The Bookworm: The Beginning Runner’s Handbook

The Beginning Runner’s Handbook, by Ian MacNeill and the Sports Medicine Council of British Columbia. 213 pages. Greystone Books. 1999.

By the time you have completed the 13-week walk/run program and trained yourself to run continuously for 30 minutes or more, you will find yourself having more fun. You’ll come to enjoy the feeling of robustness and power in your body when your heart starts pumping. You’ll be looking forward to meeting up with your running partner or group for the social contact it gives you. Or perhaps you’ll look forward to getting away by yourself and thinking your own thoughts as you pound through a forest somewhere at the edge of the world. (p. 49)

The last session of the basic 13-week walk/run program in The Beginning Runner’s Handbook simply says, “Event: See you at the finish line!” Since I was not training for an event, I completed the program after finishing session 2 of week 13 — three 10-minute runs separated by one-minute walks — on treacherous, ice-packed sidewalks last month.

I long ago decided not to write a Bookworm post about this book until I completed all of the beginner’s program. After two (or maybe three) previous attempts were cut short by injury, I finally managed to run the whole program, beginning to end, between September and December. So here is the post, albeit one month late.

The Beginning Runner’s Handbook is an informative and worthwhile read for both aspiring runners and sweat-salty vets desiring advice, like me. I picked up this used, 2005 revised edition from the old Defunct Books around 2014. I don’t remember the exact circumstances — I probably had taken an extended break from running due to one overuse injury or another — but I wanted a guide to provide basics and pointers to keep me pounding the pavement. I never ran track or cross-country in school, so I never learned how to run when I was younger. Though it is odd to think that one needs instruction on how to run — all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, right? — it is very helpful if you want to enjoy it for fitness and recreation and not injure yourself in the process. I have learned a lot by trial, error, and injury over the years, but I wanted more information. The Beginning Runner’s Handbook provides that.

Handbook covers it all — why to run, the mental and physical benefits, proper attire and technique, nutrition, and injuries and recovery. Best of all, it provides a number of running programs, including the beginning program that I chose, which is probably comparable to many “couch to 10k” programs. The program begins with short, one-minute runs and gradually increases time and distance to the point where one is running 60 minutes in a session. The book also includes helpful sidebars and inspiring profiles of other runners.

I did not read the whole thing, though. While others may find the sections on running with children and while pregnant useful, I skipped them.

Unfortunately — and perhaps ironically — another overuse injury has forced me to cut back on running since I finished the 13-week program. The culprit this time? My right IT band…or so I think. Though Handbook offers a lot of beneficial advice, reading it does not guarantee one will run injury-free for life. Shit happens. In my case, it was a sharp right turn during one of the 60-minute sessions and a bad habit of slouching.

Regardless, The Beginning Runner’s Handbook is a useful and worthwhile addition to my bookshelf. It has helped me a lot, especially after a long hiatus last spring and summer. It will continue to be a source of much needed advice.

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