, Magness’s running career never quite reached the highest levels.
But he has now become one of the country’s best and brightest elite level coaches, working for a time as an assistant coach at the Nike Oregon Project under Alberto Salazar, and now as the Cross Country Coach at the University of Houston. He also coaches professional athletes Jackie Areson and Sara Hall, among others.
His blog, scienceofrunning.com, is one of the very best when it comes to training knowledge and information. Even though he is not yet thirty, Magness shows wisdom beyond his years, as he meshes well the science and the practical knowledge of run training and is adept at filtering dogma and trend.
His first book, The Science of Running, will be a classic, shelved next to Tim Noakes’s The Lore of Running and will, in time, receive near biblical status for those true students who are madly in love with the sport.
The book’s two sections cover the physiology of running and the practical application thereof. In the first section, Magness focuses on the fundamentals of running physiology and on the variables of fatigue and how it limits our performance, from both the psychological and physiological aspects. He points out that many of the performance limitations we face are rooted in the power of the mind, using Noakes’s Central Governor Model as the foundation, and shows the mind and body as an interconnected system that functions as a whole, and not as segregated as we once thought.
For me, the connection of the mind and body is tastiest part of that first section. We tend to be absorbed in the physiology of training, often overlooking and neglecting that the mind is the origin and working partner in all of that. He also takes time to dispel the myth of V02 max as the centerpoint of training programs, which will come as blasphemy to some and then takes it a step further and tells all of you who are training in “zones” that you are pretty much wasting your time. So there.
The second half of the book seeks to apply practically the information of the first section. Coaches often are lumped into either the “science” or “empirical” ends of the spectrum, and Magness does a really nice job of bringing the two together. Italian coach Renato Canova has said that coaching is an art, in which the artist must know the science. There are several “aha” moments as Magness applies this idea to teach how to create training programs that are runner centered and goal focused, rather than to shoehorn runners into prefab training programs. This is the meat of the book, but don’t skip over anything to get to that. You need all the other stuff to pull it all together.
Last, he gives examples of training blocks for races from 800 to the marathon, which finally ties the whole book together and leaves the reader chomping at the bit for more, thinking that he or she should go for a run. Like, right now!
The Science of Running is a little bit of history, a good dose of physiology, a touch of philosophy, a healthy amount of practical application and pages after page of drool worthy information. I pulled it out of the mailbox and opened it up just before bed and finished reading it about 4:15 the next morning. Already my copy has dozens of dog ears, notations and highlights and I expect that it will be a useful and well-worn reference for many, many training blocks to come.